Meet the Stats Guy
Geographer Simon Kuestenmacher is a researcher, writer, and presenter on matters of demographics, economics, and curator of fascinating maps…
There are some well-known, and much followed geo-personalities; like Dr. @josephkerski, who writes and teaches about geo-education and the “Science of Where”, map-making tipster @John_M_Nelson, scientist Dr. Dawn Wright @deepseadawn, cartographer @kennethfield, and many more. We in the geo-mappy-happy addicted community get our daily doses of fascinating geo-content from these experts and curators. I’d often thought: how about a geo-personality that specializes in demography? I’d been following geographer and demographer @simongerman600 for several years and wondered how he comes up with his daily (if not more frequent) geo-tidbits, especially the hilarious #badgeography jokes. This led to finding links to his research, articles, blogs, books, presentations, radio, and television appearances.
Appearing frequently in The Australian newspaper, and The New Daily as the “Stats Guy”, Simon Kuestenmacher takes a refreshing, accessible, unbiased, and often humorous approach to exploring the intersection of geography, demographics, and economics trends. While many of his topics feature Australian and New Zealand examples (he is based in Melbourne), there is universality to what his research reveals. I caught up with Kuestenmacher via Teams recently.
Kuestenmacher said that he got into geography, somewhat by accident. “I’m from Germany, and back then you had to go to school for 13 years and choose a main subject. I was into a lot of weird things, so I thought history, or something called business English. Because the school wasn’t large enough, there weren’t enough folks interested in my first four or five subjects of choice. And then I figured, geography, that is always alright, and decided to study that. I really enjoyed that; so much so that I actually went on do the Bachelor of Geography at Humboldt University of Berlin; which led me to Tulsa Oklahoma of all places, studying geography and human geography there for a year. And then did one exchange semester at the University of Melbourne. That was 14 years ago, and now I’ve just kind of stuck with it—geography is cool.”
His specialization in demographics came about, as he puts it, as another accident. After completing a master’s in urban geography at the University of Melbourne, Kuestenmacher worked as a data analyst for a small employment firm. “I saw a job advertisement for a thing called KPMG Demographics,” said Kuestenmacher. “When I saw that, I was like ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t even know that you could do just the fun parts of geography for a living’. So I went down, applied for, but didn’t get the job. Instead, Bernard Salt, my boss, made another position for me. Over time the job became more than just looking at the numbers side of things.”
Kuestenmacher found the work fascinating: “They’re just analyzing big picture data. And then moving into the narrative part of this. I very much benefited from my boss who is, here in Australia, probably the biggest writer and commentator on demographics.” The association with Salt helped Kuestenmacher land two newspaper columns: a monthly column in The Australian, and weekly in The New Daily. “It’s just this constant force; the pressure of writing on a regular basis. You constantly need to come up with narratives. So for me it’s really five narratives per month at the very least, plus we do consulting, and speaking engagements as a business.”
Kuestenmacher has continued his work the noted demographer Salt, as a co-founder and director of the Demographics Group. He said that he is constantly on the look for big, interesting, data driven stories. “It’s fun, because I do like to use data to help me to explain how the world works, at least from the demographic angle. I’m not claiming that this is the one and only angle through which to look at the world, but I think it’s a lens that no business can afford to completely overlook.” Indeed, if you look at the major focus of geography, besides navigation; understanding and management of natural resources, geosciences, management of infrastructure assets, planning, and AEC, the human elements of geography and demographics are key in all of the above.
The Demographics Group has clients from all manner of businesses, governmental agencies, and professional organizations. In addition to research and publishing, they are sought-after speakers, a substantial portion of their business. Kuestenmacher said, “Some of the speaking might be viewed as ‘infotainment’. You do first and foremost need to be entertaining and engaging enough so that anywhere between eight and 2000 people don’t fall asleep. But also, we do need to be on point, and there needs to be some sort of real takeaway—that’s not infotainment.”
The approach can be different if they are working for a single client or addressing a large audience at a conference: “Where we have a demographic problem for a client, or we provide them the demographic outlook for a market or something like this, that is just data driven narrative. That doesn’t need to be entertaining, they have a real business proposition. And if you speak at a conference, and you have people from 300 different businesses, it needs to be plausible, you need to show the broad direction of things.”
Some example blogs and articles:
- Proven city design plans never lost in translation
- What do Millennials and their families want? Infrastructure and lots of it
- The importance of data and knowing what to do with it
- Book: The World in Over 100 Unusual Maps
Something that struck me about his work, is that he tends to stay away from hot button issues. Instead, he lets the data speak for itself. Of course, there are timely issues that clients for his research want explored. Like clients in the real estate sector, wondering how population shifts between rural, urban, and suburban regions might affect markets. Kuestenmacher has also touched on how issues like Covid have affected demographic trends.
One particularly timely narrative is related to the situation in Ukraine. By looking at trends over recent decades in demographics and economics, he has touched on an element of the subject that does not get discussed much, but perhaps should. ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (public) also recently interviewed him on the subject, calling him their “resident demographer”.
Then there are the tweets: fun maps, fascinating maps, #badgeographyjokes, mapping oddities, maps and graphs that illustrate demographic trends, historic maps—he curates what he finds from numerous sources. @simongerman600
I was recently commiserating with some other presenters at a recent geo conference that there seems to be a trend to default to many of the same presenters, over and over again. There are many great rising stars in the geospatial community and related industries; it is high time that a new wave of presenters is encouraged to step to the fore… and with an expanded set of subjects. Demography for one….