Global Survey on The State-Of-The-Art and The State-Of-Practice in Geotechnical Engineering

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Published 01 December 2018
Global Survey on The State-Of-The-Art and The State-Of-Practice in Geotechnical Engineering


This paper presents the results of a global survey on the State-of-the-Art and State-of-Practice in geotechnical engineering initiated by the ISSMGE Corporate Associates Presidential Group and the Technical Oversight Committee in March 2017. It also summarises the discussions held on the topic during the 19th ICSMGE in Seoul on 20 September 2017.


The International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE) is the pre-eminent professional body representing the interests and activities of Engineers, Academics and Contractors all over the world that actively participate in geotechnical engineering. As a truly global organisation, the ISSMGE provides a focus for professional leadership to some 90 Member Societies and around 20,000 individual members. Further details on the activities of the ISSMGE can be found at

One of the objectives of the Corporate Associates Presidential Group (CAPG) of the ISSMGE is facilitating the uptake of geotechnical research in practice thereby narrowing what is referred to as the “research-practice gap”. To this end, the CAPG in conjunction with the Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) initiated a worldwide survey on the state-of-practice and the state-of-the-art in geotechnical engineering. The results of this survey were presented at a workshop at the 19th International Conference of the ISSMGE in Seoul on 20 September 2017. The workshop was organised jointly by the CAPG and the TOC, both of which are Board-level committees of the ISSMGE.

The purpose of this paper is to present a summary of the survey results and of the discussions held at the Seoul Workshop. The paper then identifies potential follow-up actions required to maintain the momentum of this initiative.


2.1 Corporate Associates Presidential Group

In his introduction to the Seoul Workshop, Karel Allaert (Jan de Nul) described the CAPG as an ISSMGE Board-level committee which comprises representatives drawn from the Corporate Associates (CAs) of the ISSMGE. At the time of the Seoul Workshop, there were thirty-one CAs including corporations, consultancies, contractors, equipment and product manufacturers, as well as one university. CA logos, with links to their company web sites, are displayed prominently on the ISSMGE web page and included in each issue of the ISSMGE Bulletin. The CAs list as at September 2017 is presented in Figure 1.

The number of CAs peaked at 43 and it is clear that more members are required. It is believed that a stable platform of CAs could be about 60.

The key purpose of the CAPG is to assist the ISSMGE in developing actions and activities that will enhance the commercial sector of the geotechnical profession. Among these, identifying and helping to bridge the gap between the State-of-the-Art (SoA) and State-of-Practice (SoP) in geotechnical engineering has been a key activity for CAPG during the last term (2013-2017).

Figure 1: List of Corporate Associates (September 2017)

2.2 Technical Committees

The mission of Technical Committees (TCs) is to provide a forum for active participation by the individual members of ISSMGE, and to promote the objectives, activities and results of the technical committees throughout the ISSMGE membership. The TCs are a meeting arena for discussing, developing and applying specialist geotechnical knowledge related to the behaviour of geo-materials, geotechnical engineering and engineering for society.

There are 33 technical committees of the ISSMGE divided into three categories, namely Fundamentals, Applications and Impact on Society (Delage, 2017). These technical committees are listed in Table 1. Technical committees may be removed or added in the future depending on the interest and activity of the members. For example, a new TC309 is currently being created on Machine Learning and Big Data in Geotechnics.

Table 1: List of ISSMGE Technical Committees

2.3 Technical Oversight Committee

The Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) is in charge of supervising and coordinating the activities of the TCs of the ISSMGE.

The TOC is managed by a Chair and a Secretary. Its members are the six Vice-Presidents of the Regions. Each Vice-President follows the activities of the TCs from his/her region (


3.1 Background

In late 2013, the core group of the CAPG, with the support of the then President of the ISSMGE, Prof. Roger Frank, embarked on a project to work towards improving the understanding of the SoA and SoP in geotechnical engineering. The Chair of the TOC, Pierre Delage joined this working group in late 2014 and was pivotal in engaging in regular communications with all of the TCs. As a result, a mini survey on the SOA and SOP was conducted involving all of the TCs in early 2015, culminating in a discussion session during the European Conference in Edinburgh in September 2015.

