Posted on 26 January 2010.
Today I was a delegate at the Geovation 2010 awards in London. According to their own website, “Geovation is a place where innovative thinkers and geographic data can get together for the benefit of developers, entrepreneurs, website owners, end users and the wider community.”
The stress is mine, but you would kind of imagine that the very name “Geovation” would suggest innovative use of Geography … well that’s certainly what I was expecting.
The plan for the day was to listen to some pitches, vote on the candidates and then see who the esteemed judges had chosen to win a share of the prize fund.
So … with much anticipation I turned up to see the presentations about Innovative uses of Geography. I have to admit to being a little disappointed. There were some good ideas, and for me, one stood out head and shoulders above the rest … but I am struggling to work out how 2 (yes, TWO) rather similar large plastic maps made it into the final. Even the Q&A session after the second presentation was asking what the difference was to the other entry (albeit couched in diplomatic language).
So to be clear. The FINAL of a UK Government sponsored (ultimately, since it was funded by the Ordnance Survey) initiative concerning INNOVATION in geography yielded 2, er, large plastic maps. Even better, they were both aimed at use in schools! Nothing wrong with that per se … but basically both “innovations” were conceptually identical and targeting the same group.
OK I thought, it’s a shame we have 2 plastic maps in the final, but the other 7 finalists will surely bring something interesting to the table. Well … yes and no. There were other ideas, a few of which definitely had some merit, and whilst I quite agree that simply sticking something on the iPhone doesn’t render it innovative, there were some genuinely good ideas about the use of geography and technology that would have filled the brief by being called “innovative”. One of the ideas was exceptional, so much so that on my voting form I only ticked one box (rather than the two I was being asked for) and wrote in the margin, “give all the money to these guys as it was by far the best idea”
But back to the maps.
The first shocker was that the “community award” – ie the one voted for by people in the audience, overwhelmingly went to one of the large plastic maps. I found that hard to believe, and was wondering how many innovators there were in the audience … and then, to my absolute amazement, the judges awarded first place to, wait for it … the very same large plastic map!
Now don’t get me wrong, the people involved were clearly dedicated, passionate, well connected and motivated … but come on guys, we are talking about an INNOVATION award here. Large plastic maps were innovative round about the time we invented PVC in 1872 – although to be fair no practical use for PVC came about until the late 1920′s. But hey, that’s not quite 100 years ago yet so there is still plenty of room for innovation eh
So I came away not knowing quite what to think. I did have some interesting chats in the pub afterwards (and thank’s for the beer guys) and many of the entrants were both innovative, practical and interesting … but come on Geovation … to award the top prize for geographical innovation in the UK to a LARGE PLASTIC MAP does none of us any favours in UK PLC.