The legacy of ISK, and my dream for Geospatial Society of Kenya

This piece has taken quite a while for me to finish in fact it clogged my pipeline as I battled with part of me wishing to stay true to me self a lateral thinker or to do the logical thing and stay politically correct. Normally, I’d be more vigorous and thorough on how I present my arguments.However, as I intended to appeal to the rational sense of everyone, I’ll make it a little soft and convincing. You are well allowed to comment, dispute some facts presented here.

Let’s get right in…

(2-May-17 Edited to add headings for readability and to correct external links)

Let’s start from where we are as an industry…

Early this year, the Geospatial Media Communications released the Global Geospatial Outlook report that ranked 50 selected countries in terms of geospatial readiness. In the report, Geospatial readiness index has been defined to be based on rankings from how the given countries have invested in a number of pillars of the industry. Among these pillars are;

  • Geospatial infrastructure and policy frameworks
  • Institutional capacity
  • Industrial capacity
  • Geospatial awareness
  • Business innovation and health
  • Professional (Human) capacity

Now, you may have read the report, in case you didn’t just know, Kenya was among the selected countries. Always making it to position 43-47 in the sub pillar rankings somewhere behind Ghana, Egypt, SA. Interesting take away is on all these pillars Kenya scored below average on her investment in the Geospatial industry even on some pillars that we have the prowess of actualizing such, policies and frameworks, awareness and education as well as technical infrastructure.

The Pariadim Shift in geospatial industry…

While this would make an interesting sidebar chat some other day, today I wanted to speak to every geospatial professional about why the report put us where we were. Let’s map this small story to our title of the day which is about – The legacy of ISK and its original purpose and the new paradigm shift of the geospatial industry. As ISK strives to keep true to its original purpose, the geospatial industry trends is continually shifting its base. As a matter of fact someone would argue that ISK is no longer recognizable as a player in the geospatial industry and he would be very right. And the absence of a geospatial professional body focused on the wholesome industry issues is a key reason why our geospatial industry is taking off in an unusually slow pace. You may grab the report from here and see the statistics for yourself it’s in nothing short of terrible for a country gloating of technology leadership in Africa.

The Debate that never was…

It’s been debated for a while now, the sacred role of ISK (Institution of Surveyors of Kenya) in the geospatial industry with the new generation having a contrary opinion. A proposal to build another body, Geospatial Society of Kenya (GeoSK) to look at geospatial industry in a less traditional way. Geospatial industry as a fact is now not the traditional Land Survey sector. Let me announce that I subscribe to this lateral move to form a new body. And now I choose to write down my arguments after a debate I engaged in with colleagues in one of the Geospatial groups with about 500 members which raised a myriad of concerns on whether ISK still has the interest of the geospatial industry in Kenya in the right track. Similar debates are currently going on in other platforms as well. These questions come after the ISK AGM which will be followed by an Annual dinner, events both of which the associated high costs have raised eyebrows. Besides the financial cost concerns are the actual benefits as stated in the ISK benefits are white elephants as the dissatisfied members put it and the exclusivity of the body disqualifies it as a public body. Other deep analysts have assessed the real contribution of ISK to the industry to be somewhere on the scale of negligible to a negative influence.

But today, I want us to settle it. Is the Institution of Surveyors of Kenya the right body to guard over the geospatial industry in Kenya? Is it prudent to build another body all together? And just how much can be transformed in ISK if at all this phrase that is now a cliché “Join ISK and make change from inside” could even sail through, how much is there to change in ISK even from inside? Would it be right or at least even proper to change ISK anyway?

What they said…

Join ISK, come to the chapter meetings and make change from inside. Hehehehe. This is an ISK proverb! If you’ve been around these debates you’ve heard this phrase being thrown around just to silence lateral ideas. Is it proper to transform ISK at all? Some “insiders” have continually refuted the efforts to form a different body but rather challenging the pro GeoSK (new body) to join ISK and make changes from inside.

First of all, you can’t change ISK ever ever ever to fit the needs for which Geospatial Society of Kenya is needed. Logically, you’ll receive persistent resistance from the core of ISK. Good thing I’m not a logical thinker, I prefer lateral thinking to tackle issues. So, today I want to give you lateral arguments why I support and will start an initiative to build GeoSK rather than invest in changing ISK.

