A great deal has been said about the OpenStreetMap Foundation and its issues with effectiveness and interpersonal relationships. In this post, I will outline a proposal which I believe will address both the effectiveness and the interpersonal issues of the board, and result in better results for the Foundation and therefore project as a whole.
One area of commonality in OpenStreetMap is that of favoring doing rather than talking. We’re a project that exists because individuals take on tasks themselves, whether that’s mapping, software development, project management, documentation, etc. Each OSM contributor knows and understand the value in individual contribution.
But this is not how the OSMF governs itself. Instead, the OSMF uses a committee model. This is despite the fact that we know how generally ineffective committees are. We collectively laugh at jokes about committees and meetings, and yet we have asked our Foundation to use the committee model for its decision-making.
The mechanics of why we have the committee model is that the OSMF board members are also its officers. In other words, when selecting a treasurer or secretary, the board must select one of the seven board members. This has two effects.
Firstly, it means that the board’s candidates for who best to fill a given position are limited to a candidate pool of seven, or less, depending on which positions are already filled, or which candidates self-select for a position.
Secondly, it creates a situation within the board that the officer positions are somewhat symbolic. The OSMF Chairman is Chairman, but has no more authority than any other board members.
I propose that we separate the officer positions from the board and instead have the board appoint officer positions such as an Executive Officer and a Financial Officer. These appointed officers would have relative freedom to run the OSMF, and they would report to the OSMF board.
These appointed officers would have a great deal more flexibility than the current officers. The Executive Officer, for example, would be able to lay out his/her qualifications and vision for the organization and let the board elect them, much like is done in many corporations and existing non-profits.
The officers would need to report to the Board any activity, and they would need to be re-elected annually. By having the officer position separate from the board, the Foundation would have the flexibility to either increase the frequency that it changes officers (based on performance), or favor continuity and re-elect the same officer if they’ve done a good job. Special rules could be drafted in case of an emergency need to replace an officer, of course, but generally the officer would be someone that would represent the board’s vision for the Foundation, and the board’s vision would be reflective of the OSMF membership as a whole, as board members would continue to be elected the way they are today.
The elephant in the room of this discussion is whether or not these officer positions would be paid. I think that is a question of vision, left up to the OSMF Board. If the Board believes that the Foundation should move in that direction, then it should have the flexibility to pay an officer and or allow an officer to pay for services. On the other hand, it could remain the same. But by separating out the officers from the board itself, we remove the issue of whether or not the board itself should be paid. The board would remain volunteers, thereby reducing or eliminating conflicts of interest.
In summary, separating the officer positions from the board would lead to:
- Greater Flexibility
- Greater Transparency
- Less Bureaucracy
- More Accountability
And generally a more nimble and agile OpenStreetMap Foundation.
I would like to see this turned into an official proposal by the board.