Digital Earth Alliance

Digital Earth Alliance

Fostering Capacity Building in GI across Europe and beyond

Challenge

Employers from all sectors and relevant domains are facing a significant lack of GI professionals. Consequences are, amongst others:

  • missed opportunities to enhance societal and business decisions with spatial intelligence
  • decelerated GI sector growth (in spite of promising business opportunities)
  • difficulties in performing required statutory tasks
  • time-consuming and expensive staff recruitment

Existing evidence, e.g. from Erasmus+ projects and surveys, supports this problem statement.

Analysis

As the primary source for the GI labour market, higher education institutes (HEI) need to increase the number of graduates with relevant GI skills to meet current and anticipated demand. However, many HEIs are registering too few first semester students for GI-related study programmes. The reasons named by HEIs include:

  • pupils are not sufficiently aware of GI-related study programmes, the extent of employment opportunities in the discipline, nor of the importance of spatial/location data and analytics for other professional and societal domains
  • diversity of current programme names respectively the lack of a (single) well known and recognizable discipline identity, to be jointly used to market the HEIs’ individual offerings
  • attention and perception of GI is split across main science and educational fields, like natural sciences, engineering, computing and the different ‘homes’ of Geography

Goals

  • Draw attention to GI-related study programmes and course offerings
  • Create a single umbrella brand to attract potential first semesters
  • Collaborate in Body of Knowledge and curriculum definition initiatives
  • Shape the perception of the professional field
  • Foster cooperation of faculties and departments in GI
  • Raise awareness at high school level and in teacher training programmes

Instrument / approach

The Digital Earth Alliance of HEIs with GI-related study programmes provides a common umbrella brand promoting well defined GI programmes. These cover all 3 academic cycles (bachelor – master – doctoral) and include minor specializations, full degrees and joint international programmes.
This requires:

  • development and communication of a brand identity
  • membership and brand usage rules
  • establishment of strategic partnerships with institutions
  • development and dissemination of promotion materials
  • support from industry and other stakeholders

It is envisioned that the EUROGI Portfolio Group “Education and Capacity Building” will serve as managing entity for the process of establishing and subsequently supporting the Digital Earth Alliance.

At this stage, we invite and welcome comments and contributions towards evolving this idea into an urgently needed platform!

9 Comments

  • Anna Dmowska

    At the Faculty of Geography and Geological Sciences (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland) we offer a Geoinformation study program at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We would be interested in this initiative. Please keep us informed about this initiative.

  • Michael Gould (Esri and UJI)

    It is a fine idea for universities and related institutions to collaborate on the communication/marketing of the value and opportunities surrounding the study of GI (geoinfo) related careers. These careers still are not well understood by secondary schools or even by many people at universities. A few observations on the DEA initiative as described on this web page:
    1. The name: there are many related names to choose from, many starting with “geo”. Digital Earth is attractive in the sense that it may connote the building and maintenance of *digital twins* of our planet, a direction that many in our field are heading. (Some would say it’s what we have done for the past 60 years…) But one of our problems over the years has been that our names do not map well (pun intended) to the names of academic fields of study (see the UNESCO classification for example). A young person studies biology to become a biologist, CS to become a computer scientist, …but what is the path into the diverse GI field? Very few universities have an undergraduate geoinformatics (or related) department or degree to start at.
    2. Related are regional differences: in some countries one can be exposed to GIS and related technology while in secondary school, and/or can begin an undergraduate career in such studies. In many others that is not an option, and most students discover GI(S), often by chance, after having started other studies or at the masters level. Some European countries have a history of maths-intensive engineering programs which lead to geodetic and other R&D activities and companies. In other countries GI is more associated with cartography or with a modernization of geography.
    3. There is mention of “relevant GI skills” however I don’t think we all agree on what those are or should be, due to our varied backgrounds and interests. It has been suggested that corporate and government experts on human-resources might get involved in helping to define these skills…or at least help to prioritize and categorize them in a practical manner.

    I will encourage my university in Spain to join the Alliance, and I hope that before it happens many other people will contribute their opinions here and at the upcoming face-to-face events where this is debated.

  • Monica Miguel-Lago

    Coordination with other existing activities such as the EO4GEO Alliance (www.eo4geo.eu) should be expected

    • Milva Carbonaro

      Thank you Monica for pointing out the need of synergies with the EO4GEO Alliance to support the development of complementary activities with DEA.

      It is true that in EO4GEO a strong focus is put on Copernicus user uptake, however this could be somehow misleading, since both Geoinformation and Earth Observation are addressed. Just as an example we can quote the EO*GI Body of Knowlegde which has been developed starting from the GIS&T BoK started in previous projects (GI-N2K) and enlarged to embed other knowledge areas related to Earth Observation and also recent technological trends like AI.

      The EO4GEO Alliance is continuing its work towards the achievement of the Strategic Objectives set in the Sector Skills Strategy in Action (http://www.eo4geo.eu/sector-skills-strategy-report/ ), where the activities of DEA perfectly fit, as also already discussed with EUROGI as one of the EO4GEO Associated Partners.

      I wish to take this opportunity to invite you all to attend online next week the EO4GEO Conference “Shaping the EO*GI Skills of the future” (17th and 18th of May), where these and other aspects will be presented and discussed with key stakeholders from the Commission, ESA, EUSPA and the user communities. You can find details on the programme and the link for registration at http://www.eo4geo.eu/final-conference/ .

  • Alexander Kmoch (University of Tartu)

    Being somewhere between a geographer and a geospatial technologist I am at first glance uncomfortable with a term that does not contain “geo” at all. However, since Al Gore’s coining of the term Digital Earth, a lot of activities have been moving the GI field forward under the umbrella brand of “Digital Earth”.

