As Shannon Doyle, GISP, pointed out at the 2016 Esri User Conference, many industries have clearly defined standards for what it means to be a professional.

She kicked off her presentation highlighting a number of different ways one might go about defining a professional of any kind. They included years of experience, mastery of technology and core concepts, project or program management and/or development, tasks performed, education and training, and certifications.

“In the geospatial field, we seem to be all over the place,” Doyle said, referring to the lack of a clear definition on what a geospatial professional is.

Then she jumped into a thoughtful presentation titled “Defining the Geospatial Professional: Reaching a Consensus,” in which she asked for and then discussed her own proposed methodology for answering what a geospatial professional is.

I found Doyle’s topic of coverage a very worthy one and found myself thinking about how amazing it was that at a geographic information systems (GIS) themed conference of uncountable technical discussions, such a basic and fundamental question tied to it all had yet to be definitively answered.

The specific problem Doyle pointed to was a lack of consensus on what is required of someone in order for them to be considered a geospatial professional. Of course, as she highlighted, the wide variety of applications and unending tech innovations only add to the difficulty of addressing the challenge.

As she put it, “Technological change is outpacing the ability of the geospatial industry to keep pace with a uniform set of competencies that are now 10 years old, creating inabilities in hiring and staying current with industry needs and requirements.”

This is an important issue to think about and it is so important to Doyle that she has made it the topic of her dissertation. I commend her for going so far as to not just raise this question, as many of us do often, but for working toward a methodology that could potentially answer the question.

In a nutshell, her proposed hypothesis is that the qualifications of a geospatial professional would be “defined by a panel of experts in the geospatial field that can be reevaluated over time as technology and industry standards advance and change using a developed methodology and model.” (She got much more detailed than that. I’m only summarizing.)

For me, a trade magazine editor with a background in journalism, it was, on the one hand, refreshing to know that I wasn’t missing something big in my own struggle to define what a geospatial professional is. On the other, I walked away with even more questions than I had before.

Is it possible to come up with a definition, and a methodology behind the definition, that can be agreed upon? Should the definition be timeless or adaptable? Should it be concise and general, or lengthy and thorough? Is “geospatial” a profession, or is it a set of tools and practices that members of other clearly defined professions utilize and master at a range of frequencies and competencies? Is it limited to GIS?

All of that said, what’s your take on this issue? How do you define a geospatial professional? What questions does the topic raise for you?

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