The face of any professional association is as much a reflection of its membership as it is the leaders who helped shape it. Members look for continued relevance and value, and that can pose some serious challenges for any organization.

MAPPS celebrated its 35th Anniversary by recalling some of its achievements and reflecting on the challenges met by its leaders. In the end, the discussion was as much about the involvement of its members and how the dynamic force of focused leadership and an active membership has kept the organization relevant to the geospatial community.

Simple Beginnings

It’s either a cliché or a requirement that organizations are launched in hotel conference rooms near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. In 1982, MAPPS took its first steps by following that path. From 1962 until that meeting, the Legislative Council of Photogrammetry had been representing the interests of private-sector photogrammetrists. The organization was undergoing some changes, and Larry Edwards recalled during an oral history session at the MAPPS summer meeting commemorating the group’s 35th anniversary that the decision had been made to disband LCP. Roughly a dozen individuals met in Chicago to discuss next steps, and that was the genesis of MAPPS.

Those formative discussions are always a pivotal moment for any organization because they define its goals and purpose. Naming also set a tone as the acronym for Management Association of Private Photogrammetric Surveyors was adopted. (The organization later dropped the explanatory text and adopted the simpler MAPPS logo.)

At about that same time, the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping and the American Society of Photogrammetry had hired John Palatiello as their director of legislative affairs. Palatiello recalled that private-sector photogrammetry firms felt they were lacking representation and at the first formal meeting of what became MAPPS, they invited him to be their guest speaker.

Those early years set the tone for MAPPS not only through the relationship with John Palatiello (he would become the organization’s legislative director and then executive director), but also for the format of its events. Edwards noted that members get their support at home and most industry meetings at the time were focused on members and did not include spouses or families. The first MAPPS conference in Vail, Colo. in 1983 broadened that member-only focus to include spouses and later family participation. That has remained a hallmark of MAPPS and has helped to foster personal and professional relationships as well as providing some continuity from generation to generation.

The Work Begins

There was no shortage of need before, during, or after the transition to MAPPS. The leadership was busy not only with the development of a new association but also with some legacy and evolving issues affecting the profession. MAPPS stood on three distinct pillars articulated by John Palatiello on the occasion of the organization’s 30th anniversary. They are: markets, policy, and business opportunities.

Markets and policy were pretty closely linked at the beginning. As the past presidents explained, the Brooks Bill and use of the private sector for photogrammetry and mapping were immediate agenda items. Those issues of defining and developing the market for private-sector mapping services with the U.S. government linked directly to policy positions adopted by MAPPS and promoted in its legislative and regulatory advocacy. This, in turn, defined the need for direct member involvement with their congressional representatives.

A theme was developing which has echoed through the years and programs for MAPPS – members are far more effective when it comes to presenting issues in the halls of Congress. They represent jobs and votes in the representatives’ home districts. MAPPS has continued to work on the issues and to represent the interests of the geospatial professions, but it has also helped to prepare members to become part of the advocacy effort. As more than one former president noted during the oral history event at the summer conference, the MAPPS staff briefed them on the issues but also provided a very thorough preparation for the meetings and testimony that enabled them to walk into hearings prepared and to focus on the work at hand.

A Common Cause

MAPPS had established itself at the outset as an organization that was inclusive and open, but another pivotal event helped define the organization. Rodger Phelps recalled a MAPPS conference where the head of the national mapping division of the U.S. Geological Survey was guest speaker. The speaker proceeded to belittle the role of private-sector photogrammetrists saying it was made up of mom-and-pop operations that lacked technology and would never match the capabilities of the government and they would never do business with the federal government.

This attitude, coupled with policy battles MAPPS was already engaging in to eliminate restrictions and open government markets to private-sector geospatial professionals, incensed MAPPS members. Phelps recalled that you could look at the audience and see them looking at their neighbors and recognizing “you’re not my enemy, this is our enemy.” Phelps suggested this was one of the most unifying moments for MAPPS members and defined a common cause to promote the profession.

Opening Markets

The tide was turning in Washington DC, and MAPPS members were doing their part to further the cause of increased use of private-sector services where government had an option. In fact, MAPPS helped redefine some of those options to exclude government competition with private-sector geospatial services.

Efforts continued to support qualification based selection (QBS) in government contracts, not only at the federal level. The market demonstrated the “mom and pop” geospatial services providers were anything but what had been described by that USGS speaker. In fact, MAPPS and its members joined other groups in helping to support funding efforts of those agencies that had sought to exclude them.

It may sound simple in the retelling, but the shift from adversary to ally was not easy and is not complete. But, as all of this was evolving, MAPPS was also expanding its diversification of members and growing its role in the geospatial professions.

While MAPPS was working to promote professionalism, it also had to keep an eye on the gains it had made and address “backsliding” on support for more private-sector mapping and geospatial services. It also had to begin to address issues at the state level. MAPPS formed its first state chapter in Pennsylvania in response to issues similar to those it had fought at federal agencies. It also weighed in on new licensing requirements that were developing among states.

MAPPS was gaining a positive reputation for itself and its members and, when the Federal Aviation Administration looked at the issue of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), MAPPS participated in providing policy input and education on the importance of commercialization of drones for mapping and geospatial services. In this, the organization had to fight some attitudes among geospatial professionals that UAVs were something that should be opposed rather than embraced.

When the FAA issued new rules on UAVs in 2016, MAPPS was right there, and in turn the FAA featured in the next MAPPS conference.

Mapping a Future

Click here to view a timeline of MAPPS achievements

MAPPS has had many faces over its 35 years. Many remain familiar even as new leaders take up the president’s gavel and as new members join and become active. Its support of the geospatial professions has been unwavering. Through successes and failures, strong markets and weak, the continuity provided by active participation of past, present, and future leaders and the support they receive from their families and companies in their active role with MAPPS as it continues to focus on policy, markets, and business opportunities has remained consistent.

MAPPS members will return to Capitol Hill in March as part of its Federal Programs Conference. The conference portion will cover issues and prepare attendees for the next day’s round of appointments with congressional members. The event is March 13-14, 2018 at the Capitol Skyline Hotel. Information is available from MAPPS at or by contacting Khea Adams,, (703) 787-6996.