OpenStreetMap

Money!

Posted by SimonPoole on 27 October 2014 in English (English)

One of Steves favourite sound bites is “we have the money, lets employ somebody” in a couple of variants, used again in his current manifesto to convince people in to electing him back to the OSMF board.

During my time I simply ignored them, not wanting to derail things more than they typically were, but the obvious response would have been “how on earth would you know?” (well that is actually the polite version).

The OSMF has limited financial reporting (it has improved over the last two years) and essentially no planning, also known as a budget. It is currently simply not possible to know what the financial status of the OSMF is or should be at point in time in the future. And while the OSMF has roughly £80'000 of cash available we shouldn't be eating too much in to that given that substantial amounts of it would be needed in case of larger hardware problems (imagine one of our hosting locations catching fire) or other shortfalls and unexpected costs. Not even mentioning any kind of planning for short term cash needs.

It is one of the things that I consider a personal fail that we didn't manage to get something resembling a conventional budget in place over the last two years. It is not difficult, but it would have required cooperation from multiple board members to be actually meaningful and that was not forthcoming and so I concentrated on other pressing issues.

One of the larger planning issues is the largest line item, SOTM. Right now a couple of days before this years event, the OSMF board has no idea what has been signed in its name (if anything has been signed that is), what the potential risks are, nothing. And this was the same the previous year, the year before, the year before that and so on ….

Last year the board faced a potential GAU (German expression for the largest conceivable accident) when the local organizers for Birmingham threatened to walk out, we patched that up, but till this day we don't quite know how much we would have been in the red had the worst case happened. [I would like to point out that the local team was doing the right thing. I was simply showing that, yes, even "safe" things go wrong, and without planning you can't even do "what if"s in such a situation]

Now there is quite a lot of potential sources of funding available for OSM, but we are kidding ourselves if we think it is going to rain manna if we don't get our act together, get our financials under control and actually have projects worth funding (a separate topic).

To be clear, from a legal point of view there is nothing wrong with the OSMF finances and the way we have financed hardware purchases in the past has been low risk, leaving SOTM and our G&A as the larger variables. But it has trapped us in a vicious circle.

Rebooting (with an emphasis on boot) the OSMF board might be a way of breaking out, installing a Junta with the person mainly responsible for the current state of affairs in charge, not.

Comment from DennisL on 27 October 2014 at 15:45

Simon, could you elaborate on why the local organizers for Birmingham threatened to walk out?

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Comment from SimonPoole on 27 October 2014 at 16:07

As i wrote, that was patched up, so it is really up to the involved parties to speak up.

The one thing that is well known is that is was very difficult to find sufficient funding due to a large number of competing events and the local organizers felt a substantial amount of pressure due to that.

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Comment from It's so funny on 28 October 2014 at 19:47

"installing a Junta with the person mainly responsible for the current state of affairs in charge, not."

What do you exactly mean by "the current state of affairs"? Is that the financial risk exposure by OSMF for SOTM? No insurance for a hosting location catching fire?

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Comment from jremillard on 29 October 2014 at 01:40

There seems to be a lot of focus on Steve. I did not think Steve was on the board, so I don't understand how he is responsible for anything that has happened or not happened over the past 2 years on the board. This is entire hubub is pretty confusing to those outside the OSMF inner circle....

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Comment from SimonPoole on 29 October 2014 at 07:45

@jremillard none of the other candidates claim to be the solution for everything and none of the other candidates are themselves (at least co-)responsible for creating the problems.

I've said it multiple times, but again, lots of things are now far better than under Steves regime, there are some which are not, but all are rooted in the first five years. It is not that two years ago the board suddenly decided to not create a budget, it simply never had one,.

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Comment from brianboru on 29 October 2014 at 09:41

Simon it's a bit disingenuous for you to claim that the board doesn't quite know how much in the red you would have been.

