Profession in focus: Geography

Written by Jon Pickstone on 5 November 2019 in Feature

To mark the second annual Geographers in Government conference, Jon Pickstone explains how geographers’ skills can help improve policy and outcomes

Photo: Tony Hall/ CC BY 2.0

Geography and geographers offer government distinctive benefits. Government’s work continually engages with specific places, often with very different characteristics, needs and opportunities. Analysing and responding to these patterns requires understanding of how and why economic, social and environmental processes play out differently from place to place.

Geography, a discipline distinctive for its spacial analytical skills and tools, is key to this understanding. It provides an important bridge between different teams, expertise and organisations within the civil service – helping to forge holistic considerations of places and communities in analysis, policy, and delivery.  

A strong community of geographers in government can:

  • Help consideration and alignment of multi-thematic policies, including between the natural and social sciences, given that ‘everything happens in a place’
  • Support understanding of the different impact policies will have in places across the country
  • Help tailor resources to the places and communities that benefit most, supporting better value-for-money interventions
  • Aid communication of policies internally and externally – geography is a common language that appeals to the general public and the media 
  • Provide a voice for the geography community to help lead and coordinate on matters such as geographical data, standards and procurement

That is why in late 2017, the Cross Government Geographers Group, supported by Government Science and Engineering, founded a government geography profession. We are working together to promote better use of geography in government and to support the career aspirations and development priorities of geographers in the civil service and the wider public sector.

The head of the profession is David Wood, a senior civil servant and head of geospatial data and data science at Defra. He is supported by a team of deputies representing a wide cross-section of the civil service and its agencies. 

Our first two years have been a great success. We have attracted more than 1000 members from scientific, analytical and policy backgrounds all over the UK. We offer a range of communications keeping members informed about the profession and geography more generally, platforms to discuss common issues, webinars, and annual awards. A Geography in Government Month is being planned for early 2020 with a range of engaging activities. We always welcome new members, whether you are in a geography role or have a geography degree or background. To join, please complete the GSE survey, answering “Geography” for Question 11 (please use the QR code below or Google “GSE Registration Survey”).

Our second Geographers in Government Annual Conference will be held on Friday 29 November at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, London. The conference is free and will feature speakers from across government and the public sector.

We are proud that the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) is hosting us at their iconic venue. As the learned society and professional body for geography, the RGS supports the professional recognition of geographers across a wide range of occupations and sectors.

We are working with the RGS on the professional geography skills framework in government and the role their Chartered Geographer professional accreditation plays. This is to ensure that professionalism in the application of geography is comparably recognised within and beyond government.

This is an exciting time for geography and its professional practitioners. Technological advances and the proliferation of locational data – such as that used and generated by mobile devices – has helped put geography at the centre of big data, data science and the geospatial digital revolution. This is a key time for a long-standing professional discipline making sense of a world that, more than ever, needs the understanding that geography and geographers can bring.

Get involved

To join the Geography Profession, fill out the GES survey.

Register for the Geographers in Government Annual Conference here. It is only open to members of the profession so you will need to complete the GES survey before registering.

To get involved with a poster or a stand for the conference, please contact Liz Fox-Tucker via

Author Display Name
Jon Pickstone
About the author

Jon Pickstone is the deputy director for business engagement and regional economic development for the Scottish Government, deputy head of Government Geography and chair of the Cross Government Geographers Group


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