A Call to Take Action and Confront Systemic Offensive Behaviour in the OSM Community. (Updated)

Posted by Heather Leson on 9 December 2020 in English (English). Last updated on 13 December 2020.

Here we are again - OSMF election season. A comment on our OSMF-talk governance mailing list caused many OSM communities and individuals to join up for the purpose of the following statement .Signatories and translations are most welcome. See the full document with footnotes and signatories here Let’s do better as a community, project and network.


The OSMF and OSM need to prioritize diversity and inclusion in positions of power and governance. We recommend a renewal and implementation of an OSM Code of Conduct and deliver on the next recommended stages for a diverse and inclusive OSM and OSMF. We want the OSMF to ask itself: who does it exist to serve? How can we be more open? If you would like to sign this statement, you can do so here and your name will be added to the document:

sign the statement here


We write this statement as OSM community groups, contributors and members, in response to systemic aggressive behaviour that demotivates and excludes participation by women and minority groups in OSM, as well as some men and non-binary genders. This behaviour degrades the spirit of open community culture, and damages the OpenStreetMap reputation. The catalyst for statement was the offensive message sent to the OSM-talk list [], but the systemic behaviours described span many years and many people.”

Power dynamics in OSM are controlled by a dominant contributor profile: white, western and male. This power dynamic leads to a communication style which includes misogynistic, hostile, targeting, doxing, unfriendly, competitive, intimidating, patronising messaging, which is offensive to us and forces many of us to remain as observers and without the confidence to participate actively. As a result, many OSM spaces are characterised by white male superiority and toxic meritocracy. Often, we are nervous to engage and participate for fear of retributive comments/behaviour or ‘trial by mailing list’ from this dominant profile. We feel no ‘openness’ to new ways of communicating and participating and this shapes and limits diversity and inclusion in OSM across the spectrum; from tagging to governance.

The OSMF and OSM community state that they welcome diversity (D&I special committee, blog: OpenStreetMap welcomes diversity). Yet, despite these statements, and continual reinforcement that alternate perspectives are ‘listened to’, they are clearly not heard. The OSMF does not engage in strong reflections, structured debates, activities or actions which welcome and codify diversity, inclusion, or lead to equity within OSM.

We believe it is time to reassess how OSM and OSMF are organized and governed. Some OSM-ers state that OSM is a “Do-ocracy”; an even playing field where anyone can “do”. OSM has a systemic issue; in some arenas the “doers” act as gatekeepers who proactively crowd out other voices. The “do-ocracy” prioritises people of privilege; such as those with spare time, senior positions, confidence, access to technology, and fluency in English, amongst others. This approach is actively counterproductive to the diversity and inclusion agenda, as underrepresented minorities are less able and discouraged to participate. The OSMF protects these gatekeepers, and in doing so, perpetuates obstacles which works against the diversity agenda and core principles of ‘open.’ Currently, convincing women, non-binary genders, and OSMers in Low and Middle Income Countries to apply for and engage in the dominant power structures in OSM (the Board and Working Groups) is an impossible task. It requires asking our friends and colleagues to participate in a structure which is actively aggressive and combative towards them. We need to move beyond “please invite your friends to apply” and towards addressing why so few women and members of minority groups want to, or feel able to, apply.

Some argue that Codes of Conduct counter free speech. We strongly disagree. We want to achieve a safe, equal, healthy, and inclusive OSM; an open space which encourages a wide range of opinions and an effective exchange of ideas, free from any abusive or discriminatory practices. A CoC does not stifle that, it establishes it. Right now discussion is actively limited by lack of a CoC. Efforts to instill a Community Code of Conduct have been unsuccessful to date. We encourage the OSMF and OSM to be inspired by the various safe and friendly spaces in OSM - for example, Reddit, Geochicas Telegram Groups, HOT Slack, and many other spaces where collaboration and learning is happening in a positive and respectful way.

