20th March 2015

Reflections of a new GeoVation judge

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Our second guest blog from Jane Davidson, who was a member of the judging panel for our recent housing challenge.

GeoVation Housing Challenge logo

To have been a judge for the first time on this year’s GeoVation Challenge, calling for ideas to enable people in Britain to live in better places, has been a privilege. The challenge, as always, is about how to better use Ordnance Survey data innovatively to enhance the public’s understanding and experience. If the future is data driven, how can that data be used most innovatively and accessibly? For the last few years, Ordnance Survey has worked with a number of other organisations to find imaginative and sustainable solutions to a whole range of different challenges. They have inspired ideas and actions that would never have seen the light of day without the GeoVation nudge – or perhaps that should be the GeoVation kick!

The challenge, as far as I am aware, is unique. Not only does it ask respondents to resolve each year’s challenge problem, but it forces collaborative working, skills exchanges, peer mentoring and demands the creation of new and exciting solutions and ventures using geography. Those who become finalists have to bring a team to the GeoVation Camp to work on building the selected idea into a prototype enterprise or venture and pitch it to the independent judging panel for the chance to win a share of funding to implement – subject to completion of a satisfactory venture plan. The process is equally gruelling and exhilarating, for both judges and contestants!

Growing Grass Routes at GeoVation camp

I first came across the GeoVation Challenge when it called for ideas to enhance one of my favourite projects in my previous life as a minister in the Welsh Government – the Wales Coast Path in 2011. The challenge was How can we connect communities and visitors along the Wales Coast Path?for which  GeoVation partnered with the Technology Strategy Board’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) programme, and the Welsh Government. The Challenge was also supported by  Ramblers Cymru and by the Inventorium programme. 5 winners were chosen to share £125,000 worth of funding: Snout Wales, Real Food Wales, Ap Ogam, Living Paths and Growing Routes between them enhanced the hikers’ food experience, created new opportunities for business growth and new routes for exploration. Not all ideas will succeed, but the GeoVation chance will ensure that innovative, exciting thinking is brought to bear on a problem.

When I was asked to be a judge on the latest GeoVation Challenge, calling for better ideas to enable people in Britain to live in better places, I jumped at the chance. This year’s challenge was also supported by the Land Registry and applicants had to demonstrate innovative use of both OS and Land Registry data to be considered. But once again, the excitement and the ingenuity that is GeoVation won the day.

There were huge numbers of ideas tackling some of the issues that vex communities on a daily basis – how do you bring small scale disused and unmanaged sites onto the housing market? Why not utilise WikiHouse principles to address availability and affordability? Democratising Development, Andy Reeve and Joyjit Sarkar’s idea, uses Ordnance Survey and Land Registry data to do just that and has won them £24,000.

What kind of neighbourhood do you want to live in? Are you fed up of saying ‘something must be done’ about a local eyesore? Using Ordnance Survey and Land Registry data to underpin the online portal, Geovey allows people to suggest improvements to their local areas which can be shared within the community via social media and submitted to relevant authorities for response. They were awarded £29,000.

And, finally, how do understand your own current energy usage as a householder or tenant and take control of your future energy demand? A huge challenge. An online tool to empower householders to better measure current house energy usage and prescribe a set of costed retrofit measures to reduce this usage has been awarded £25,000. So look out for MyHome Energy Planner in the future – and remember it started in GeoVation.

This year’s challenge is now in the hands of those who have won these awards, but the interest and support of the GeoVation team is still there to help and guide and ensure the funding is well spent. Personally, I was looking for ideas that are practical, simple to deliver, meet an identified need and will open up new housing opportunities through wider community engagement. Using reliable data to create new opportunities seems to me to be one of the biggest opportunities in our information rich world. Each of these ideas has the power to be transformative, for the individual and for communities. Creating a better and more democratic sense of place and helping people make choices on the basis of evidence is critical. In this process I have been transformed as well, from as GeoVation novice to a GeoVation activist – as have my colleague judges. This is a challenge process that needs to come back, year after year – educating and innovating on the way. Congratulations to the GeoVation team and best wishes for the next challenge.