02 Aug 2021

Announcing August's Geospatial Champion

You can read our exclusive interview with techUK's new Geospatial Champion below #GeospatialFuture

Congratulations to Sarah Snelson, Director at Frontier Economics for being selected as techUK’s ‘Geospatial Champion’ for August!

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This month’s Geospatial Champion is Sarah Snelson, Director in the Public Policy practice at Frontier Economics. Alongside colleagues Nick Fitzpatrick and Emily Nielsen, she led the research and analysis on the independent market study for the Geospatial Commission, exploring the dynamics of the UK’s location data market.

The purpose of techUK’s Geospatial Champion campaign is to celebrate the work of those pushing forward adoption of Geospatial in the tech sector.  This is also an opportunity to learn from those working in Geospatial about the current landscape and examples of the strides being made in enhancing awareness. 

A new techUK 'Geospatial Champion’ will be chosen every other month, so if you would like to nominate a friend or colleague to be the next Champion please drop us a line. You can read out interview with Sarah below

What is your current role and what does a typical day involve?

I am a Director in the Public Policy practice at Frontier Economics, one of the largest economic consultancies in Europe, working on some of the most difficult (and interesting!) economic problems.

In the Public Policy practice, we work on a variety of projects for clients across the private and public sector using economic tools and insights to advise them on policy design, policy influence, policy impact and value for money.

We have many projects at the same time so a typical day for me involves checking in with the teams on each of those projects to ensure things are on track, providing guidance and support and ensuring that our clients are happy with our work. 

Why is geospatial data valuable to the UK? 

Geospatial data is likely to play a key role in unlocking some of the biggest challenges facing today’s society. For example, it has played a critical role in the ongoing fight against Covid. But as significantly for me is the role it can play in preventing or adapting to climate change or stepping up to other environmental challenges.

At the launch event for the Geospatial Commission’s Market Study, I had a conversation that left a deep impression on me: Using geospatial data, it is possible for automated drones to identify areas of acute and remote deforestation and automatically drop seeds to plant new trees in those areas; a task that would be vastly more difficult and costly using other means.

The number of potential geospatial data use cases with an environmental impact is vast; be it connected vehicle data used for route optimization, allowing vehicles to make shorter, more environmentally friendly journeys, earth observation data, better understanding changes in sea levels in different parts of the world in real time or crowdsourced geospatial data on the nearest charging point for electric vehicles.

Do you think the conversation around geospatial data is changing in the UK? Why/ why not?

I do think the conversation about geospatial data is changing. The creation of the Geospatial Commission in 2018 has moved government much more into the conversation. The work they have completed in a short period of time has served to illustrate the range of geospatial technologies, the vast array of potential use cases as well as what is needed from government in order for some of those use cases to be unlocked. They have taken a thorough evidence based approach to their work, engaging with a very wide range of stakeholders to ensure that they are moving the debate on with concrete policy actions such as, driving location data adoption by working with The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to further incorporate location data capability as an essential component of their programmes for increasing growth, innovation and productivity within the UK economy.

What are your key concerns hindering increased deployment of geospatial data in the technology sector?

Lack of awareness of different geospatial data sources and their value. This can mean that in some cases geospatial data products and services that are currently available are not always being used even when they can add value. For example, in some cases, decision makers in the public or private sector may not incorporate available geospatial insights into their decision-making process as they were unaware of the value it could offer. In other cases, potential users are aware of the value of geospatial data but face barriers to successful implementation, such as inadequate data infrastructure or outdated IT systems.

Better understanding and clarity on the privacy issues related to different types of geospatial data is also needed. Suppliers of geospatial products and services are aware of their need to comply with privacy regulations in relation to geospatial data and of the ethical challenges in relation to the use of location data. These ethical challenges apply primarily in the context of information on the movement and location of people. They need careful consideration going forward.

Regarding data access and availability – what is the position of the UK and in what ways should we encourage data accessibility?

The debate about data access and availability in the UK is evolving quickly with DCMS devoting a lot of energy to try to develop sensible policy in this space, following on from the National Data Strategy.

The big difficulty is that there is often a great deal of uncertainty about the value of data that another party holds and developing trusted mechanisms for sharing such data can take time.

The key is to develop more effective mechanisms for sharing data at greater speed and with confidence particularly between private sector organisations and for innovative uses. Commercial organisations want to access public and private sector geospatial data via flexible and modern mechanisms that allow them to pay according to the volume of usage and only access specific data attributes of interest. High upfront costs for buying and hosting geospatial data can be an access barrier.

How can we equip the next generation with the most appropriate skills for a future in geospatial?

There are a huge variety of geospatial roles that currently exist. The ability to understand, manipulate, analyse and use data will be increasingly valuable in the future. Geospatial skills are becoming essential components of a wider range of skill sets, particularly data science capability, of which there is a shortage. Going forward, it will be essential to equip individuals with a combination of geospatial expertise, data science capability and non-technical/soft skills. Overcoming these shortages may require geospatial skills to be included in existing data education offerings and new data career pathways to be developed.



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