Are you ready to pass the GIS Professional Certification exam?

By Diana S. Sinton

Launching the GISCI certification exam: an interview with Bill Hodge and Rebecca Somers

As of July 1, 2015, all professionals applying for their initial GISP Certification through the GIS Certification Institute will be required to pass the GISCI Core Technical Knowledge Exam. I recently had the opportunity to find out more about GISCI and the new exam in an interview with Bill Hodge, the executive director of GISCI, and Rebecca Somers, a GIS management expert and president of Somers-St. Claire Management Consultants. Somers has led the effort to develop the new exam under the direction of the GISCI Board of Directors.

Q: GISCI has been granting the GIS Professional Certification since 2004. According to your website, more than 7000 people have successfully completed the process. Over these years, have you seen changes in the type of people pursuing this certification, and their backgrounds and areas of expertise? Are there sectors of the geospatial industry that have been surprisingly slow to pursue the GISP?

A: GISCI has been very pleased with the success of the GISP Certification program over our first decade of existence, but we look forward to the opportunity to build on that success over the next decade!

Yes, we have seen a marked change in the GISP demographic over the last 10 years. The people who originally applied for GISP Certification came from diverse backgrounds, not necessarily with an academic geography or GIS degree.  Though a substantial group still meets that description today, increasingly, the individuals applying for certification have shown a stronger geospatial academic background and a greater number of them have a Masters degree in this or another field. The typical applicant now has substantially more experience than earlier in our existence.  A degree is not necessary to qualify and we have seen a small percentage of applicants qualify who do not possess a degree of some kind.

Consistent with the expansion of GIS across industries and professions, we see an increasing number of applicants from fields such as planning, environmental assessment, insurance, real estate and banking, in addition to the traditional GIS fields, and we see an increasing number of potential applicants who do not now have the requisite 4 years of full-time geospatial experience necessary to apply for GISP Certification. A substantial and increasing number are also holding a GIS certificate from an online program.

Q: Has there been an international demand for, or interest in, the GISP Certification? Do people from other countries pursue the GISP, or have other countries developed their own?

A: The international demand has been present and consistent over our first decade of existence and is currently growing. We have a substantial representation from the Canadian geospatial community, and GISCI has had an agreement since 2007 with SSSI in Australia, for them to administer the GISP-AP certification to the Australian geospatial community.  While certification holders outside of North America remain a small percentage of our overall certificant group, we plan to expand our recognition with, and presence in, this area in the future.

Q: What were the compelling reasons for moving to a certification process that included an exam? Does this make it any more or less consistent with other certification processes?

A: There were voices from the start of GISCI’s existence that advocated for an exam, but we were not in a position where it could be done correctly and well until recently. With the presence and first update of the GIS&T Body of Knowledge and the more recently adopted GTCM, GISCI recognized a long-awaited opportunity to increase the rigor of the certification process and enhance the status of the GISP Certification with the addition of an exam.  That exam will be called the GISCI Core Technical Knowledge Exam! The exam will align the GISP Certification with other professional certifications and enable GISCI to attain accreditation for the GISP Certification.

Q: Are you happy with the way the test has developed? Do you feel you have managed to capture, in a formal assessment format, a way to measure GIS&T expertise? I’m asking this from the perspective of a fellow educator who knows how challenging it can be to design a very effective and robust measure of learning and accomplishment.

A: We are very pleased with the exam development process and results. The target level of expertise for the exam is the core geospatial technical knowledge required for all geospatial professional jobs.

Addressing this core knowledge across the diversity of GIS jobs has been a challenge for GISCI and the GIS field. It has also been a challenge for the traditional professional certification and exam development standards and procedures.

To meet this challenge, we drew on the experience of more than 400 GIS professionals spanning all job types, sectors and experience levels in the GIS field. These GIS professionals provided valuable insight regarding the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that are relevant to myriad GIS jobs. The exam addresses these core areas of expertise. We have also added extra review, participation and oversight to the traditional exam development process to ensure that the exam remains focused on core knowledge spanning many jobs.

To ensure exam relevance and validity, we are following proven professional exam development procedures, including job analysis, identification and linkage of tasks and KSAs, validity review and cut score setting.

Q: What impacts do you anticipate from the switch to the GISP test, if any? Do you think it will affect who pursues the certification or why?

A: The exam will improve the reliability and validity of the GISP Certification. It will also raise the GISP Certification to the level of other professional certifications and enable the certification to attain accreditation. All of this will increase the quality, value and recognition of the GISP Certification.

The requirement to demonstrate GIS knowledge via the exam will naturally screen applicants who don’t have the required knowledge. Hopefully, the requirement will encourage GIS professionals to fill in any gaps in their core knowledge base.

The changes to our GISP certification process as a result of the addition of the exam will allow students and young professionals to start the application process at an earlier point in their careers than now, and give them a chance to start thinking in a professional manner, an enhancement to their career and to the profession as a whole.

The exam, recognized core knowledge base, and increased value and recognition of the GISP Certification will also lead to maturation of the GIS professional and facilitate inter-organizational communications and cooperation.

Q: Where do you see the GISP Certification process going over the next 5 years, 10 years? Do you envision mergers? Spin-offs? Market saturation?

A: From here, we will move forward in an exciting journey into the future of the geospatial profession! As GISCI finishes launching the new exam and changes to the certification and recertification process, we will move next to a maintenance and periodic update of the exam to keep it fresh and relevant.

From there, the organization will explore the possibility of additional certifications in specific areas of GIS experience, such as programming, databases and management. We also see increasing opportunities to collaborate with other organizations and certifications or credentialing processes, both existing and future, to move the geospatial industry forward in an increasingly cooperative manner. A stronger engagement with the academic community will be an inevitable part of that future.

We believe a future of increasing cooperation, not competition, will benefit us all!

Published Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Written by Diana S. Sinton

Published in


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