GI_Forum provides a platform for dialogue among geospatial minds, informing the GeoInformation Society, contributing to a more just, ethical and sustainable society.

 GI_Forum 2020: connecting spatially – virtually

About the challenges organizing a virtual conference

The Department of Geoinformatics at the University of Salzburg has an over 30-year-history of organizing scientific conferences: it started with the German-language AGIT, adding the English-language GI_Forum later. These two conferences are at the core of our annual GI_Week, taking place in Salzburg, Austria during the first week of July.

Until March of this year, we were in the middle of preparing the next GI_Forum in Salzburg, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Austria and set the country in a lock-down with far-reaching consequences. The team concluded quickly, that we don’t want to cancel the conference. Over the following weeks, we discussed and tested several scenarios – until we finally decided to offer the GI_Forum 2020 as virtual conference.

„Challenge Accepted“ as motto for the preparations

The virtual GI_Forum has been a completely new experience for the organizing team, as well as our sponsors, exhibitors and participants. One thing is certain: we have learned a lot during the past few weeks. Sometimes our expectations have been exceeded, a few things have not worked out as we had hoped for.

The biggest challenge has certainly been the very limited time we had to completely turn our planning around and adjust to the “new normal”. Within only three months we had to find a platform that fits our multiple needs: conducting presentation sessions, facilitating discussions and hosting a virtual EXPO.  We had to create a new program, which offered a balance between well-established lecture sessions and hands-on workshops for our participants. In addition, we needed to convince our sponsors and exhibitors of our concept. Parallel to that we had to ensure that the scientific review process of the GI_Forum contributions continued as planned, in order to meet our publication deadline of the GI_Forum Journal.

A few of the changes we chose to make as part of the virtualization of the conference:

  • Extending the overall time from 3 to 5 days.
  • Reducing the number of parallel-offered sessions.
  • Reducing the session time from 90 to 45 minutes, while limiting individual presentation times drastically.

The thought driving these decisions has been that we wanted to make it as easy as possible for participants to attend the conference from their (home-) office, for two main reasons:

  1. the attention span for presentations consumed via screen is usually shorter than in an conventional on-site conference with live interactions and
  2. attendees have very likely multiple tasks on their hands while joining the GI_Forum.

The aspect that has been hardest to anticipate was the question about how many participants would attend. Today we can be content with the overall outcome: nearly 700 attendees have registered for the GI_Week 2020. We had approx. 250 active participants online per day throughout the week, attending between 1 – 4 parallel sessions.

Live participation, meaning actively sharing audio and video when encouraged during Q&A sessions has been rather low. Especially our exhibitors had hoped for more live interactions at their booths. However, they were positively surprised by the high number of participants in their workshops or during their product presentations.

GI_Forum & AGIT 2020 in numbers


GI_Week 2020 program

The program of our virtual GI_Forum and AGIT are available  >online

Or as >pdf download

Recorded Sessions

You can re-watch the recorded sessions for a limited time > here.

Find the abstracts of our Keynote presentations > here.

GI_Forum & AGIT Poster Session 2020

The winners of this year’s poster session are:

2020 Poster Gallery available online

GI_Forum Journal Issue 1-2020

Issue 1 of this year’s GI_Forum Journal is > available online

Issue 2 will be published at the end of this year.

Our takeaways

Our takeaways from this first virtual GI_Forum are overall positive. We will build on the history we have in organizing conferences and combine it with the knowledge we gained this year in order to create something new and exciting for the coming year(s) – our preparations for 2021 have already started and we have started discussions about what a hybrid-conference could look like. Thank you to all our sponsors, our exhibitors and participants who embarked on this adventure with us.