President's Prose - September 2019 - A National Initiative on the Future of Governance in the Survey Profession

The more time I spend with members from the other provinces, the more I realize how different we are but, also how similar.  Some associations across the country are dealing with issues that the ALSA is currently facing or has experienced in the past such as: funding, discipline, practice review, and cadastres.  Self-governance is the current topic which has dominated discussions at the presidents’ forums.  The discussion has generally focused on how we govern our associations to keep our regulatory responsibilities (protecting the public) separate from advocating for our financial livelihood. There is a fine line between the two which needs to be firmly established in every part of our profession. Moreover, it is important to be aware of how we are currently governed and how that may evolve in the future.

The presidents of several survey associations have expressed concern about the changing governance models in other professions and how that movement could eventually affect the surveying profession in Canada.  Support has been building to adopt a collaborative approach by establishing a national partnership to look at the relevant issues. Currently, the associations perform an admirable job collaborating on issues facing the survey profession. However, the presidents simply feel a focused effort on governance would be more effective. In the next few months, as the presidents continue to meet at annual meetings, we hope to outline our objectives and develop a series of recommendations for our members. Given that there is strength in national unity, I believe this is a very worthy initiative.

Due to the many differences in our survey systems, size of memberships and current governance models, we may consider a regional approach within a national framework. As such, the presidents plan to explore the concept of national or regional bodies which could focus on, but not be limited to, discipline processes, complaints, and continuing professional development as it relates to governance.  A national or regional approach could also highlight the best practices for matters involving regulations, relationships with government and regulatory bodies, and/or any other issues facing our respective associations.

Engaging in a national approach to review governance is currently in the concept development stage but the support from the presidents is sincere.  However, there are opinions that a formal agreement between presidents is not necessary as it is perceived as symbolic. Nonetheless, most can agree that governance will be the foremost issue facing all professions in the coming years and that it is advantageous to engage in meaningful communication on the topic now.

At the National Surveyors Conference in May, 2019 there was a presentation and a workshop on the future of the land surveying profession in Canada. A report from that conference, entitled, The Evolving Boundaries of Practice, is now available on the ALSA website. I strongly urge members to review this report because it highlights important issues that face our profession and offers some recommendations on future self-governance.

The primary goal of the report is to provide the first step towards the development of a national strategy to help position the land surveying profession and survey systems for the future.  The presentation set out five strategic objectives:

  1. Build a land administration community for the digital society;
  2. Develop consensus on a precise, real-time positioning service for Canada;
  3. Ensure the most effective and efficient self-regulating structure for the land surveying profession in Canada;
  4. Communicate the role of the land surveying profession in Canadian society; and
  5. Ensure that the competency profile of the land surveying professional in Canada continues to meet the evolving needs of society.

It’s not a coincidence that some of the above objectives align with the 2019/2020 ALSA strategic plan of researching, identifying and making recommendations about the future of professional governance. Although the objectives of the report are significantly broader, it suggests that there is an opportunity to collaborate on the issue of self-governance at a national level. I believe a good place to start is at the president’s forum because they have the ability to prioritize the issue with their constituents. Support from members is essential given that they will decide the fate of how much effort and resources will be allotted to support this initiative. Ultimately, you, the members, will determine the future of our profession. 

Not surprisingly, there is further alignment from the Evolving Boundaries of Practice report with other goals from the 2019/2020 ALSA strategic plan. The strategic objective identified as the future of surveying is to:

  • Review the Surveys Act and make recommendations for changes considering current and new technologies.
  • Look at new survey products, technologies and standards to protect the public from unskilled users… 
  • The Evolving Boundaries of Practice report specifically states:

“Among this flurry of technological changes there are several trends that will have a fundamental impact on the way in which cadastral information is acquired, managed and disseminated”

As such, there is an opportunity to be on the leading edge of technological innovation to ensure that we continue to be seen as the experts when it comes to cadastres and land administration.

In closing, I leave you to consider the following statement from the Evolving Boundaries of Practice report:

“Public skepticism about the value to society of professional self-regulation is reflected in legislation enacted in the last decade in many Canadian jurisdictions to increase government oversight, reduce barriers to entrance and mobility, and ensure transparency and accountability in regulatory functions such as practice review, professional competency standards, and the administration of complaints and discipline.  While thus far such legislation has not been directly targeted at the land survey profession, the land surveying associations are nevertheless affected and should take careful notice of the societal trends toward increasing scrutiny and metaregulation (regulating the regulators).”

Therefore, I urge ALSA members to become familiar with the national initiatives and be active in the narrative that will certainly be one of the dominant issues in our future meetings and conferences. A good place to start is to review the report on the Evolving Boundaries of Practice. Furthermore, resources will be required to engage in this initiative and I strongly recommend that our association support it.

Steve Yanish, ALS

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The Alberta Land Surveyors' Association (ALSA) is a self-governing professional association legislated under the Land Surveyors Act. The Association regulates the practice of land surveying for the protection of the public and administration of the profession.