FIG Working Week 2020 – distance matters…

COVID19 has stopped many activities – but it will not stop the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG)

Louise Friis-Hansen, FIG Director

“FIG Working Week” – what is that? A strange name for a conference, but a name that has become close to a trademark and is significant for the many varied activities that are going on during the – almost - week-long event. Since 1878, where FIG was established and gave surveyors the possibility to meet and network, the yearly FIG Conference has proven to be a unique meeting place for surveyors and geospatial experts around the world. But does it really matter to attend a conference, and to meet?

Hanoi, Istanbul, Helsinki, Christchurch, Sofia, Kuala Lumpur, Abuja, Rome, Marrakech, Sydney, Eilat…
What do these cities have in common?

The cities are located on different continents, the cities are beautiful, friendly, inspiring… but first and foremost: During the past 10 years, these cities have hosted the FIG Working Week/Congress. And we could have continued the list of cities and countries.


The first FIG Congress took place in 1878 in Paris when FIG was founded. The next Congress was held in 1910 (Brussels, Belgium) and the third in 1926. From 1926 and until 2019 FIG has organised one main event each and every year – uninterrupted, apart from the years 1939-45.

Amsterdam should have been added to this exclusive list, as host of FIG Working Week 2020, however, the current worldwide COVID19 situation has forced FIG and the Dutch local organisers to cancel this main event of the year. It should have taken place in Amsterdam during the week 9-14 May 2020.

Delegates from all over the world were supposed to meet, greet, network, learn, have fun and be inspired during this annual event.

Why attend a conference?

At the end of FIG Working Week 2019, per tradition, the FIG flag was handed over by Co-Congress director for the Working Week 2019 Mr. Trinh Anh Co to Paula Dijkstra, Co-Conference director for FIG Working Week 2020. The Dutch Local Organising Committee can now keep the flag for one extra year. Hereafter the flag will be presented to the organisers of FIG Congress 2022


However, why attend a conference? Especially now, this current situation where many are working from home has proven that online meetings are being used and work, life goes on, so why bother travel around the world for a conference?

Well, I am certain that the direct networking, and the direct contact matters. It is true that you can find a lot of learning online, and FIG web site is not an exception. It has been said that on the FIG web site you can find material to finalise several ph.d. studies. There is a lot of material available. And this year is no difference. The proceedings from the non-held Working Week 2020 have been published.

But still, a FIG Working Week is much more than listening to a presentation by a colleague. A video, a webinar, online material is suitable for information collection, but it does not replace the personal connections, getting to know others personally, discussions, finding colleagues with the same interests, the networking etc.

Distance matters…

Not only is the distance between two points important, but the distance between persons is also vital.
In the paper “A framework for understanding effects of proximity on collaboration : Implications for technologies to support remote collaborative” the authors Susan R. Fussell, Robert E. Kraut, Susan E. Brennan, and Jane Siegel examined the collaboration of 164 scientists and engineers. The further away people are from each other the less they produce together. You do not have to get far away. Working in the same office has shown high cooperation and productivity. If you work in different offices but on the same floor cooperation already decreases. Working in the same building but on different floors, surprisingly enough, causes a significant decrease of cooperation.


It is all about networking… 80-90 countries are normally represented at FIG Working Week, where new friendships are built and old colleagues and friends catch up

There is no doubt that technology has helped collaboration over distances. The collaboration is however made easier if has been possible to meet in person. The communication becomes easier, less formal, and it is easier to obtain an understanding of each other.

And what does this have to do with a conference? It shows that distance matters. Proximity matters. And that the value of meeting other people in person is high. Although today we have many smart, electronic options, it cannot replace presence – being together – networking – seeing each other – exchange views – generating new ideas – and maybe, who knows, find future partners for cooperation, idea exchange, benchmark, inspiration - and friends. You cannot obtain this online in the same way. So – conferences matter! Conferences enrich your work when you are back home and a conference helps establish and maintain these relationships that are so valuable.


And this is why it is such a pity that we had to cancel FIG Working Week 2020…

What is FIG Working Week?

The name “Working Week” may sound strange for those who have not participated in a FIG Working Week. Isn’t it just another conference? Yes, FIG Working Week is a conference. It is however also a lot more. First and foremost, the yearly General Assembly is held with its focus on the activities and business of FIG. Here, new future Working Week destinations are selected by the General Assembly, officers for posts within FIG such as the President, Vice Presidents and Commission chairs are elected, and the direction of the Federation lined out.

