OSM Awards as a thermometer on diversity in the mapping community

Posted by SeleneYang on 6 March 2018 in English (English)

The call for nominations for the OSM Awards de 2018 is now open it the winners will be presented during the SOTM en Milano, Italy at the end of July.

While this is a fairly new initiative to celebrate the achievements of people, groups and projects that support OpenStreetMap, I couldn't but notice the fact that in this two years, in all categories the percentage of women nominations is really inferior than men nominations.

This are the initial categories (Each category holds 5 nominatios):

  • Core Systems Award
  • Innovation Award
  • Influential Writing Award
  • Greatness in Mapping Award
  • Expanding the Community Award
  • Ulf Möller Memorial Award

For the OpenStreetMap Awards 2016, out of 30 nominations, only 3 women were nominated (none for the Greatness in Mapping Award); for the OpenStreetMap Awards 2017, where there were more awards (added: Improving the Latin America Award, Improving the Africa Award, Improving the Asia Award ) only 5 women were nominated.

Now, regarding to the winners, in 2016, no women won an award; in 2017, Geochicas were the only women who won an award. (A disclaimer about this, groups where there was participation of women did win, however no award - apart from ours - was obtained by a woman or a group led or conformed only by women).

The nominations are made by the community, just as the winners are chosen by the community, so my conclusion with this, and because we're getting closer and closer to the #8M, International Women's Day, is that although we might not be many women in the mapping sphere, our achievements are almost never recognised as the contributions made by our male colleagues. From Geochicas we launched the series #WomenMappingTheWorld, because we are not going to allow history to be told from one perspective, and we are not going to let our contributions be forgotten neither the struggles we've gone through to occupy spaces that have been historically denied to us.

So I will not congratulate you on International Women's Day, but I invite you to continue mapping, to continue to work into building more diverse and inclusive communities, because in the multiplicity of voices and experiences is where the true essence of community lies. Remember that the map is a reflection of its mappers.

Society of Women Geographers img

On the Wikipedia's list of cartographers -of 200+ names, just 2 are women. img

Marie Tharp Co-created the first scientific map of the Atlantic Ocean floor img

Location: Los Robles 3, District I, Managua, Managua (Municipio), Managua, 14006, Nicaragua

Comment from imagico on 6 March 2018 at 09:57

I think you are right that the OSM awards as they are implemented right now are not very good in supporting diversity but i would not focus this exclusively on gender equality since equal chances for different genders is not the most tricky thing to get right regarding diversity in such awards.

After the first OSM awards i pointed out that language and culture diversity is a big problem with those. While the gender diversity problem in the awards is mostly about structural discrimination in the process of nomination and voting (either conscious or not) the language and culture diversity problem is primarily about the lack of ability to assess contributions in nomination and voting across language and culture barriers.

As you know there are no really reliable numbers of the percentage of women in the mapping community overall but it seems likely that by mere numbers there is not really much bias in the nomination process (which according to your numbers results in 10-11 percent women). You need to keep in mind however that the nomination process is already two stages - free nomination by the community and selection of the final five nominees by committee. The numbers for the winners are surely too small to be statistically significant but intuitively it seems likely that there is structural bias in that (i.e. on average male community members are less likely to vote for female nominees).

Another thing to keep in mind is that quite a few of the nominees in the OSM awards tend to be nominated for work they do as part of their jobs (something that has been a point of critique on its own as well) - and in many of these jobs there is a significant gender imbalance already outside of OSM. Limiting the awards to hobby mappers and other hobby community members could make it easier to create a balanced award system because it would be less tied to discrimination outside of OSM.

Comment from cray33 on 6 March 2018 at 10:03

fuck diversity. A man and a woman are different from each other. You can't change the nature

Comment from Zverik on 6 March 2018 at 15:02

cray33, apart from the insulting nature of your comment, you are somewhat right. You cannot change the nature. But you can read scientific articles that prove that there are no differences in cognitive and intellectual abilities for people of different genders. For example, this one:

Comment from Zverik on 6 March 2018 at 15:06

Selene and Christoph, thank you for your comments on diversity of the awards. I too feel the this is an issue. Maybe we could chat via irc/slack/skype/mumble/whatever and try to come up with some ideas on how we could improve the diversity?

Comment from SeleneYang on 6 March 2018 at 15:10

Thank you, Ilya. We're talking about this in the diversity mailing list.

Comment from lxbarth on 6 March 2018 at 15:23

fuck diversity. A man and a woman are different from each other. You can't change the nature

This makes no sense and what makes you state your opinion in such an offensive way? We're different from each other and it's called diversity. We want basic rules in place to keep our interactions civil, precisely because there are comments like yours making people fell not welcome.

Comment from RobJN on 6 March 2018 at 17:53

Thanks Selene,

I'd go a step further and say that the global comms channels (such as this diary system) are a thermometer on diversity.

A few reflections:

  • The awards are intended as a way to celebrate success and promote more people to share their stories. It should be seen as something fun rather than scientific.
  • There are huge numbers of amazing people (both women and men) who's voices are never heard. I'm lucky to find out about these by reading the SotM scholarship applications.
  • A great step would be to encourage more people to share their stories more widely. The diary feature is a great place to do this and more people should use it.

