FIG Standards Network

FIG Task Force on Standards

The Task Force was established in 1998 in response to concerns from the Commissions, the Council and the General Assembly that standards were becoming increasingly important in the work of surveyors, and that the issue was not being addressed sufficiently by FIG. The Task Force's work plan continues to develop as priorities become clearer.

The the Working Week in Washington, DC., USA in 2002, the Council decided to disband the Task Force and  continue the work on standards in FIG by a Standardisation Network.

Why standards are important

This topic is addressed in a number of papers and reports presented by the Task Force (e.g. FIG Workign Week 2000, Prague, FIG Working Week 2001, Seoul and Intergeo 2001). In summary there are perhaps three ways in which to make a case that standards are important.

Firstly, the breadth of standardisation activities. To put some numbers on this, there were 12,524 ISO standards in print at the end of 1999, amounting to 356,427 pages. The current standard set includes:

  • ISO 2172 - Fruit juice - determination of soluble solids content - Pycnometric method
  • ISO 6806 - Rubber hoses and hose assemblies for use in oil burners - specification
  • ISO 8192 - Water quality - test for inhibition of oxygen consumption by activated sludge
  • ISO 11540 - Caps for writing and marking instruments intended for use by children up to 14 years of age - safety requirements
  • ISO 12857 - Optics and optical instruments - geodetic instruments - field procedures for determining accuracy

Secondly, there are the benefits of standardisation. Recent research undertaken by the Technical University of Dresden and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovations found that the benefit to the German economy from standardisation amounts to more than US$ 15 billion per year (more than standards and patents).

Thirdly, at a very practical level, all aspects of our lives involve standardisation. Perhaps the difficulties caused by the lack of standardisation in some areas make the benefits more clear: how many times has anyone forgotten their international plug adapter and been unable to charge electronic equipment in another country? And how often have we all been frustrated (or worse) by the American insistence on using a different standard paper size (and a different measurement system) from the rest of the world?

Turning to the field of surveying, many of the disciplines within the profession have not to date been subject to de jure standards. Some have existed for land survey instruments but these have not been widely used. In the valuation field, national standards have long existed. For the suppliers and users of geographic information, however, 2001 will be a very important year, with the publication of about 20 standards in the series ISO 191xx currently being developed by ISO Technical Committee (TC) 211.

The process of creating standards is a lengthy one - most ISO standards are under development for more than three years. This time scale has to be shortened in a world where technological developments are happening more and more frequently; standards will otherwise constrain development. The same difficulties can arise with legislation - the cadastral survey regulations of many countries prescribe methodologies which must be used, thereby often disallowing GPS methods.

The main participants in the process of developing standards are generally academics and public servants - people whose organisations can afford for them to spend time on, and travel to, the necessary meetings. In general, practitioners are present in much more limited numbers. This means that standardisation bodies will often have limited knowledge of other initiatives - they will assume a 'green field site' when in fact a good deal is already in hand.

These reasons summarise why FIG felt that it should become more involved in and aware of standardisation activities.

Progress and Plans 

One of the main early pieces of work completed by the Task Force was a questionnaire to ascertain the elements of standards activity which surveyors see as important. More than 50 responses were received. A summary of the results is attached. These results helped shape the Task Force's work plans.

A key output identified by the Task Force was an FIG Guide on Standardisation, which would assist FIG Officers, Commissions and Member Associations in participating in and influencing the standardisation process. A final report of this Guide exists, which has been developed by the Task Force with input from a large number of people. The FIG Guide on Standardisation will be presented to the 2002 General Assembly for formal ratification.

Contained within this Guide is FIG's policy on standardisation, which was reviewed by the 2001 General Assembly. Its key elements read as follows:

"Overall, FIG's aim in the field of standards is to assist in the process of developing workable and timely official and legal standards covering the activities of surveyors: FIG is one of the few bodies through which surveyors can formally be represented in international official standardisation activities. In so doing, FIG is supporting its objective to collaborate with relevant agencies in the formulation and implementation of policies. FIG is also committed in its objectives to developing the skills of surveyors and encouraging the proper use of technology, activities which are becoming increasingly shaped by standards.

FIG will generally seek to ensure that de facto standards become official standards as technology matures, or at the very least that all relevant official, legal and de facto standards are produced in full knowledge of all other related material.

FIG sees the following roles for professionals in the standardisation process:

  1. Assisting in the production of workable and timely standards by proposing material which can be transformed into international standards (rather than relying on work developed by others) and by participating in the process of developing standards; and
  2. Disseminating information and creating explanatory material and guidance notes to ensure that all members of FIG are aware of the most recent standardisation activities, standards and regulations, and their implications for surveyors.

In supporting this policy, FIG will dovetail the work of its Commissions and other bodies with that of official standardisation bodies, to ensure that the greatest possible benefit for practising surveyors and their clients is achieved. This dovetailing will be reflected in Commission, Task Force and Permanent Institution (PI) workplans - these will include the creation of necessary information and explanatory material, and any planned output from any of FIG's bodies will be discussed with the relevant standardisation bodies before it is created. FIG will also seek to work closely with other international bodies representing surveyors, to ensure the most effective use of resources."

The achievements and plans of the Task Force are summarised periodically into a progress report, the latest version of which is attached (Report to FIG General Assembly 2001).

