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Real-world impact: bringing people together to make better use of satellite data

Blog  |  18 May, 2021  |  Reading time: 4 minutes
Dr Caitlin Douglas, of King’s College, London, is an embedded researcher on a 12-month placement with Space4Climate, funded by the UK Climate Resilience Programme, in collaboration with the London Climate Change Partnership and the London Food Board. Find out more about our embedded researcher scheme.

I can’t believe it, but I’m a little over halfway through my 12-month placement at Space4Climate. Time is flying by! I am researching how satellite data can be used to help increase the climate resilience of the UK food supply chain. Further details about my project are available in this post  I wrote last year. Currently, all the figurative balls of my project are very much up in the air, so I’m going to focus this post on my experience (so far) as an embedded researcher.

My placement is funded by UKRI’s UK Climate Resilience Programme Embedded Researcher Scheme. The idea behind the scheme is to allow academics to spend time outside of academia; the host organisation benefits from our expertise and skillset and we benefit from learning about decision-making and working processes in other contexts. The goal of the placement is to build relationships between academics and the people who use, or could benefit from using, our knowledge.

As a post-doctoral researcher who is very much in the game for real-world impact (I’m the antithesis of the ivory tower academic), this scheme has been a fantastic opportunity. It has given me the chance to create a project that allows me to build relationships and a wide professional network on a topic that I would like to pursue further in the future. For those of you not familiar with academia, post-doctoral researchers (like myself) are often employed specifically to work on someone else’s project. The opportunities for us to pursue our own research interests are limited and I am immensely grateful for this opportunity.

On top of meeting and working with a fantastic range of people involved in the UK food system and space sector I am gaining a much better understanding of information needs and ways of working outside of academia. The space industry is quite formal, so I am getting exposure to a very different culture – well certainly very different to the geography and conservation departments I worked in previously!

“The Food Supply Chain Task Group has been created to help Space4Climate members capitalise on opportunities generated by my project”

A Food Supply Chain Task Group has been set up at Space4Climate with representatives from Airbus Defence and Space, CGI, Telespazio UK, WillisTowersWatson Assimila, National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) and the University of Leicester. I am secretary of the group, so I am becoming proficient in formal minute-taking. The task group has been created to help Space4Climate members capitalise on opportunities generated by my project, and to help support me in the evaluation of capability and feasibility of satellite data in relation to user needs. The task group will run beyond the lifespan of my placement, so it will be a legacy of the project.

My placement has already shown me the value of boundary-spanning organisations such as Space4Climate and the London Climate Change Partnership (one of our project partners). It takes a lot of time and energy to be on the pulse of activities and tuned-in to what is happening. I have greatly benefited from both Space4Climate’s and London Climate Change Partnership’s networks. It’s definitely a full-time job keeping up-to-date in shifts in policy, new research/reports and on who the key players are. Helpful emails of introduction are able to facilitate conversations with people who would not be reachable otherwise.

As I now enter the final half of my placement I am looking forward to taking some time to breathe, think and synthesise my findings, and to continue working with Space4Climate and other project partners to finalise tangible and meaningful project outputs and legacies.

Do you provide space-enabled products & services for the UK food supply chain? Dr Caitlin Douglas is mapping supplier capabilities to user needs to feed into a major piece of Space4Climate work so please complete her survey by 31 May. The results will be used to inform briefings to Defra as well as to direct Space4Climate’s activities so don’t miss this chance to have your say.

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