I suggest the following documents would help:

  1. The contract with the venue with it's steadily increasing cancellation charge break points as we approached the conference date:signed and deposit paid by the Treasurer
  2. The cancellation insurance policy and contract: signed and paid by the Treasurer
  3. The SotM financial statement sent to you by me when the crisis broke, showing the commitments made, sponsorship received and delegate registration income received with the then current shortfall.
  4. The Profit and Loss statement sent by the SotM working group within 2 weeks of the close of the Conference.
  5. Birmingham's bid document containing an itemised budget.

I'm sure I could I even dig out our risk register showing mitigation measures.

These provide data for the maximum financial risk, quite what would have actually happened you are correct to say is unknown.

As you know the sponsorship position in 2013 was particularly tough, with a least another ten geo conferences in the UK, all in the same month as SoTM, all competing in the same sponsorship pool, so the risks were high that we wouldn't match previous years, or even cover our costs.

That you are in the same position of blindness this year is just incompetent ( I refrain from using the legally-charged word negligent), demonstrating that the Board never considered the SotM Working Group's report we submitted after the conference containing a number of recommendations to improve future SotM organisation.

Even without that report you could expect the board to have learnt from its experience.

After the server infrastructure SotM is the biggest financial commitment, the local volunteers who work so hard to bring us SotM, and the community at large deserve better. It is hard enough on the volunteers to organise the conference without the board expecting them to do the bulk of the fund-raising also.

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Comment from SimonPoole on 29 October 2014 at 10:55

@brianboru I think you are just underlining my points, it was not that the local organizers and the "SOTM WG" for Birmingham were not dotting the i's and crossing the t's and doing a responsible and good job, but that the board as a whole was flying blind (I'm referring mainly to financials here), just as it is this year.

You are assuming a flow of information from the SOTM-WG directly or indirectly to the board that in my experience does not exist and likely has never existed. Just as the other way around, I don't believe the board ever formulated any (public) expectations exactly what SOTM local organizers should or should not do, SOTM, as said many times, largely being treated as a black box.

That it would be the boards responsibility to provide at least minimal financial planning, including some sane way of integrating SOTM, is the whole point.

A final note: the question of the historic pressure on the events to deliver a large portion of the net income of the foundation was discussed both in the board and publicly https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/osmf-talk/2013-August/002193.html and IMHO the outcome was that we would try to avoid relying on SOTM (one of the reasons to introduce coorporate membership), with the expectation that the events would remain in the black.

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Comment from RobJN on 29 October 2014 at 12:38

Simon,

The board were not blind to the financials for SotM 2013. As Brian has pointed out there was 5 sources of information sent to the board including one (and arguably the most important) direct to you. I seem to recall that Brian even took you personally through this.

Furthermore all our planning with the exception of a couple of f2f meetings where we worked on the programme were in the open. Any board member could have joined any one of our teleconferences, requested to see any of our minutes or asked to be added to the team@stateofthemap.org email address. Only Henk did this. Yes I am disappointed that Henk did not communicate back to you during your board meetings (or did he??) but you were equally passive with regard to SotM 2013. Even more worryingly is that no lessons seem to have been learnt.

Rob

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Comment from SimonPoole on 29 October 2014 at 13:12

Rob,

as I said, SOTM has largely been treated as a black box, I wasn't saying that that was good thing, just a statement of fact. And while you might think that everything was perfectly transparent, from the other side I can tell you SOTM has been perfectly opaque. 2013 was an exception in that we, well at least I, was able to access WG minutes after the upset, but all that you suggest the board could have done, assumes a level of information and awareness the board has never had.

Yes I had a long talk with Brian with the view to trying to fix the issue, which as I pointed out did actually happen.

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Comment from Hendrikklaas on 1 November 2014 at 12:32

Simon as a humble mapper I agree, don’t start to take an employee with regular wages if it aint clear what’s the amount of a yearly income at OSM. There other items that need money as well, or is even the development of programs a gift as well ? Single sponsoring actions can be held locally without world wide support. Hendrik

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