Article of the Month -
Surveyors and Politics – the Need for Dialogue
Univ. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Holger MAGEL, President of FIG
1) This summary is based on the purely orally given
lecture of Univ. Prof. Holger Magel, President of FIG at the RICS as the
“Christmas Lecture” of the Geomatics Faculty, December 2, 2004.
This article in .pdf-format.
In this presentation I will discuss the relationship between surveyors
and politicians and the need for closer dialogue between professionals and
politicians. The presentation will be divided in following parts:
- ”Surveyors are having less and less influence on the shape of
(their) future” as indicated by Dr. Peter Ellyard, CEO of
Preferred Futures at the FIG Congress in 1994 in Melbourne). Has anything
changed since then?
- ”Politics is such a bad thing – we do not like to get involved in
it ….” as expressed by myself at my column in Geoinformatics, March
2004. Are we going to accept this for ever?
- ”Like it or not: we are part of the property profession” as
David J. Powell, Chairman of the Geomatics Faculty of RICS wrote in
the Geomatics World, September/October 2004. Or are we even of more?
- ”Can membership of FIG be justified?” as asked by Alan F.
Wright and James R. Smith in the Civil Engineering Surveyor,
September 2004. Is there any equal option?
1. “SURVEYORS ARE HAVING LESS AND LESS INFLUENCE ON THE SHAPE OF THEIR
As a starting remark I would like to mention that all what I will say now
is possibly not the full truth in the United Kingdom, but it is in most
countries. And possibly it is the case even here.
As Dr. Peter Ellyard mentioned in 1994”surveyors are having less and
less influence on the shape of (their) future”. Has anything changed in
ten years’ time?
Let me start with a very actual story of Bavaria: the biggest university
in Munich has against the background of urgent reforms decided to close down
the chair of Bavarian history with few students and obviously no great
What has happened? After the report in the newspaper there was a big
protest and finally the minister decided that it will be his decision to
close down or not – although the university was asked to make its own
A very small discipline was saved by the minister! Why? Because it stands
for Bavarian identity and culture! What would happen if the board of
Technische Universität of Munich had suggested closing down the chairs of
surveying because of too few students and too little relevance to society?
Fortunately we were up to now not urged to give the answer for Munich –
but we already got the answer in some other cities and countries. And there
we can ask about deficits and faults of professors and professionals – they
were not successful to convince the board of university and the public about
the need of existence ….
Additionally the surveying authority in Bavaria is restructuring its
organization by closing down several offices, cutting down services and
making big cuts in the number of staff.
These changes have also great impact on the situation and education of
surveying and geomatics in my home country. What will happen with the
surveying education in Munich? There is still no answer, but we already know
about the development in Delft or Cape Town that is considering closing the
geomatics programme, even though the demand on the market requires more and
more professionals both for land administration and geomatics. Traditional
surveying programmes in geodesy and photogrammetry are closed or under
threat e.g. in Berlin and in Stockholm. It is not only because of fewer
students, but it is mainly because of lack of marketing, advertisement and
image of the profession – and in many cases because of lack of influencing
politicians (e.g. in the cases of Berlin and Delft) and the public.
It is easy to add several newer examples to the list where surveyors have
failed in influencing politicians – the examples can be taken from almost
anywhere in the world:
||Failure in introducing the system of
licensed surveyors because the non Bavarian and Bavarian lobbyists did
not understand the political culture in Bavaria (the Parliament is more
influential than the “Reform Minister” or other Ministers.)
“Powerful and close connections to Members of Parliament have
resulted in victory for the geodetic rural service which was threatened
to lose its independent status”
||Requests from surveyors for FIG to help
with the bad standing of surveying profession in Malaysia and the region
and need to get professional qualifications standardized.
||Surveying services are of the lower level
of remuneration because among other things there are no surveyors
represented in the Parliament.
||As a profession we have given up to invite
political leaders to our conferences. E.g. in Paris, Washington DC or at
the German Intergeo there are not any more politicians as keynote
speakers. In the former times the conferences were opened by presidents
||Nobody knows what surveyors are what they
do and that there even exists a surveyors association – in one of the
countries that urgently needs e.g. effective cadastral system.
||At opening celebrations of new
constructions like bridges, buildings etc. surveyors’ contribution is
hardly ever mentioned in the media or in the speeches and publications.
