Interview - Matthew White


Matthew White (@Matthew_White)



Location: Where do you live? Where do you work?

I live in Washington, DC. I’m excited to be working with Nafundi on the development of ODK Central.

Tell us a fun fact or story about yourself!

For most of my career, I’ve worked on software development and/or economics, but my undergraduate major was philosophy. Talk to me about consequentialism vs. deontology !

How did you first find out about ODK?

I first encountered digital data collection at Innovations for Poverty Action while coordinating a randomized controlled trial in Nairobi on the effects of microinsurance. We started out doing paper-and-pencil interviewing, but decided to transition to digital data collection. I saw what a difference it makes to be able to validate your data in real time. Later, I found out about ODK through another IPA project. I loved its ease of use compared to other tools I’d seen.

What are you using ODK for?

While at IPA, I developed a series of Stata programs to facilitate IPA’s work. One of these was odkmeta, which imports ODK data to Stata using information from the XLSForm. It was one of the most complex programs I’d written to date, and the experience reaffirmed my desire to move into software development. Years later, I’m thrilled to be writing code for ODK Central.

What’s your favorite ODK feature?

One of the things I think is amazing about ODK is the breadth of use cases it supports. To author a form, you can use ODK Build, create an XLSForm, or write your own XML. To collect data, you can use ODK Collect, but you can also use Enketo. To store data, you can use Aggregate, Central, Briefcase on a Raspberry Pi, or Google Sheets, among a variety of other options. I think one reason ODK has been a lasting solution is its ability to experiment, grow, and support new use cases. On the technical side, I think that growth is enabled by thoughtfulness around standards, including OpenRosa and the XForms spec.

How did you get so involved in the community? What keeps you coming back & staying involved?

I’ve seen firsthand how useful ODK can be for facilitating impactful work. ODK has touched a lot of projects, and I love reading the showcases of new uses. I think it’s incredible that we have an open-source solution that enables such work.

What has been the greatest challenge for you in learning about ODK? (Either the software, the community, or both!)

I think it’s excellent that ODK is as flexible as it is, but it also means that there can be a lot to learn. That said, I think our documentation does a good job steering users to the features they need, allowing them to skip topics that aren’t relevant to their use case.

Let’s talk about goals: Do you have any ODK-related goals for yourself, your organization, or the overall ODK community?

Two goals come to mind, though perhaps they stand slightly in tension.

First, I think that ODK has succeeded in part because it’s been willing to experiment and support new use cases. I think the need for that will continue into the future, and I think there are still important use cases for us to address fully — more complex case management comes to mind, for example.

At the same time, I think there are also ways in which we can make ODK even easier to use. How do we make it as easy as possible for someone to go from visiting the ODK website to collecting data? Even as we add new functionality, I think we’ll continue to want to make sure that a new user is able to jump right in.

What advice would you give someone who’s just learned about ODK and is considering getting involved?

Jump right in! There’s always a need for contributors, whether it’s answering questions on the Forum, testing new releases, writing documentation, or writing code. If you’re a developer, come visit us in the ODK Slack (you’ll find me in #central-code).

As we continue making progress on ODK Central, I also want to encourage everyone to take a look at each new release, even if you’re not ready to use Central for your current projects. We’re already adding features that are completely new to ODK: for example, Central v0.4 Beta just introduced Projects! Community feedback helps us make decisions, and that feedback is especially important now while Central is earlier in its development.

Github ID: matthew-white


@Matthew_White , Your odkmeta command is one of best command which i use frequently. Thanks for this work.