Take the path to unexplored legacy of ISK with me and learn why that legacy must live on undisturbed.

The spirit on which ISK was built was to regulate the Land Survey sector even if the current documents and statutes do not say so. They don’t have to, you can feel it, smell it, touch it. But this is only possible if you also understand what you’re doing. It doesn’t require to much of you to understand ISK historic performance and realize that it has excelled in streamlining professionalism in the Land Survey sector. However debatable, it’s provable this. And personally I think ISK has done well in this amid isolated cases. Just check Engineering Survey (ES) if you want a tip of the proof. Take note ES is well under ISK’s domain.

Considering the sensitivity of Land transactions in Kenya, and the emotions attached to it, it’s rightly so that we needed a dedicated body sacredly regulating the authorization to conduct the land transactions. It justifies to an extent why the process of being a full member of ISK would therefore be such an elaborate process that is then translated as shaky for the new generation. Give it to ISK guys, we would be in a much worse place without the stringent processes.

A huge number of the new generation geospatial professionals are not after transacting in Land survey business though which is the sole purpose of the restrictiveness of the joining process, most are looking for a professional body to associate with. Most new generation of geospatial professional belong to something bigger than Land Survey sector only, these people are the GIS Analysts, Developers, System Analysts, Data Scientists, Geographers, Researchers from different science domains employing GIS in their work. If you look at this list it definitely doesn’t make sense for them to go through the same process that Land Surveyors have to go through. But then, one institution may not employ multiple full membership joining process for different groups of individuals. No wonder 90% of the geospatial professionals in Kenya do not have a professional membership, sometimes forcing some of us like myself to look for international bodies like GSDI, prevously International Geospatial Society among others. And this is where the disconnect emanates. Now we know the original purpose of I(Surveyors)K and this is what it’s been steadily growing on.

One thing that we should get clearly is, it is not in our best interest as an industry to keep changing ISK to accommodate new fields. It is not healthy for ISK to keep changing goals, ISK should remain true to its consecrated course of regulating Survey sector and by that includes do better for ES sub-sector. Over the past decades it’ a known opinion and fact that ES has not been given due attention by ISK, but nothing can be further from the truth, the revenue and employment opportunities for Surveyors today and in the future lies in the ES sector. The recent infrastructure and Real Estate expansion in the country can only mean a brighter future for the ES sector as it will continue to break its banks of revenue for companies and employment for professionals. If by any chance ISK is to live up to even just one promise of benefit to its members, it would be by securing the future of ES sub-sector, hence, securing jobs for its members and revenue for companies. When just anyone with a TS will be able to conduct a ES work for a Mega transport corridor you will surely be rendered together with your members irrelevant. And that’s definitely a disaster. We are there right now just so you know.

The dilemma of preservation and a much needed change…who shall prevail

Coming back to the legacy of ISK and whether it should be transformed to accommodate more field, which we definitely don’t, let’s run through a scenario I already alluded to.

In the geospatial industry today we have different professions as follows; –

  • Well, we have the Surveyors – Land and Engineering (currently heavily consumed by Civil *reality). This is the more traditional profession, well respected, well understood, therefore accommodated in ISK rightly after all it’s “The Institution of Surveyor of Kenya”
  • GIS Professions in it many fancy forms mostly focused on Software and less of Survey Hardware even zero experience with it. You can surely guess the fancy titles – Analyst, Architect, Developers, Programmers, Database guys and the other lovers who are not technical but are experts like Project Managers, Directors etc
  • Now as opposed to the above there is the GIS Specialists, not native GIS speakers but nonetheless their careers are heavily reliant on GIS. Take an example of a Livestock breading researcher at ILRI who takes an MSC in GIS or even a Short course in GIS. He functionally servers as the GIS expert in their research program or office. Who do we call them? Domain specialists. Yes. He is a GIS Specialist by practice and merit.

