OpenStreetMap

SWOT Analysis for OSM

Posted by apm-wa on 15 January 2020 in English (English)

Putting on my hat as chairman of the board of the OSM Foundation, I have created a wiki page at https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/OSM_SWOT to collect the OSM community’s thoughts on OSM’s strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities and threats OSM faces. I respectfully ask that OSM community members share their perspectives on that wiki page.

Comment from Heather Leson on 16 January 2020 at 08:08

Thanks for this conversation.

How will this community and the board help those people who want to contribute to the discussion anonymously? Or, better yet, how can people contribute in a healthy, open way. I say this because the emotional labour it takes to negotiate or navigate ‘targeting’ of differences is often a deterrent in participation.

I personally will edit in good faith. However, it would be helpful to address this topic now as more diverse communities may engage knowing that their voices won’t be minimized or run into this type of situation.

As many do not read OSMF mailing list, will you be doing outreach via other lists and community channels? Allen, I saw you already posted to twitter, and hope that the outreach continues.

Will the input from the community survey be automatically folded into the analysis? There were well over 100 responses outlining key topics. This input included swot issues.

And, will all of this form into a larger community curated OSM strategy and project roadmap?

Thank you again

Heather

Comment from imagico on 16 January 2020 at 10:49

First the idea of making a risk analysis of the OpenStreetMap project is a good idea, this should be something everyone involved with any kind of decision making in OSM should contemplate and it is good to do such contemplation also collectively.

There are a few things i like to point out regarding the specific form chosen:

  • good idea to do it on the wiki - gives people the freedom to articulate their views in the form they find suitable. Anyone who wants to contribute without revealing their identity can create a pseudonymous wiki account and use it for this purpose.
  • to get a broad spectrum of views on this it would be important to (a) also ask and invite answers in other languages and (b) not tie this too strictly to the concept of SWOT which is strongly linked to American business culture and kind of implies that OSM is a business project based on American cultural values.
  • it would be of advantage if the different opinions on this would be linked across the four categories, for example by having the points signed by those who make them. The reason is what some consider a strength others might consider a weakness. For understanding the different views on this it is important not to look at the points for each category in isolation but being able to connect how they form distinct overall views of the project.
  • it is my understanding that the idea behind SWOT is to look at things w.r.t. a specific goal - in the business world often essentially to maximize profits. You have not specified or referenced any specific goals to consider so the answers you get might significantly diverge because people consider the matter w.r.t. very different goals without actually specifying the goals in question.

So overall: Good as a starting point to get people thinking and exchange some spontaneous ideas but more in depth and structured analysis of the situation is required for actually assessing the risks of the project. There is a strong possibility that some people might attempt to just calculate an arithmetic mean or take a vote (as it has been suggested on osmf-talk already) instead of looking at the ideas and see which of them are supported by facts and reason and which might just be wishful thinking or represent special interests (which are possibly in themselves a risk for the project).

Comment from SomeoneElse on 16 January 2020 at 13:50

(with regard to the last comment)

which is strongly linked to American business culture and kind of implies that OSM is a business project based on American cultural values.

Actually, I don’t believe either of those are really true. I’m from the UK, and I’m sure I’ve been involved in SWOT analysis work instigated by customers in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. It’s try that it’s mostly a “business” thing, but I suspect that that’s not a reason for not doing it here - I think that it’s a great initiative, and we’ve already seen that it’s a good conversation-starter!

Comment from apm-wa on 16 January 2020 at 13:58

Heather, Christoph has answered your question about anonymity, above. Given the number of times I have received spam via OSM from one-time-use user accounts, preservation of anonymity appears to be quite easy.

Yes, I have asked the CWG to expand the message. I am also counting on members of the community multiplying the message by repeating it through their own social media accounts, user groups, and so on. Are you amplifying my message via your networks? If not, please do–there is no copyright or pride of authorship here.

As for “automatically” folding the survey into the analysis, as a former board member you know that very little happens “automatically” in OSM :-) Any and all data points will be incorporated, but I daresay such incorporation will require human intervention.