So my question is, why are people happy to share their experience to a (private) google form and on platforms such as WhatsApp, but not here? Is it a UI issue - e.g. lack of app / hard to upload photos? Are there other issues?

Comment from SeleneYang on 6 March 2018 at 18:09

Hi, Rob! I guess because when we write so openly in a channel like this, we're always prone to receive violent responses like the one Cray33 had, so many people get scare or don't feel prepare to deal with responses like that. And in my case, I guess I'm comfortable about writing in EN in public (which is basically the universal language for techy communities), however many people do not feel comfortable expressing themselves in other languages than their own. And also, the UI is a big issue.

Comment from RobJN on 6 March 2018 at 20:51

That response was exceptionally poor but I totally agree that the environment is not great. One of the pieces of research highlighted this and it is in my view the root cause of our diversity challenge. By the way it puts men off too - this is a universal problem that should be tackled to improve our entire community.

Regarding language. I see no reason to assume that the diary feature is an English portal. I encourage you to post in whatever language you feel happiest with. I read (via Google translate) many posts written in Russian, Japanese, German, Spanish, French and thoroughly enjoy it. Some social media tools now have a quick button to translate a post. The more non-English posts we get here the more likely that feature will be added to OSM.

So yeah, please keep posting here - make sure your voice is heard :-)

Comment from RobJN on 6 March 2018 at 20:58

Here is an existing request for one-click embedded translations:

A few extra +1's on the top post in the thread to show support would be good.

Comment from SeleneYang on 6 March 2018 at 22:09

My response was exceptionally poor?

Comment from RobJN on 6 March 2018 at 22:55

No - cray33's was. Should be blocked. Sorry for the confusion :-)

Comment from cray33 on 7 March 2018 at 05:51

RobJN, nice freedom of speach from liberals. Women do not have any restrictions to editing the map. Nobody blocks them and does not hit their hands. If their number is small - that means your theory of "equals" does not work, and you are trying to change the nature. You are trying to cut off women's breasts and attach a penis

Comment from Omnific on 7 March 2018 at 06:05

Unfortunately, the vast majority (some 98%, but I can't find the source) of OSM mappers are men. Therefore, it is to be expected that the vast majority of nominees are men. We need to get better as a community in terms of bringing more women into our ranks, but the lack of female nominees is not representative of an institutional bias. There are just fewer women overall in the OSM community.

Comment from Zverik on 7 March 2018 at 06:32

Every time I see people like cray33 complain that women or a minority group is oppressing them, I remember this amazing song by Bo Burnham:

Comment from cray33 on 7 March 2018 at 06:34

We need to get better as a community in terms of bringing more women into our ranks What for? In order to that your theory of equality will be valid? You want to change reality and nature to your theory

Comment from Dzertanoj on 7 March 2018 at 09:10

The whole topic sounds unclear to me.

Does OSM project itself have any obstacles for women to join and participate actively once they want to do that? Personally, I'm not aware of anything like that. Correct me if I'm wrong. However, if I'm right about this fact, any gender disproportion is a result of a personal choice simply because OSM is a volunteering project. Indeed, this choice is not totally "free" - it is always influenced by factors such as education, habits, personal preference, cultural environment.

It means that if someone wants to change gender (or any other, like age, nationality, etc) proportion in a project that is already gender-neutral by design, one has to work with these external (relatively to the project itself) factors mentioned above. Tweaking a project means changing it to make it fit some personal views and some political/social agenda. That doesn't seem like something relevant to the declared fundamental goals of the OSM project. If it actually is relevant, could anyone point to that statement?

Don't get me wrong - I'm totally fine with anyone's personal views and activism while it stays personal and doesn't force anyone to support it. Everyone has a right to stay neutral towards anything (this is a part of a free choice).

Comment from imagico on 7 March 2018 at 09:58

@Dzertanoj - a lack of diversity is not necessarily the result of concrete obstacles or conscious discrimination. The personal choice of people to contribute to OSM is not exclusively the result of personal preferences but also a matter of appearance of the project to the potential contributor. In other words: If women are on average less likely to be interested in mapping and open geodata no one should try to pressure any women to participate in OSM despite a lack of personal interest just to improve the numbers (although you can of course still try to incite such interest in general education in schools etc.). But if women who are in general interested in the matter do not find OSM appealing to participate in that is something we can and should work on.

OSM is in principle in a relatively good position here because of its decentralized nature and its focus on local mapping and local communities. People who do not feel represented by existing structures in OSM - because of cultural differences, language, gender or anything else - can create their own structures that better satisfy their needs and can still be an active part of the project. But people newly getting to know OSM are often not aware of this, we need to communicate it better and need to extend it outside the world of mapping (like tools development and maps) where OSM is in reality much more centralized and less open obviously.

Improving diversity is always primarily about increasing awareness. Despite OSM being a global project that tries to be open to anyone you can see every day in tagging discussions, map style development etc. that many community members are largely unaware what a global project really means in terms of diversity in cultural and social background etc.

