The Association of Geographic Information (AGI) in the United Kingdom recently elected a new Chair. Andrew Coote brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position. AGI has been successful in promoting the use and application of geoinformation and geotechnologies across the country in recent times. The UK GI community is filled with discussion, debate and initiatives emanating from industry, government and education organisations at the leading edges of the geocommunity. V1 Magazine editor Jeff Thurston interviewed Coote recently on topics surrounding his new chair position.
V1 Magazine: Congratulations on your new position. What brought you to this position? Have you aspired to be chair of AGI?
AC: Thanks – I was invited to be chair a few years back but it was difficult whilst I was at ESRI (UK) for many reasons. The geospatial business has been good to me, I’ve been paid to do a lot of what I love and I wanted to give something back. As an independent consultant, I have a bit more control of my own time, so when the chance came up, I jumped at it.
V1 Magazine:.What do you consider to be the main challenges for AGI at the present time?
AC: Helping its members transition through the current labyrinth of technological, social, political and economic “paradigm shifts” affecting geospatial at the moment and attracting the suppliers and users in the new markets, particularly B2C, to become members.
V1 Magazine: The AGI Foresight Study is aiming at the development of a suitable GI vision for the period 2015. What does that involve and how do you see that moving forward?
AC: We have managed to persuade nearly 40 of the best UK experts to contribute their time and intellect to thinking about the future across a very wide range of themes, including technology and data, but also markets and public policy. At the moment, the editors, Robin McLaren, Steven Feldman and I are wrestling with distilling all that wisdom down into a single summary paper. The plan is to publish the results in February.
The AGI has already used some of the provisional results into its 2010-12 business plan but will take a more holistic view of the conclusions once it is published.
V1 Magazine: Recently a consultation was launched in the UK for the purposes of geographic information policy options. Can you explain what the purpose of this consultation is and how we might expect to see AGI respond to it?
AC: The AGI has a pretty comprehensive set of processes already activated for what we see as probably one of the most important consultations in the UK geospatial industry within the last 20 years. We have launched an online survey inviting individuals to contribute their views, all our various special interest, regional and other groups have also been asked to make written submissions. The AGI Council has already discussed some of the key issues and will be meeting in a special session in February dedicated to the consultation.
One thing we say for sure is that there will not be a commonality of views across the membership but you can be assured we won’t be putting in a “lowest common denominator” response, but looking to present the breadth of views in the community. I personally feel, and I know others also believe, that there are other options for the future of OS than those presented in the consultation.
V1 Magazine: Can you explain the value proposition that you see in high quality spatial information and associated services?
AC: That rather depends on what high quality spatial information you are referring to and what business need you are seeking to satisfy – that’s the politicians’ answer. However, I believe this to be a matter of “horses for courses”. For instance, OSM is an entirely suitable platform for many, many applications but I’m not sure I would want to buy my house on the basis of what “the crowd” may suggest is my boundary.
V1 Magazine: What is the AGI membership doing in the area of sustainability? Are there connections to government and businesses to promote sustainability via AGI and do you expect to initiate others?
AC: Many of our members are involved in creating more sustainable communities, more sustainable environmental policy and other aspects of sustainability. For instance, there are some great examples amongst our local Government members where geospatial information is being used heavily to help meet sustainability goals – I think work on coastal zone management is particularly important as we look forward to rising sea levels. On a related issue, the AGI is taking increasingly seriously its corporate social responsibilities by formally recognising in our business plan a commitment to actively promote the use of geospatial to help initiatives to reduce social deprivation and reverse climate change.
V1 Magazine: How do you interpret the balance between professional GI services and data as compared to neogeography and other social mapping efforts? What are the challenges in this area?
We’re all in it together – forget “turf wars” and labels.
V1 Magazine: Further to the previous question, how can we reduce conflicts surrounding shared data and GI policies?
AC: My personal view is that I am hopeful that the UK Location Strategy will facilitate the development of a coherent Spatial Data Infrastructure, but given the speed of travel of Web 2.0, Smartphone applications and cloud computing, it will probably happen anyway.
V1 Magazine: What would you say to first year college and university students who are thinking about becoming members of AGI?
AC: I’m not sure that for any undergraduate in any industry, the first thing on my mind is to join a professional body! Personally, I think we need to be realistic here, but apply the What’s In it For Me (WIFM) principle and focus on a couple of things. Will it help me get a better degree? – if an AGI event covers topics which might get me a better mark in next summer’s exam then maybe I might attend but it would need to be really cheap. Will it help me get a job? – maybe I’d attend something which enabled me to network with employers, Chartered Geographer status will also be relevant to some in this regard. However, this is not my expertise and I’m really pleased we’ve got a very strong AGI group, lead by Angela Baker and others, currently looking at the whole education sector and how we may better engage.
V1 Magazine: There are other organisations in different European countries with a similar goal as AGI, do you connect with those groups and people?
AC: We’ve got a pretty good act in a number of areas. The AGI’s INSPIRE action working group does an excellent job keeping us connected with all things geospatial in the EC. We have a lot of bilateral contacts too, we were recently able to assist the Ukraine in looking at their SDI through Ian Masser.
V1 Magazine: When you stand on the mountain and overlook the GI valley, what trends do you see? Which technologies and services have surprised you? Why?
AC: I rely on others with bigger brains and clearer vision to climb the mountains and see the future! However, I do try to listen and understand what they say. Two trends fascinate me, one micro and the macro. At the microscale, it is hyperlocal – the idea of communities creating their own information systems with geospatial at the heart. At the macroscale, it is globalisation – how long will it take for China to replace the US as the dominant economic force in the world. What will this mean for our industry?
One thing is for sure, the “cheese has moved” – I’m not sure where our commercial members will make money in the future, but it isn’t where they have done in the last 10 years for sure and they need to find out “pretty darn quick”.
V1 Magazine: What has been the most difficult issue to resolve in the AGI community over the years that you have observed? How did it get resolved?
AC: Individuals using the AGI to push their own personal agenda – this has nearly caused the organisation to split apart on a couple of occasions. The AGI now has a robust set of governance arrangements, so I think this is far less likely to happen today. However, we all have to recognise that geospatial is a small part of the information science industry, if we want to have any influence it will only happen by acting together – so we need to bury our egos for the common good.
V1 Magazine: At the end of your time as AGI chairman what would you hope to have accomplished?
AC: The AGI fully engaged in influencing the future directions for the industry, based on leveraging the results of the foresight 2015 study. I’d also like to see an AGI that offers a wider portfolio of services to its members, to give it a more robust financial foundation for the future, and also one that has developed stronger links with the other bodies in the UK Geoforum. However, I believe that all organisations are fundamentally dependent on their people – so I want the AGI team to be happy and well motivated and be supported by an increasingly large “pool” of willing and able volunteers.
Andy Coote, is the Chief Executive of ConsultingWhere, an international IT consultancy specialising in geospatial business and technology. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org