Thoughts on MapUganda application as a Local Chapter of the OSM Foundation

Posted by Nicolas Chavent on 11 December 2020 in English (English).

OpenStreetMap Uganda has applied to become an official Local Chapter of the OpenStreetMap Foundation - information application.

The elements enclosed in this diary note read as well as an email contributed to the community discussion as part of this Local Chapter application process.

Important work has been put into this Local Chapter (LC) discussion which provides the LCCWG, OSMF and OSM folks with important materials to consolidate parts of both LC (vision, processes) and OSMF.

Here are a few contributions to this on-going conversation from the perspective of someone heavily involved (HOT US Inc until 2013 and afterwords ProjetEOF and LesLibresGeographes) in Haiti and French-speaking African countries over the last decade starting and supporting local grassroot OSM collectives. I will not get back on how MapUganda relates to the current LC “doctrine” and processes, this has been well covered. I think that we need to keep looking at the question phrased by Frederik about possible “issues with granting local chapter status to a commercial organization with the main chartered purpose of providing paid services?”.

But first like others, I’d like to highlight the accomplishment that represent establishing MapUganda in its current shape through 10 years of work in Ugandan challenging environment.

For the dynamic of the OSM project in Uganda, MapUganda (incorporated as a local non profit organization) plays an instrumental and dual role as a de facto LC and a de facto business entity or an economic operator which provides paid services around OSM and Geomatics to fund its activities. I see how a formalized LC could complement and diversify the local OSM ecosystem and contribute fostering this OSM dynamic in Uganda. However, I think that MapUganda is not the right entity to fulfill this role. Years of direct experiences related to OSM dynamics involving OSM collectives and business entities in Haiti and French-speaking Africa makes me think that approving MapUganda as a LC could eventually weaken MapUganda itself, the OSM dynamic in this country and elsewhere in Africa while being detrimental for the OSMF itself in the long run.

There’s nothing against MapUganda as a collective, its members nor the Ugandese mappers in this position but rather a willingness to contribute making the best out of the local OSM dynamic resulting from their activity both for MapUganda, the Ugandan OSM project, OSM in Africa and in countries of the “global south” as well as for the OSMF itself. The elements behind this position aren’t new, they inform my actions and those of different collectives in Haiti and in Francophone African countries. They have been put forth many times and notably in SotM conferences (mostly SotM, SotM France and SotM Africa) through talks and many in-persons discussions. Long discussions with Geoffrey and other African mappers on this topic. I also took the time to speak directly with Geoffrey prior emailing our list to avoid any misunderstanding about the credit MapUganda and Ugandan OSM people deserve for their work.

The main reason for not approving MapUganda as a LC has to do with the “paid services” it is providing as a non-profit organization to secure its resources and operate. This makes of MapUganda a a de facto business entity or an “economic” operator (defined generically and minimally by the provision of paid services) despite its anchorage somewhere in social or solidarity economy. This shall make us wondering - as invited by Frederik - if “[We] see no issues with granting local chapter status to a commercial organization with the main chartered purpose of providing paid services?”. What’s the likely impact on the various parts of the Ugandan nascent OSM ecosystem? What are the likely effects for local business entities (or economic operators e.g. providers of paid services)? With poverty and low number of active mappers limiting the volunteering dynamic from which OSM originated and continues to thrive in the “global north”, business entities have therefore an important part to play in Uganda to grow and sustain an OSM dynamic, support mapping, provide training and offer economic opportunities for experienced mappers willing to make a living out of the skills they build in the project. What’s the likely impact of this decision on how the various parts of the OSM ecosystem interact and how their interaction eventually supports the growth of the OSM project while preserving its autonomy and keeping individuals at its core?

We shall first look back at OSMF and LC and remind ourselves of the early ages of the OSM project when its ecosystem was nascent and review some of the strengths that lead to its current affirmation. Frederik’s question brings us with the non written rule or the jurisprudence behind the practices under which OSMF and LC from “developed” countries have been functioning resources-wise so far: banning paid services from their resources. This is true at OSMF. This is equally true in given LC like OSMFR where this banning of “paid services” from the actual resources of the association is collectively restated year after year at its AGM. This choice in terms of OSMF resources as well as the choice of keeping the Foundation small (in its resources, staffing, perimeter of actions) has the benefit to leave the provision of paid services provision in the hands of “business” entities of all types (freelancers, associations, cooperatives, NGOs, business firms…) outside of the OSMF which largely remains a volunteer-based organization. This allows OSMF neutrality vis a vis business entities. This limits the room for business logics as well as conflict of interests in the OSMF which has to handle the influence of business and business logics without having to operate with business logics. This efficiently limits the “benefits” members and especially directors can expect from OSMF. This also safeguards reasonably the OSMF Board so that professionals or members of business entities can participate without breaking OSMF neutrality towards economic operators. These choices contribute essentially to the autonomy of the OSMF and the OSM sustainability in the long run allowing for a diversified ecosystem and free interactions of all actors including business entities of all sorts. This community discussion about MapUganda LC approval highlights the needs to revise and consolidate parts of LC and OSMF aspects and processes, these future discussions shall feature making this “paid services” jurisprudence a written law as well as defining the essential perimeter of actions of the OSMF which has been recently enlarged to system administration, software development, fundraising and human resources not without yielding questions about possible changes this can brought to the model of the small OSMF which spearheaded the growth of the project up to now.

