Implementing GIS Certification

With several organizations taking an interest in promoting GIS, the establishment of rival and competing certification programs could be problematic and would almost certainly create confusion for persons entering the profession, as well as employers and the public. For GIS the greatest barrier to the establishment of certification programs is the broad nature of GIS applications.  Ideally, certification should represent an individual’s commitment to GIS as a profession.  Rather than address proprietary hardware and software packages, it should emphasize GIS fundamentals and principles.  Likewise, instead of being viewed as a pinnacle of achievement, certification should represent experience and competency coupled with a commitment to quality and integrity.   A possible model for certification involves identification of two categories of knowledge and competencies associated with GIS:

  • Core knowledge needed by all GIS professionals, and,
  • Specialized knowledge and experiences needed by individuals working in more narrowly defined GIS application areas.

GIS Certification will not become widely accepted unless organizations representing the range of GIS professionals agree to participate in establishing certification standards and methods of evaluation.  A solution would be for representatives from existing organizations with substantial interest in GIS to form an umbrella organization for the purpose of administering certification. Additional delegates to this group should include persons from academia and especially government and industry.  For certification to ultimately succeed among the entire spectrum of GIS professionals, these widely different groups must work together to build a cohesive set of standards and general testing criteria that are applicable and acceptable to all constituencies.

The first step towards developing a certification program is defining a set of core knowledge and competencies that are considered essential for all GIS professionals.  GIS professions in industry and government must take the lead in this process.  The core set of competencies and standards must be applicable throughout the broad range of GIS applications and professions to lend credibility to the certification process.  If the core competencies are not applicable to all professionals, then various groups may choose to opt out of the program.

Representatives from application areas must be willing to assist in identifying experience and competency needed for GIS professionals involved in specialty fields such as natural resources management, surveying, or the analysis of socioeconomic data.  Using guidelines provided by the umbrella certification organization, professional associations should be invited to develop explicit criteria for certification in the form of knowledge, work experience, and professional development.  While the core competencies must address those criteria deemed necessary for all GIS professionals there must also be a system for testing and evaluating knowledge and experience within specific GIS application areas. 

An important function of certification is to provide incentives for GIS professionals to continue developing or improving skills and knowledge.  This is critical in a field experiencing rapid change such as GIS.  A program to recertify GIS professions by requiring them to present evidence of professional development and continuing work experience should become a component of an overall plan for implementing certification. GIS Certification must include updating criteria, in that while the applications and development of GIS technology may not be in their infancy any longer, the field continues to experience rapid growth and change.

Although most GIS practitioners earn profits honestly, at times all GIS professionals are faced with choices influenced by personal ethics. The nature of GIS means that its results can easily be misconstrued or distorted.  The minority of GIS professionals who are unconcerned with the use of questionable data, the application of inappropriate or poorly applied analyses, or the integrity of interpretations have the potential for damaging the reputation of all persons involved in GIS. Thus professional ethics and behaviour must be a centrepiece within the development of standards for certification and recertification. 


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