Question is, do we keep obliterating ISK to accommodate these fields every time a new one is born? Do we? Even if we were able to, would it be proper? How much shall we have to change until it even fit these fields? For example the GIS Specialist in a medicine research program, just how much would we cut off or add up to ISK make it relevant for them? A Programmer working on QGIS Plugins, how would ISK benefit them even if you were to shred ISK to the ground and build it up again.

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In a recent Geosymp interview  with Dr Faith Karanja, she raise a caution on not ending up with too may bodies in the same domain. Well I wouldn’t be sure how many is too many. But I’d rephrase her statement this way, let’s take caution that we don’t obliterate ISK too much lest we end up with a body not recognizable anymore, not able to deliver on it’s spirit. To an extent it won’t be serving it’s purpose no more. To an extend it won’t be ISK no more. This is the real caution we should take. The Survey sector needs ISK as it is. Very much so, ISK secretariat has much to do regarding Engineering Survey sector to bring back our jobs from masqueraders and clowns.

I’d invite those new members of ISK challenging proponents of GeoSK to change ISK from inside to evaluate whether they understand the spirit of ISK and its role before they purport to change it from inside. There is just so much that can be changed in ISK, even from inside, in fact you’ll will be out of order. And terrible for history. So the young leaders in ISK claiming they are inviting people to join ISK to induce change from inside. It would be a capital mistake.

The solution. Long live Geospatial Society of Kenya.

Some very able and ambitious group pushed for recognition of Geospatial domains in Institution of Surveyors of Kenya (thank you guys so much for your efforts btw, it was very progressive of you). But I’m sure it won’t be news to you that the consequence of your efforts which was the formation of the Geospatial Chapter under Survey body was a symbolic gesture. Funny one though. Let’s look at it again. Geospatial Industry under Survey sector. Mmh!!

This brings us to assess the validity of the gestures after all. How would you explain it to six-year-old why you installed Windows 10 on top of ArcGIS? It completely makes no sense to have the parent sector under a subsector. Survey is a sector under the Geospatial industry and here we have an institution implementing in reverse. Now this is something I wish to ask the Chair of the Geospatial Chapter to expound for me how it actually works. It’s a cacophony! Now this is an evidence of the fact that this institution and the chapter does not have any strategic plan in place to work on, otherwise it would have been noticed that it was going to be totally untenable to have Geospatial industry installed under Survey, a ceremonial chapter. Well, the general public opinion on these ceremonial chapters in ISK was casting its revenue collection nets wider to catch more members desperate for association. Revenue of which well, not even staunch members of ISK can point a finger to any project or program being run by ISK in the interest it’s members.

By the fact that we need ISK to remain unchanged is enough justification of why we need to build a new body. Besides, the Geospatial industry is just too big and trendy to be fit in a ceremonial box under its sub-sector. The professions in need of a professional body that can serve their interest are too diverse to fit under a Survey specific body.

Failed principles….

Besides the above technicalities, let’s delve into some more principle issues. Once I asked what efforts ISK have put in place to make its members better people in their daily duties and I was hit with a series of screenshots indicating the benefits of being a member of ISK. Next time I have a discussion with you kindly don’t send me screenshots of documents, talk ideas instead. It’s reflective of how little you know about what you’re trying to tell me. If you’re a member of a body and you understand the benefits, you won’t need some screenshots to tell someone about the benefits. I recreated the screenshots from the ISK site directly, see below

  • Resource center

If ISK for the time it has existed has a Geospatial or even just Survey resource center then it has escaped my attention till the moment I was making this argument. I’ll leave this here.

  • Professional Publications, Access to Journals,

I’m not sure in what form exactly. What I would imagine is a Geospatial body serving a well educated nation like Kenya would purpose to build a publication platform for it’s members. Something resembling the likes of Elsevier, the American Journal of Applied Sciences IEEE journals, Springer-Jounal of Geography, ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information , (2-May-17 Edited to correct external links) name them. But then I guess this is not a priority for ISK. I know of ISK members who have published a number of papers unfortunately usually paying upto 15k to foreign bodies to share knowledge something we could do locally and still reach the same audience internationally.

Surveyor’s Journal and Land & Property Digest Magazine –I still can’t seem to find anything concrete on this one from the goddess on internet- Google.