As for a “community curated OSM strategy and project roadmap”, let’s please take one step at a time. There is a faction within OSM’s community that has expressed strong opinions that nothing is broken and thus no actions are needed by the Board, period. Others have identified issues they just as strongly believe require Board action, perhaps not urgently, but necessarily. Our first step is to identify issues the OSM community perceives. The second step is to assess them–do any existential risks exist? Are there opportunities (e.g., for membership growth and diversification) we would be foolish not to pursue? The third step is then to decide if a strategy is warranted or if the current “steady as we go” laissez-faire approach is sustainable for the foreseeable future. The latter approach has its advocates, some of them quite vocal, and the Board will have to weigh the consequences of action or inaction.

Comment from imagico on 16 January 2020 at 14:24

@SomeoneElse - i can’t know for sure, Wikipedia says the origins are obscure. It seems certain that the origin under this name is within the English language domain and given the dominance of the US within the ‘free market economy’ part of the world both economically and in terms of economic sciences at the time this came up an American origin seems likely.

Anyway the underlying concept of looking at inside and outside positive and negative factors regarding a project and its goals is a natural way to look at this that can be understood across cultures i think. As long as you don’t give too much weight to the specific terms used (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) which have their culture specific meaning and implication this is all fine. Especially when trying to translate the concept to different languages going with a generic description (internal/external and positive/negative) instead of trying to perform a 1:1 translation of the terms used is probably a good idea.

Comment from apm-wa on 16 January 2020 at 15:28

Christoph,

WRT “concept of SWOT which is strongly linked to American business culture and kind of implies that OSM is a business project based on American cultural values,” I have two reactions: 1. Google “how many countries use swot analysis” and see what you get back, and 2. non-business organizations use SWOT analysis, not only businesses (I used it in government for the past 16 years; NGOs use it regularly).

WRT “it is my understanding that the idea behind SWOT is to look at things w.r.t. a specific goal - in the business world often essentially to maximize profits. You have not specified or referenced any specific goals to consider so the answers you get might significantly diverge because people consider the matter w.r.t. very different goals without actually specifying the goals in question,” your understanding is incorrect. A basic SWOT analysis is an inventory and does not necessarily focus on a specific goal. A good SWOT analysis may, in fact, lead an organization toward a goal it had previously not considered (that’s the Opportunity quadrant, typically, but not always).

WRT “to get a broad spectrum of views on this it would be important to (a) also ask and invite answers in other languages,” please look at the wiki page and see my appeal for volunteers to translate that page into other languages.

WRT “it would be of advantage if the different opinions on this would be linked across the four categories, for example by having the points signed by those who make them,” since it is a wiki, edits are automatically recorded with the contributor’s OSM handle–that’s one reason I chose the wiki as the platform for this SWOT analysis.

Comment from imagico on 16 January 2020 at 17:05

Regarding cultural dominance - i don’t want this to sidestep the main topic here, i already explained in my reply to Andy what my main point was meant to be. However i see your arguments more underlining the existing dominance of American business culture in the world wide business world and the dominance of the business world and its values in our societies outside the domain of business itself. I would like to see OSM be an exception from this - hence my concerns.

Regarding the need for a goal being specified - the German wikipedia agrees with me on that, so this might be a cultural thing. In general i think a SWOT analysis tends to say at least as much about the person making the analysis as it objectively says about the project analyzed. And this effect is probably even stronger when no clear goal is specified in advance. In other words: While the manager will probably regard this as an instrument to rationally analyze a project or business a social scientist would probably more look at it as an experiment analyzing both the manager and the project.

Comment from apm-wa on 16 January 2020 at 19:06

Christoph, SWOT is a brainstorming tool, in its initial stage. That’s where we are. Goals have not been specified. If you insist, I will say as chairman of the board of OSMF that my goal is the survival of OSM as a “map of the world that anyone can use,” and if others wish to appropriate that as their guidepost, that’s fine with me.

