If you enjoy this episode please leave me a voicemail and possibly get featured on
the show: https://www.speakpipe.com/rebeldiariesvoicemail
Olive Powell is the Head of Geography & Geospatial at the UK Office for National Statistics where she leads the Geospatial division which provides the geospatial infrastructure, datasets and spatial analytical services needed to deliver national statistics for public good.
Olive is driven by her passion for geospatial data and technology, which started when she studied Geography and Environmental Sciences at La Sorbonne University in Paris. She now has more than 20 years’ experience in the geospatial industry specifically in environment, law enforcement, and central government – always advocating its benefits and value proposition.
She is also passionate about diversity and is the co-founder and Director of Women+ in Geospatial, a global network of nearly 5,000 women across the globe.
What Scott discusses with Olive
Support the show
Links in this episode
Keep in touch with the show
Leave a review
How Scott can help you and your business
Additional resources (Purchasing using the links below helps support the running of the show)
[00:00:00] Scott: Hi, I'm Scott Fulton, the host of the Rebel Diaries podcast. This show will help you learn how to make work better for you, your colleagues and the organization you work for. I believe the modern workplace is broken for too many people with leaders and their teams, drowning in corporate complexity, information overload, and unnecessary levels of stress.
[00:00:18] Scott: Having spent over 20 years leading disruptive high-performing teams who have won international awards for their impact. I've now dedicated my career to helping coach and train leaders and teams to deliver more value and impact at work whilst reducing the risk of burnout, overload, and wasted effort.
[00:00:34] Scott: This podcast is dedicated to you and thousands like you who know work can and should be better.
[00:00:39] Scott: You'll get tips and insights from me as well as the amazing guests I invite to be the show, many of them have disrupted their industries and are thought leaders, speakers, and authors who have fascinating stories and advice to share.
[00:00:50] Scott: Thank you for listening. I'm Scott Fulton and welcome to the Rebel Diaries show.
[00:00:54] Olive: I think for me if I sold the idea, it would be nothing worse for me than not delivering on it because that was almost my reputation. Cuz that's my passion, right? So if I can't deliver it, then I'm selling dreams and I don't wanna be selling dreams. I want to sell the real thing.
[00:01:14] Olive: So I jumped on it because I felt on my own and even though I was already on my own in the job I also felt on my own in the industry.
[00:01:23] Olive: It's actually the people are important. Who do I need to speak to? Who do I need to convince? Who do I need to inspire?
[00:01:28] Olive: Who do I need to rally? To fight my cause with me and potentially contribute to the workload as well.
[00:01:36] Scott: Olive is the Head of Geography and Geospatial or the UK office for National Statistics. There she leads the geospatial division, providing the infrastructure data sets and other services needed to deliver national statistics for the public. She's also passionate about diversity. And as the co-founder and director of women and geospatial.
[00:01:56] Scott: A global network of nearly 5,000 women across the globe. I'm sure you'll enjoy listening to her story on this week's episode.
[00:02:04] Scott: Hi Olive. Welcome to the Rebel Diaries Podcast.
[00:02:07] Olive: Hi, Scott. Thanks for having me.
[00:02:09] Scott: Thanks for being here. Can you tell us a bit about your journey working in geospatial, and I know it's something you're passionate about, but tell us how you got to where you are and the challenges you've had along the way.
[00:02:19] Olive: Yeah, so I think I'm a typical geospatial geek. Basically, so I started geography when I was at university. Looking at environment. And then when I came to the UK I worked for , a company called The Environment Agency. And I do lots of studies about floods and environmental conservation and things like that.
[00:02:37] Olive: And for that you need a lot of data that relates to the environment, which have a location. And then they used systems that called geospatial information to map and analyze all that information, and I just fell in love with it. So after that my journey as a professional has been basically either using geospatial data to analyze information.
