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Can Earth Observation (EO) transform UK public sector policy delivery?

Senior policy makers and CSAs from across Whitehall were joined by industry representatives from a diverse range of backgrounds for the EO discovery day.

On 20 November 2015, the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP) on behalf of the Earth Observation (EO) Working Group (chaired by Stephen Lovegrove, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)), hosted a Discovery Day to explore how EO could transform UK public sector policy delivery.

Senior policy makers and Chief Scientific Advisors (CSAs) from across Whitehall were joined by industry representatives from a diverse range of backgrounds. Attendees included representatives from small, medium and large organisations who are engaged in the manufacture of satellites, the provision of imagery and / or the development of applications, along with multinational organisations not commonly thought of as working with the Space sector.

The focus of the day was about 'discovery' to:

  • Explore the opportunities and benefits which could be realised through EO
  • Understand the availability of and future evolution of this technology
  • Understand the commercial offering and the associated service offerings / business models available to access it
  • Discuss and air the common requirements across Government

In the interests of open and fair access to information and to not unduly influence any future procurement activities, SSGP has published the event summary and associated briefing material from the day to all attendees and also made this information available publically through their website here.

Discussions with participants highlighted the following themes and observations:

  • Potential for delivering savings
    • There are economies of scale/savings to be made by joining up Government requirements or by procuring and sharing data differently within government but resourcing the transition is a concern.
    • There are a significant number of benefits which could be realised through the increased use of earth observation and making better use of satellite derived data, many stated needs are achievable through existing commercially available products and services.
  • Education
    • Earth Observation using satellites can be perceived as complex and expensive. There is a need to raise general awareness and promote the benefits of what EO can do and how it can be used to raise baseline awareness and make this data and technology much more accessible to the public sector masses.
    • There may be a need for a dedicated campaign or dedicated "Policy/Technology/Space Services Training Package" for public sector employees
  • Governance
    • There is already an existing mechanism (i.e. SSGP) which could be used to help embed change across Government, but this would need to be scaled up and championed at a senior level across Whitehall to deliver truly transformative cross- Government change.
    • There are a large number of existing bodies and programmes all with interests in Earth Observation (e.g. CEOS, GO Science, ESA, Innovate UK, Defra Centre of Excellence, the Natural Hazards Partnership, the UK Environmental Observation Framework, UK Space, IGS, BARSC and the Satellite Applications Catapult etc). How these various groups could be better aligned and interact in the context of promoting and embedding EO applications and services within government could be further explored.
  • Industrial Engagement Strategy
    • Continued openness between government and industry on requirements is encouraged and needed (i.e. through events like the Discovery Day and through open policy making)
    • The first step in progressing the more effective and efficient uptake of EO within Government and engaging industry as a whole will have to come from government (e.g. through a Request for Information, a Big Data Challenge or Earth Observation White Paper.)
    • Government attendees were very supportive of industry's desire to export but would also like this support to directly or indirectly benefit UK government users too - through reduced costs, shared access to data or different business models.
  • Requirements/Information Sharing
    • Common services, data sets or intermediate products are already in use across Government and these need to be identified, shared and exploited, noting the limitations on sharing of data and wider access may need to be revisited.
    • We need to understand and communicate the existing industry offerings and future development pipeline in a joined up manner across Government and share this information more effectively.
    • Further joint sessions with industry on Change Detection and ISR are needed to explore these policy requirements in more detail.
  • Different Procurement Models and Mechanisms
    • Generic products which meet baseline needs are deemed important, but it recognised these may be difficult to design for multiple end users with differing needs so there is a need to be flexible and a mechanism to "add" to these approaches.
    • Government has expressed a desire to procure integrated products and services and exploring means of ensuring we get maximum benefit from existing investment by constraining or controlling the development of standalone/stovepiped services or by reusing information and data for use across GovernmentDesire for more innovative business models from industry that reflect HMG initial investment, resource driven support for export campaigns and meeting departmental affordability constraints

The EO Working Group reconvened on 14 December 2015 to discuss how best to take forward the topics identified at the Discovery Day. More information about the recommendations and proposed Action Plan will be available shortly via this page.

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