As to cultural dominance, cultural bias, etc., all the obvious dominance of American business and the U.S. economy aside, I have lived in one European country, two Asian countries, and Latin American country, plus Turkey and Russia/USSR, which are split between Europe and Asia. Guess what–not only businesses, but NGOs and others in those countries use SWOT analysis. To get into the Indian Administrative Service, applicants are advised to study SWOT analysis to pass the economics portion. I could continue but enough has already been said. Yes, SWOT analysis was invented at Stanford by an American, but it is no longer a strictly American tool. It was culturally appropriated globally a long time ago, and is now like OSM, a “tool that anyone can use.” I intend to use it, and look forward to your substantive contributions to the wiki page.

Comment from Heather Leson on 19 January 2020 at 11:27

@apm-wa Thanks for your response. I reviewed the input thus far and added my comments. Thanks for the CWG for sharing this widely. I have also used my online social capital to share. I do this in good faith that this exercise will not be ‘paint’, but a true process with follow through.

In terms of ‘accountability’, I am fairly disturbed that the perspective cites factions - “As for a “community curated OSM strategy and project roadmap”, let’s please take one step at a time. There is a faction within OSM’s community that has expressed strong opinions that nothing is broken and thus no actions are needed by the Board, period. “

I agree that there are communities of communities. I appreciate this open process. And, I encourage people to share and add their points. As for governance of OSM, it is clear that the way we are structured recruits ‘heros’ and often does not use the OSM methodology to truly problem solve.

Looking forward to watching and contributing

Heather

Comment from apm-wa on 19 January 2020 at 13:38

@Heather, well, take a look at Darafei’s “hate chart” and the thread associated with it on Twitter. There are factions, and we will have to contend with their existence. I wouldn’t call them merely communities within the larger community. I’ve worked and volunteered in too many structures over the years not to recognize it when I see it. If we can coax folks into stopping factionalism and becoming communities within the community, that will be a good thing, but we aren’t there yet. A good start would be to cut out the name-calling. The “OSM methodology” as I understand it consists mainly of crowd-sourcing and its innate “doocracy”. That is good in many ways and in most cases but we are seeing in the SWOT strong indications that it is not a good governance model in all instances. One of the tasks before the community, the Foundation, and the Board will be to parse this: which issues and tasks can safely be left to the community of doers (the more, the better; I do want to spend time on both mapping and antique furniture restoration, and not only on Board work), which need a vote of the Foundation membership to decide (issues on which there is not consensus, so majority rule must apply), and which can be entrusted to the Board for decisions (issues on which there appears to be broad consensus). With an “action item” list dating back to 2016, the Board needs to clear the backlog and then start work on the most important of the issues being floated in the SWOT.

Comment from imagico on 19 January 2020 at 15:06

I would advise against taking the results of this brainstorming directly as a basis for any decision making. To me so far the results of this mostly indicate what the strongest interests are that are articulated in the OSM community and in what direction these interests would like the project to move. Now if you’d condense these interests and use them as a basis for decision making or as a todo list without first having a discussion on the viability and sustainability of these ideas and if the interests they are based on are even compatible with the basic goals and values of the project you would be very likely to clash with the mission of the OSMF.

I agree that there are in a way factions within the OSM community (in particular within the voiceful part of it and within the OSMF membership) - or like i called it above distinct and partly incompatible interests. There are multiple possible approaches to dealing with that:

  • making majority decisions. This means favoring the interests with the strongest support. This comes with the problem that the interests with the most support is not necessarily the most legitimate interest and that the OSMF membership (which you indicated to be who would make such decision) is highly biased in composition.
  • negotiating a compromise. This comes with the same problem of the negotiation strengths being based on the representation in the negotiation. And it also bears the risk of resulting in bad compromises being counterproductive for the project (we had quite a lot of those in the more recent history of the OSMF).
  • evaluating the legitimacy and merit of the interests based on the goals and values of the project and deciding from that. This is the approach i would prefer but it would require at least a broad agreement on the basic goals and values of the project that is specific enough to allow this kind of assessment. And in the past the OSMF board has not been very interested in positioning itself w.r.t. the project’s basic goals and values (my attempt in bringing this up in the board elections a year ago can be found here) - largely because there is no consensus on that within the board because the board members are themselves often invested in specific interests.