As OSM community members and OSMF members we have, for years, cited/documented examples, held workshops, SOTM sessions, and tried to campaign for changes that would improve diversity and increase contributions. People claim to listen, but we are not heard, and the OSMF Board and Working Groups remains consistently led by white western men. Requests for a Code of Conduct, due to behaviour during OSMF Elections, were dismissed by the Board in 2017. Multiple subsequent requests for a Code of Conduct have since also been dismissed by the board.

We feel that there is a clear gap between the rhetoric of the OSMF on diversity and inclusion and the will / action to actually engender change. In light of this, we want to ask the OSMF: who does it exist to serve and how can OSM be ‘open’ in ethos and culture, and not just in data? We believe that this would require applying the values of Transparency, Inclusivity, Adaptability, Collaboration, and Community, to the OSM ecosystem as a whole.

Path Forward

We ask the OSMF to coordinate a sincere self-analysis on these limitations. We ask the OSMF to develop permanent mechanisms to address these. Signatories of this document are ready to help to achieve these:

Immediate changes:

  1. The existing “Code of Etiquette” needs to be replaced by a strong and enforceable Code of Conduct for the OpenStreetMap and OpenStreetMap Foundation community and all OSM community channels/spheres (mailing lists, social media, communication channels including Weekly OSM, local and regional chat groups, events, and chapter coordination). This needs a strong implementation approach .
  2. Restructure governance to be more equitable: an example of this is committing to Board Seat allocation for OSMF members who are women and non-cis males, and who are citizens of Low and Middle Income Countries.

Changes to form part of OSMFs agenda over the coming 1-2 years:

  1. Make Working Groups and OSM activities more equitable: the Diversity and Inclusion special committee should actively work to consult, analyze and understand the structural limitations of under-represented people to participate, though permanent consultation and communication mechanism, and improve openness in the Working Groups and OSM activities.
  2. Official governance roles should be accountable to diversity and inclusion: OSMF Board and Working Group members should take Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) training, and sign D&I statements. This should also be available to all local chapters and community members.
  3. Support Diversity and equality for Local Chapters, recognizing that constituencies have different legal frameworks and contexts.
  4. Create an Inclusive Framework for Board Members to explicitly be aware of the accountabilities regarding DEI with their roles. A non-partisan community facilitator could support with this.

We would like to build a coalition to address this, and to proactively work on the requests we have laid out together. Diversity in participation, contributions, and voice are critical to the success and health of the OSM and OSMF community. Equality in OSM is needed to make the map more inclusive, more diverse and more representative. This can happen with all our combined efforts.

Thank you

On behalf of the signatories.

Location: Cité, Geneva, Grand Genève, Geneva, 1204, Switzerland

Comment from ndrw6 on 10 December 2020 at 00:37

Where can I sign a petition against these proposals? Frankly, I disagree with almost every single statement above. Large part of your post violates your own Code of Conduct and I don’t see your ideas inclusive or fair at all. They are objectively far worse than the status quo because we do not currently exclude people based on their background or values and that’s what your proposals amount to.

Comment from kucai on 10 December 2020 at 02:30

Making a mountain out of a mound.

Comment from arnalielsewhere on 10 December 2020 at 05:25

Glad to team up with you, Geochicas and various groups, organizations and individual on making a stand to promote diversity, and ensure a safe and inclusive space for collaboration, learning and mapping in OSM!

Listen and be part of the change.

Comment from stragu on 10 December 2020 at 06:46

This is very justified. I logged in to comment and make sure you know that many support this statement, and that the negative comments above should be a thing of the past. (Let me have a guess: the person who “disagrees with almost every single statement” is… not part of the minorities defended here.)

I have signed and will share it widely. Thank you for your work putting this much needed work together.

Comment from philippec on 10 December 2020 at 09:33

We are sorry we kept you from mapping.

