Constituting Professional Associations

Report of an FIG task force established to advise on the formation and role of national professional surveying associations



1. Introduction

2. The reasons for forming an association

3. How does an association begin?

4. Questions to be addressed in forming an association


I. Guidelines for preparing the constitution and rules of a new professional association

II. Members of the task force

Orders for printed copies


The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) is a UN-accredited non-government organisation whose member associations are themselves NGOs operating within national boundaries.

Many governments are seeking new ways to respond to the needs of their people and of the demands of market-driven economies. In so doing, many are utilising the skills and energies of NGOs, including professional bodies. It is therefore timely that FIG should have prepared guidelines on constituting professional associations, since one of its aims is to ensure that the disciplines of surveying and all who practise them meet the needs of the markets and the communities that they serve.

As part of its strategy for realising this aim, FIG has already published guidelines on continuing professional development and is preparing a model code of ethics and professional conduct that reflects today’s social and economic needs. The third part of the strategy is to give guidance to countries wishing to form new professional bodies where these do not already exist and to help existing bodies to improve the services that they are already providing.

As noted in the guidelines, there are four reasons for forming a professional body - to unify the profession, to provide continuing professional development, to act on behalf of the profession, and to contribute to society’s well being. None of us can afford to be complacent about the professional services that we deliver, so the guidelines are as applicable to existing associations as they are to new ones. They indicate what a professional body should do, how such a body can be formed, and how help can be found to improve the services that surveyors already offer.

On behalf of the Federation I would like to thank Grahame Lindsay and his team for this document. Although it has been prepared by and for surveyors, it will be equally helpful to other professions wishing to establish new bodies or to improve the services offered by existing ones. I therefore commend these guidelines to all professionals and their clients.

Professor Peter Dale
President, FIG

1. Introduction

1.1 The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) is an international non-governmental organisation whose aim is to ensure that the disciplines of surveying and all who practise them meet the needs of the markets and communities they serve. As prescribed in the FIG Statutes and Internal Rules, national surveying associations are the only full voting members of FIG.

1.2 At the end of 1997 the voting membership of FIG consisted of 72 national associations from 65 countries with new applications being received. In addition there were 19 correspondents from countries in which there is no association. It is not surprising therefore that, from time to time, FIG receives requests from individual surveyors and groups of surveyors for advice on how to form a national professional surveying association and how such an association might function. It is apparent that there are many countries where, for a variety of reasons, a surveying association does not yet exist.

1.3 The FIG Bureau accordingly decided to set up a task force to prepare a paper on the topic so that information might be available to those surveyors who requested it. The Bureau subsequently agreed that the resultant paper could also be of use and guidance to the members of associations which are already in existence - and perhaps even to national associations representing other disciplines. Whilst the primary reasons for forming an association have not changed, there are now influences and forces at work which call for new roles and responsibilities for all professional associations. The members of the task force and the FIG Bureau therefore hope that this document will help many professionals in many countries.

2. The reasons for forming an association

2.1 Four reasons for forming and association are:

  • to unify the profession,
  • to provide continuing professional development,
  • to act on behalf of the profession and
  • to contribute to society's well being.

2.2 There are eight common functions which lie behind the formation and operation of any professional association. These are networking, representing, promoting, educating, setting standards, producing products and services, providing professional and technical advice, and finance and funding. Comments on each of these follows.

2.3 Networking. It is said that there is strength in numbers and the life and practice of every surveyor is enhanced by belonging to an association of his or her professional peers. Such an association provides an opportunity for members of the same discipline to come together, to learn to know one another and to learn from one another, to encourage one another, to talk about their work, to agree to do together the many things for their profession that individuals cannot achieve on their own, to socialise together and to make friendships. These are all life and community enhancing and therefore worthy objectives.

2.4 Representing. Governments and other national or local authorities require information of many kinds on many subjects. An association may represent the distilled views of its whole membership on topics within its area of knowledge and on matters which impact upon its members and/or the community at large.

It is under this heading that surveyors must be active in contributing to the creation of public policy in all levels of government. Surveyors, together with other physical scientists, tend to be more enthusiastic about technology than policy. It is true that the "how" is often easier than the "why".

Just as FIG is accepted by the United Nations as a non-government organisation (NGO) and is referred to as a partner in development, so a professional surveying association in a particular country should seek to position itself with respect to the various levels of government of its country and contribute to the development of policy in matters upon which it can legitimately have an interest.

2.5 Promoting. Surveying in all its fields provides important services to a community. An active association can inform the public about how these services can be made available and how the work of surveyors will satisfy the relevant needs of clients.

To ensure that the surveying profession attains and maintains its proper recognition in the whole family of professions and that it makes its maximum possible contribution to the society in which it is set, the association's members must act in a professional manner. The association as the representative of the profession and its members must interact with the public, the government and business.