To close on a clearly positive note - a lot of interesting ideas in the brainstorming. Even though it starts getting a bit difficult to maintain an overview i think there are perspectives widening the view of the project and how different people see it for everyone.

Comment from apm-wa on 19 January 2020 at 17:57

@imagico, Yes, Christoph, there will have to be a lot of discussion. I anticipate there will be a highly vocal minority of voices and that the vast majority of community members will remain silent, however, so discussion will need to be focused. We will have to identify the issues that need to be addressed by the Board and the Foundation, and then in some cases propose actions to the Foundation members. That is a classic leadership function and one I have performed in various other organizations for over 30 years. I do not intend to be a passive Board member who sits by and watches as threats to OSM unfold, as opportunities are lost, or weaknesses are exploited. I owe OSM too much to allow that to happen on my watch.

If the Board does not lead, nobody leads, and the community/Foundation/OSM stagnate, or worse. There is palpable frustration in the community over Board inaction. In my mere 3-1/2 weeks as Board chairman I have already received quite an earful from disparate and varied community members who have taken the time to share their thoughts. I therefore do not believe it is in OSM’s interests for the Board to remain relatively passive.

The OSM Foundation is by law the governing body, and the Board has a legally binding fiduciary responsibility to the Foundation and its members. The Foundation consists of, I am told, about 1,500 members. For a 95% confidence level and plus or minus 3% accuracy, we need a sample of 1,066 Foundation members to vote on behalf of the 1 million active community members. Thus, a poll of the Foundation members will indeed accurately reflect the views of the community if we get 2/3 voter turnout. To achieve this level of turnout, we cannot refer EVERY decision to the Foundation membership. That would lead to voter fatigue and reduced voter turnout. Hence, the Board will necessarily make some decisions, and I anticipate those decisions will be the “no brainers” that are pretty obviously in the best interests of the whole community. Stickier/controversial proposals would however go to the Foundation membership. Exactly how the Board might decide to do that, and how often, and how to divide up decisions between Foundation votes and Board decisions will have to be discussed at a future Board meeting.

I do wonder what kind of bias you perceive in the Foundation membership (“OSMF membership…is highly biased in composition”). What is the bias, and how did you measure it? I must also point out that if the Foundation and Board do not act on issues the community believes are important, because a vocal minority insists that Foundation or Board action is “not the OSM way”, well, that is tyranny by a minority of the Foundation’s members, and that is truly “not the OSM way.” Consensus is of course a wonderful thing but when consensus cannot be achieved, and a decision is needed, we should not allow a minority to block decisions that need to be made.

WRT your comment, “the board members are themselves often invested in specific interests,” Board members are required to recuse themselves from voting on issues in which they face a conflict of interest. I believe this Board takes that obligation seriously, and the fact that Board meetings are open to Foundation members who take the time to log in to Mumble or read the minutes of meetings allows full transparency on such recusals. Speaking for myself, as a retired public servant whose only part-time occupation at present is in a realm far removed from cartography, I see no vesting in specific interests on my part, aside from continuing to promote OSM as a map of the world that anyone can use.

In closing please let me underscore how seriously I take my fiduciary responsibility to the Foundation and through it to OSM, OSM’s many contributors, and OSM’s community. I will not be passive or idle in my fulfillment of that responsibility. You may not (almost certainly will not) like everything the Foundation, Board, or I do or propose, but you can rest assured I am motivated by a desire to see OSM continue to exist as a primarily crowd-sourced, community-oriented mapping project far into the future. I believe the Foundation and the Board share that desire.

Comment from imagico on 19 January 2020 at 19:49

This is exceeding the scope of a diary discussion a bit probably but i will try to address a few things quickly none the less:

The OSM Foundation is by law the governing body […]

The OSMF has been by its own self understanding (see here and here) always in a support role only for the OpenStreetMap project. I am not quite sure if you want to indicate you would like to change that (which would likely not only get opposition from large parts of the OSM community but also from the local chapters) or if you want the OSMF to be more serious, better organized and more efficient in its support role (which most including me would very much support).

