Presentations of Professor Holger Magel as FIG Vice President


New Technology for a New Century
International Conference
FIG Working Week 2001
Seoul, Korea 6–11 May 2001
Plenary Session - Visions on Surveying


Do we still fashion our own future?

by Prof. Holger Magel, Vice President of FIG, Germany

In his keynote address to the XX FIG Congress in Melbourne 1994 Dr Peter Ellyard pointed out that surveyors are “having less and less influence on the shape of (their) future” and predicted that the surveying profession will continue to decline in significance if things continue as they are (cited by Foster, 1999).

The waning importance of a profession can most easily be seen in the interest shown by young people: according to this criterion the surveying profession is experiencing a serious crisis in Western Europe (Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Austria). In Central and Eastern Europe on the other hand the profession is still enjoying a ‘boom’ - both as a result and as a reflection of great activity in construction and reconstruction. In Western Europe the continuing reduction in the number of students increasingly endangers the traditional and renowned university centres and study courses for surveying, at the least the number of teaching chairs in surveying is endangered. The reasons for this are still being explored - is the growing competition or ‘blurring’ with other disciplines, study courses and professions (e.g. in the field of geo-information), is the continuing low level of recruitment in the public sector or are the excessively narrow professional fields of surveyors in private practice the cause? Were we sleeping when opportunities arose in new markets such as town and country planning (e.g. EU structural development programmes) or in real estate and land management? It was significant that in the two previous international congresses in Germany - rural 21 and urban 21 - only a handful of surveyors were represented. Do we lack that ‘clear vision’ of our profession for which Peter Ellyard appealed in Melbourne and which would be fascinating for our society, for the economy, and for the current generation of students? FIG President Bob Foster at the InterGEO 1999 in Hanover expressed himself as follows on this point (loc. cit.): “We devote little effort to self promotion, assuming that the value of our work will speak for itself”. And: As a result of technological change in our previous professional field “We must broaden the scope of our activities. Where for example planning, valuation and management of land are not considered ‘surveying’, associations in those countries should seek to include them. It will not be easy. Legislation, educational systems and institutional arrangements must be addressed. Political considerations may play a role”.

In my view it is less a case of ‘may play’ than of ‘play’.

Political considerations play a role ...

At the present time education centres for surveying, professional associations and administrative authorities are working almost feverishly on ‘clear visions’ and self promotion, in other words on image and publicity campaigns, which are intended to reach society, industry and young people. It now becomes in part painfully obvious how big the divide is between surveying experts on the one hand and politics and society on the other. The latter are needed now more urgently then ever e.g. to consolidate or to expand new fields of professional activities, to provide a firm legal basis for new surveying products (e.g. GIS reference data) or to regulate a sensible relationship between the public and private surveying professions, to give financial support to commercial activities in other countries or to new academic facilities, etc., quite apart from the help which is always necessary and which they can provide and the expert understanding which they can contribute when the need or otherwise of university reforms is being assessed. A big paradox presents itself here: on the one hand, as a result of political changes or global campaigns or actual crisis management, there is a growing demand for the services provided by surveyors and they are highly valued in international relations and institutions, and on the other hand many ‘traditional’ surveyors have difficulty in making contacts with politics and politicians. Is it simply chance or is it significant that e.g. almost no surveyors are represented or play a substantial role in German federal and state Parliaments?! How will we then succeed in conducting the necessary ‘lobbying’, now indispensable in democratic societies, for sensible university training, for the abolition of professional or market structures which are obsolete or biased towards one side only, for the tremendously important political decision on the use of surveying reference systems for the booming GIS markets etc.? It still appears to be often the case - and this is above all widespread in university and academic circles - that politics and political activity, and particularly contact with politicians, are regarded as being somewhat disreputable and at the least are little loved. I believe that this attitude is wrong and damages our profession and professional prospects. I should prefer to make an appeal that we should all - and not only the ‘functionaries’ of our profession - depending of course on individual possibilities - continually seek to have contact with political life and with politicians as representatives of our society and to convince them of our indispensable services to society. It is only through continual contact and by establishing interest and personal involvement on the part of our political contacts that we can be successful; that means that we must invite politicians to attend our national and international congresses and give them the opportunity to speak and to take part in discussions. This will enable them to become acquainted with our concerns and with our profession. It is of no use whatsoever when we continually assure each other at our meetings of our importance. It is other people, the decision takers in politics, industry and society, who have to be aware of this. In one country it will be the surveyors employed in the public sector who find it easier to influence politicians, in another it will be the surveyors in the private sector and in private practice who have easier access to politics. Other contacts with politicians should also be systematically be developed, e.g. by inviting them to university conferences and in reverse by the attendance of surveyors at political congresses on future development etc. In this way we can make it clear to those engaged in political life that we can make, both nationally and internationally, a major contribution to the physical and social development of states on the way to a better fairness and a higher quality of life. We are concerned here either with tasks of reconstruction (e.g. Kosovo), or of transformation (e.g. countries in transition), or finally and generally with development tasks in developing countries.