Encouraged by the success of the mini survey and the discussion session, the CAPG core group and TOC decided to undertake a global survey inviting the TCs to develop the specific survey questions considered as “hot issues” in their field.

SurveyMonkey was selected as the tool for hosting the survey questions. Sam Mackenzie (GHD) kindly offered to implement and administer the survey. The global survey was subsequently launched in March, 2017.

The main aims of the CAPG/TOC global survey were to gain a better understanding of the state-of-practice in the geotechnical profession, to identify areas for improvement and to provide feedback from the profession to the Technical Committees.

The survey was divided into three sections. The first section included general questions regarding the demographics of the survey respondents. This section also allowed the respondent to identify the Technical Committees they were interested in within the ISSMGE. The second section consisted of targeted questions compiled by each of the technical committees. Most of these questions were aimed at ascertaining the extent to which existing knowledge is being applied in practice, and the needs of industry and practicing geotechnical engineers. The final section invited respondents to provide general feedback on ways of narrowing the gap between the SoA and the SoP.

3.2 Respondent Demographics

The survey drew 1,295 responses from 68 countries. 84% of the respondents were male and 16% were female.

Figure 2 shows the number of responses received from the various participating countries. The majority of responses (56%) came from the European Region followed by 13% from Asia and 12% from Australasia.

Figure 3 shows the sectors of the industry in which the respondents are employed. Clearly the survey has achieved its objective with about 70% of the responses being from practitioners. One response was received from lawyers with none from insurers.

Figure 4 shows the distribution of respondents’ number of years of experience in the industry. Overall, a wide range of experience was represented, helping to provide different viewpoints.

Figure 5 shows the percentage of respondents interested in each technical committee of the ISSMGE. Twenty eight percent of the respondents are members or corresponding members of technical committees. Seventeen percent of the respondents attend TC meetings and 25% attend TC-related conferences.

Figure 2: Number of responses by country


Figure 3: Industry sector of respondents


Figure 4: Number of years of experience of respondents


Figure 5: Respondents’ interest in various Technical Committees

3.3 Response to TC Survey Questions

Twenty nine of the 33 Technical Committees listed in Table 1 provided a total of 232 questions for inclusion in the global survey. Respondents could contribute to the sections of the survey relating to the technical committees of their choice. A complete list of the questions and the responses received is available on the CAPG web site at CAPG/Downloads Note that, in each case, responses have been numbered sequentially and that the numbers bear no connection to individual respondents. This summary is an adaptation of the analysis of survey results produced by Jennifer Nicks (FHWA, USA). Figures 2 to 5 come from this analysis.

In his capacity of Chair of the Technical Oversight Committee, Pierre Delage presented feedback on the survey to the Seoul Workshop with particular reference to the roles of the technical committees. A copy of the presentation is available on the CAPG web site at A summary of the salient points is given below.

3.3.1 Role and objectives of Technical Committees

The objectives of the TCs as per ISSMGE guidelines are:

a) To disseminate knowledge and practice within the TC’s subject area to the membership of the ISSMGE.
b) To establish guidelines and technical recommendations within the TC’s subject area.
c) To assist with the technical programs of international and regional conferences organized by the ISSMGE.
d) To interact with industry and overlapping groups working in areas related to the TC’s specialist area.

These objectives are closely aligned with the objectives of the CAPG. Furthermore, all these objectives form a part of the knowledge development and interaction cycle (Day, 2017) as illustrated in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Integration of TC objectives in the knowledge development and implementation cycle

As shown in Table 1, the ISSMGE technical committees are divided into three groups. The Series 100 committees deal with fundamentals such as soil properties and calculation / test methods. The Series 200 committees deal with application of knowledge in practice. The Series 300 committees deal with impact on society. These three groups of committees, although positioned differently as shown in Figure 7, each play a role in the knowledge development and implementation cycle.

