Tag Archives: GISP

GISP? We Don’t Need No GISP!

Or do we?

Or better yet, what I’d really like to know – Do I?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been organizing and filling out the applications for a couple of professional certifications: the APA’s American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and the GIS Certification Institute’s Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP). I have been working as an independent planning consultant specializing in the use of GIS for the past eight years, and thought it was time I got around to doing this. What’s been holding me up so far has not been that I did not qualify for either one, but my work load. It’s difficult to dedicate the time required to fill out the application forms, acquire and organize the documentation, and prepare for the tests when one has a full load of paying work sitting in front of them. Since my work load has slowed a bit this year, I figured it was time to take the plunge, and get it done.
At the same time I was assembling all of my documentation, there was a noticeable rise in the level of discussion about GISP certification amongst my Twitter followers. This is not unusual. The GISP topic comes up from time to time, and always seems to stir the emotions of the GeoNerds that hang out there. What did surprise me, though, was the level of animosity expounded toward GISP by some. I decided that before I follow through with sending in my $250, I should explore and analyze the requirements and potential benefits of becoming a certified GISP.
I decided to start my analysis by comparing GISP to the other certification process I am familiar with – AICP. The following table compares the two certification process requirements.




Education None required, but affects amount of experience needed Required – conference attendance can count toward education
Experience At least 2 years, up to 8 years if no degree At least 4 years
Code of Ethics Yes Yes
Contributions to the profession Only need a current APA membership Required, through combination of publication, association membership, conference participation, awards, volunteering
Test Yes, 150 multiple choice questions None
Fee $450 $250
Continuing education for maintenance/renewal 32 hours every 2 years Must accrue work experience, educational achievement, and contributions to the profession every 5 years
Renewal Fee No set fee, whatever the cost of the CM (continuing maintenance) materials or classes are $115


Surprisingly, AICP does not require any formal education at all. However, a graduate degree from an accredited institution does allow you to take the certification test with only 2 years of work experience. Lesser degrees require more work experience.
While the GISP does not explicitly require any formal education, it would be very difficult to satisfy the educational requirement through conference attendance alone. 300 full conference days would be needed to fulfill the GISP education requirement if the applicant had no degree or formal class time. That’s 60 full work-weeks worth of conferences.


AICP requires between 2 and 4 years of experience depending on the level and accreditation of the degree received (or 8 years with no degree). GISP requires 4 years of work experience regardless of the education.

Code of Ethics

Both AICP and GISP have written codes of ethics that members are expected to adhere to.

Contributions to the profession

AICP requires only current APA membership, while GISP requires the applicant to document their contributions to the profession. These contributions can include merely membership in a GIS organization, or more direct contributions, such as publication of a book or article, participation in a conference or workshop, or volunteering for a non-profit organization.

Test vs. No Test

The most obvious difference between the AICP and GISP requirements is the lack of a test for the GISP. Is this a problem for the GISP? Does it diminish its clout? Would a test improve its acceptance among the GIS crowd? Many of the anti-GISP commenter’s point to the lack of an exam as the main reason GISP is not a valid certification process.

My Thoughts

Amongst practicing planners, AICP is expected if you are to be considered a true professional planner. In GIS circles, GISP – not so much. Overall, I found the AICP application requirements easier to fulfill than the GISP requirements. Granted, the AICP application only allows me to qualify to take the test, but with my education and experience, I do qualify. I  do NOT yet qualify for GISP. Essentially the difference between the two boils down to test vs. experience. Which one is the better measure of professional ability? I come down on the side of experience. I believe the GISP certification process is as valid a process as any other. It emphasizes education and work experience more than does AICP. It expects adherence to a code of ethics  and rules of conduct. Most importantly in my mind, it expects contributions to the profession, (and continuing contributions to maintain certification) which AICP surprisingly does not. It’s these contributions to the profession that I lack, and will be working on the next few months so I will be able to become a GISP.

Why the Antipathy toward GISP from some GISers?

I believe GISers are a particularly independent lot, and feel like GISP is akin to following the herd. GISers are by their nature, non-conformists. GISers are a much more laid back group compared to planners. Compare the two photos below. The first is from the 2009 APA conference, the second from the 2009 ESRI UC.

APA Conference

Notice the suits, button down shirts, and ties at the APA conference.


Notice the lack of ties. There are a few button down shirts, but there’s also an abundance of polo shirts at the ESRI UC. One guy is even wearing flip-flops!

I know not everyone will agree with my analysis, but from my standpoint, GISP is a valid and valuable certification process. I believe it shows the holders of a GISP have certain qualities that those who do not qualify for GISP don’t. Over the next few months I will be working to fulfill the last few requirements, and sending in my application to become a GISP.

Blogs and other GISP related articles:

Roger Diercks’s Geofoolery blog post Trying to get to the GISP of the matter
Peter Batty’s geothought blog post: The GIS Certification emperor has no clothes
ArcUser Online article: Do You Want to Be a GISP?
The ENTCHEV GIS Blog post: Building a Brand
GISuser.com: The GISP Debate and A GIS Veterans Point of View
‘sproke: Are you REALLY a GIS Professional?