Through the association's continual and effective involvement in the activities of commerce, government, education and society at large, the profession will become recognised as contributing positively to the community.

2.6 Education. The most distinguishing factor of any professional person is the attainment of a level of tertiary education which demonstrates both the possession of knowledge and the commitment and understanding necessary to achieve that level. It is important that the content of tertiary education courses is developed by the academic institutions in consultation with the profession. Professional surveying associations therefore have a responsibility to work with the relevant academic institutions to ensure that the surveying course or courses being offered in their countries meet the needs of the profession and equip graduates with relevant knowledge. Professional associations also work closely with employers to ensure that survey graduates obtain the practical training and experience that are essential components of a professional qualification.

In countries where there are no relevant courses at university level for surveyors, FIG will support the local association in seeking to have these established.

The technology of surveying in all its fields has changed rapidly in the last few decades and these changes are now occurring at a rate which makes it extremely difficult for any individual surveyor continuously to maintain up-to-date knowledge. The use of computers, electronic notebooks and field recorders, the development of commercially available computer software with application to the operations of surveyors in both technical areas and in financial and business management areas, improvements in the collection, management, manipulation and presentation of data, facilities management systems, computer aided design and life cycle costing, GIS/LIS, electronic distance measuring devices, electronic maps and charts, GPS and many other technological developments all require understanding and knowledge. Producing or making available existing publications and holding seminars, workshops and conferences which address these and other matters provide valuable opportunities for continuing professional development.

Governments produce legislation which will impact on many aspects of the practice of surveying or on the life of surveyors as members of the community. Associations can help their members to understand and apply this legislation.

Continuing professional development for surveyors means that there will always be the need for good communications between the academic institutions and the profession.

2.7 Setting standards. Another of the marks of a profession is that it has set standards of performance for those who follow that profession. These standards should cover a range of matters including

  • standards of ethical behaviour to be adhered to when dealing with clients, other members of the profession and the public,
  • standards of performance in the conduct of the work of individuals and firms,
  • standards of education and training necessary for those who would enter the profession and practise in it and
  • standards of continuing professional development so that those who do practise in the profession may keep their knowledge up to date.

2.8 Products and services. An association will assist its members to understand how to deliver their goods and services in the way which will be best for their clients and the community. It will do this by providing opportunities for discussion, by having experts in various fields impart their knowledge and by stimulating those who might otherwise not do so to speak of the things that they have learned through their practice of the profession.

The association will deliver products and services to its members and provide them with advice and information. This could include information on professional liability and facilities for professional indemnity insurance. The range of information services will, of course, depend on the resources available to the association. It should have a regular newsletter, however modest. It will hold regular meetings for its members and carry out its agreed objectives.

The association will look outwards to the whole community and seek to inform it about the contribution that its members can make to alleviating problems and improving the quality of life. It is also necessary in today's world of information for the association to promote and market the profession itself. This involves representing to governments and others the benefits which will accrue to the whole community from the use of the knowledge and expertise of surveyors. The association will also comment on proposed legislation and seek to influence the development of sound public policy.

It will give advice on alternative dispute resolution processes and arbitration procedures; and it will nominate professional persons as arbitrators, for the provision of expert witness, and as members of advisory boards.

It will look forward and prepare its members for changes which are occurring or will occur in the way that its members carry out their work.

2.9 Professional and technical advice. The association, representing the profession, acts as a conduit in supplying professional and technical advice or assistance to those within its membership, to the clients of surveyors’ services, to standards organisations, to international organisations such as FIG and to all outside the profession who need it. This is done through publications, responding to requests for information and participation by members of the association on its committees and councils.

2.10 Finance and funding. The functioning of an association requires money and other resources, even when many of the services it provides are given voluntarily by its members. Newsletters cost money to print and distribute, places at which meetings can be held cost money to hire and so on. Membership of an association carries with it the responsibility to help to provide the resources that the association needs to carry out its objectives. Most associations deal with this matter by requiring the payment of an annual membership fee, the amount of which may vary with the grade of membership of each individual member. Income can also be derived from sustaining members and from charging members or members of the public for specific services.

2.11 Summary. The foregoing sets out the main reasons why associations are formed and what they do after they have been formed. It is possible that there may be other external reasons for the formation of a professional association or for the review of the objectives and activities of an existing association - for example, the desire by government to regulate or de-regulate the activities of the profession. In countries where some elements of the work of surveyors have in the past been regulated, there is an observable trend by governments to want to transfer some or all of this responsibility to the profession itself. In all of these circumstances, the presence of a strong, well managed, outward looking, widely representative association of surveyors will ensure that these changes can be dealt with in the best possible way.

3. How does an association begin?

3.1 In most cases it seems that the idea of forming an association starts in the minds of one or two individuals. They may have seen how another association works or they may have been to a meeting at which the activities of another association have been seen. Or they may have read about another association in a publication or newspaper. However it comes about, the seed of forming an association is planted.