Comment from alan_gr on 7 March 2018 at 15:23

@RobJN - it is interesting that you asked for +1s on GitHub, which as far as I can see would require creating a GitHub account. Do you think that might be an example of the kind of accidental forms of exclusion we are (at least partly) talking about here? I don't mean to pick on your question, I know it is common among active OSM participants to refer people to GitHub pages. GitHub describes itself as a site for software developers, and its pages are full of developer-specific vocabulary like "pull request". Does reliance on a tool for developers (as part of general communication) send the right message to potential contributors? Or might it be one (admittedly minor) example of the kind of thing that tends to keep OSM participation confined within a relatively non-diverse group?

Comment from Mapanauta on 7 March 2018 at 15:56

Hi to all, a few of you mention OSM is a volunteer project and is a personal choice to contribute to OSM, this is correct but as you can see in the past years STEM carreers and communities are trying to create conditions that help to promote having a more diverse audience and participation, something that is helping to see more and more people from different genders and backgrounds is adding value to the conversation. Twenty years ago how many women did you see in Engineering or Computer Science?? not many but thanks to creating the conditions more people feels welcome to join these disciplines.

So thanks to all who open their minds and see more than just a nature difference and create initiatives to have a diverse community that can have data not just from the same type of profile.

Thanks @mapanauta

Comment from RobJN on 7 March 2018 at 18:38

Hi alan_gr:

Do you think that might be an example of the kind of accidental forms of exclusion we are (at least partly) talking about here?

OSM communication is fragmented. At some point you will have to join something whether an email mailing list (not my preference), IRC (too technical for me) or something else. GitHub is where the developers are because that is the tool they need to get their job done effectively so that's the best place to go.

Note: this is the same in the real world too. If you want to get your voice heard you have to go find the people to speak too. There are occasional consultations (as there are in OSM too - albeit on the mailing list and the blog) but the easiest way to be heard is to go direct.

But yes, the fewer barriers the better and that is why I pushed for months for the visual editor plugin to be added to the wiki. This was done when the plug-in hit stable release :-)

P.S. Non-developers like myself can engage with GitHub just as a web based platform with chat features similar to this / similar to social media.

P.P.S I'd love for OSM communication to be less fragmented. I'd love for the site to become more of a social platform. hence my original plea here to use the diary section more and in your mother tongue.

Comment from Heather Leson on 8 March 2018 at 03:18

Selena, thank you for this discussion and for your leadership.

Colleagues, thank you for this discussion. I look forward to seeing the 2018 awards being more diverse!

A few notes: 1. A technical solution, while laudable, is only part of the equation. 2. Etiquette is also needed

OSM has an opportunity to be more inclusive and diverse. This is our choice in all that we do and say. The risk of not addressing these issues one by one is that we leave behind half the world's population. If you would like a data-driven reason - the data will improve if women map and if women are part of the community in every possible way.


Comment from jose_ecu on 9 March 2018 at 16:14

Every body (including women) can be part of OSM community by mapping, mapping and mapping.

The actual state of the map is the work of many people who did it without expecting any recognition, nomination or awards.

I map because is fun.

Comment from bigfatfrog67 on 18 March 2018 at 11:49

I've been actively mapping on OSM since 2009. I am involved with various outdoor pursuits groups which all have a constant use of maps. The gender mix in those groups is roughly 60/40 in favour of women. Whenever I discuss OpenStreetMap, use of it and contributing to it, the only people who have shown any interest have been men. Why is this? Women aren't interested in maps? Science doesn't interest Women? Women don't like things with gadgets? Men are further along on the OCD scale and so enjoy the control, neatness and immediate result of OSM mapping? Men prefer the solitary aspect of OSM mapping on a PC or outside using a GPS device?

Or Women just find me boring? :-) :-(

Either way I experience a bias in every aspect of life which leans towards and away from Women or Men.

The main way to increase the number of female mappers, in my opinion, is to make the mapping process less technical and more social.

How you do that I leave to others to work out.

Comment from rmikke on 18 March 2018 at 12:29

Well, I see it more or less like @Dzertanoj: for some reason there are very few women actively editing the map, so it figures that there are very few female nominees and very few women voting - and this is the place that may require some work. MAYBE having some women win a prize is a way...

I have been editing all over the world and there is a part of the world, where editions by women are visible: muslim countries, especially in Africa. Even now, Nathalie Sidibe from Mali has been elected the Mapper of the Month. Maybe it's something worth popularising? Maybe we could find out, why it happens so?

Comment from GRUBERND on 6 April 2018 at 11:49

from all the occasions where i met reallife people involved with OSM there have never been many women around. actually, i am trying really hard to remember if i have met an active female mapper. ever. so getting a 10% recognition rate in a community award seems very much ok with me.

but then who cares if a feature was mapped by woman, man, alien or robot if it helps the user of the map to get to the right place?

pick the right bias and any community can be found to be skewed. i'd rather see women be better represented in the public via street names (love the map on that!) than in an anonymous group like mappers where gender is the least important feature to bring to the table.

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