OpenStreetMap - Increasing diversity

Posted by Hawkeye on 9 February 2014 in English (English)

After hearing this keynote about diversity and gender at SOTM 13 and previously this video. I thought it would be good to look for ways to broaden our community through the events I help to organise in Scotland. In general, I think we are reasonably successful at attracting a wide range of people and it's worth noting that OpenStreetMap may achieve the best success when it works with existing groups and partners during mapping parties. Some thoughts of participation at mapping parties here. But we can definitely do better.

So I'm following Wikipedia's lead and hoping to work with Glasgow Women's Library to run a community mapping party event some time later this year as one way to make sure the widest and richest set of features are uploaded to OSM and offer a better alternative to inherent bias in other maps.

While organising this event, I was asked this question: 'Tell us about your experience of working with women and diverse communities and how you will ensure this project respects difference and safeguards equalities?'

Good question. Which got me thinking - does OpenStreetMap have a policy safeguarding equality or respecting difference. Well, short answer is no.

The mission statement includes 'open to all' and 'democratic process' but doesn't specifically refer to supporting or promoting diversity or equality. Nor do the draft core values

In contrast Wikimedia values includes this section:

'Our board of trustees, staff members, and volunteers are involved without discrimination based on their religion, political beliefs, sexual preferences, nationalities, etc... Not only do we accept diversity, but we actually look forward to it'

Wikimedia even had a conference about diversity.

So how do we share the mapping love with the broadest range of people?



I'm using this post to suggest we could make it more clear that our mission to 'provide free geographic data' should be backed up with more information around diversity:

  1. A vision (to paraphrase Wikimedia): 'Imagine a map where every human being can freely create and access geographic data about the entire diversity of the world's culture, heritage and places. That's OpenStreetMap'

  2. Short policy statement on equality and diversity to spell out that the Foundation does promote and up hold these values.

  3. Board election manifestos should be mandated to include a section on how the candidate will address equality, diversity, bias etc.

  4. Top ten OSM task list does include translating languages - which is great. I think the top ten task list should always include something around promoting a wider audience/diversity etc

What do you think?

More info on: Diversity mailing list

Location: Amelia Highway

Comment from amm on 10 February 2014 at 03:43

Even though "diversity" might not explicitly be mentioned in the documents, I believe that diversity has always been a core defining principal of OpenStreetMap and the wish to have an appeal to as broad a community as possible.

It starts with the decision to use a free form textual tagging system to describe the semantics of the data. By using this instead of the more traditional fixed form attributes, the system was from the get go designed to make sure it can cater for all diverse interests and that there are no limitations to expanding to new diverse usecases and interestes. For the same reason, OSM has no approval process for new tags and anyone can just start using the tags. Not even a democratic approval process could guarantee this same form of diversity, as 51% of the community could otherwise prevent expansion to more diverse uses. This decision has caused OSM quite a bit of greaf and there have been a number of initiatives to try and lock down tagging . But the principle of free tagging and the chance of diversity has always been upheld with the strongest of support!

Another key aspect in the structure to support diversity is that OSMF was set up to be as weak as possible, explicitly stating it should "support but not control" the community to ensure that there is no central organisation that could stifle diversity by pushing things in a specific direction. Anyone can do pretty much anything, what ever their background, what ever their interests. Furthermore, it has also always been a core belief to try and divest everything down to the local level as much as possible, to respect cultural and regional diversity.

So imho both on the technical and organisational level OSM has done a huge amount from the get go to ensure diversity and that no group or use case is excluded or discriminated against. The principal of diversity has and always will be one of OSMs defining principles and its key to success.

However, OSM as a project has a very "libertarian" view of diversity (do-ocracy). There is no pro-active drive towards diversity and it is up to the "minorities" to engage in the project. This is perhaps why OSM might not have been as successful on the third level, the social level, to achieve the dirversity it was set-up to cater for.

In short all of the pre-requisits for supporting huge diversity are imho there, what it needs are more passionate volunteers to help in active outreach programs to draw in new diverse members of the community.

Comment from Hawkeye on 10 February 2014 at 19:23

Thanks for the response, good point about the diverse/free tagging scheme. I think you're right in the fact OSM is flexible and open and avoids 'the tyranny of the majority' problem. Being open and free maybe isn't quite enough, I think having the Foundation make a statement/policy about actively seeking the widest audience/membership/editors would be beneficial and positive step to thinking about ways to widen participation. Although, I think the foundation's supporting role is good, I think this is the perfect subject/issue for them to lead on.

Anyway, as you say it's a do-cracy. And I have mapping parties to organise... :-)

Comment from Tordanik on 11 February 2014 at 00:05

I would like the OSM community to become more diverse, but I would not like the foundation to choose goals – no matter how noble – and impose them onto the community. The current activities of the Wikimedia foundation are actually a rather negative example in my opinion, because they appear to be done mostly in a top-down fashion, the exact opposite of how a community-driven project with minimal formal organisation should work. Your ideas feel similar to me, so I'd rather not see them implemented, sorry.

"Anyway, as you say it's a do-cracy. And I have mapping parties to organise..."

That's the spirit! :-)

Comment from SOSM on 11 February 2014 at 15:34

@tordanik while I fully support the notion of the foundation not defining goals for "OSM" and imposing them on the community (it is not quite clear by what kind of mechanism something along such lines could even be done), I do believe that the foundation can very well define goals for itself and support work on issues that it believes does not get enough attention.

Comment from wonderchook on 12 February 2014 at 01:32

Just wanted to mention I posted this to the diversity-talk mailing list. I would like to convene a meeting with interested parties to discuss.

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