Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Demonstrating the value of Earth observations—methods, practical applications, and solutions—group on Earth observations side event proceedings

April 19, 2019

Executive Summary

The U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the European Association for Remote Sensing Companies, and the European Space Agency in coordination with the GEOValue Community hosted a side event to the Group on Earth Observations Plenary on October 23–24, 2017, in Washington, D.C. The workshop, entitled “Demonstrating the Value of Earth Observations: Methods, Practical Applications and Solutions,” brought together more than 60 international experts including economists, scientists, and engineers to consider the state of the science and applications of valuing Earth observations (EO).

This 2-day workshop built upon previous activities developed under the GEOValue initiative. This workshop brought together expert analysts from multiple disciplines and backgrounds who are developing methods to identify and measure the value of information generated from the use of satellite and in-situ data. The mix of government agencies, international financial institutions, and independent consultants who participated in the workshop blended to develop a rich mix of views, approaches, and outcomes.

During the first part of the workshop, the focus was on the latest science in valuing EO. A number of methodologies were described. Approaches generally assess the societal benefits of specific actions (for example, investments in EO). Some methods focus on broad measures of economic activity (for example, gross domestic product) or methods to assess total economic value such as contingent valuation surveys. Alternatively, use-case approaches (a use case is defined as an evaluation in which one or more decisions, applications, or other uses of data, information, and information products are specifically considered) start with the specific actions and how information is used to support decision making and affect outcomes.

The second part of the meeting was focused on the use and development of value chains and decision trees. A value chain can be defined as the set of value-adding activities that one or more organizations perform in creating and distributing goods and services. In terms of EO, the value chain approach can be applied to consider societal benefits of the data and assess the value of data and data features. The EO value chain considers the geospatial data sources and the processing of the data into value added information to be incorporated into decision-support systems, leading to decision makers’ actions. To understand the value of EO, one would also need to recognize the demand side of the equation or how EO benefits users. Extending the value chain concept and incorporating tenets of Bayesian decision making, a decision tree would include one or more use cases. The value provided by the marginal increase in information could flow from one or several parts of the supply side of the value chain. The decision tree is based on the premise that information has no value if it is not used in at least one decision. By connecting the value chain and the decision tree, a framework is created that allows for conceptualizing the value of EO in its many uses. One can then apply economic techniques to monetize the marginal benefit of an outcome with information versus one without.

A third part of the meeting applied the value chain and decision-tree frameworks to five specific thematic areas, each with the focus of using information for a decision point:

  • Effect of increasing temperatures on human health;
  • Flooding—Mitigating, managing, and avoiding impacts to safety and property damage;
  • Harmful algal blooms—Effects on human health, recreation, and tourism;
  • Energy and mineral supply—Mitigating, managing, and avoiding impacts of shortfalls on the economy; and
  • Effects of natural hazards on transportation systems—Effects on mobility, safety, and the economy.

During the working session, five separate groups worked to define and delineate the value chains and decision trees associated with each topic, discussing the related challenges and data needs. The outcomes were reported back to the full group. Because of the complexity of the topics, most groups first identified a network of value chains and then narrowed the scope to develop a single value chain to address their group’s topic. Although they worked separately and on different topics, the groups came to similar conclusions, concurring that the value chain and decision-tree frameworks are very effective for informing quantitative impact assessments and developing a relatable narrative to assist the public in understanding the link between EO and citizens.

Publication Year 2019
Title Demonstrating the value of Earth observations—methods, practical applications, and solutions—group on Earth observations side event proceedings
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191033
Authors Francoise Pearlman, Collin B. Lawrence, Emily J. Pindilli, Denna Geppi, Carl D. Shapiro, Monica Grasso, Jay Pearlman, Jeffery Adkins, Geoff Sawyer, Alessandra Tassa
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2019-1033
Index ID ofr20191033
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Science and Decisions Center