During the three conference days, a large programme is designed for all participants. The technical programme includes sessions organized by the 10 professional commissions, networks, task forces, and permanent institutions. In total 80 sessions held in 8 session slots. Busy days… Hereto, there are special sessions in cooperation with several of FIG Institutional Partners – this year there are sessions organized jointly with FAO, UN-Habitat/GLTN and with UN-ECE. Our four platinum members, Trimble, ESRI, Leica and Bentley are also included in the technical programme. Since meeting face to face is a challenge in a worldwide organisation, the Working Week is also used for special meetings, commission meetings, working group meetings, task force meetings, meetings with FIG Council and the President etc. All in all, a variety of different activities that take place in parallel during these quite busy days. In other words, all attendees are working; working hard during this week.

This will not be the case in 2020 as there is no travel, no larger gatherings, no conferences.

So why not having an online conference?

The consideration to change the technical programme to be held online was considered. It could have been possible, although the time zone differences would have been just one of the challenges. Having 10 parallel sessions during eight sessions slots over three days is a lot. Technically, it is doable, but will the output be worth the effort? One of the main ideas with FIG Working Weeks is the networking, the meeting part, the exchange between surveyors coming from different countries and different backgrounds, but who, in many cases, face the same or similar challenges.

Technical Programme / Proceedings

COVID19 does however not prevent us from sharing and spreading information.
The overall theme of FIG Working Week 2020 is Smart Surveyors for Land and Water Management with a sub theme for each day:

  1. smart surveyor
  2. land and water management
  3. 10 year to go to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

So, it was decided not to carry through an online programme. Instead, the technical programme/proceedings is shared with you; with all who might find it interesting to get inspired by the sessions, by the papers, by the ideas. We will do this during the week the FIG Working Week should have taken place – 10-14 May.

During these days, together with our media partner Geomares, we will present highlights from the technical programme in the online newsletter of GIM magazine. This is a unique possibility to share the programme with you which we are looking very much forward to.

We do hope that you will follow us during the week, look out for the newsletters from FIG and from GIM Magazine, and we will do our best to guide you through the treasure of information and knowledge. For the proceedings, please  click here.

So - is there something in it for me?

Surveying is many things. FIG is thriving to cover all areas of surveying which is done through the 10 different commissions of FIG. The commissions cover all the following different areas:

  • Commission 1 – Professional Standards and Practice
  • Commission 2 – Professional Education
  • Commission 3 – Spatial Information Management
  • Commission 4 – Hydrography
  • Commission 5 – Positioning and Measurement
  • Commission 6 – Engineering Surveys
  • Commission 7 – Cadastre and Land Management
  • Commission 8 – Spatial Planning and Development
  • Commission 9 – Valuation and the Management of Real Estate
  • Commission 10 - Construction Economics and Management

Further to this there are two regional networks, covering Africa and Asia/Pacific, Standards Network, and the FIG Young Surveyors Network. The Young Surveyors network will host webinars on 9 May covering different time zones – watch out for more information on this.

Last, but not least, an afternoon of history should have taken history interested participants through many aspects of the history of surveying.

Each commission and network will give you an introduction to their work, to sessions and why these exact themes were found under the overall topics of this working week.

FIG Council and Commission Chairs at FIG Working Week 2019 in Hanoi. You will meet all commission chairs through articles that are presented during the week 10-14 May

Another chance – FIG Working Week 2020… +1

As mentioned earlier, an online conference, or as here, the sharing of the technical programme online does not make it up for the full conference experience. Luckily, we get another chance. FIG Working Week 2021 should have taken place in Accra, Ghana, but the Ghanaian local organisers are showing a real FIG spirit and have generously offered the Dutch to take over the Working Week in 2021. Instead, the FIG Working Week in Ghana will be moved to 2024, having the larger Congress 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa, and FIG Working Week 2023 in Orlando, Florida, USA.

We are also happy on behalf of our good and faithful sponsors and exhibitors as we can offer them to attend next years Working Week.
Already now, you can look forward to 2021, to experience a real FIG Working Week in person. But until then, we will guide you through the programme of FIG Working Week 2020, and we hope that you will join us in this journey next week.

Thank you to the Dutch local organisers


FIG Working Weeks and Congresses would not be possible without a local organizing committee; local knowledge, providing local flavor to the Working Week, local/national topics of importance, local participants who are given the chance to meet fellow colleagues from all around the world.

The current Local Organising Committee won the bid back in 2016 to organize the 2020 Working Week – I am glad that they did not know already then what was coming to them… Not only have they now worked on the preparations for 4 years – they are now also committing to yet another year… A large thanks from FIG Office to the Local Organising Committee for all what they have already done – we have appreciated the cooperation very much, and that they are taking up this rather extraordinary challenge to continue the preparations for another year. We are looking very much forward to another round to organize the FIG Working Week 2020… +1 in the Netherlands.


The LOC team: Liza Groenendijk, Anouk Povel, Peter Hoogwerf, Leonie van de Graaf, Martine Eelderink, Roel Luis, Marien de Bakker and Paula Dijkstra. Thank you!