[00:02:58] Olive: So in the police, for example, I was a crime analyst using geospatial data to understand crime patterns, et cetera. And then became what they call a GIS Manager. So looking after the software and the tools, the data management side infrastructure for all that kind of work for the organization.
[00:03:17] Olive: And I spent quite a lot time there really. But after a while I moved over to Cabinet Office where they had a, or they still have a Geospatial Comission. And my role there was to promote basically the UK geospatial capabilities. So we've got lots of really. Great institutions in the uk like you probably know, Ordanance Survey the British Geological Survey, the Hydrographic Office that do a lot of geospatial data.
[00:03:43] Olive: And so my role was to promote their work internationally. And as I love geospatial, I find it quite easy to to promote it and to sell it. And then I've just been promoted last year to the Office for National Statistics, where I am their Head of Geography and Geospatial. So again, I go back to looking after a team that delivers data sets and and geospatial solutions for the organization and beyond actually for the nation.
[00:04:09] Olive: So all the statistics that you get are acclimated or aggregated to different geographies. Put regions or local authorities, and that's what the team does in a nutshell.
[00:04:20] Scott: Great. So you've become a leader over that period of time then or were you a leader in the police as well, or were you on your own?
[00:04:27] Olive: So the police, when I was it was quite new. And I remember a big procurement exercise to. Procure geospatial capabilities, so like mapping systems. And I remember being the only one who've had ever used selections of them before and being able to advise on the procurement exercise and the questions, like for tender, for the bids.
[00:04:50] Olive: And and eventually it grew and the post of JS manager came about and that was totally new. So I started on my own to build that capability. . And yeah, so it wasn't, it wasn't like I was leading a team or anything, but I guess I was leading the idea of how it was super important to have and to grow as well, cuz it's quite transformative technology. Yeah.
[00:05:11] Scott: So before you came along and started. to tell people about how important this is or was, were they just, were policing, just not using mapping or geospatial data ?
[00:05:25] Olive: So I think different police forces were at different stages of of adoption, but what you had was siloed use where Command and Control would definite use a map to identify where incidents were and where they had to be, dispatching resources and things like this. And then analysis was using a different types of software to work out crime patterns, et cetera.
[00:05:45] Olive: But actually there was no, that was it, that was really siloed. There were specialist tech techniques and, and skills, but like the you probably. and your audience will probably notice that, you know how now everybody's got a mobile phone. You got you, you go for a run with your Strava and then you map that out and it's everywhere.
[00:06:04] Olive: And it's grown so much with Google Maps and everything that actually everybody uses maps without, even if they don't know it or geospatial data, even though they don't know it. So it was about Consolidating what the business needed as a whole. And if we were gonna invest in some technology for geospatial, let's make use of it more broadly to to get a better return on investment.
[00:06:27] Olive: So what I was trying to do is basically uh, engage with all these different business areas and show how that would add value to their day-to-day. And how they can adopt it and what we can make available for them. So it was more growing the enterprise vision of geospatial as opposed to more like siloed use. .
[00:06:45] Olive: So that's the leap that organization have made in the last maybe 20 years, and now it's really boom. you can see everywhere. And not just in obviously policing, but any business areas.
[00:06:57] Scott: Yeah. And I as you're saying that, I was remembering my journey was similar, and it's no secret, I was in the police as well and started out when the internet was very new and I was like the single voice saying, Hey, this internet thing's really important, and trying to take people on that journey and.
[00:07:14] Scott: convinced them and I guess I came across people that didn't care, didn't believe it, thought "no, this is just a fad". And then almost the other extreme people were too excited and just asked for too much. Did you see a similar thing in terms of the people you were trying to work with in terms of two extremes or was it a bit more balanced?
