There has been much discussion in the last few months about the move by the NSPS, a member organization (MO) of the ACSM, to establish a committee to study the financial and membership impacts of separation from ACSM. 

There has been much discussion in the last few months about the move by the NSPS, a member organization (MO) of the ACSM, to establish a committee to study the financial and membership impacts of separation from ACSM.

The action was in response to a motion by the governors of NSPS to “initiate the process of separation and establish a committee.” The NSPS Strategic Planning Committee is charged with making the study.

The motion to explore separation was apparently a hasty response to a marketing report by Scott Oser Associates, which was commissioned by ACSM and its member organizations. The December 2009 report recommended “the formation of one industry-wide organization that included all the MOs as well as the state and local pieces of NSPS.”

The report states that it is going to be critical to “break down the silos,” and that if each MO continues to operate individually the organization will “struggle to recruit and retain members.” In spite of this recommendation, the leadership has chosen to study separation.

There are five member organizations (“silos”) of ACSM, including NSPS, the largest of the five. It’s worth noting that a “silo” is a rigid vertical structure that shields its contents from all contact with other silos. Separation of NSPS from the other four organizations will not break down the silos--it will only put more distance between them. 

History of ACSM

How did we get to where we are today? ACSM was born in 1941 (originally as the National Congress on Surveying and Mapping) following the Great Depression of the 1930s. Several technical divisions were formed over the years, eventually including the Cartography Division, the Instruments Division, the Control Surveys Division, the Education Division, the Property Surveys Division and the Topography Division. These would later be reformed and renamed the Property Surveys Division, the Control Surveys Division and the Cartography Division.

In 1980, in an effort to achieve organizational independence, ACSM reorganized from a system of divisions to a system of member organizations: National Society of Professional Surveyors, American Cartographic Association (ACA) and American Association of Geodetic Surveying (AAGS).

In 1983, an attempt to consolidate ACSM with the American Society of Photogrammetry failed. (A majority voted in favor of consolidation but failed to obtain the required two-thirds majority.)

In following years, ACA departed from ACSM; the Cartographic and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS) and the Geographic and Land Information Society (GLIS) were formed as member organizations; and the NSPS Foundation was recognized as a nonvoting member organization.

In 2000, an effort called the “Revitalization of the National Society of Professional Surveyors” was intended to bring all the members of the state surveying associations into membership in NSPS. This worthy goal has only been partially achieved.

In 2003, the MOs of ACSM became fully independent incorporated professional societies. The “new” Congress became a “coalition, an open consortium of equal partners,” or “silos,” in the words of the Oser report.

Membership Continues to Fall

In the nearly 70-year history of ACSM, the organization has continually attempted to redefine itself and its place in the U.S. surveying profession. Each attempt has been made with the stated objective of improving and strengthening the organization, presumably by increasing membership growth.

According to “Recollections of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, 1941-1991” by Walter S. Dix, ACSM attracted more than 11,000 members in 1986. By 2009, that number had fallen to 3,930, according to ACSM records.

Records show that NSPS membership has ranged from 65 percent (1993) to 75 percent (2009) of that of ACSM. The data also show a history of steady growth from 1952 to 1986, followed by a downward spiral over the next 23 years in spite of (or perhaps because of) the 2000 and 2003 efforts at revitalization and independence.

The Right Approach?

The National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES) reports 39,632 “resident” surveying licenses in the U.S. in 2009. (The statistical problem of multiple licenses held by individuals is eliminated by reporting resident licenses separate from nonresident licenses.) The American Society of Civil Engineers counts 2,515--almost as many as the total 2009 membership of NSPS--of its 144,000 members as licensed land surveyors, while 6,000 ASCE members indicate an interest in the Geomatics Division of the society. These statistics indicate an enormous potential for NSPS membership growth.

Even allowing for the current recession, it is clear that all the attempts of ACSM and NSPS to reinvent themselves have done little to build the membership to include a respectable portion of the U.S. surveying universe. Perhaps it is because we have been moving in the wrong direction.

Instead of separating ourselves from each other--the NSPS surveyors from the AAGS surveyors; the land information specialists of NSPS from the land information specialists of GLIS and CaGIS; and the boundary surveyors from the engineering surveyors--maybe we ought to recognize that surveying is a broad field rather than an assortment of silos. We will only achieve a survivable and significant strength of numbers when we “break down the silos.”