Thinking through the triptych made of the OSMF jurisprudence about paid services, the OSMF trademark and the LC status in the context and MapUganda and countries of the “global south”, we shall realize that it’s fit for such territories (at least in Haiti/French-speaking Africa) and allows to shape the OSM ecosystem in an enabling way for community, OSMF/LC and business actors logics to interact and grow the OSM project the way it happens in the “north”.

Haiti provided an example of how bad things can go when one association (COSMHA - Communauté OSM Haiti mostly based in Port-Au-Prince area) had been active as a de facto LC and a de facto “economic operator” providing paid services around OSM. Over time, volunteerism tended to disappear or be very limited to the extent that the association operated solely under a business logic for the only benefits of some of its members. In parallel, tensions grew within the membership resulting into its shrinking and its control by a few. Entry in the association was made difficult. The internal democracy was limited. The association through its de facto OSMF chapter role seeked control over all OSM activities (community, association and business) in the island. This resulted into violent relations with individuals and other groups (in Port-Au-Prince, Saint-Marc or North/North-East) around any community volunteering activities as well as around economic opportunities. Tensions were such that certain mappers stopped their OSM activity or left the island in 2013. The overall resulted into less volunteered community-based activities, a dependence on economic project for any activity and a shrinking of the number of active local mappers. COSMHA shrunk over time, in members and activities in parallel with the scarcity of economic activities, the association being incapable to keep members and attract new ones. The same pattern with differences though applied to other Haitian OSM groups. Of course Haiti is specific but some of the above-laid out dynamics are common in the world of associations in French-speaking African countries. And we shall have this in minds while considering to merge business and OSMF LC logics into one single entity. We shall also think about how LC dynamics can also affect in return the OSMF and contributes to changes in the proven and successful governance model of the OSM ecosystem based on a small OSMF and LC.

Now let’s see how the various parts of the OSM ecosystem can interact in a ways allowing for community animation, increase, business opportunities and “economic neutrality” of the OSMF fit for poverty context and offering resources and opportunities to mappers.
- For the safety of local mappers vis a vis population, police, justice, there’s a need to formalize an OSM entity which can evolve as an OSMF local group, or some sort of de facto/proto LC prior transitioning to a formal LC.
- Typically LC’s span of activities and need for resources will he higher so that minimally on top of what OSMF, LC, local groups do in the “global north”, training and workplaces can happen throughout the territory.
- This higher need for financial resources in support of LC activities in the “global south” can be met outside of the provision of services by mobilizing first all other legal sources of income. Second it’s possible for a LC to benefit indirectly from paid services provided by all the “economic operators” active in its territory and supportive of the LC action through partnerships and donations and support actions. All sorts of community grants can also come to play via programs such as CAFDO, HOT US Inc, OSMF, ProjetEOF. And a more systematic approach can be worked out within the LCWG (as well as other fora) to build dedicated support programs.
- Outside of the LC activities, one shall note that local OSM mappers, members or not members of a LC can benefit from resources, training and job opportunities resulting from the activities of all “economic operators” active in the territory the way it’s already happening through MapUganda and others groups in Uganda.
- Lastly, to keep growing and diversifying the OSM ecosystem and its “economic actors”, specific entrepreneurship support programs targeted to OSM, Open Data and Free Geomatics can be continued or initiated within interested parties of the humanitarian action and development aid sectors ; some thoughts can be put into such scheme from within the LCWG or the committee responsible for OSMF community grants shall this program be continued. This would diversify and grow the business entities of a country, diminish dependency of the local OSM ecosystem on too few entities and provide opportunities for local mappers as well as resources for the LC. This is typically an activity that MapUganda thanks to its maturity can fulfill and add incubation/mentoring functions to its skillsets and offer of services.

The above show that there are ways to take into account the poverty context which hampers the efforts of the local OSM communities without taking the risks of making of a business entity the LC of a country. To make the best out of the OSM dynamic spearheaded by MapUganda and create a “model” fit for Haiti and Africa as well as other countries of the “global south”, it would make sense to consider initiating a new LC project for OSM in Uganda from a new entity which would have banned paid services from its resources and be supported in this approach by all interested individuals and groups across OSM and OSMF active in such territories and sensitive to these aspects of OSMF governance. In such a scheme, MapUganda would continue playing its dual role for the OSM project in Uganda and transition gradually its de facto LC activities to the new LC candidate entity.

A conversation to be continued across OpenStreetMap fora and within the OSMF LCCWG.

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