[00:07:32] Olive: No, I think it's pretty similar. And I think, so there's this similarity of yes. Oh, that's super exciting. Let's go for it. The problem is that, there's like the internet, you need some structure to it to be able to deliver the cool stuff, . Then the problem is then you had to explain, they had to do a lot of boring tasks before you could get all the cool stuff, which is where you sometimes lose the enthusiasm. But yeah and I think, so it was either it wasn't so much about the fad thing. I think it was more like I just don't understand it. This is just a map, the kind of what can be. Conceived as a human brain, this is too much. Let's just restricted to the output and as that's all I'm interested in or that, oh my God, this has so much potential.
[00:08:17] Olive: Yes, let's explore it. And I guess my role was to transform or take those people that thought there was a very static use of mapping and making maps into actually some interactive. Solution that you know, with live data and all that kind of stuff that, you can actually make the most of.
[00:08:37] Olive: Yeah and sometimes you have to show the shiny thing, the end product , to make them come on that journey. But yeah it's still there. convincing and having those compelling use cases, that you can use. and then knowing which use cases are important to for which person which role at which business area to get to that output.
[00:08:58] Olive: Yeah.
[00:08:58] Scott: and how did you cope on your own? It must have, when it started to take off, and I'd imagine you were getting a lot more people interested and there was, probably high demand and you were equally probably passionate about trying to have an impact in the organization. How did you deal with that as one person in a reasonably large organization?
[00:09:20] Olive: So I think for me as. well it was, if I sold the idea, it would be nothing worse for me than not delivering on it because that was al almost my reputation. Cuz that's my passion, right? So if I can't deliver it, then I'm selling dreams and I don't wanna be selling dreams. I want to sell the real thing. Cause I wanna.
[00:09:43] Olive: I wanna prove that it's working and it's valuable. So I got to that point where yes, it was like, ouch. There's no way I could do all this on my own now. And then obviously recruiting people are making cases to have more staff in the, in an organization that, got competing priorities and you have to put police officers on the streets, it's quite hard and it takes time.
[00:10:07] Olive: So there was. Stages effectively. And and I came up with this kind of step or acronym, how am I gonna deliver it? And I used the how letters to, to break it down for myself, like, how am I gonna deliver something successfully? So if you take the. The H for me was like a ladder.
[00:10:27] Olive: First I need to identify which steps, what are the different steps that are gonna take me from A to B, from the As is to where I wanna be. And that might be lots of different steps and we might have to break it down into smaller milestones, if but like a project, but it's being clear on the different steps that I need to have. the O, and because I don't know if you know me, but look, I'm quite smiley, so I always make smiley faces when I speak to people or email people, and so the O is the smiley face. It's actually the people are important. Who do I need to speak to? Who do I need to convince? Who do I need to inspire?
[00:11:01] Olive: Who do I need to rally? To fight my cause with me and potentially contribute to the workload as well. So I managed to find people that were interested that could see the value add to the idea, and then having champions in different kind of business areas that would actually help with, stakeholder engagement require.
[00:11:24] Olive: Writing requirements you name it, basically. And then it would be like a bit of a virtual team to, to help me through those steps that I couldn't do all my own. And then we'd prioritize, obviously. And then the final step, I guess is the measuring the success. So the w is that kind of chart of going up and down in, in kind successing, but finishing on the high is measuring how it's going so far.
[00:11:48] Olive: So you. Update, senior managers about, this is successful, this is not, we're gonna drop it, prioritize it better, whatever. And to make sure that the buy-in stays so you can carry on with that. In the momentum, keeping the people that are helping you clear that actually it's making a difference and they're contributing to that difference.
[00:12:08] Olive: And then also making sure that business case for having more staff. Is also on track and being justified. So that's how I did it. I had amazing people helping me and I couldn't have done on my own, to be honest. There's no way you could do anything on your own. You always need to have people around you.
[00:12:26] Olive: And and then it grew to a little team. . Which was fantastic, really. And I had, I even had volunteers that so people that had met in conferences, they were inspired by a talk I made that just raised their hands and said," I'd like to, I've got a bit of free time. I'm between two jobs.
