The socio-economic value of satellite Earth observations: huge, yet to be measured

The socio-economic value of satellite Earth observations: huge, yet to be measured [Mar/2021]

Earth Observation satellites provide precious information on various geophysical variables regularly, reliably and for every part of the Earth. This niche technology has evolved over time to become part of an evidence-based process supporting public policy decision-making thereby potentially generating large socio-economic benefits. Understanding these benefits can in turn help improve the development and the exploitation of EO technologies and orient public investments. However, given the many ways in which society can benefit, assessments are complex in this respect.

Alessandra Tassa, Copernicus User Expert in ESA’s Directorate of Earth Observation Programmes, reflects upon the challenges that hinder the estimation of the benefits derived from the exploitation of EO data. In her paper “The socio-economic value of satellite earth observations: huge, yet to be measured” (March 2019), in particular, she suggests that empirical approaches based on value-chain analyses (e.g. Value of Information) can greatly contribute to enhance the understanding about the processes in which value is generated. This is particularly needed when the data are distributed under an open and free access policy, which boosts data exploitation but makes it difficult to track the actual users and uses. “Take the example of the Copernicus Programme” She observes “We know that more almost 400.000 users have registered on the Copernicus Sentinels data hub so far and have downloaded more than 300PB of data. However, we know relatively little about how these data are actually being used and even less about how they are generating benefits for the users downstream and for society at large.”

An on-going activity which is feeding original inputs in this respect is the Copernicus Sentinels Benefits Study (SeBS). Geoff Sawyer, the project leader and former Secretary General of the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies, highlights “From EARSC, we already knew that EO data are beneficial for companies generating value-added services and for their users. However, with SeBS, we have learned much more about how far benefits are cascaded even further downstream and propagate deeply into society.”

Leveraging on the experience accumulated through the bottom-up assessment of more than 12 different use cases, Geoff and his team have published a methodology intended to provide practical guidelines for practitioners.

“We hope that the study findings and the methodology can attract the attention of practitioners and support further the collection of information about the benefits accrued through the use of EO data and of EO-derived services. The framework we have devised, of 6 different dimensions in which the value can be realised, is proving to be a robust lens through which to analyse each case.”

Dr. Tassa adds “The understanding of the benefits derived from EO requires a collective effort and a multidisciplinary approach. It is only through engaging the beneficiaries that we can collect original information and build ever credible and comprehensive estimates.”


To access the SeBS case studies  and more detailed information, please click here.

To learn more about the SeBS methodology to conduct these case studies, please click here.

To access the Copernicus Sentinels distribution point Open Hub, for more data and reports, please click here.

To read about the general project context in the “The socio-economic value of satellite earth observations: huge, yet to be measured”, please click here


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