GIS in the Workplace – How do you ensure it is right?

If you go to the doctor’s, you can guarantee you’re seeing a professional because they’re registered. You look to get an extension done on your house, and the architect is registered (in the UK)with the Royal Institute of British Architects, or the surveyor is registered with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. So how what about your GIS consultant?

xyHt asked me to write a piece on mentoring in GIS a little while ago, and the thought hit me that, although there is a growing need for geospatial experts and GIS, how can you trust them?

One of my favorite books (this will come as no surprise) is How to Lie with Maps by Mark Monmonier. It discusses how maps can be used to tell an alternate truth; in my experience maps can also come to the wrong conclusion all too often, too.

How to Lie with Maps

Extract from Mark Monmonier “How to Lie with Maps” showing how data may be interpreted in different ways.



You would think that employing someone with a GIS Master’s degree would be the right route, but my experience here has shown that although this person might be technically very good in the theory aspects, once you put things into practice, the learning curve whereby all those great concepts get broken down into real-world economics may not have been broached yet.

On average it takes a good six months to a year to be comfortable leaving an educated but inexperienced person to deal with clients directly or to deliver the right results. And did I ever tell you about the GIS Master’s degree person I worked with who couldn’t use GIS? (Yes, seriously!)

So, what guarantee is there for both the employer and the client as to whether the work being provided is trustworthy?

Training or Experience?

It isn’t just the GIS ability of the person that is in question. If you’ve ever looked at a modern GIS, there is a huge plethora of factions to it, some that come with only experience or specialized courses. It took me months of research and mentoring to learn how to create profiles of elevation surfaces (in a 3D GIS) so that I could work effectively with engineers, surveyors, and architects. There are 100s of tools from 3D data through to hydrological modeling or even statistical analysis.

Even in all my years of experience, I have only seriously used around a quarter of the tools! I say “seriously,” as one of my first jobs was to test every ArcMap (8.3) tool to ensure it worked as expected. This required both expert knowledge of what all the tools did (so a correct measure could be made) but also a lot of time!

Why mention this? Because there is an assumption that if you do GIS, you do all these different workflows or can use all these tools.

One of my personal favorite assumptions was being “nudged” by a previous employer into providing flood modeling because they had already promised it to a client even though I had no training or expertise in this area. I am glad to say that the job got cancelled at the last minute, though it just goes to show how easy it would be to provide work that wasn’t fully above board.

It wasn’t just that one time when I was asked to do work outside my comfort zone, and I will confess that a couple slipped the net. In fact I remember one argument in the boardroom where I had a director shouting at me that I had thrown them under the bus to a client, with me shouting back that I had said from the start that neither myself nor my team was qualified. The point is that if I wanted to run a dodgy company selling rubbish GIS, no one would be the wiser.

Certification or Accreditation?

In the United States, there is the GISP (Geographical Information Systems Professional) certification. Although it has a simple test to be certified, it is difficult enough to ensure that the tested person is competent in GIS, so as a client purchasing GIS services, I could guarantee that the GIS had been performed correctly.

The GISP certification requires a career development point system to be maintained. Through mentoring, training, and continuous development, you are then able to maintain your certification. This is the kind of GIS person you want in your life.

To be clear though, GISP isn’t a mandatory certification for people performing GIS and isn’t recognized much outside of the USA.

In the UK, there isn’t any mandatory requirement, though the main method to being “accredited” is the method by which I currently use, being chartered by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). Getting chartered requires at least 10 to 15 years actively working in the field of GIS (6 years if you hold a BEd in GIS), then being invited by a fellow of the RGS. As if that isn’t enough, you then need to be seconded by another fellow.

The icing on the cake is that you have to write a paper on why you think you are worthy, and this is all reviewed by the RGS panel. Again, like the GISP, chartership must be maintained by achieving a minimum amount of career development points each year. You can find eore information here: http://bit.ly/CharteredGIS.

For both the methods above, I think that you would have to be pretty committed to fake being capable in GIS. There is a fair bit of work and knowledge required to gain either, though it could be done.

Since writing the above text, I have been reminded by fellow xyHt writer, Joseph Kerski, that there is also software-specific training, such as the Esri certification or QGIS certification. Where there are specializations in the software for areas such as “spatial analysis” or “temporal analysis,” it would show capability.

But what happens when you get QGIS certification and the new employer only uses Esri software or vice versa? I am a little conflicted on this, though I agree this is a fantastic route for people to take as it shows the ability to achieve the tasks when accreditation within the industry isn’t possible.

Do we need accreditation in the GIS industry? With more and more tools coming to the fore, with GIS becoming more integrated in every corner of our society with more languages and specialisms, is there a requirement for some form of regulation? It would be great to hear your thoughts.



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