3.2 Those with this idea will talk to other surveyors and encourage them to think about the possibility. Eventually there may be sufficient interest for the holding of an exploratory meeting to discuss the matter. Who should be invited to this meeting? It should be quite satisfactory for this and any other exploratory meetings to comprise only a small group of interested individuals. Those who may have had experience with another professional surveying association should certainly be asked to contribute their knowledge.

3.3 Eventually, after discussion and enquiry, the interested surveyors should come to the conclusion that an association should be formed. Once this stage has been reached, there are various questions that need to be addressed. Some of the most important of these are covered in the next section of this paper.

4. Questions to be addressed in forming an association

4.1 Does the new association need a constitution or set of rules? The answer is "Yes", but the content and shaping of those rules requires thought and care. Appendix I includes a list of suggested headings for such a set of rules; but the list may have to be adapted to meet the cultural (including religious), legal and political life of the community in which the association is set. It can be helpful to obtain the advice of a lawyer when the constitution is being prepared.

It is best to keep the set of rules as short as possible and to express them in language that is understandable to everyone.

4.2 Should the association seek to have a legal entity by becoming incorporated under the relevant laws of the country? In most countries it will be wise to follow such a course and to prepare the new association's constitution so that it meets the requirements of the laws of the country. One of the primary reasons for having a legal entity is the protection it provides to the members of the association under certain circumstances. There may also be taxation or other benefits available to the association. For these reasons, it can be helpful to have legal advice and the advice of a financial/taxation expert.

4.3 Who should be able to become members? This is a most important question as the answer which is arrived at will have a vital impact on the interests and activities of the association. The first question to be asked is "Who are the surveyors in our country?" FIG has produced a publication entitled "Definition of a Surveyor" and copies of it are obtainable from the office of the FIG Bureau. Surveying associations in a number of countries have adopted the FIG definition as their own and accept as members all those who meet this description and carry out the activities in one or more of the various fields described in the definition. This is a most desirable approach; but it is recognised that it may be too ambitious for the formation of a new association. More frequently, associations begin with a smaller and less widely representative membership and expand and join with other associations as they progress.

It is most important that all surveyors who practise in the public, private, corporate, armed services and academic or teaching sectors should be able to become members. For the association to be as effective as possible, none should be excluded.

The FIG Statutes provide that associations seeking to become members of it may be what is referred to as "vertically structured" - that is, they may provide grades of membership for those who have full professional qualifications and, as well, for those who have a lesser qualification. This is an issue which needs careful thought and a solution found which will work in the particular country. In the view of the task force, it is desirable that the association should provide for those who have less than a full professional qualification, whilst at the same time giving due recognition to those who have made the effort to equip themselves with a professional qualification. Once again, it may be desirable to begin with a small and cohesive membership and expand as experience is gained.

4.4 Should the association have a code of ethics? Since adherence to a code of professional conduct is one of the marks of a professional person, it is important that the new association adopts a code of ethics at its beginning. In doing so it will state publicly the standards to which it expects its members to adhere. FIG is preparing a model code of ethics which may be adopted by the new association or, if this cannot be done for valid reasons, adapted as necessary to meet the requirements of the particular country.

4.5 What office bearers are needed by the new association? At its commencement, a new association needs, at least, a chairman or a president to call and chair meetings and provide some leadership. It needs a secretary to record the minutes or proceedings of meetings and to ensure that the decisions of the association are carried out. It needs a treasurer to administer money and keep accounts. If there are sufficient interested persons a few additional committee members may be appointed to assist by accepting some other essential responsibilities. It is best to keep the original committee to a small manageable size, recognising that good communications are essential in the early stages of formation. The larger the committee, the more difficult it may be to achieve this objective. It will also be helpful to involve younger members of the profession. They can bring their energy and enthusiasm to these important discussions.

4.6 Can a group of surveyors wishing to form an association get help or advice from outside? The answer is fortunately "Yes". Contacting the FIG Bureau will always be a helpful step, because by that means the group will be able to receive up-to-date advice and information. FIG has publications available, including the one on the definition of a surveyor, which will be useful. The Bureau office is also the contact point for the world leaders in surveying. Their advice will be valuable to a group of surveyors wishing to form an association. The FIG Statutes and Internal Rules can also be helpful in drawing attention to the kinds of matters that will need to be considered.

The Bureau may be able to do other things as well. It is possible that an association from another country might be prepared to develop a "sister" relationship with the new group and FIG can be the catalyst for bringing the two together. By this means the experience and knowledge of the one can strengthen the other and provide valuable support at an important stage in a new life.

It is possible that FIG may be able, depending on the resources available to it and the timing of the request, to send a representative to meet the new group and offer first hand advice and support. FIG may also be able to conduct seminars and workshops for associations wishing to do some future planning for the profession in their country.

