FIG Standards Network

Background

The Network is continuing the work of an FIG Task Force which 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.

Why standards are important

This topic is addressed in a number of papers and reports presented by the Task Force (e.g. FIG WW2000, Prague, Intergeo 2001, and FIG Congress 2002, Washington. 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 17,041 ISO standards in print at the end of 2007, amounting to 652,340 pages. The current standard set includes:

Secondly, there are the benefits of standardisation. Research undertaken by the Technical University of Dresden and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovations http://www.din.de/sixcms_upload/media/2896/economic_benefits_standardization.pdf found that the benefit to the German economy from standardisation amounts to more than US$ 15 billion per year (more than standards and patents). Other studies for the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Delphi Foundation, have also stressed the very significant benefits brought by standardisation. For instance, a 2005 study for the DTI found that 13% of the UK’s economic growth between 1948 and 2002 could be attributed to standards (www.berr.gov.uk/files/file9655.pdf).

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,  standards in the series ISO 191xx are being developed by ISO Technical Committee (TC) 211 and a series of them have already been published.

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.


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