[00:12:43] Olive: I'd like to volunteer". So we set that up and they could help with some of the data management. So it was basically trying to rally different people, different interests, getting secondment from different departments, all that kind of spinning lots of places, but but pulling all these people little bits at a time and then making that kind of virtual team work.
[00:13:04] Scott: Great. So you recruited people. , you got people to help you for free, essentially, but because they were passionate and that do you think that then helped build the case for the actual recruitment then of the staff could, you could say, look what I can do with people helping me. Can we now formalize this because these people have other jobs and they're helping me on the side when they have capacity.
[00:13:27] Scott: Do you think that helped?
[00:13:28] Olive: There was so much stuff going on at the time. I can't guarantee that was definitely the reasons, but the fact that those people were there to help across the organization was definitely more voices towards the goal than on my own. If I had been on my own trying to badger at people that weren't listening, there's no way I would've had the team.
[00:13:48] Olive: No way. And I think by delivering more
[00:13:51] Olive: this di different kind of virtual setup, we sh we had some key examples of what could be done that would unlock some other, okay, so that, that's been delivered now and we can prove it. And it's, that's delivered X, Y, Z. These are the benefits with a small amount of team.
[00:14:09] Olive: Imagine what we could do with a big team. or small-ish team were paid.
[00:14:14] Scott: I guess it was helpful having eyes and ears in other departments that you may not have had yourself. You couldn't spread yourself that thin. So were you finding then they were identifying opportunities in their specialist areas and coming back to you and saying, Hey, there might be an opportunity here.
[00:14:30] Scott: And then also flying the flag for the idea with their bosses and their other team members?
[00:14:38] Olive: Exactly. Exactly. And then sometimes, so we'd have a bit of a quarterly meeting with all of us and then we'd discuss, the progress and what they'd hear. And I think sometimes we had, "oh, this could happen". And then it's about prioritizing. And actually if it was a quick win, let's just do it and and then prove that's working well.
[00:14:55] Olive: And that's another tick in the box in the use case to use to convince other people. So Definit.
[00:14:59] Scott: So just to wrap up on the police before we move on to the next stage in your journey, was there, were there any regrets or any, like looking back you'd have done differently with h?
[00:15:09] Olive: There's always bits that you could do better and because there's time constraints, all sorts of constraints.
[00:15:15] Olive: But . I do think that actually of any organizational tasks business plans, the most important piece is the people. And I think that experience has showed me that you need to invest your own resources in people, basically, and making sure they're happy and making sure that but because effectively they're gonna help you for free. You need to have that kind of exchange of of, it has to, they have to gain something from it. It could be some experience, some leadership or, whatever it is that, that they get. But it just showed me that actually the people are the most important important assets in any kind of circumstances as an organization, but also as an individual.
[00:15:54] Olive: You can't do things on your own. You always have to reach out to people and network with other people.
[00:15:59] Scott: Great. Tell us about the next step then. So how you moved on, how things changed for you growing to, get a bigger team by the sounds of it.
[00:16:07] Olive: Yeah. Before we move to that, actually, one thing that also I've noticed though, is I was one of the only women when I was in the police doing geospatial work. And then a lot of the people I needed to convince were men as well. And at the same time, there was a big every international woman day, there was like a big let's talk about women in science, women.
[00:16:27] Olive: and and my colleague Julia from Germany started this trend on women in geospatial. So I jumped on it because I felt on my own and even though I was already on my own in the job I also felt on my own in the industry. And and so I've put a lot of resources into start. That network was called Women in Geospatial, and it's a global network now.
[00:16:49] Olive: It's we've got about 5,000, nearly 5,000 members across 91 countries. It's a really active network and we do a lot of
[00:16:59] Scott: did you start that from scratch?
[00:17:01] Olive: yeah, so where Julia PO posted something, it's like grassroots movement. She posted something on Twitter on. on that International Women's Day like four years ago. And in, within a day there was 300 people interested.
