Reflections on GISRUK 2016

The 24th GISRUK conference took place last week in the University of Greenwich.  After significant Newcastle input to the 2015 GISRUK in Leeds, this year saw a smaller presence – just David Fairbairn and Kaizer Moreri attended, each with a poster, each on VGI and the fidelity and value of such citizen-sourced data for applications in national mapping and in land registration systems; the overall attendance and size of programme was certainly smaller than previously. 

The venue was certainly impressive, Greenwich (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) looking stunning in the spring sunshine.  The university’s vice-chancellor, David Maguire – GIS guru from his time at ESRI and his continued joint authorship of ‘the book(s)’ – welcomed us, thanking the main organisers, Zena Wood and Mike Worboys from the Greenwich GIS Research Group.

There was the usual variety of sessions and papers, with some unusual focus on gazetteers, on novel systems and applications (e.g. an innovative tourist guide to Lancaster), and on VGI issues and uses.  Those ex-Newcastle GISRUK stalwarts from Maynooth introduced us to some interesting personalities, responsible to addressing GIS concepts long before GIS was ever thought of …

Workshops and challenges, and an appeal to informality which benefits the large number of MSc students brought along to GISRUK every year, are what can be expected from this annual meet-up.

The three keynotes, well-scheduled throughout the programme, were the highlights: Ross Purves (University of Zurich) demonstrated the enduring value of his long-standing research on tags, semantics, ontologies, and full text retrieval and analysis; Nye Parry (University of Greenwich) took us on a tour of music (and dissonance) which had a spatial aspect to it; and Jeremy Morley (an external examiner at Newcastle in a previous life), demonstrated, amongst other things, the response of Ordnance Survey to changes and opportunities in GIS technologies, in a wide-ranging and thoughtful presentation.  Amongst his assertions was that fundamentally GIS has not changed in the past 30 years, and that all developments have been incremental ‘add-ons’.  It was ever thus, of course, with Ordnance Survey itself being recognisable, even today, to the apocryphal cavalry officer for whom its maps were created from 1791.  The main debate of the conference, and perhaps one its main outcomes, was about the nature of change in GIS, and whether GIS needs a revolution or continued evolution.

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