The technical and scientific commissions of FIG cover all aspects of the surveyor’s work. They produce newsletters and other publications and hold meetings, and their members communicate by e-mail and through the Internet world wide web. Linkage into the FIG network of people and information can bring many benefits.

4.7 What about the name? The name that is chosen for the association is important because it gives to both the members and the public an idea of the purposes of the association. The name should be broad enough to allow for an enlargement in the activities and membership of the association in the future and sufficiently descriptive to leave no doubt as to its main reason for existence. Perusal of the list of names of the member associations of FIG shows that there is a wide range of possibilities.

4.8 What is left to be done? When all the preparations have been made, when the framework of the new association has been decided, when plans for what it might do have been made and when there is agreement about the way forward, the next step is actually to form the association. It may be done in a very simple way by holding a meeting at which the foundation membership is constituted, the first office bearers are elected, a short speech from a visiting eminent person is made and the new chairman or president replies. The meeting might conclude with supper or other social event, relevant to the culture and practice of the country.

The opportunity should be taken to issue a media statement and publicity so that the commencement of the new association is as widely publicised as possible.

The new association is on its way and its new life has begun! Like any other new life it will need nurture, care, energy, commitment, time and other resources to make it survive and grow; but its value to those who are involved in it, the community within which it is set and all who need the work and advice of surveyors will increase as the association moves on.

Everyone from the international community of surveying represented by FIG will express goodwill and interest and will encourage the association. A step which the association will unquestionably want to take at some appropriate time will be to become a member of FIG. We wait to welcome you!


Guidelines for preparing the constitution and rules of a new professional association

  1. As was mentioned in section 4.1 of this document, it is best to keep the constitution or set of rules of an association as short as possible. A common and useful approach is to have a short formal constitution and provide in it the right to have subsidiary by-laws or internal rules which explain and enlarge upon matters raised in the constitution. FIG itself follows this approach.
  2. It is important to remember that constitutions and rules must provide flexibility and that they also need to be up-dated from time to time as change occurs in the goals, structures and forms of the association in response to a changing community. This is especially so for the by-laws and internal rules.
  3. Money matters are important and it will be wise to provide for a person outside the organisation, and not necessarily an accountant, to audit the accounts of the organisation each year. In this way, members will have the confidence that the resources of the association, even if they are very small, are being properly managed. There are several avenues which may be available to associations seeking independent auditors and enquiries should be made of other professional associations to determine the most cost effective approach.
  4. The following list of suggested headings for the constitutions is not exhaustive, nor is it suggested that it be followed completely. Every constitution should reflect the laws, customs and culture of the country within which it is set. However, the list may be useful by providing some ideas for discussion as the constitution is being prepared.
  • Preamble - to present the association to the reader.
  • The name of the association.
  • The goals and objectives of the association.
  • The mechanisms to achieve the goals and objectives.
  • Any essential definitions - for example, who is a surveyor?
  • Membership matters including the categories of membership and their qualifications, who approves applications for membership and how membership may be relinquished.
  • Obligations of members - to support the association and adhere to its rules, etc.
  • Rights and responsibilities - to participate in its assemblies, prepare and deliver papers, invite guests, elect the officers, pay membership fees promptly, etc.
  • Operating structures - which officers make up its management committee, how often must they meet and when an annual meeting is held, how persons are elected to office, the quorum of members to be present to hold a business meeting and the business to be transacted at ordinary and annual meetings.
  • The responsibilities of elected officers.
  • Finance and how the association will raise its funds - how the annual membership subscription is decided upon and what the association might do with its money, provision of an auditor, etc.
  • Language - which language or languages are to be used in communication? This matter might be relevant in countries with multiple languages.
  • The process for amending the constitution.
  • Providing for the making of by-laws or internal rules.
  • How the association might be dissolved if this should become necessary at some time in the future.
  1. The by-laws or internal rules will expand on matters in the constitution where this is necessary. The FIG Bureau can provide examples of the constitution and rules of some existing associations for guidance.


Members of the Task Force who prepared this document

Grahame Lindsay (Chairman) - Vice President (and formely Secretary-General) of FIG (Australia)
Ken Allred - Chairman, FIG Commission 1 (professional practice) (Canada)
Ernst Höflinger (Austria)
Jerome Ives (USA)
David Macoco (Kenya)
Michel Mayoud (France)
Wee Soon Kiang (Singapore)


Constituting Professional Associations
Published in English

Published by The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG), FIG Bureau 1996–1999
ISSN:1018-6530, ISBN  0-85406-862-7, February 1998, London, UK.

Printed copies can be ordered from:
FIG Office, Kalvebod Brygge 31-33, DK-1780 Copenhagen V, DENMARK,
Tel: + 45 38 86 10 81, E-mail: