[OSGeo-Discuss] Candidate's Thoughts on OSGeo

Charlie Schweik cschweik at pubpol.umass.edu
Tue Aug 9 21:13:50 PDT 2011

On 8/5/2011 5:15 PM, Tyler Mitchell (OSGeo) wrote:
> With a very encouraging list of nominees for the open board positions, 
> it might help (at least me!) if some could share their thoughts about 
> OSGeo and its future direction.
Sorry for my delay in responding, Tyler – I was traveling.

Like others, I should say that I too am honored to be nominated.  The 
other nominees are quite impressive!

My response to Tyler’s questions will, naturally, come from my 
perspective as a professor in a U.S. higher education institution, and 
also from my perspective of researching open source software projects (I 
have a book coming out in 2012 to be published by MIT Press where I 
studied open source collaboration issues). I teach in two programs: an 
environmental conservation program (undergrads and grad students) and 
also in a public administration/policy masters program. I also taught, 
most recently, high school teachers open source GIS.

TYLER’S QUESTION: What challenges do you see for OSGeo in the short and 
long terms?

Challenge 1. Increased awareness and adoption of OSGeo-related 
technologies (short and long term)

My students are constantly asking me “why open source”? Why not teach us 
the dominant GIS software used by the organizations they will be 
interviewing with? Historically this has to do with dominant proprietary 
desktop GIS, but increasingly I am seeing more interest in Google’s free 
(as in cost), open standard web-based technologies.  So I think this is 
a major, long term challenge. How does OSGeo-related technologies gain 
market share?

Challenge 2. Continued improvements in the usability of OSGeo-technologies.

Some of the resistance I run into is because of usability or technical 
problems students run into with the software we use. Things have 
definitely improved over the last 5 years since I started teaching this, 
but I still run into periodic problems and sometimes this is because of 
inconsistencies between computer platforms (e.g., Windows or Mac). This 
is a reflection based on my focus in particular on one desktop GIS 
package in particular. These technical problems result in students 
having sometimes a negative view of open source. In last year’s 
graduation ceremony, some students gave me an “open source proponent 
award.” The little trophy they gave me was in parts and they said I had 
to put it together myself. This was in fun and as a joke, but it also 
makes a statement about how end-users who are less technical sometimes 
feel about open source technologies. This is an issue found in many open 
source technologies – and not specifically OSGeo technologies. I'm not 
sure what the OSGeo board can do to help with this issue, but I believe 
it is an important issue. At the same time, I am extremely grateful and 
impressed at the OSGeo-related software groups and hope they don't see 
this comment as a negative one.

Challenge 3. Better integration of OSGeo technologies specifically in 
the education sector. Education is a key way to make headway into open 
source geospatial technology adoption. But the challenge is how do we 
make headway in its use in educational programs at all levels?

TYLER’S QUESTION: What kinds of goals do you have for the organisation? 
(It's not a presidential race, but curious on what you see as goals for 
the org).

Goal 1: To encourage collaborative activities that helps to increase the 
adoption of OSGeo-related technologies. I personally think a focus on 
the use of these technologies in local governments might be an area of 
potential growth. In the US, proprietary technologies are embedded in 
national and state organizations, but there are many local governments 
that have little GIS capability. I think a focus on local governments 
might be a “growth industry” in developed countries like the US, and 
also is absolutely relevant in developing countries. So it might be a 
place to focus some serious attention.

Goal 2: Better and increased communication between software groups and 
educators. As the chair of OSGeo's educational group, I don't really see 
much direct dialog between the software groups and our education group. 
I'd like to see that improved and see where we might be able to work 
together better.

Goal 3: Help raise funding for the development of OSGeo-related 
educational and marketing material.

TYLER’S QUESTION: What is needed for a board to be successful? ...For 
OSGeo to be a success?

I think the OSGeo board’s primary role should play a strategic planning 
role in supporting OSGeo’s staff and helping them with OSGeo direction. 
As I see it, the board should be helping OSGeo identify cutting edge 
opportunities. For example, where are the niches OSGeo technologies can 
fill? Where might OSGeo’s projects compete? How do we differentiate 
OSGeo from proprietary competitors?  How can OSGeo help coordinate 
activities between projects or encourage collaborative efforts across 
OSGeo toward strategic goals? So as a new board member I’d like to 
understand the existing strategic vision of OSGeo and, if needed, 
encourage new dialog on where OSGeo is headed and what activities it 
should undertake to promote and advance OSGeo-related projects.

I also think the board should have some people on the board who can help 
raise some funding for OSGeo that would help achieve some of their 
goals. My area of expertise would be in grant-funding efforts, and 
perhaps with a few other board members we could collectively go after 
grant funds to help move some of OSGeo forward (for example in the 
educational content area).

Finally, I think the board needs to be made up of people from different 
perspectives and skills. I may have missed it, but it might be useful 
for people voting to see a list of the current board make-up (background 
and summary of what they bring to the table) and then look at the 
current nominees to see how they might complement or add to the current 
board composition.

TYLER’S QUESTION: Have you had to deal with similar challenges before?

My experience tends to be around the teaching of some of the 
OSGeo-related technologies. So I’ve dealt with some of the challenges of 
promoting OSGeo-technologies in an academic setting. I’ve also been 
involved in trying to encourage collaboration in the OSGeo education 
group. So I’ve got some experience in the challenge of getting 
volunteers to work with one another.

Thanks, all, for your time and ear. Cheers.

Charlie Schweik
UMass Amherst
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