Plans for 2001/02

The Task Force's existence will be reviewed at the 2002 General Assembly, as part of the consideration of the report of the FIG Task Force on Commission Structure. In the period before the General Assembly, key elements of the Task Force's work will be:

  • Ensuring that standards are linked into 2002-06 workplans. The Task Force began work in earnest after the 1998-2002 Commission and Permanent Institution work plans were prepared. This has meant, understandably, that the addition of standardisation items to them has only been possible to a limited degree. It is vital that the new workplans take standardisation fully into account. Some planned examples are that Commission 7 will be considering minimum standards necessary for delivering national cadastres, feeding information back to ISO as necessary on the completeness (or not) of existing standards. Links with ICEC's work on construction economic best practice will be included in the Ad Hoc Commission's work plan; and Commission 3 will be linking elements of ISO's work on Geographic Information standards into its work plan.
  • Building links with other NGOs. We are planning a Round Table on standards at the Washington Congress, reviewing how FIG and our sister organisations can work together and influence to best effect in this area.
  • Building further FIG's relationship with IVSC ( The International Valuation Standards Committee has developed IVS2000 and is now working towards a 2002 edition. We are planning joint activity with them at the Washington Congress, and a formal relationship with them, recognising the important role FIG (particularly Commission 9) can play in developing valuation standards.
  • Inputting to ISO's work on standards for survey instruments. Commission 5, particularly through the work of Jean-Marie Becker, has been involved in the ISO work (in its TC172 SC6 and TC59 SC4) of refining standards for survey instruments for some years. The goal is a single, usable set of standards that are appropriate for field surveyors (and not just for calibration laboratories). Some of these standards are now approaching their final editions and Jean-Marie will be at the next ISO meeting in September to continue FIG's work in this field.
  • Inputting to ISO work on Geographic Information Standards. The work of ISO Technical Committee (TC) 211 ( will have a profound impact on large numbers of surveyors. More than 20 standards covering aspects from terminology to translation protocols will be published over the next year. Indeed, ISO 19105 on Conformance and Testing has already been published. At present, many of this first generation of standards will be conceptual models, not providing the detail. TC211, however, is now moving into the more detailed area. Location Based Services is, understandably, a particular focus. Another is geodetic codes and parameters, where FIG has been asked for assistance in compiling a library of the definitive transformations required to move between different coordinate reference systems. TC211 is becoming the place where the GI community meets - the liaison members of the Committee include the Open GIS Consortium, GSDI and FIG. FIG has played an active role, but has recognised that it can't be involved in everything. Particular aspects we are focusing on at present are:
  • The work item on the Qualification and Certification of Personnel (see also below). This has been a focus since before the Brighton Congress in 1998. The current status is that a final report is being prepared, including case studies on education and training in a number of countries. FIG has commented on the drafts, and has submitted material from our Task Force on Mutual Recognition as an 'FIG Case Study'. The ISO report is due to be completed later this year. The current draft recommends that ISO considers whether it wishes to continue to work in this area, which has caused friction with professional bodies and others and, if it does, whether it wishes to be a certifying body or to take a coordinating role. FIG has proposed a Round Table discussion in Washington, including all of the main parties, to see what the most appropriate way forward might be. FIG recognises the need to facilitate movement of professionals across borders, but is firmly of the view that an international standard is not the way in a rapidly changing environment.
  • Involvement in the terminology work. In particular, the Task Force is working with the FIG Multi Lingual Dictionary Team and ISO to review how the MLD can input to the standardisation of terminology. A meeting has been arranged during the InterGeo conference in Cologne in September to develop this link further. The MLD could be particularly useful, as it is primarily in German whereas TC211's work so far has been in English. This link might also facilitate the keeping up to date of the MLD after the completion of the current revision.
  • Involvement in the testing of the standards, to ensure that they meet user needs. Much of this is under the banner 'Standards in Action'. FIG has offered its support to this work, recognising its key role in explaining to surveyors what the standards mean (this also comes through very clearly in the FIG policy on standards). To date, we have not taken a specific role, being generally supportive from the sidelines. We await a clear steer from TC211, although the inclusion of relevant items in 2002-06 workplans will be a particular development. In addition, we are soliciting papers on TC211 activity for the Washington Congress.
  • Considering whether any FIG material can expedite the development of standards in this area. We have previously submitted the FIG Statement on the Cadastre. With the key role of national laws in this area, ISO decided not to take this forward explicitly, but there is a wealth of other material that FIG could offer to the process, again supporting FIG's policy of creating workable, timely standards.
  • Investigating how Member Associations handle standardisation activities, to see whether further support from FIG is needed in this area. This work has been very limited to date, and any thoughts on it would be most welcome.
  • Maintaining and building links with the ISO Central Secretariat. FIG has established a good profile with the Secretariat in Geneva. It may be that further substantive contact waits until after the Washington Round Table with sister organisations, as a joint approach is likely to be more beneficial than individual approaches.
  • Maintaining a profile for the Task Force through articles, papers etc.
  • Ongoing input to the Task Force on Commission Structure. Standards is an important area for FIG and is likely to remain so. It is therefore important that any new structure provides a clear focus for standardisation work, with sufficient profile inside and outside of FIG. In due course, such a profile might be embedded within the Commissions, but that might be for the future rather than for 2002.

Certification of Personnel

As mentioned above, a current activity of particular concern to the Task Force is the work item within ISO Technical Committee (TC) 211 to develop guidance or a standard on the qualification and certification of survey personnel. FIG is continuing to play an active part in the debate over how surveyors' skills can be recognised world-wide. This is vital if surveyors are to be able to participate effectively in an increasingly global market; but it is also imperative that any arrangements are sufficiently flexible to cater for rapidly advancing technology and professional developments, In this work, the Task Force is working closely with the FIG Task Force on Mutual Recognition. An overview of the background to the subject and progress to date is provided in the attached article.


Iain Greenway
FIG Task force on Standards

Papers related to the task force


Links to related pages