    In regards to initiatives like EO4GEO and other recent activities about the massive upscaling of remote sensing/EO skill building for Sentinel/Copernicus/ESA uptake, I would say EO4GEO has a much stronger focus on this Earth Observation sector. And given the recent boom of EO/RS activities in the vicinity of ESA and Copernicus, this is excellent. However, I am inclined to say, the GI elements in EO4GEO are complementary, but not as strongly emphasized.

    The Digital Earth Alliance roots back in GIS / GIScience and is aligned on a more general level with the activities of the Digital Earth concept. It can provide the classic, foundational “geo-” / “GIS” / “GIScience” domain with a new uniquely identifiable brand, for example in the career-building dialogue between companies and young soon-to-be expert graduates. Over the last 5-10 years these capabilities seem to have been overshadowed by satellite data processing and AI, and the term “geo” has been overused and tends to be too ambiguous in academia, especially within the earth sciences/geosciences. This can become a problem if departments get consolidated in today’s ever-increasing pressure on Universities to make money and optimize “outputs”. But there is so much more, including linkages to social sciences and human geography, transport and logistics, urban planning, just to name a few.

    • Jacek Kozak (Jagiellonian University, Institute of Geography and Spatial Management)

      DEA is a very important and timely initiative as GI starts to be extensively used in a huge (and increasing) number of fields, each with its own identity and tradition. At some point in early 2000s there might be a feeling of increasing integration and structuring of the GI field (e.g., GIS&T Body of Knowledge …), now again it seems that various groups of the GI community start to speak their own language, so time to push the integration, e.g., in the field of GI education, is now.

      I do agree with Alexander that focusing on “Digital Earth” as a common conceptual platform creates the risk of excluding “geo” that is so closely related to activities of so many in GI domain. I am a geographer, and from my perspective what I have done in relation to GI is just geography, although it has been continuously changing. Geography really matters!

  • Christoph Brox (Institute for Geoinformatics, University of Münster)

    Working for 25 years in the Geoinformatics field, this question pops up from time to time: Where is the discipline? When we apply for an EU project, one of the first questions is for the EU code of the scientific area. GI does not fit to engineering, not to life sciences, not the geography, etc..

    Where do we publish? GI is a relatively small community, and typical assessments of publication outlets and scientists’ output are difficult. For example, a paper in IJGIS is very well reputed in our community, but may count little for individual performance measurement.

    The Institute for Geoinformatics, University of Münster, has two Master programs in English language and an international Graduate School for Geoinformatics. It is a challenge to explain to the world and to potential students what we are doing and why they should study Geoinformatics.

    Therefore, we very much appreciate the initiative and support its goals towards branding and dissemination. And we would be very interested to actively participate.

    • Justine Blanford (ITC, University Twente)

      GIS, Spatial Data Science, Geoinformatics, Geospatial, GIScience, Remote Sensing, Geospatial Science, etc….. still seems to be a field too often discovered by accident; a surprising observation since geographic information and geospatial technologies compliment and/or form the backbone of so many research and professional work areas. After being in this field for 20+ years I am still amazed at the blank looks I receive when I talk about what I do. GIS is considered some strange black box that receives data and spits out pretty maps. The reality is, of course, that it can be and is so much more.

      The University of Twente has two Master’s programmes available in English: A Master’s of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation and a Master’s of Spatial Engineering. As part of our Master’s we also offer different specialisations: land administration, urban planning and management, natural hazards and disaster resilience, water resources and environmental management, natural resources management, applied remote sensing for earth sciences, geoinformatics among a number of other subjects. In addition, University Twente also has a Centre for Disaster Resilience, a UAV Centre, a Center of Expertise in Big Geodata Science (CRIB) and a Geospatial Computing Platform.

      In agreement with the other comments that have already been posted, yes, now seems like an opportune time to bring the different aspects of this field together and define this discipline. We also appreciate this initiative and would be interested in actively participating to help increase the awareness of what this field is about, how to enter this field, skills needed and the training required to become a GI professional both in the EU and Internationally.

  • Stefan Lang (Department of Geoinformatics, University of Salzburg)

    Great initiative! Whatever we can do in reshaping and reinforcing our endeavours to save the planet – highly welcome. Fully agreed, Digital Earth is a nice, appealing wrapping of what we did for long time, even though it is not too far away from “geography” (literally meaning Earth description). Indeed, just describing is not sufficient any more, for neither science nor society. So let’s try to use instruments such as DEA to move quicker from mere Earth description to Earth explanation (or even understanding?). In line with other efforts (Digital Twin Earth, Destination Earth) I think it is also time to push digitalisation from pure workflow optimisation towards realising greater ambitions. Closely related is the field of “Earth observation” including remote and near-field sensing techniques. Again, let’s move from observation to action! The European Copernicus programme follows this idea to some degree, pushing space infrastructure and the related application services.

    Taking both GI & EO to the next level, over the last half-decade we took a serious effort in bridging the geospatial and space applications community, finding synergies, and exploiting the best of two worlds. The so-called EO4GEO Alliance, which recently emerged from this endeavour, is a multi-player undertaking involving academics and industries representing the growing EO*GI sector. Following the Pact for Skills and other related policies, we strive to advance from HEI education to up- and reskilling in general. For such an endeavour of nothing less but planetary care via digital technology and media, we need to bundle all our efforts and align multiple networks and alliances towards the same direction.

    Ps, our Erasmus+ Joint Master “Copernicus Master in Digital Earth” is a good example for such an inclusive, interdisciplinary, academia industry integrated education.

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