An Interview With Joachim

I have conducted the following little Interview with Joachim Kast, who deals with government contacts for OSM Germany, and translated it into English. I think that the work Joachim does is a prime example of the “just do it” spirit that has got OSM to where we are today.

FR: Joachim, you’re in charge of government relations for OpenStreetMap in Germany. How does one get a job like that?
JK: That was a coincidence really. In the summer of 2010 I read a newspaper article about how our government was contemplating to regulate geodata services because of citizens protesting against Google Street View. Before they decided anything though, they wanted to hold a “geodata summit” where all affected parties would be heard. I feared that the outcome might harm OSM, and wrote to the minister in charge asking for an invitation. This landed me at one table with government ministers, members of parliament, data protection officials, and board members of large corporations like Google, Microsoft, and Deutsche Telekom. This led to a number of good contacts with government officials. Other mappers liked the fact that we were now talking, and asked me to continue.

FR: Surely you have founded a proper working group in FOSSGIS or the OSM Foundation to provide a legitimation for your work?
JK: No, I’m not a member of FOSSGIS or OSMF. Of course I’m in touch with people from both and will work with these organisations when required. But communication in the community is through the forums, mailing lists, the pub meetings, conferences or direct emails. My legitimation is that nobody has complained about my work yet and many people say “thank you, and please continue.” If someone has questions or ideas, they can talk to me. And I will often talk to local mappers because of course I cannot handle every contact myself.

FR: But you must have some organizational structure as the basis for your work in the community. You have to manage things; define goals you want to reach, determine the steps that have to be taken, identify obstacles…
JK: No. The only goal we have is an open dialogue that involves all interested parties. I really like the fact that I can help move OSM forward without having a fixed schedule or a set of goals that must be reached in a certain timeframe. Government institutions are usually bound by political missives, and deciding something can often take quite long. In addition, official land survey in Germany is a federal business, with 16 different survey administrations and often contradictory positions. This requires many small steps, not a grand plan.

FR: That doesn’t exactly sound like the most successful of strategies…
JK: But yes, that is exactly the way to do it. That’s how OSM started out in the first place. We have lots of ideas and options to acquire geodata. People used to laugh at us, but more and more government agencies and politicians now take notice, and upon closer inspection find that we have a vast data set that they can use freely within the terms of the license.

FR: Isn’t all that a lot of work? Have you ever thought that it should maybe done by a professional hired by FOSSGIS, OSMF or so?
JK: My workload is not evenly distributed. Sometimes I have several requests in one week, and then nothing for two months. Politicians and government officials are beleaguered by professional lobbyists and stakeholders who act in the interest of their employer. If you’re just a normal citizen who uses spends his spare time on his hobby, you stick out. They notice you – you’re authentic. And I really enjoy evangelising for something I love.

FR: The German OSM community is the largest and most active one by far. With so little organisation, doesn’t it often happen that you talk to some government agency and 10 other mappers have already contacted them with contradicting statements? These activities need to be coordinated, don’t they?
JK: That does happen occasionally, but it only serves to get the point across that we don’t have a central organisation and that it is not unusual for different ideas and expectations to exist in our community. Most mappers who are interestin this kind of activity know me well and we keep in touch about what we do. If at some point in the future I don’t have the time or energy to continue my work, someone else is going to continue. The central activity in OSM – the mapping – isn’t coordinated either, and the results are stunning! One can spend a lot of time thinking about coordination and organisation – but I prefer to say KISS.

FR: Thank you for your time, Joachim!

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