Contrary to the bad news there are also some encouraging news how
surveyors – especially in the developing countries, is this a trend or
surprise? – have managed both to create contacts to the political leaders
and to the media. As examples I can mention the FIG Regional Conference in
Marrakech which was organized under the patronage of the king and where the
conference was attended by three leading ministers; the first FIG Regional
Conference in Nairobi, where President Daniel arap Moi personally opened the
conference; and from this year the international conference in Beirut where
President Gen. Emile Lahoud invited all international participants for a
private reception in his palace as well as the latest Regional Conference in
Jakarta attended by leading Ministers despite the recent change of the
leaders and the simultaneous negotiations of the new government. I hope that
the trend has changed permanently when we will have the Egyptian Prime
Minister to make a keynote speech at the opening ceremony at the next FIG
Working Week 2005 in Cairo.
In Cambodia recently the Prime Minister gave a one hour farewell speech
to the outgoing German geodetic consultant praising his contributions to
build up a new system of cadastre and land management.
In several countries in transition surveyors have their representatives
in the Parliament or even as Ministers. This is also the case in Greece, the
home of democracy. What is the situation in your country?
With a good reason we can ask whether the surveying profession is only
appreciated in developing countries. And whether there is a division
between Central/East European and Western European countries?
Contrary to the failures in the traditional surveying profession there
have been success stories in GIS also in Germany and German parliament,
surely not because of surveyors or geomatics professionals but more likely
because of the width and many other disciplines and people affecting
character of GIS!
As a conclusion I would like to emphasize that if we are convinced that
our services are of great importance and if we are realistically recognising
that societies and politicians do not know enough about this importance,
then we must firstly change our attitude and mind but especially our
It is for sure that the world does not come to us – we must go to the
world! We must explain our services for human beings (direct service like
e.g. in the village renewal). The politicians and clients are not interested
in our technological expertise; they want to know what we can do for their
needs. John Leonard, the FIG Congress Director 1998, has expressed this
opinion very clearly several times during his term of office as the
Secretary General of the EuroGeographics. As David Powell once has noticed:
“Lawyers whilst often bored by surveying in general perk up once they
realise what surveyors do.”
After all it is just normal that not only lawyers are usually bored …
2. “POLITICS IS SUCH A BAD THING THAT WE DO NOT WANT TO GET INVOLVED IN
IT” – COLUMN IN GEOINFORMATICS 3/2004
I have tried to explain some reasons for my point of view as a surveyor
breaking boarders (once started from the university, moving on to the
private sector passing through to ministries and now landed again at the
As I see it, one of the bad things that now causes problems to the
university life is the academics’ dislike to politics and politicians
in general and an incapability in their genes and interest to communicate
with the public – and to sell our competence and services.
A result of this attitude is that the young students have no interest and
at the same time they are not properly trained in the field because of
deficits in their education, which is too one-sided scientific.
As academics and in the interest of the future of our profession (not
only of the discipline) we should focus to attract not only those students
who are excellent in mathematics, but have no talents for PR or who may even
be anti-PR-talents, with no rhetorical nor communication or any other soft
In addition we must widen the focus from national to international view.
And: we have to consider broadening the education to become more
project-oriented with more interdisciplinary focus, extend the training in
“soft” or humanitarian skills. At the moment the education we offer to our
students is too theoretical and it has too few links to the daily political
and social life and priorities.
The result is pure technicians who are incapable of speaking to the world
or to give sufficient and quick answers to unexpected disasters or
As my favourite philosopher José Ortega y Gasset has expressed it: “To
be a good technician or engineer it is not enough to be a good technician or
3. “WE ARE PART OF THE PROPERTY PROFESSION”
So the question is, what can we do and what should we do? We as surveyors
must become more attractive, more interesting people for journalists, for
the media and for the politicians!