I do wonder what kind of bias you perceive in the Foundation membership (“OSMF membership…is highly biased in composition”). What is the bias, and how did you measure it?

Regarding regional bias see here. Regarding social bias - the requirement to pay for membership is a significant factor of course. Regarding language bias - the dominance of English in the OSMF is fairly clear, there is no culture of non-English communication within the OSMF, even the membership signup form is available only in English. AFAIK only the CWG and the DWG have a standing tradition in non-English communication with the broader OSM community.

I must also point out that if the Foundation and Board do not act on issues the community believes are important, because a vocal minority insists that Foundation or Board action is “not the OSM way”, well, that is tyranny by a minority of the Foundation’s members, and that is truly “not the OSM way.”

I am with you here - but my view would always be that the opinion of the majority should not supersede reason. Any majority decision should IMO be preceded by a battle of arguments which of the options of the decision is the best for the project.

WRT your comment, “the board members are themselves often invested in specific interests,” Board members are required to recuse themselves from voting on issues in which they face a conflict of interest.

In this context i used the term ‘interests’ more in the sense of characterizing what unites the members of the different factions: common interests. In the past most board members have positioned themselves w.r.t. these factions and the interests they represent - either by statements made or by the way they argued and voted in board meetings. It is admirable and certainly helpful if you want to try raising above that and regard all the different views with equal sympathy and consideration. But ultimately i think the main source of synthesis in policy decision making should be the argumentative discourse about what approach is the best. That is what i had in mind when i wrote about the more parliament like nature of the board right after the last elections.

Comment from apm-wa on 19 January 2020 at 20:43

I don’t see substantial disagreement between us, Christoph. The OSM Foundation and Board support the project but do not “control” it, that is clear. However, support of the project necessarily involves making decisions on providing facilities necessary to the survival and flourishing of the project, and protecting the project from any external predatory interests that may view OSM as competition or potentially as a ripe fruit to be picked, among other things. Some minimal leadership is necessary. Now, if you disagree with that–and want to advocate for a do-nothing Board that merely twiddles its thumbs–we may as well all just resign, dissolve the Board, and let nature take its course.

Discourse is good, and that mode of operation will continue. But the Board’s paralysis–about which numerous community members have complained to me–must end. An “action item” list dating back to 2016 is ridiculous, and is compelling evidence that modification of our approach is needed.

If the Board decides to deal with the diversity issue, which is on the agenda for the January 30 meeting, it will naturally contend with the biases you articulated above, particularly the geographic bias. As for paying dues, I really don’t see that as a barrier since a past Board decided on a new dues schedule that case by case allows for waiving of dues for applicants from certain countries. The only potential problem I see in addressing bias via diversification of the community is if protests against the Board’s taking action cause it to revert to paralysis and take no action. :-)

Comment from DeBigC on 25 January 2020 at 21:54

I was scanning down through the wiki and the ones I would have thought of are already covered. I think the next step with that is to group them, or categorise them and make them into a mind map or something. I’m not offering to do that, but really that is an overwhelming level of suggestions that would take a long time to deal with individually.

Comment from apm-wa on 25 January 2020 at 23:45

@DeBigC, are you sure you don’t want to offer to do that? You’re not the only person who thinks the SWOT needs that type of analysis, and many fingers make the work light…

Comment from Heather Leson on 26 January 2020 at 09:18

Thanks again for this discussion.

I set up a spreadsheet to code the content.. Happy for someone to put this into other formats. I simply can’t properly analyze this in a wiki

Comment from DeBigC on 26 January 2020 at 11:56

@Heather Leson Nice work parsing it out. I’m looking at this and it needs a lot more filtering. The tags arent sufficient, we need some extra ones like Governance, Branding, End-user X, and so on and that was before I got down to about 20 on the first tab.

@apm-wa I will think about it because I have zero time in the next 72 hours, happy if someone jumps ahead of me!

Comment from apm-wa on 26 January 2020 at 14:16

Heather, many thanks for this. I had taken an initial crude stab at this but your tagging goes deeper.

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