Comment from bryceco on 10 December 2020 at 18:36

The proposed changes will have a small impact on a tiny fraction of current OSM participants while greatly expanding the pool of new participants. That seems like a fair trade off.

Comment from Zverik on 10 December 2020 at 20:31

Thanks Heather and Geochicas for this initiative! With the multiple failures of diversity and inclusion working groups, this actually might work. The comments above confirm we need to do this. I did a similar thing for the Russian community, and it feels better. And I got similar responses in the process: while these are awful, they will end eventually. I’d be glad to help with whatever I can. Will share this in my channels.

Comment from philippec on 10 December 2020 at 20:36

Is my comment a reason for censorship ?

Comment from julienfastre on 11 December 2020 at 09:52

Thanks for this post and initiative. We really need this.

For those who are able to listen French, I recommand this podcast:

It is explained that women where majority in computer science in the 50’. And why they were expelled out in the year after.

Some solutions are also discussed, including the quota. I was really astonished to learn that quota increase the general level of a school, when they are accompanyied by a politic of diversity.

Now, I am a supporter of quota. I think about events, like State of the Map and so on: I think there should be quota of conferences presented by women or non-cis people, for the next 5-10 years.

Comment from Zverik on 11 December 2020 at 11:08

For the topic of women, I recommend reading Invisible Women: it’s like the most important book of 2020. It highlights biases in everything, from economics and quotas to governance and tech.

Comment from Heather Leson on 11 December 2020 at 11:14

Thank you for these comments. I do think there is a middle way. And even when we don’t agree, at least we are talking and trying to understand. (hopefully) philippec - welcome back to this comment space.

On Ilya’s recommendation, I concur. Invisible Women is a fantastic book. I will gladly send my copy to the first person who identifies as a man. Just let me know and I can get the address - heatherleson at gmail dot com.

Comment from Yury Yatsynovich on 11 December 2020 at 15:39

The lack of diversity does NOT prove discrimination.

A simple mechanism that could explain the gender bias without any discrimination inside the OSM: “OSM is more likely be of interest to a tech-educated person than to an average person + males are more likely to major in tech-related fields than females => males are more likely to participate in OSM than females”.

So, the gender bias in OSM can be just a reflection of a gender bias in majors and the female quotas for OSMF board will not address this general educational problem.

I’m not saying that there is no discrimination in OSM, just that to claim that it is there one needs something more conclusive than gender bias.

Comment from Heather Leson on 12 December 2020 at 18:55

Dears just a quick note to state that someone has claimed my copy of “Invisible Women”. Do read it if you can


Comment from imnichol on 12 December 2020 at 23:11

I believe this is a positive step forward, and I’m shocked how aggressive the pushback has been. Thank you for these proposals.

Comment from q_un_go on 21 December 2020 at 00:01

Obviously this proposal is a direct attack on the OSM community in Central Europe. Because this community is dominated by “privileged white males”.

These derogatory remarks about my work - as I am male, >50 and white, are simply malicious and despising. Misandry instead of misogeny.

And this proposal just ignores the true problem of Wikipedia or OSM involving new people: As you need at least a laptop computer with JOSM installed for accurate and fast editing in OSM, the bias to nerds in OSM is not a surprise. Who needs such a toy in a world of smartphones which are more powerful than many laptop computers? Who would pay for such a toy, when a smartphone fits all of the basic needs of internet access in nearly any thinkable way, when having a low income?

Do you think I’d write a statement like this with a smartphone? Maybe, as I am a nerd. But normal people behave more in the Twitter way: say it with maximum 280 characters. That’s a novel in the world of mobile apps.

The smartphone is the problem, not the nerds. Many people don’t need a laptop computer for private access to the internet anymore. Editing OSM or Wikipedia with a smartphone is simply painful, (at least to me). I’ve tried it. It’s so awkward. Having only a smartphone, I’d maybe participate in mapillary or a similar project, but not much in OSM or Wikipedia.

Login to leave a comment