International Benchmarking Review of UK Human Geography

Picked up from Kenneth Field’s Blog, the ESRC have put together a report on Human Geography in the UK. The report is co-authored by the RGS-IBG and the Arts and Humanities Council.

The report concludes that the UK ranks top in Human Geography research when measured in bibliometric data. However, the report did highlight a number of areas where there was room for improvement and one of these was Qualitative methods and GI Science (the report refers to GIS as Geographical Information Science rather than Geographic Information Systems, i prefer GI Science which is much bigger than the “Systems” of GIS). The panel calls for:

  1. an investment in training for GI Science which is currently largely seen as the preserve of the Geographer and
  2. focused investment in GIS laboratories and renewed commitment to hiring in this sub-discipline.

Geographers in the UK have made an important contribution to advancing complex modelling such as agent-baset modelling, but they have also been at the forefront of developments in 3  broad areas:

  1. Neogeography – the use of Web 2.0 mapping
  2. embracing and utalising Open Data
  3. developing innovative visualisations.

The report states that there is a small group of relatively young researchers  taking up these research activities and there is a reduction in the number of postgrad opportunities to learn the skills needed to handle and interpret large quantities of data.  I am not sure i would agree entirely.  The UK is contributing on the Word stage through groups such as CASA at UCL, the Centre for Geospatial Science at Nottingham University, Danny Dorling’s SASI group at The University of Sheffield and researchers like Jason Dykes at City University London.   These groups are small compared to other disciplines but they are growing.  CASA are particularly adept at publicising their work and gaining funding for projects working to visualise Open Data.  Students and postdocs are leaving these centres to take on new positions in different Universities (Alex Singleton was a CASA member but is now researching and lecturing at Liverpool).

Big Data

This sector is growing but growth is slow and organic. I would agree that more funds need to be injected into this area.  The skills needed to handle large datasets (eloquently described by Prof. Michael Batty as “data that is too big to load in excel” ~1 million rows). I actually think that some of the “Big Open Data” needs to mature before it is actually of any real use.  Take the London Tube system for instance, you tap in at a station with your Oyster Card, travel on the network and they tap out. But on any given day, you will have around 500, 000 more tap-ins than tap-outs. This data leak makes analysis of the traffic in the network only about 90% accurate (from Michael Batty’s EEO presentation 1/03/2013). This would most likely be considered not fir for purpose in the engineering or planning World.  The skills and tool-kits for analysing big data are emerging, but the data itself needs to be improved if it is to be useful for Building Information Models (BIMs), which seem to be the new buzz-world in commercial GIS circles.

Here is a link to CASA’s view of Big Data.

Shared Services

Well, I couldn’t really report on the document without mentioning how we see EDINA’s role in all this. EDINA is committed to offering shared services that provide access to spatial data and tool-kits to the education sector. We have seen a huge increase in the use of our spatial services over the past 5 years and analysis shows that the majority of our users are not geographers. Instead, they are environmental scientists, landscape planners, engineers and architects.

Location based services, augmented reality and the rise of the smart phone offer new challenges and opportunities. We have been working away quietly on a few things in these sectors, so expect to see something soon.

 

 

About Addy Pope

Addy is a member of the GeoData team at EDINA and work on services such as GoGeo, ShareGeo and the FieldtripGB app. Addy has over 10 years experience as a geospatial analyst. Addy tweets as @go_geo
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