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Last Tuesday I was at a workshop on GEO in Washington. It was billed as A Roundtable Discussion on Advancements in Information Technology and the Next Ten Years of the Global Earth Observation System of System, but the main objective was to discuss the private sector participation in GEOSS.

Despite this, the majority of attendees were public sector representatives and, without counting, there would have been about 10 private sector people present out of around 40 in total of which we were 4 from Europe. A similar meeting called by the EC last September has attracted an audience of around 80 people with 25 from the private sector; none from the US.

Clearly, bringing private sector interests together into GEO/GEOSS will be a complex matter given the diversity of interest, the different understanding of what “private-sector” means and particularly its international nature. It is hard to imagine US companies traveling to Europe and vice versa or elsewhere in the world without a strong motivation.

It seemed that, amongst the US companies, there is a similar lack of understanding of what GEO is and what its objectives are, as had been the case for those in Europe at the EC meeting. There was a very patchy appreciation of how GEO could help the private sector and vice-versa. This was certainly picked up by the US-GEO organisers who concluded that GEO needs to employ some communication specialists.

Nevertheless, overall, many of the conclusions were the same;

  • Avoid competition between GEO and private companies
  • Reach out to users to understand what they want
  • Who are the “users” of GEOSS?
  • GEOSS can be a conduit from EO providers of data and information towards the public sector stakeholders.
  • Need to get more than just scientists involved in the service provision.

In discussion, we agreed that the users of GEOSS are the public sector stakeholders, but the world has changed greatly since GEO was founded (in 2003) and the impression remains that, today, its stakeholders have divergent ambitions for what it should become. As industry, we should start to become clearer in what we should like GEO to do and especially how the public and private sectors can engage in a global context.

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