Figure 7: Role and positioning of the three groups of technical committees in the knowledge development and implementation cycle

Pierre Delage stressed that the vast majority of technical committees, particularly the Series 200 TCs, comprised a good balance of academics and practitioners, with approximately half of the participants from industry. The majority of the TCs hold regular activities aimed at transferring knowledge into practice, i.e. reducing the gap between the SoA and the SoP.

3.3.2 General feedback from global survey

Pierre Delage noted that the survey was an ambitious and difficult project and thanked all involved including the organisers, technical committees and respondents. A lot of effort and thought by the TCs went into preparing the survey questions and analysing the results.

The survey produced many interesting contributions, thoughts and feedback, providing new insights into the professional practice and technical committee activities. It is clear that academics, practitioners and contractors often think in different ways and may have divergent interests.

While the survey was a success, some of the TCs expressed frustration in that there was no information in the feedback they received on the origin of the responses and disappointment at the limited number of responses received. The timing of the survey may also not have been ideal for certain member societies with respect to the timing of their own activities.

Certain TCs expressed an interest in getting more responses to the questions asked, possibly by way of a follow-up survey. However, the results of the current survey should be evaluated first.

It is clear that the gap between the State-of-the-Art and the State-of-Practice requires careful consideration by the TCs and should receive further consideration in the planning of future TC meetings and activities.

3.3.3 State-of-the-Art and State-of-Practice

The State-of-the-Art (SoA) is the theoretical basis of the subject matter and is generally provided by the relevant technical committee, particularly TCs dealing with fundamentals (Series 100). This then needs to be incorporated into the State-of-Practice (SoP) in conjunction with the practical TCs (Series 200). The SoP represents a synthesis and analysis of practical experiences at any particular time in the light of the SoA. The SoP may be national, regional or international in application. Among the difficulties faced are that existing regulations may not be consistent with the current SoA and the time it takes for advances in the SoA/SoP to be incorporated into codes and standards. Often, no SoP documentation exists, and practice is based on personal experience of successes and failures.

In many instances, the SoA in the subject area of the TCs is contained in papers published at speciality conferences (e.g. the series of in-situ site characterisation conferences hosted by TC102). Certain TCs, such as TC215 (Environmental Geotechnics), TC301 (Historical Sites) and TC304 (Risk Assessment) disseminate this information in dedicated journals, books or working group reports.

The SoP in the subject area of many TCs is encapsulated in national, regional or international design codes and guidelines. These include EN, ASTM, ASCE, AASHTO, API, DNV, FHWA, CIRIA and other codes or documents. TCs that fall into this category include TCs 201, 203, 205, 209, 211, 213 216, and 218.

In the survey, respondents expressed the need for further guidelines (TCs 202, 208, 209, 211 and 304) while others requested better inclusion of the SoA in existing codes (TC212).

3.3.4 General feedback

The final section of the survey dealt with general feedback of respondents on ways of narrowing the gap between the SoA and the SoP. This general feedback was presented at the Seoul Workshop by Kim Chan (GHD) who summarised the main opinions as follows:

  • Compulsory professional accreditation is seen as a key step in narrowing the gap between the SoA and the SoP.
  • TCs should interact more with industry and the public sector so that the TCs are exposed to more real needs.
  • Data interoperability and the establishment of pre-competitive data federations (such as those used in Australia and Canada to federate groundwater data) could assist in closing the gap. The application of the SoA requires the SoP practitioners to have access to such data.
  • Academia should sometimes focus more on “practical questions” in their research. Research in geotechnical engineering must seek an application in practise.
  • Coming up with a set of guidelines for each sub-discipline within Geotechnical Engineering and making these available to the ISSMGE community will go a long way to bridging the gap between SoP and SoA.
  • Increase the number of symposia focusing on the case studies in geotechnical engineering to assist researchers in understanding the real behaviour of structures in order to model them in a better way.
  • The gap between SoA and SoP can be bridged with continued professional education and involving practicing engineers in specific geotechnical committees.
  • In the steering / drafting committees of regulations such as Eurocodes, a better balance between academics and practicing engineers should be sought.
  • Often, SoA and SoP are both used for solving practical problems, SoA for more demanding problems vs SoP for more common problems.


