Understanding Underground: promoting positive partnerships at NICS Live...by Kirstin Lemon

The Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) is just one of numerous science directorates at the British Geological Survey. However, despite being staffed by scientists from the BGS, the GSNI is unique in that it is also an office of Northern Ireland's Department for the Economy (DfE) and sits very firmly within the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS).

At the end of May, the NICS put on the biggest public sector showcase of the year, NICS Live, when various sectors of the NICS get the opportunity to showcase the work that they do and highlight how this benefits the citizens of Northern Ireland. The event brings together leaders from across Northern Ireland's public sector to share best practice, promote innovation and discuss how to better deliver public services for citizens. Presenting at this huge event is a competitive process and applications have to be submitted well in advance before being assessed by a number of senior managers.

GSNI was the only office of the DfE that won a place at the event and we took full advantage of this opportunity. Not only did we emphasise the huge part that geoscience plays in Northern Ireland's economy, but also how it benefits all other sections of society. Before the event, we compiled a number of core messages, all designed to highlight the huge impact of GSNI and the geoscience sector as a whole.
  1. Developing the economy: we support Northern Ireland's economic sector and job creation a number of sectors including aggregates, valuable minerals, oil & gas, and geothermal.
  2. Research, data and innovation: our scientists acquire, maintain, analyse and interpret geoscience data to support and inform decision-making. 
  3. Underpinning infrastructure: we supply information on geology and ground conditions to develop Northern Ireland's transport, utility, energy networks and construction sector.
  4. Monitoring the environment: we provide information to help protect and sustainably manage Northern Ireland's natural environment.
  5. Enhancing tourism: we provide advice and guidance on developing our natural landscape for sustainable tourism.
  6. Protecting human and animal health: we assess and mitigate risks to human and animal health from natural hazards.
  7. Supporting education: we help to develop and design resources for schools that educate and inspire future earth scientists. 
Our core messages were all presented at a fully interactive exhibition stand that was available for all delegates throughout the day and through this, provided a number of new points of contact within various sectors of the NICS.

From L to R: The interactive stand at NICS Live; DfE Permanent Secretary, Dr Andrew McCormick and BGS Director of
 Science and Technology, Prof Mike Stephenson. 
Our talks programme was called 'Understanding Underground: geology forms our landscape, resources our economy and underpins our infrastructure'. This rather ambitious event put particular emphasis on the positive partnerships that GSNI has developed over our 70 years of publics service. Given that we only have 12 scientists working at GSNI, it is these partnerships that have helped us to achieve our high level of success in such a diverse range of sectors.

Speakers at the 'Understandng Underground' session. 
The programme was opened by Prof Mike Stephenson, BGS's Director of Science and Technology, who set the context. This was followed by a session on Research and Innovation by Dr Marie Cowan, Director of GSNI and Dr Jennifer McKinley, Director of Research at the School of the Natural and Built Environment at Queen's University Belfast. Next up was a session on Minerals and the Economy by Dr Mark Cooper, Chief Geologist at GSNI together with Gordon Best, Director of the Quarry Products Association NI. Geothermal Energy was next on the agenda and was delivered by Derek Reay, Team Leader at GSNI and Ric Pasquali, Chair of the Geothermal Association of Ireland. The session finished with a session on Geology and Sustainable Tourism by Dr Kirstin Lemon, Team Leader at GSNI and Tanya Cathcart, Marketing Manager at Fermanagh Lakelands Tourism. The entire programme was chaired by Lorraine Fleming from Mineral and Petroleum Branch at DfE and was closed by June Ingram, Director of the Energy, Telecoms, Minerals and Petroleum Division at DfE.

Over 1000 delegates attended over the entire day and the talks programme was fully-booked with approximately 100 people present. Of the 98 delegates who registered to attend GSNI's talk session, almost 1/3 were from Grade 7 (Principal Officer) to Senior Civil Service grades from all nine Northern Ireland government departments and the Northern Ireland Office, which demonstrates the breadth and depth of the impact. Afterwards, Twitter was singing the praises for the DfE and GSNI, in particular, complimenting the gender balance of speakers and DfE senior female representation.

We hope that by attending and presenting at NICS Live we have been able to not only increase the awareness and understanding of what GSNI does, but also highlight the impact that our scientists have on not just the economy, but on all elements of the lives of each and every one of Northern Ireland's citizens.