A Geodetic Certification Program: To Build or not to Build
[Editor's note: This initiative is quite timely as the country and world become more geospatially charged. The means to use geodetic observations in geospatial systems and applications is within the reach of many more people—as are the hazards do-it-yourself geodesy, misinterpretation, and misapplication of geodetic determinations and projections. A central tenet of surveying and geospatial professions is the protection of the safety, health, and welfare of the public. A geodetic certification will help ensure that sound practices are applied and that practitioners are qualified. Please participate in the questionnaire from the American Association of Geodetic Surveyors (AAGS) introduced in this article from Michael Dennis, Dave Doyle, and Chuck Ghilani of the AAGS.]
Geodesy is the foundation of modern geospatial practice. In recognition of the importance of geodesy, the American Association for Geodetic Surveying (AAGS) is beginning to explore the idea of a Geodetic Certification Program. This effort is being led by the AAGS Geodetic Education and Certification Committee. Read the press release here.
Certification programs are not created because they are fun. Certification is pursued in recognition of a need within a profession. The geospatial field now has several professional certifications, for example:
- Certified GIS Professional. GIS Certification Institute (GISCI)
- Certified Photogrammetrist or Mapping Scientist. American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS)
- Certified Hydrographer. National Society of Professional Surveyors and The Hydrographic Association of America (NSPS-THSOA)
- Certified Federal Surveyor. Bureau of Land Management and National Society of Professional Surveyors and (BLM-NSPS)
There are others as well, including geospatial technician certifications. Do we really need yet another certification?
To help answer that question, AAGS created an online questionnaire. AAGS is seeking input from a broad cross-section of geospatial practitioners, including surveyors, engineers, GIS professionals, photogrammetrists, programmers, and any others who use geodetic methods and calculations to combine, manipulate, and analyze spatial data. The questionnaire is intended to serve multiple purposes:
- Establish an appropriate body of knowledge for applied geodesy
- Determine the level of support in the geospatial community
- Identify areas of interest and existing status of geodetic knowledge
- Provide guidance on creating and prioritizing educational content
- Show the breadth and depth of the field of geodesy
- Raise awareness of the proposed program
About the Questionnaire
The questionnaire helps lay the foundation for creating a certification program and consists of 50 questions. The first 10 are general questions, and the remaining 40 are divided among the eight geodesy topic areas listed below.
- Geometrical Geodesy and Reference Systems
- Map Projections
- Physical Geodesy
- Astronomic and Celestial Coordinate Systems
- Global Navigation Satellite Systems
- Statistics and Least Squares
- Geodetic Observation Procedures and Practices
- Standards, Specifications, and Guidelines
It is intended that the questionnaire be neutral on the various facets of geodesy. AAGS is not proposing that the questions represent what should constitute the “standard” geodetic body of knowledge. Rather, AAGS is trying to determine what that might be. As such, the questions were developed to ensure that a wide a range of geodetic topics are covered. The idea is to reduce the possibility of a biased perspective that could result from focusing on only a few of the subject areas within geodesy. In addition, no single aspect of geodesy can be properly understood outside the broader context of the entire field.
About Geodetic Certification
The idea of a Geodetic Certification Program is not new. It was first proposed in 1993 by Dr. James Reilly through AAGS but did not garner the needed support to move forward. Since 1993 geodesy has only become more important in an increasingly broad array of geospatial technologies and data. And this also widened the spectrum of affected professionals. A solid working knowledge of geodesy is no longer the domain solely of geodesists, geodetic surveyors, and geomatics engineers. It is now something needed by many different types of geospatial professionals who cannot easily be identified by their titles, affiliations, licenses, or certifications.
Geodetic certification is intended to provide official recognition that a person has the working knowledge and skills to understand and solve practical problems in applied geodesy. It is analogous to other existing programs, such as the GISP, Certified Photogrammetrist, Certified Hydrographer, and Certified Federal Surveyor listed above. By obtaining Geodetic Certification a person has demonstrated that he or she is minimally competent to perform spatial analyses and computations using geodetic methods. It is not intended to certify scientists performing research in geodesy. Rather, it is for individuals who use geodetic concepts and techniques to solve practical problems as a part of performing their work. Typical expected practitioners include geodetic surveyors, geodetic/geomatics engineers, geospatial software developers, geographic information systems (GIS) professionals, and geospatial data managers.
The focus is more with the use of applied geodetic methods than with a particular field. A person who has obtained Geodetic Certification is one who has demonstrated minimum competence. In this context, “minimum competence” is a combination of working knowledge and familiarity with geodetic concepts that shows the ability to understand and solve applied practical geodetic problems as normally encountered in modern geospatial practice. Importantly, this includes an understanding of one’s limitations in solving such problems. As part of the training and study materials developed for this program, it will be important to identify the depth of knowledge required to achieve minimum competence.
Building a Geodetic Certification Program will take work, it will take commitment, and it will take cooperation. AAGS cannot pursue this alone. In this initial phase, the program is being developed in concert with the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). Participation of other professional geospatial organizations is currently being solicited as part of program development.
The questionnaire is but the first step. Assuming there is a broad base of support, next will be determining an agreed-upon body of knowledge, and one that complements others in existence, such as the US Department of Labor Geospatial Management Competency Model. The body of knowledge will be developed in concert with an educational program. There are many other details, including creation of examinations, developing an application process, and establishing a certification board. The tasks are daunting.
But perhaps that is a good thing. We should not embark on such a journey lightly. And the only chance of success is a broad base of committed support across a wide variety of geospatial organizations.
If you are a geospatial professional, you can provide your input into this effort by completing the questionnaire.