4.1 Discussion Topic

In the spirit of the Seoul conference theme “Unearth the Future, Connect Beyond”, two questions were formulated for the panel discussion:

a) Q1: How should we ‘unearth’ this material for the future to serve the geotechnical community?
b) Q2: How should we ‘connect’ this work to the 20th ICSMGE in Sydney in 2021?

Members of the audience were invited to come forward, join a circle of their colleagues and express their views. One such group is shown in Photo 1.

Photo 1: Panel discussion session in full swing


A summary prepared by Hugo Acosta-Martinez (AECOM) of the main comments and discussions is given below.

Peter Day, University of Stellenbosch / Jones & Wagener Consultants, South Africa

  • The application of new technology is often limited by the availability of the data required to apply the technology.
  • Universities should consider asking industry which topics they wish to have researched.
  • Universities should involve members from industry in both teaching and research activities.
  • Discussion documents, such as the TC205/304 (2017) report made available at the conference, are valuable as they contain practical guidance and have been compiled by both practitioners and academics.
  • We need to improve the quality and sufficiency of site investigation data by clearer specification of minimum requirements.

Kenichi Soga, UC Berkeley, USA

  • Work with companies, invite them, have open discussions about how to work together.
  • Organise sessions with companies.
  • Foster company-university interaction.
  • Bring infrastructure owners, contractors and clients to ICSMGE-Sydney-2021.

Jay Ameratunga, Golder, Australia

  • Contractors and owners are the missing link. Work with them to further development of profession.

Marcelo Sanchez, Texas A&M University (USA) and Chair of TC308 (Energy Geotechnics)

  • There were no surprises in the survey outcome.
  • Ask ourselves where we want to be in four years.
  • The diagnostics are there in survey
  • Define milestones and objectives for Sydney-2021.

Peter Van Impe, Jan de Nul (Belgium)

  • Transfer of knowledge is an issue.
  • Specific knowledge is not always easy to find.
  • Academia is controlled by the need to publish as this is often linked to research funding and career advancement. This has a perverse effect on the profession.
  • It is impossible to follow up on everything that is being published.
  • The need to publish to survive in academia is killing applied research.

Graham Scholey, Golder Associates (Australia)

  • There is an opportunity to synthesise and address these concerns in ICSMGE-Sydney-2021.
  • Identify the key people to address the conference.
  • How to balance the number of papers with the quality of conference is an issue that needs careful consideration.
  • An important question for the CAPG to answer is “What is in it for me as a Corporate Associate?”.
  • Corporate Associates need to receive tangible benefits.
  • Important to increase number of CAs.

K.K. “Muralee” Muraleetharan, University of Oklahoma, USA

  • Repeat the survey among chosen respondents.
  • Analyse regional differences.
  • Consider carefully the issue of sampling.
  • Need ‘far thinking’ clients to support improvement.

Jennifer Nicks, Department of Transportation’s FHWA (USA) and Chair of ISSMGE’s Young Member Presidential Group

  • Researchers are not rewarded for doing better.
  • There are risks associated with trying something new.

Walter Paniagua, Chair of TC214 Soft Soils, Mexico

  • Organise special sessions for commercial services / products.
  • Contractors to be encouraged to present case histories in association with consultants.
  • Research-to-practice papers should be encouraged at conferences.
  • Acknowledgement that bridging the gap and managing expectations of commercially-oriented members are not easy tasks.

Soheil Nazarian, University of Texas at El Paso, USA

  • Mutually exclusive expectations from academic and practitioners.
  • Dissemination of research findings may not be permitted. Universities are funded by government.
  • Invite the right people to write specifications and guidelines. Where no specifications exist for the application of new techniques, these techniques will not be used by designers for fear of litigation.
  • Do not invite managers; they will not transfer knowledge; bring in young active engineers instead.

Ana Heitor, University of Wollongong, Australia

  • Referred to experience at the University of Wollongong which has deep involvement with contractors and development of practical solutions to specific problems.
  • Bridge the gap between SoA and SoP with education and training.
  • Access to journals and databases is expensive.
  • Suggest creating a platform for review of papers from the last few years on specific topics.
  • Look further than Sydney-2021.

