Geospatial Skills in a Complex World

Geospatial skills transcend traditional professional boundaries. They can be applied to solving humanitarian challenges as they can to solving biodiversity challenges.

Geospatial tools help decision makers apply data to help solve complex problems. Whether the problem is environmental, social, or health focused (or perhaps a combination of all three), the ability to rapidly apply geospatial tools can, quite literally, save lives and ecosystems.

A Global Strategy for Geospatial Work

One example of how geospatial work is integrated into problem solving is the new Geospatial Strategy launched by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is a leading international development agency. They highlight that geospatial technologies are fundamental for addressing complex problems.

The USAID strategy makes clear that geospatial skills transcend traditional professional boundaries. The same set of geospatial skills can be applied to solving humanitarian challenges as they can to solving biodiversity challenges.

People are Part of the Strategy

The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW­–Madison has been at the forefront of geospatial training and research. One thing that helps us stand out in this highly competitive discipline is our emphasis on people. Yes, people. We believe that people solve problems and that people can best solve problems when they have the best information available to them. And that includes geospatial data.

As technological capability continues to evolve, and as more organizations build technologies into their work, our MS program in environmental observation and informatics (EOI) helps students build the geospatial and leadership skills they need to contribute to a wide range of pressing issues, such as:

EOI students think beyond disciplinary boundaries in ways that help them integrate their training to solve highly interconnected problems. As we’ve learned these past few years, environmental problems are also health problems, hence social and community problems.  People who can step back and see how solutions for one challenge can overlap with other challenges will always have a natural professional advantage.

We all benefit from stronger integration of geospatial data and information into our work. To do this effectively we need more people trained in both the technical and people skills needed to create meaningful change.

The Geospatial Strategy launched by USAID reminds us of how important interdisciplinary thinking is. The strategy is also a roadmap that shows you how to contribute, across a range of opportunities, to make your impact on the world.

Graduate Training in Geospatial Technologies

Core to the USAID Geospatial Strategy is training people to use geospatial data. The EOI program welcomes people who want to make a difference in this world, and who want to use geospatial data to do it.

Nathan Schulfer is the director of international and professional programs at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.