Dispatches from GEO XIII: A Talk with GEO’s New External Relations Manager Steven Ramage

EarthzineGEO/GEOSS News, Original

In an interview with Earthzine, Steven Ramage, senior external relations manager, discusses his role with GEO and his vision for the future.

Steven Ramage, GEO Senior Relations Manager. Image Credit: Author

Steven Ramage, GEO Senior External Relations Manager. Image Credit: Author

Steven Ramage is the new Senior External Relations Manager for the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). The GEO XIII Plenary marks his first week on the job, but he is jumping into the swing of things: heading a plenary panel, aiding with a side event, and answering interview questions about his vision for GEO’s external relations in the coming year and beyond.
Ramage brings to the position more than 20 years experience working in the commercial and nonprofit sectors, including work with the World Bank and United Nations in the management of geospatial information. In addition to his work with GEO, he is currently a visiting professor at the Institute for Future Cities and a SASNet fellow at the Urban Big Data Centre at the University of Glasgow. He is also a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, member of the Global Advisory Council for the Open Geospatial Consortium, mentor for DisruptSpace and technical editor for GIS Professional Magazine.
Where did your interest in Earth observations come from?
I worked in GPS in the very early days … I used to say that location was like the third currency. You’d have time, and money, and location. Other people have other ways of saying it. There’s no excuse now for not considering location—it’s just too easy to get it, and whether that is precision location, or whether that’s something that’s just on your phone that’s not so precise, but is fit for purpose. That’s actually what excites me, because that kind of ubiquity and pervasiveness of location is essentially why we’re all here (at GEO). We’re pursuing Earth observations and other things that are spatial and location-related.
How does your new position relate to communication and outreach outside of GEO?
 It’s a mix of stakeholder engagement and external relations, and I see all of that as part of an overall communications activity. So really anything that touches communications within GEO I’d like to align with this strategic priority. The work that’s been done—all the major initiatives that have been approved by the plenary—there’s a staggering amount of stuff, and it’s great.
But, how do you communicate that? How do you distill that information, and how do you make it useable and informative for the GEO community? I’d like to raise the profile (of GEO’s work) beyond the GEO community as well. Some of these topics we’re tackling are for the improvement of our planet, or the bettering of humanity, and these are mighty statements. But, it’s a very lofty objective, and these are things that apply to everybody around the world. We’re moving at different speeds at different parts of the world, we have different approaches to governments and policies and technology–so many different impact areas. GEO actually cuts across many, many of these different areas.
One of the things that really excited me, and one of the reasons I really wanted the job was that the work that’s been done over the last 10 years is pretty staggering: to have grown to a hundred  governments and over a hundred participating organizations with the prospect of engaging the commercial sector as well. I think it’s something that merits a much broader audience.
How do you make Earth observations appealing to a broader public outside of GEO?
This morning (at the plenary), we had environmental accounting, we had (speakers) about greenhouse gases, we had speakers about the GEOCRI across the Arctic, the Antarctic, and the Himalayas region. All of these things are fundamental to how we’re going to live our lives going forward.
One of the big things for me is the whole open data movement … People are massively interested in it, so there’s an appetite for that type of information. But for me, I wonder, what’s the value proposition—that seems to be the issue. What’s the value proposition for open data? What’s the value proposition for the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals)? What’s the value proposition for Earth observation itself? How do you put that in layman’s terms?
If we can work out what the value proposition is in these areas we can make a lot of progress with the public. I think a lot of it’s there, it just still needs to happen. That, to me, is my job … There’s almost too much information to a certain extent, so we need to find a way to distill it. Once we’ve done that, then that will make the communication aspects a lot easier.
What other vision do you have for new communication approaches?
I’m quite a social media kind of guy, and I want to bring the GEO social media into line with the whole communication (vision) and really build on that: we’re an open organization, so let’s communicate as openly as we can. I don’t think we try to hide anything, I think we’re just need to engage a bit more in some of these communities.
I may also have a few other hats that are relevant for GEO. I’m a visiting professor at The Institute for Future Cities, which is the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow in Scotland. I’m also a fellow at the University of Glasgow and their Urban Big Data Centre, and the activities that I’m doing with them are all around sustainability and to some extent moving into Earth observations …
For example—I’ve run free workshops on open geospatial standards and some of those … That’s relevant for GEO because GEOSS has been built on open standards … and all of that’s progressed to a maturity where there’s lots of users. There’s some really big numbers, and it’s not just big numbers, it’s the progression of the numbers over the last 18-24 months. That progression is impressive, and we obviously want those numbers to continue because we want as many people as possible to use free and open Earth observation data.
For the final day of GEO XIII, Ramage will be continuing to focus on learning about the organization’s future directions. You can follow him on Twitter @steven_ramage.

The GEO XIII Plenary Commercial Sector. Steven Ramage, Olga Gershenzon, Jeanne Foust, Geoff Sawyer, Rob Postma, Xu Liping, Sanjay Kumar. Image Credit: Author

The GEO XIII Plenary Commercial Sector. Steven Ramage, Olga Gershenzon, Jeanne Foust, Geoff Sawyer, Rob Postma, Xu Liping, Sanjay Kumar. Image Credit: Author