Increasing access to FOSS4G

Friday, September 5, 2014 | by

FOSS4G is an incredible gathering of open source geospatial developers and users from all over the globe; the event prides itself on being “the world’s premier open source geospatial conference.” Each year the hosting delegation works incredibly hard to put on a fantastic conference, and attendees come away with strengthened professional ties, new skills, and a strong sense of community.

Not all members of the open source geospatial community can attend FOSS4G, which is one of the reasons that conference content is recorded and streamed. However, there is no replacement for in-person engagement.

This year the organizing committee wanted to strengthen both the conference and the community by bringing people to FOSS4G who would not otherwise be able to attend. We took SOTM’s ⅓ goal and upped the ante a bit — we set aside 50% of our “travel grant” funding for self-identified minorities.

We budgeted $10,000 and then asked the FOSS4G community for more. More than 30 attendees contributed a total of more than $1,000. Our sponsors took up the fight as well; PGExperts contributed funds specifically to increase minority access to FOSS4G and Amazon AWS designated a significant portion of their sponsorship for travel grants.

The response to our call for applications was humbling, showing both the demand for open source GIS knowledge and the insufficiency of resources to meet that need. 84 people from 24 countries (and 20 states in the US) applied, requesting over USD $100,000 to cover registration fees and/or travel expenses.  Knowing we had resources sufficient to cover only a fraction of the need, we approached the selection process carefully.

A panel of four people (two men, two women) reviewed each application blindly, with no access to attendee information or the scores of the other reviewers. Reviewers ranked each application based on the applicant’s answers to questions about their current use of open source software and why they wanted to attend FOSS4G. Once reviews were complete, scores were averaged and ranked. The top-ranked applicants were offered full or partial funding based on the strength of their application and available budget. We made two passes through the applications, first awarding the designated 50% of our funding to members of underrepresented groups, with the remaining funds awarded to any applicant regardless of minority status. (All applicants were offered extended Early Bird registration and workshop discounts.)

15 applicants ultimately accepted funding. More than 60% of our funds went to support the attendance of 8 individuals from traditionally under-represented groups. We are excited to increase access to FOSS4G by bringing 15 people into the room who would not have otherwise been able to attend, and we are grateful to all those who donated to the Travel Grant fund for helping to make this possible.

We are proud of the 2014 FOSS4G Travel Grant program, and see it as a good step along the long path to a more diverse (and therefore stronger) geospatial community. We hope to see a similar program, focused on increasing access and diversity, replicated at FOSS4G 2015 in Korea and at other regional conferences.

I’m happy to share more about our experiences, especially if will help you implement your own program. Feel free to get in touch at the conference or afterwards, and thank you for your support.