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December 1, 2004
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Surveying defined (internationally).

The International Federation of Surveyors, better known as FIG, met in Athens this past May for its annual meeting. In one of its more important actions there the General Assembly revised its definition of surveying for the first time in 10 years. The summary of the new FIG Definition of the Functions of the Surveyor reads as follows:

A surveyor is a professional person with the academic qualifications and technical expertise to conduct one, or more, of the following activities:

  • to determine, measure and represent land, three-dimensional objects, point-fields and trajectories;

  • to assemble and interpret land and geographically related information;

  • to use that information for the planning and efficient administration of the land, the sea and any structures thereon; and,

  • to conduct research into the above practices and to develop them.*

To further generalize this summary, one may identify four areas of activity represented by the four bullets. The first describes the work we ordinarily (in the United States) think of as the work of the surveyor. The second is the field of GIS. The third is land planning and administration, and the fourth is a research function.

The summary is followed by 11 activities under the heading Detailed Functions. The tasks of surveying as we know it are described in the first activity as the "determination of the size and shape of the earth"; in the second activity as the "positioning of objects in space and time as well as the positioning and monitoring of physical features, structures and engineering works"; and in the fifth activity as the "determination of the position of the boundaries of public or private land." Note that these functions include surveying work for which, in the States, a license is required (the fifth activity). But geodesy, cartography, and engineering and hydrographic surveying are included, functions for which licensure may not be required though many licensing laws include these activities within the scope of what surveyors ordinarily do.

The GIS function is described in the fourth activity as the "acquisition and use of spatial information"; in the sixth activity as the "design, establishment and administration of geographic information systems and the collection, storage, analysis, management, display and dissemination of data"; and in the seventh activity as the "analysis, interpretation and integration of spatial objects and phenomena in GIS."

The land planning and administration functions are described in the eighth activity as the "study of the natural and social environment, the measurement of land and marine resources, and the use of such data in the planning of development"; in the ninth activity as the "planning, development and redevelopment of property"; in the tenth activity as the "assessment of value and the management of property"; and in the eleventh activity as the "planning, measurement and management of construction works, including the estimation of costs."

Land administration activities are beyond what most surveyors in the United States consider their field of responsibility. Land administration is squarely within the scope of surveying as practiced elsewhere and commands respect for the profession (not to mention career opportunities for practitioners) in many countries. Land administration is defined as the process of determining, recording and disseminating information about the tenure, value and use of land when implementing land management policies. (See "A great opportunity," POB, April 2003.)

The land planning function as practiced by U.S. surveyors is largely limited to the planning of land subdivision. The broader field of social and urban planning is practiced by others.

The research function is described in the third activity of the Detailed Functions as the "development, testing and calibration of sensors, instruments and systems." This function is carried out primarily by industry and academia both in the States and elsewhere, and is one in which the professional associations should be involved in at least an advisory capacity.

We often lament that the general public has so little understanding of surveying and of what it is that surveyors do. In fact, surveyors themselves lack complete agreement about their profession. The international understanding of what surveying is, according to the FIG definition, goes well beyond our concept of the profession here in the United States. Surveying, internationally, is a very large tent. There is room in the tent for cartographers, geodesists, land managers and land valuers. Engineering surveyors as well as cadastral surveyors are comfortable tent dwellers.

I fear that the U.S. surveying community has constrained itself by isolating "professional surveyors" from the other categories of our profession. In so doing we weaken the profession politically and we lower whatever public esteem we may otherwise have earned through the breadth of our activities. Readers of this column may recall my less-than-enthusiastic response to the recent reorganization of ACSM in which the member organizations, AAGS, CAGIS, GLIS and NSPS distanced themselves from each other by separating individual membership from ACSM. One writer observed that this action would "drive an even deeper wedge between the very societies that should be working even more closely in this changing age to promote and preserve the professions we follow." (See "A rush to "¦ what?" by John E. Dailey, PS, in the November/December 2002 ACSM Bulletin.) That wedge, I suggest, has made it impossible for the U.S. surveying community to claim the unity that might have provided the public recognition, political significance and career appeal we all long for.

* For the full text of the FIG Definition of the Functions of the Surveyor, go to www.fig.net. See Appendix #15 to the minutes of the 2004 General Assembly meeting.

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