[00:17:14] Olive: And then I joined in, and then basically Julia, Sabrina, and I kept building it to a point where now we are registered community interest company, and then we thinking about the next steps about how can we actually serve our members. So a community of women and underrepresented genders. And how we make sure that there's, they're more visible and they're empowered to, to stay in that industry.
[00:17:38] Olive: Cuz that's what I felt. I felt I'm on my own. It's actually okay. But I do feel like I need support from others to "do, I wanna stay in this industry if it's always gonna be the Olive, the only woman in the room?" And it's changing, so that's great. But it made me feel like you need, we need to foster this kind of, Support to make sure that we do keep the women, they're already there and we bring in new ones to keep that industry diverse.
[00:18:01] Olive: So that's happened before I changed jobs. And then when I, then I moved to the Cabinet Office and then I did the international work. That was a total different challenge because it wasn't so much I was with people that knew geospatial. We could talk the same language, they understood what I was talking about, but it was, I was totally new to international and how to build that network of, because obviously I was working in the regional police force before, so whilst I had a bit of reach in, in that women's network with different countries it was quite small at the time.
[00:18:34] Olive: And and yeah, so that, and that actually really shook my confidence because I felt like I didn't. Because I came from a job where I knew exactly everything you needed to know about the technology. I was the expert and I was telling people how it, it should be done effectively to an international role where I know about the geospatial topic, but actually how to handle international engagement. And diplomacy was totally new to me. So I just felt so, oh my God, this is like starting from scratch, really. And, but I learned like you do, you just try and you learn from, mistakes and things, but, and successes and then you carry on. And and that's been quite a big eye-opener actually on, on how people, again, are the most important. Part of any jobs because it's about the relationship you build with people and how it unlocks new agreements, new collaborations new pieces of work, and So that was a bit scary at the time. But I managed to reach out to lots of colleagues in different countries, the Netherlands, Sweden.
[00:19:46] Olive: The US no, French Canada, cuz obviously being a French dunno if you've noticed with the accent, but it does help speaking other languages and and then when, and then all the people working at the UN as well. So loads of nationalities there. I can speak a bit of Spanish, so always trying to speak the language helps a little bit, break the ice when you start meeting new people.
[00:20:08] Olive: And trying to understand people's perspective from a geospatial point of view, but in each different countries and what challenges they have. What asking lots of questions. I ask loads of questions all the time, but because I'm interested and I wanna know what other people are experiencing and is it different from us?
[00:20:24] Olive: Can we learn from that? Are we better at something and like we can help them or are they better at something else that they can help us? So that's how I was navigating the whole thing.. But again, it is just proved that successful relationships again, needed to, create those bridges and expand the reach of any organization or work.
[00:20:44] Scott: Can you give us some examples of some of those challenges that you came across? Was it cultural? Was it language? Was it just different views on how geospatial can be used or should be used? What were the kind of eye-opening things for you when you started to work internationally?
[00:20:59] Olive: So there's, yeah, there's so many. So obviously it depends on the country. So in the uk we've got, all our I mentioned before Ordanance Survey, British Geographic Society Geology Society, Hydrographic Office. But it might be this data supply effectively as scale is done in different ways in different countries.
[00:21:17] Olive: So understanding who needs to talk to who for different kind of projects or What are the different strands of different strategies? What are the priorities for the country in terms of foreign policies, but also national policies and how geospatial response to that. And then obviously you've got the different angle of the wealthy countries versus the poorer countries where they, all the, we've got, a massive legacy of geospatial in the uk, but they've got nothing. And how they start from scratch and actually sometimes that is easier to start from scratch and setting up geospatial infrastructure at a national scale when nothing is there to legacy system that you need to change.
[00:21:54] Olive: So it's having that kind of really broad view of all the different aspects and different challenges, but also the good practice that actually fits your model that you can pull across.
