The aim of this project was to explore with Defra and the wider Defra Network the opportunities that could arise from creating a “Centre of Excellence” for Earth Observation (EO). The aim of the Centre would be to promote the use of EO satellite data in a more integrated and cost-effective way.
Initiated against a backdrop of tightening budgets, the project sought to help Defra do “more with less”: The budget for monitoring activities is falling year on year, whilst the requirements across Defra’s policy areas are growing and evolving. The time has never been better to seize the opportunities offered by satellite applications, and specifically the European Commission’s Copernicus programme.
Following extensive efforts to identify the practicalities of an EO Centre of Excellence operating across the Defra Network, a preferred option for how the Centre would operate was presented. This was based on a comprehensive review of the various options for governance, development and retention of skills and capabilities, and access to infrastructure with an impetus to leverage existing capabilities and examples of best practice within the Network.
The project highlighted an opportunity to improve the understanding of the capabilities of EO data across the Defra Network. It also found there is a tendency to operate in silos with the same data acquired multiple times: this results in inefficient procurement and limited opportunities to share knowledge and best practice.
The potential of centralising EO data and expertise to offer better products and services across all types of evidence across the board is clear, as illustrated in the figure below.
The centre Venn diagram represents the EO Centre of Excellence. The various arrows indicate the flow of data and expertise. This figure highlights the flexibility of the solution to take priorities and evolving trends and output innovative approaches that meet user needs efficiently.
The creation of an EO Centre of Excellence will revolutionise the way the EO data is handled by the Defra network. It will:
Specific examples of where promise has been shown include streamlining inspection / monitoring regimes, updating national inventories, implementing a framework for catchment management, developing natural capital accounting and rapid flood mapping.
The next steps are to communicate the concept for an EO Centre of Excellence and foster commitment from Core Defra staff and the wider Network. This will take place alongside activities to develop a business plan and programme of work; identify staffing and other resources plus budget, and begin to appoint people into the key roles.