Ken Ho, Government of Hong Kong

  • Reference to SoA could be ambiguous; for a given topic different answers from different universities are possible
  • Add an assessment process before transferring knowledge. The GEO Office (Hong Kong) attempts to fulfil the role of assessing research findings and transferring relevant findings into practice by producing practical guidelines.
  • Proposal to consider a Technical Review Board and consultation at local and international level.
  • There is not always consensus among researchers on the value of new knowledge.
  • Bring the right stakeholders to the table.
  • ‘Technovation forums’ are suggested.
  • Calibration of methods with real data and actual performance is important.
  • New knowledge needs to be interpreted, e.g. by translating into design charts or computer programmes. The research institutions themselves need to take the process this step further.

Anand Puppala, University of Texas (Arlington), USA

  • Work on big data.
  • Industry funding is difficult.

4.3 Discussion Closure and Thanks

Valerie Bernhardt (Terrasol) closed the discussion session and thanked all the participants. In her closing remarks, she mentioned:

  • The survey serves as a point of reference for next steps.
  • The survey makes people aware of the real issues.
  • The communication problem is from both sides. Everyone needs to make an effort; it is not a one-sided problem.
  • Interact with other Board level committees.
  • Survey for academic/consultant members.
  • Open access is an important initiative to be maintained and expanded.

5. Next steps

In concluding the joint TOC and CAPG workshop session, Sukumar Pathmanandavel (Aurecon, Chair of CAPG) set out what he sees as the next steps in the process.

The CAPG and TOC, with help from TCs, plan to disseminate these findings among the profession. (This paper helps fulfil this intention.)

Specialised sessions are planned for the five ISSMGE mid-term regional conferences in 2019 to discuss, debate, and promote issues relating to geotechnical engineering that have, or are perceived to have, a significant impact on the commercial sector of the ISSMGE. CAPG will interact with the local organising committees to develop topics and invited participants relevant to the needs of each region.

The possibility of a further survey before the 20th ICSMGE in Sydney in 2021 has been raised. Inclusion of a request for topics that industry would like researched has also been mentioned. This will be considered by the CAPG/TOC.

Suggestions on this work can be submitted to Sukumar Pathmanandavel ( and Peter Day (


The following representatives of the Corporate Associates were actively involved in the development and launch of the global survey:

  • Sukumar Pathmanandavel (CAPG Chair), Aurecon
  • Chaido Doulala-Rigby (Yuli), Tensar
  • Kim Chan and Sam Mackenzie, GHD
  • Karel Allaert, Jan de Nul
  • Gabriele Zapf, formerly with Siemens
  • Mandy Korf, Deltares
  • Ian Hosking, AECOM
  • Valérie Bernhardt, Terrasol/ Setec group.

Special thanks are due to:

  • Roger Frank, ISSMGE Immediate Past President, for his leadership and his interest and involvement in all CAPG’s activities
  • Pierre Delage, Chair of the TOC, for invaluable assistance both in the development of the global survey, and for being the focal point for communication with the TCs
  • Sam Mackenzie of GHD for his excellent work of developing and deploying the survey tool
  • Jennifer Nicks, Chair of the Young Member Presidential Group for support in reducing complexity of the survey data for use by the technical committees
  • all the ISSMGE Technical Committees for participating, framing of survey questions and analysis of results
  • and, finally, to the ISSMGE members who participated in the survey.


  • Day, P.W. (2017). Terzaghi Oration: Challenges and shortcomings in geotechnical engineering practice in the context of a developing country. In Proc. 19th Int. Conf. on SMGE, Seoul, pp 11-34.
  • Delage P. (2017). Report of the Technical Oversight Committee on the term 2013 – 2017. In Proc. 19th Int. Conf. on SMGE, Seoul, Korea
  • TC205/TC304 (2017). Joint TC205/TC304 Working Group on ‘Discussion of statistical/reliability methods for Eurocodes, Final Report’. Available at:


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