FIG Article of the Month - October 2021

FIG e-Working Week 2021 Keynote: The Impact of COVID 19 on the Profession 

Steven Ramage (GEO), Léa Bodossian (EuroGeographics) and Benjamin Davis (FAO) with chair Kate Fairlie
Instead of a paper we would like to share with you a series of video recordings from the keynote sessions of FIG e-Working Week 2021.

In October’s "Video of the Month" Steven Ramage, Léa Bodossian and Benjamin Davis talk with Kate Fairlie about the impact the global coronavirus pandemic has had on the geospatial industry worldwide and the ways in which surveying and geospatial professionals have adapted to these unexpected circumstances.

Are we still talking about covid-19? How we could not?! There is no question that the global pandemic has fundamentally changed the geospatial industry worldwide – whether it be the way we work, the growth of digitalisation and the ever-growing ubiquity of geospatial. But what permanent changes from our profession’s pandemic response will we take forward? And what have we learned to tackle tomorrow’s problems, before they happen?

The impacts of the global pandemic are not equal across cultures and economies: different regions, different specialisations, different sectors and industries have all been affected – and hence responded – in different ways. Covid-19 has exacerbated the inequalities that exist – furthering the divides between urban and rural, rich and poor, developed and developing. Given the spatial dimensions at play, the surveying profession arguably has a responsibility not just to respond, but to direct change for the better, allowing us to use this break from reality as an opportunity to leave poor practices behind, and embrace innovative good practices in the future.

This session took the lens of three member-oriented international organisations – GEO, EuroGeographics and FAO - to determine what impacts they and their networks have experienced, how they are adapting, and what they see as the future of the surveying and geospatial professions in a post-pandemic world.

Equality was a major theme of the session, with supporting themes including knowledge management, digitalisation and gender. Some key points and takeaways for FIG included:

  • Covid-19, through videoconferencing uptake and growth in familiarity, has increased the speed and accessibility of collaboration. Whether this has flattened existing hierarchies is more nuanced: certainly there has been greater opportunity to decentralise organisational knowledge and meeting attendance – but this has not brought about universal inclusion. Steven reported being asked for funding to enable speakers to buy sufficient data to be able to present at key events, whilst Ben noted that some projects with vulnerable and remote populations had been curtailed due to limitations of reach. For FIG, there is a clear need to be explicit about the nuances of openness, participation and accessibility.
  • Greater online presence and interaction also facilitates knowledge management and peer-to-peer support across contexts – for example, European cadastres were able to learn from each other when digitalising and transitioning to online service provision; in a hackathon that GEO supported, indigenous communities from Kenya and Brazil worked together online to develop a spatial app meeting their mutual challenges. There is a clear opportunity for FIG to embrace and build on such initiatives.
  • Recognition of the unequal burden of pandemic impacts on women remains a key area of concern. These burdens range from increased home and care responsibilities, greater likelihood of job losses and exacerbation of existing inequalities – especially around land tenure, loss of health services, increases in gender-based violence, etc. This echoes growing recognition within FIG of the need for enhanced work on gender, diversity and inclusion – and gender and diversity issues should certainly remain at the forefront of FIG’s agenda.

Our speakers had three distinct calls to action:

  1. To recognise the long-term consequences and many different dimensions of inequality and particularly recognise that inequality isn’t inevitable but does need to be explicitly addressed.
  2. To capitalise on the pace of policy change that was realised to enable digitalisation of cadastres during the pandemic, and to use these mechanisms and continued impetus to address inequalities.
  3. The need for FIG to look beyond our areas of specialisation to really apply these to other domains and existing challenges – from supply chains through to accelerating digital transformations and governance.

As we’re all aware, Covid-19 has been a game changer in accelerating widespread digitalisation and adoption of spatial data for analysis and visualisation, and many geospatial professionals have been at the centre of response, reporting and mitigation initiatives. Covid-19 has also seen a slow but determined transition from the focus on technology and policy, to a re-emphasis on people. As a community of professionals, FIG has a responsibility to continue this focus – recognising that people, and ensuring equality, are at the core of what we do. The clear challenge to us all remains in moving beyond ‘reactivity’ to ‘proactivity’ in this new ‘covid endemic’ landscape.

Watch and be inspired by the keynote session here:

About the keynote speakers

Benjamin Davis, Director, Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division FAO

Benjamin has extensive experience in social protection, social policies and agricultural economics.

He previously served as Strategic Progrmme Leader, Rural Poverty Reduction and Deputy Director of the Agricultural Development Economics Division at FAO and he was team leader of the From Production to Protection (PtoP) project. He has also worked as Social Policy Advisor for the UNICEF Regional Office in Eastern and Southern Africa and as a Research and Post-Doctoral Fellow at IFPRI.

He holds a PhD in Agricultural Economics and a Master’s in Public Policy from UC Berkeley

Steven Ramage, Head of External Relations at Group on Earth Observations (GEO)

Steven Ramage leads external relations (communication and policy teams) at the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland. He is on the Governing Board of Digital Earth Africa, Digital Earth Pacific and is a member of the UK Space Agency Earth Observations Advisory Committee.

Steven was an owner/Director of 1Spatial for 10 years working with national mapping and cadastre agencies globally. He then joined the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) as Executive Director before becoming Managing Director at Ordnance Survey International. He joined GEO in 2016.

Steven is Visiting Professor at the Institute for Future Cities, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). He tweets as @steven_ramage

Léa Bodossian, Secretaire Generale Directrice Executive EuroGeographics

Léa Bodossian was appointed Secretary General and Executive Director of EuroGeographics in 2020. She has a passion for geography, political sciences and European affairs.

She spent a large part of her carreer with a number of high-level representation, communication and management positions within the European Commission, in an EU Agency or in membership association, mostly in the field of aviation. Léa has extensive experience in European representation. This includes presenting technical challenges and concerns into policy hearings and meetings at the European Parliament, and contributing to consultations and expert groups,

Léa holds Master’s degrees in geography urban planning and in political sciences – European affairs. She is also an invited lecturer for several French universities and a sought-after conference moderator.

Kate Fairlie, Land Administration Specialist, Former Chair of FIG Young Surveyors Network

Kate Fairlie is a land administration specialist with Land Equity International, with a key interest in urban land issues, technology, youth and environment. She is the Project Director for the UK Aid (FCDO) Papua Spatial Planning project in Indonesia, and has broad-ranging experience providing strategic institutional and systems-level advice to governments through projects for the World Bank, UN-Habitat, MCC, FAO and national governments. She has co-authored a number of land administration tools, including most recently the State of Practice White Paper on Land Information and Transaction Systems and decision-tool for land IT system investment with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

With a long history of engagement with the FIG, Kate is a former Chair of the Young Surveyors Network, and has supported activities under a number of Commissions, Task Forces and initiatives, including the International Land Measurement Standard (ILMS) Standard Setting Committee.