Our image must be changed. We are not only the notaries of the
world (Karl Rinner, Graz), we are not only the pedantic millimetre experts
with an own precision theory (we talk about error theory and are the
profession which obviously talks about own mistakes!). We are not only “grey
cadastre mice” or the minor slaves to serve the major disciplines like
architecture or civil engineering. No, we must clearly point out that we
serve and respond directly to the urgent needs of politicians and society
as a whole. The needs of politics and society include e.g.:
- secure tenure
- access to land and resources. Therefore it is not only property, it
is also about land! (Land Consultancy Group!)
- disaster prevention and risk management
- geospatial data information for political decisions
- conflict solution in land use and land management fields (e.g. by land
- urban and rural and urban-rural development including infrastructure
or village renewal.
I would like to repeat my slogan about the future role of surveyors: “Surveyors
or geodesists or geomaticians must be(come) well-grounded specialized
generalists.” We should move from a pure homo technician to a
more homo politician.
We can become more influential and more powerful by networking within
universities and outside the profession.
We will become more appreciated if we contribute to socio-political
processes like strengthening civil societies and participatory planning
processes and if we become members of CBO’s, NGO’s etc.
We will get more response if we make popular articles in newspapers or
write contributions to books with politicians etc.
We must invite politicians to our conferences or vice versa we must go to
We must catch up with actual political topics and trends and try to give
our responses. That has nothing to do with opportunism.
4. “CAN FIG MEMBERSHIP BE JUSTIFIED?”
The answer is given almost daily by looking at our work. Ask our FIG
office director Markku Villikka about the services we provide to our members
and the service they ask for.
I will here give some answers with regard to the premier topic of our
profession which in my mind is to improve our standing and reputation.
The increasing cooperation with UN shows the high reputation of FIG and
the surveying profession in the leading world organization. I only mention
the meetings in Vienna next week with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs
here. Unfortunately many surveyors at national level do not appreciate this
work enough because they are still too much focused and interested in what
is happening in their neighbourhood.
I feel that this is totally wrong! We all benefit from the international
activities and co-operation. In a globalized world nobody can step aside,
even if you would like to. The globalisation affects our profession more and
more (mutual recognition of education, standards etc.) and our working
conditions at home. FIG can help the members to become aware of these
developments in time!
I can again say based on my background as an international consultant or
as the Programme Director of the post graduate Master Program Land
Management and Land Tenure at the TUM or from my experience as the FIG
President: It is possible to improve the reputation of our profession within
politics if we show this international flag!
An example of this: we are going to experience an outstanding FIG Working
Week 2005 in Cairo by cooperating with GSDI and we will present the Egyptian
Prime Minister as a keynote speaker.
We are working to get a sufficient role at the World Summit on the
Information Society in Tunis in November 2005.
We are strengthening surveyors’ contribution and role as an indispensable
and equal part of the global planning profession within the UN-Habitat
But that’s not enough to rely only on FIG:
Even if you feel that you are safe and protected in your daily
surroundings you must follow my predecessor’s Peter Dale’s advice “Local
professional bodies in particular need to target politicians and the general
public and explain to them why investment in geomatics brings wealth”
We must further give up a too splendid division within our own family
that is the family of cartographers, photogrammetrists, geodesists and some
more. FIG wants to contribute to a closer and more fruitful cooperation with
IAG, ICA, IHO etc. and welcomes for example the new President of ISPRS,
Professor Ian Dowman, as a highly respected person and as a long-standing
friend of FIG.
So let me come to the end and to my hope that I, as the current FIG
President, and my Council and our very competent commissions with a lot of
wonderful British colleagues and leaders can fulfil the wishes of our
predecessors Peter Dale and especially Robert Foster:
“We must embrace the whole spectrum of surveying in its broadest
definition and we must speak to the world (e.g. to the politicians) with a
single voice of clarity and unity.” (Robert W. Foster, FIG Honorary
Univ. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Holger Magel
Director of Institute of Geodesy, GIS and Land Management
Technische Universität München
Institute of Geodesy, GIS and Land Management
Tel: + 49 89 289 22535
Fax: + 49 89 289 23933