EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr. Vanessa Lawrence CB : 29th Sept

Starting the new series of EEO-AGI seminars with a bang, we welcomed none other than Dr. Vanessa Lawrence CB, HonFREng, FRGS, FRICS, FCInstCES, FRSGS, CCMI, CGeog. As the longest-serving Director General and CEO of the Ordnance Survey since 1875, she filled the post from 2000 to 2014. Vanessa is currently working internationally as a senior advisor to governments and inter-governmental organisations, including the World Bank and large private sector organisations.

Approximately 65 people crowded in to the Old Library eager to hear the seminar on “Location: Its role in solving issues facing you, our nation and our world”. Vanessa quickly highlighted that “Everything happens somewhere” – a point that would repeat throughout the seminar. We must remember how important location is: “where” underpins all of our daily lives.

In a very personable talk, Vanessa went on to discuss the opportunities and challenges around Geospatial Information (GI), giving numerous personal anecdotes. She gave personal experiences of developing countries in which GI technology is still not accessible by the majority of the population or it is mis-perceived by local Governments, reminding us that not everywhere is like the western world. She also detailed how one billion people live in slums to be near opportunities for work, and 700 million people live on less than $1.9 a day.

Vanessa described how GI can help solve these global issues. There are 17 sustainable development goals at the UN all requiring geospatial data and methods. With examples such as Copernicus, Smart Cities, Uber, machine learning, the hurricane impact on Houston, an Afghanistan greenhouses project, fair coffee crops, mobile phone usage (or lack of usage) maps, the Catapult and catching illegal fishers, Vanessa described the multitude of ways in which Geospatial data can help.

There has been a paradigm shift in how world leaders now understand GI. Flat maps are moving to multidimensional maps and from 2012 to 2016 the use of geospatial data increased four-fold, the number of users increased x75, and the value of geospatial data doubled. The key is the organisational side of GI; proper use requires not only the data and software, but also informed interpretation, and hence there is a huge need for governments and international organisations to create geospatial strategies.

Thankfully the industry is going through huge growth with many people and organisations joining, and Vanessa concluded by reminding us that with worldwide geospatial initiatives, she hopes we can transform the lives of those 700 million people living on less than $1.9 a day.

Martin Ewart

(MSc in Earth Observation at the University of Edinburgh)

[Next Seminar Friday 17th November!]

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