Geo Week News

March 7, 2023

The importance of taking the “geographic approach”

Jack Dangermond’s keynote at Geo Week 2023 places geospatial professionals at the center of sustainability, understanding and action.

“You are in the understanding business.” - Jack Dangermond

There are few people that come to mind as geospatial thought leaders more quickly than Jack Dangermond, the president and founder of Esri. In his over forty years leading a geospatial company, Dangermond has seen the value and potential of GIS technology being realized over his lifetime. At his keynote for Geo Week 2023, Dangermond emphasized that the work has even further to go - with the urgent issues of climate change, urbanization, and other challenges of a world living beyond its means on the horizon.

In his talk, Dangermond addressed the audience directly - framing their place in not only their day-to-day work as professionals across their respective industries but as a piece of a global community confronting the real-world challenges of the future. He pointed out that the audience in the room is a highly diverse one, with people in industries working together across disciplines, something that he emphasized is important to solve complex problems. 

“Your work is addressing virtually all of the big challenges in world economic development, agriculture urbanization, and development. And what you have in common is an approach - a geographic approach. Measuring, analyzing, visualizing, planning, taking geographic knowledge to action,” said Dangermond.

Dangermond described the geographic approach as a way of thinking and problem-solving that is framed geographically. Thinking this way requires the integration of all different kinds of information, and can empower more action through better understanding. The complex problems that await our society require more holistic and collaborative approaches to solve. A geographic approach creates a framework for approaching the future in a more integrated way.

“You are in the understanding business,” said Dangermond, “Whether it is remote sensing or surveying and mapping, you’re providing the underpinnings which drive so much good that can go on in society.”

Collaboration and bringing data together

While it is an exciting time for geospatial technology - it is also a time of urgency when it comes to sustainability and environmental concerns, said Dangermond.

“I don’t need to spend a lot of time describing that our world is in serious trouble. Humans, because of their footprints and living - in some ways, carelessly, unsustainably, are fundamentally threatening the future.”

One of the biggest challenges outlined by Dangermond is the need to better collaborate, whether that’s across job roles, scientific disciplines or industries. In addressing global, multidisciplinary problems, staying within a single discipline can slow down or even prevent collaboration from happening. Dangermond views GIS and geospatial data as connectors that can help collaboration to happen.

“A lack of understanding, as well as the failure to collaborate, is a fundamental problem that we’re facing. And your work - mapping, GIS- are a kind of fundamental language that are documenting and telling stories of our world.”

He mentioned that in the 18th century, scientists did a great service to society by creating the disciplines of science - geology, climatology, cartography, etc - so that they could be studied in more depth. But the resulting silos of these disciplines in the modern era are not helping us solve problems that span across different “-ologies” says Dangermond.

“Now, we have to put the pieces back together. While we made great progress in science, this kind of integrated science is needed to bring things together.”

Thankfully, data is coming together more than ever before. Geographic information can now be fed into digital twins, real-time sensors can bring updated data into portals that contribute to better decision-making and broader understanding, and behind-the-scenes architecture like web platforms and cloud services are making that kind of integration possible. Dangermond shared a video that showed  howGIS, reality capture, remote sensing and BIM data can be integrated all in one seamless view, allowing for a city, street, and building-level view of information flowing together seamlessly. .

It is truly an “exciting” time to be in the industry, according to Dangermond.

“I have great expectations of you. Because I believe that together, we can collectively create a future that’s more sustainable.”

Watch the entire keynote address below:

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