[00:22:05] Scott: So clearly you're passionate about the subject. Geospatial and you've managed to build up your career to support that. How important do you think that is to, because there's people who do a job just cuz it's a job and it pays the bills and sometimes people can't be that choosy.
[00:22:24] Scott: But how important do you think it is or has been for you to actually be passionate about it as well as, make it part of your career?
[00:22:30] Olive: I think on a personal basis, I can't do something that I don't like doing. I think yes I've been lucky in a sense that I found my call. So geospatial is definitely my career thing. I don't wanna do anything else, but that's actually a curse in itself because that means that it could be restrictive about what I want to apply for. but, so my passion is geospatial and diversity, so I've done, I do two things for that and I don't think I could inspire people to help and continue to grow those, those causes if I wasn't fully in it and fully passionate about it. But like I said, I'm not there for the money.
[00:23:06] Olive: I'm there because, so the work I do with the women in geospatial is voluntary. I'm not getting paid. I work for the civil service, so it's not I'm not there to be a CEO and and earn millions of pounds a year. But I just want to know that I'm doing what I like and that I could do it. and yeah, I hope, hope that's enough to, I hope people can find that actually, cuz it's just so much more rewarding because you know that you've made a difference.
[00:23:35] Scott: Do you think you'll ever get bored? What happens when you reach your peak in terms of it's just too easy, you're almost on automatic pilot, or is it always changing and growing?
[00:23:45] Olive: This is, yeah, it is always changing. One of is diversity, if you look at the United Nations sustainable development goals and looking at like diversity and gender parity across the world, this is never, it's long way to go. So I think we still have a lot of work and it probably gonna be more than my lifetime.
[00:24:02] Olive: I think it's all right for that. We can still do with more people pushing the cause. And then for geospatial, it's just an exciting. and I didn't know that when I started, I should, I was blown away by it, but I didn't know it was explode to this level and that everybody would now use it.
[00:24:16] Olive: You look at mobile mobility data, how it was used during Covid to identify where people were, in some countries they were using it. In Korea, for example, they were using it to to identify where there would. too many people together and all that location data was just invaluable during the pandemic.
[00:24:32] Olive: And and that's probably been a factor of growing, but also the technology is moving at such a pace that I don't think you can, yeah, you can be bored. Looking at Earth observation, for example, and satellite imagery where it's we have live data now.
[00:24:46] Olive: It's ever more frequent in terms of timing and resolution of the refresh of the data. And you can see very granular details now on, on earth. It's amazing. And then it is, , it's p pervasive because everybody now starts using it satellite imagery. So it's so exciting. It's I can't wait to, I won't be there in 200 years to see what we're doing.
[00:25:05] Olive: We're doing spatial data, but I'm sure it's gonna be amazing.
[00:25:07] Scott: So this one question, ask all my guests, if you could take one book with you to a desert island and you're trapped for the rest of your life, what would the book be?
[00:25:15] Olive: It'll have to be a map book just in case I could find my way somewhere else, right? But oh, if I get bored, there's a good ordanance survey map quiz book that could be, passing time.
[00:25:25] Scott: Know you're passionate about your subject when that's the book you want to take.
[00:25:29] Scott: So if anyone wants to get in touch with you, what's the best way to do that?
[00:25:32] Olive: I'm on LinkedIn, I'm on Twitter Olive Powell. And yeah, just of reach out like that. Or if you need an email address, I can leave it for you, Scott, to put on the podcast.
[00:25:42] Scott: Sure we'll get that linked up in the show notes.
[00:25:45] Scott: Olive, it's been great chatting to you. Thanks for being on the show,
[00:25:48] Olive: Thank you for inviting me.
[00:25:49] Scott: A big, thank you for listening to the Rebel Diaries show your time is precious, so it is appreciated. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to hit that subscribe button in your podcast app of choice so you don't miss the next one. There's a new episode every Monday morning, ideal for your commute to work or early morning walk.
[00:26:06] Scott: Until next time, take care be a rebel and deliver work with impact.