Every surveyor knows or should know: his services are not politically neutral or free of value judgments - his contribution e.g. to the implementation of a sustainable development in the comprehensive sense of RIO 1992 (including the theme of ‘Women’s Access to Land’) are formative policy based on democratic values! Surveying services are naturally also susceptible to political abuse - who is not aware of that! There are enough examples of this. Surveyors must not therefore carry out their role mechanically but should advise on policy openly, responsibly and on an ethical basis, and should act in each case in the light of the actual circumstances of the task and of the country concerned. It is only through this critical dialogue between politics and surveying that a relationship of mutual benefit will emerge. This demands from the surveyor that he is not only a ‘homo technicus’ but is also a ‘homo politicus’. The universities are called on to prepare students in this respect much more than they have done hitherto.

The FIG shows us the way - catalogue of future tasks

There is no doubt about it: this political work which will be indispensable in future must be carried out at the national level with fresh energy every day by every one of us. It is however a great help that the countries and member associations can rely on the FIG and can obtain ideas and points of reference from its successful supra-national political work. What the previous and present Bureaux have achieved in this sector in recent years with their commissions, Task Forces, hosting member association as well as with their FIG-UN Liaison Director Ian Williamson is the best, because it is the clearest, example of the fact that Surveying and Politics can become a relationship of mutual benefit. By way of example can be mentioned the Bogor and Bathurst Declaration, the Memoranda of Understandings (MoU) with UN authorities, participation in global campaigns and much more. In this global (socio-) political engagement our profession is challenged across its entire depth and growing width in the sense of the Singapore vision of the FIG and covered by the impressive variety of the themes of our 10 commissions.

Against this background I should like in future to see the following policy for surveyors:

  1. Seeking, continuing or deepening the dialogue with national and international politics and with institutions concerned with politics.
  2. Better understanding of, and possibly influence on, changes in society and politics (Dale, 2000). For this we must also think and argue ‘more politically’ and sell our services better.
    Dale: “Local professional bodies in particular need to target politicians and the general public and explain to them why investment in geomatics brings wealth.” (loc. cit. 2001)
  3. Obvious and serious involvement in and implementation of major global and national political campaigns, e.g. by observing the principles of urban governance, secure tenure or quite generally the objectives of RIO, Istanbul II etc. in the exercise of our profession. Ethics and morality are here an indispensable component of our understanding and engagement!
    The two FIG documents, FIG-AGENDA 21 and Women’s Access to Land, are a very important contribution to building a better world.
  4. Extending university education to cover skills outside our particular discipline and to provide a broad general overview. The objective must be a well grounded specialised generalist. The FIG commissions as well as member associations can be helpful here. FIG academic membership and the FIG Foundation are becoming of increasing importance for many member associations and their universities.
  5. Achieving a fair balance between all branches and facets of the structure of the surveying profession (e.g. between the public and private sectors in national and international engagements) by a collegial consciousness that we are all in the same boat and by objective information and by presentation of examples of best practice (Magel, 1999).
  6. Providing greater opportunities for further education and additional qualifications for member associations as well as locally in the regions and drawing attention to central opportunities(e.g. the new course for a Master’s degree ‘Land Management and Land Tenure’ at the Technical University of Munich). This is a major function of the FIG Surveying Education Database.

These are my wishes - with them Bob Foster’s demands in Frankfurt in 1999 (loc. cit.) will perhaps also find fulfillments:
We must embrace the whole spectrum of surveying in its broadest definition and we must speak to the world with a single voice of clarity and unity.

It can gladly be asserted of Theo Bogaerts, at the culmination of a successful academic and scientific career, that he devoted himself in notable manner to the building of “a better and fairer world” - and he also did this in the context of international FIG activities.


  • FOSTER, B. (1999): 21st Century Challenges for the Surveying Profession. ZfV 12/1999
  • DALE, P. (2000): Surveying Engineering and Global Land Management. ZfV 5/2000
  • DALE, P (2001): Capacity Building in Geomatics. Geoinformatics April 2001
  • MAGEL, H. (1999): Vermessungswesen vor neuen Herausforderungen - Chance für den Freien Beruf? ZfV 4/1999


Univ. Prof. Dr-Ing. Holger Magel
Vice President of FIG
Chair of Land Readjustment and Land Development
Technische Universität München
Institute of Geodesy, GIS and Land Management
Arcisstrasse 21
D-80290 München
Tel. + 49 89 289 22535
Fax + 49 89 289 23933

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