  • Continuous Professional Development

The most eluding of them all. This is surely complex I wouldn’t put it on ISK totally. However, as a professional body this is the first thing you have to deliver on. Now let’s see how ISK promotes professional growth among it’s members. Every year we hold an AGM where Doctors of Philosophy from various fields presents their papers on Remote Sensing, probably a Change detection project of a coffee (btw I’ll be doing a technical piece on Change detection myths to compare what I have seen most of us do or have read in some work and what Change detection process entails exactly) or something else. Now some of these papers are the real deal truly but some surely. After this there is a session for public opinion which you’re not entitled to if you not a full member (paying the big bucks). After which you have an expensive dinner because the utensils are expensive, not much to say of the food though. Testimony from Kisumu AGM, I can’t make this up. Then you sit and wait for an annual dinner at end of year. Very useful to career!!

The disturbing thing is, there happen to be actual pillars of the geospatial industry that require addressing in such gathering but sources tell me these issues were not in the papers presented. Talk of the progress of the Spatial data Infrastructure, talk of the current project on Land Information Management system by NLC, talk of the status of GIS in our CGs which was once seen as heaven sent opportunity, talk of the Land administration domain matters menacing this country, Unification of Land Identification which is in the Land registration Act which 90% of people have never read. In fact let me list them so we can see them clearly; –

  • SDI (apparently it was on the agenda)
  • Land registration Act and the migration from the previous acts which seems to be taking forever in fact LRA just joined the previous guys and they are working in parallel
  • If you’ve done a project in Land management then you know what a problem we have in this country regarding Unification of Land Identification codes emanating from failure to adopt LRA
  • The newly signed Community Land Bill which is now a law which needs to be implemented.
  • National Land Information Management System is taking shape at NLC and it seems major stakeholders (Surveyors) are taking a nap on it even when they have an opportunity like this
  • Nobody knows the challenge of Coordinate reference systems, Datums and transformations in this country like Surveyors yet they can sit in an AG and unimaginably forget to talk about it. Woow!!

Addressing these issues amount to professional growth in a deeper way. Because when you make industry better, you make people jobs better and that’s how their professions grow. There is no magic to it.

There is the other view to professional growth strategies, and this is where ISK score lowest. A professional body should be in a position to create opportunities for professional growth, conferences, workshops and research and innovation. This has clearly eluded ISK for all this time despite the existence of the several examples to copy from. I’ll just leave this here. In this country there cannot be a resourceful conference if Esri does not give one. Thanks RCMRD are beginning to do something now.

There are a lot more other things like Job Opportunities which I have talked about with the scenario of Engineering Survey sector.

My dream for the formation of Geospatial Society of Kenya is a body that will empower the industry, push innovation to grow the geospatial business, step on the gas for developing policies and frameworks. The new body should focus on building geospatial awareness among users. With the institution we should be able to have strong institutional capacity, I dream it will support other institutions like the county governments to develop sound GeoInformation strategies and roadmaps for implementations. In the past, we have seen numerous cases that indicate that there is still a lot of uncertainties and grey areas with the geospatial profession, for this a well organized body has we’ve seen from other bodies can turn this around quickly.

For this I believe may be just may be you now understand why we can’t change ISK but form a new geospatial body. My Fren! Ama namna gani!

Steve Ochieng
About Steve Ochieng 18 Articles
Geospatial Specialist | Avid Reader and Vivid Writer here | Geospatial Tech Advocacy and Evangelism | GeoProgrammer and Follower of @geohipster
  • Jacob Joseph Ochieng

    Great piece Steve, weighty issues deftly tackled.

  • Rashid

    A masterpiece. Well articulated. Weighty issues. Nail hit directly on the head! A revolution in the offing.

  • Fayande Kimenju Edna

    If you decide to go that way and register Geospatial as a professional body let ACCA – Association of Chartered Certified Accountants be you benchmark on what a professional body should be. ISK and all other professional bodies in Kenya should borrow a lead from ACCA.

    • Steve Omondi

      Thanks. We’ll sure do benchmarks on proven approaches from successful bodies

  • Patrick Odima

    Simply a masterpiece. My favourite part was installing Windows 10 atop ArcGIS:)