Interview - Dan Joseph

Name: Dan Joseph (@danbjoseph)

Location: Where do you live? Where do you work?
I live in Washington, DC and work at the American Red Cross as a GIS Officer in their International Services Department. My job is to help collect and utilize geospatial and programmatic data to empower decision-makers. Being able to visualize operations data spatially is a powerful tool whether it is mapping needs to allocate response resources, mapping activities to demonstrate impact, or mapping risks to prepare for future disasters. I try to leverage technology to empower people and to address the fascinating challenges in disseminating information to improve the effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian programs.

Tell us a fun fact or story about yourself!
I once accidentally swapped the labels for India and China for a map focused on Nepal. I like trying build RC planes and custom drones, but because Washington, DC is covered by a no-fly zone I have to drive pretty far in order to test any of my creations. I’ve spent more than 3 years living and working in the Philippines.

How did you first find out about ODK?
When I first started at Red Cross almost 5 years ago, the team was just finishing up a review of mobile data collection software options. ODK, and formhub, came out on top as the best available option. Because of that, I started learning about ODK and XLSForm. It’s been love ever since.

What are you using ODK for?
My team at the Red Cross supports disaster resilience/preparedness, response, and recovery programs with information management and GIS services. Whenever it’s appropriate to use digital tools for data collection, we encourage people to incorporate it into their workflows. We use ODK for all sorts of things: assessments, beneficiary registration, post-distribution monitoring, mapping, and more.

What’s your favorite ODK feature?
There are so many great features! How is it possible to choose? It’s been awhile now but it was a lot of fun when Nafundi added new styling options to ODK Collect. We’ve gotten a lot of use out of cascading selects and use of the barcode type question for QR codes. The ability to use XLSForm and author a survey form completely in a spreadsheet is terrific.

How did you get so involved in the community? What keeps you coming back & staying involved?
The community itself is what keeps me coming back. The Red Cross relies on the generosity and dedication of its vast network of volunteers and donors in order to accomplish our mission of preventing and relieving suffering. That same ethos of generosity can be found in many open source communities, and it’s definitely present in the ODK community. It’s awesome to see people help with ODK. Everyone from the developers to the people on the forums helping each other learn and use the technology for all sorts of humanitarian, environmental, civic, and commercial purposes.

What has been the greatest challenge for you in learning about ODK? (Either the software, the community, or both!)
Other aspects of my job and life sometimes keep me from being as engaged as I’d like to be.

Let’s talk about goals: Do you have any ODK-related goals for yourself, your organization, or the overall ODK community?
I’m proud of how American Red Cross has supported the development of OpenMapKit and hope we can continue to contribute tools that integrate and complement ODK; as well as support the core ODK project.

A lot of organizations and communities are realizing that they need to pay more attention to how inclusive and diverse they are. It seems like the ODK community is welcoming and supportive of all people, but I’m not in a position to speak to that. It would be good for the community to make sure that everyone feels comfortable contributing in a variety of ways.

What advice would you give someone who’s just learned about ODK and is considering getting involved?
There’s lots of ways to be involved and contribute that don’t involve writing code. Help improve the documentation, submit issues about bugs you notice, make recommendations for software improvements, answer questions on the forum, or just tell everyone you meet about how awesome ODK is!

Github ID: danbjoseph
Twitter ID: danbjoseph