Yesterday evening there was a public OSMF board meeting. I was one of the few non-boardmembers attending so i thought i’d give a report of my impressions here.
This was not the first public board meeting, there was one previously last July but this was a singular occurence so it was possibly more of a mock up meeting demonstrating publicly how board meetings go. The one yesterday was held under the premise that this is how board meetings are going to be conducted in the forseeable future which is a very different sitation. A big thanks to the board for taking this step and i hope the OSMF members and the OSM community as a whole acknowledge this by coming to the meetings. With the short announcement and the Friday evening date in Europe the small participation this time was understandable though. This is really public by the way, everyone can listen in, you don’t need to present your OSMF membership number or something like that before you are allowed to enter.
I was about ten minutes late so i did not get the start, i came in during some discussion on SotM regarding finances between the board and Rob Nickerson from the SotM working group as invited guest. There were very few non-board members present overall - i think apart from Rob and me there were two others overall.
A few general words on procedure: The meetings are conducted with Mumble which i was already familiar with from the German OSM podcast which was usually recorded with audience via Mumble. You connect your Mumble client to the HOT mumble server (talk.hotosm.org), move into the OSMF board meeting room and can immediately listen to the conversation. Since i was not present at the start i missed any initial statements on procedure. There were no constraints in place this time so i probably could have said something at any time but in general it is likely expected from guests to not speak up freely but only talk when being given the word by the board. You can also mute yourself (which i did) to indicate you are not actively participating.
In general Mumble is not quite like a face to face meeting, you have only acoustic and no visual communication and there is always a small but inevitable time lag in communication. It is more like radio communication. You usually configure your client to only transmit when you press a button to eliminate any background noise when you are not talking. There is also a text message/chat system connected to it which can be used for communication without interrrupting the audio conversation.
On the meeting itself - my general impression was that it was easy to follow, everyone was understandable and none of the current board members has a really problematic accent - Paul a bit of Canadian which you need to get used to, Peda quite strong German tone (which i of course have no problem with) and Ilya a bit of Russian tint (which i find enjoyable). There was occasionally somewhat strong background noise while people were speaking but not everyone can move to a tone studio for the meeting of course.
What happens during a board meeting is the members talk about various topics make decisions on some of them via vote and so on. My general feeling of the whole thing is - i hope this does not sound too harsh - that it is kind of unproductive. I am probably somewhat biased here, being self employed i am not really that used to regular organizational meetings any more - when i am at a meeting these days i tend to get paid by the hour which usually tends to expedite things. But i know from past experience that meetings are often fairly unproductive at least by outward appearence and this board meeting was not an extreme case in that regard at all.
This impression is probably partly because of the setup in Mumble - although you are talking to each other you are not really stitting together. Quite a lot of time is spent essentially on waiting if someone has something more to say on the matter because you cannot indicate this using body language. There is also the occasional conflict when two people try to speak up at the same time and then both back off to let the other have the word. Another factor probably was that because the meeting was public everyone was very guarded and careful with voicing a strong opinion. To get progress on a subject it tends to help if you try to work out topics of disagreement by expressing your standpoint in a very pointed way and possibly even insituating a disagreeing standpoint from someone else. This did not really happen. So this is probably something that will improve in the future when everyone gets more used to the public setting.
I will give two examples of subjects that were discussed:
One topic was the collective database guideline which was approved by the board during the meeting. Procedure for votes is apparenly very formal by the way, Kate (who was chairing the meeting) called every member individually to approve or disapprove. There was some discussion about the examples to be included with the guideline - i did not really understand that, maybe because it was about a third example which was not part of the guideline draft on the wiki. What astonished me about the procedure a bit is that although this was a decision with quite some impact - after all this is now an official statement on the interpretation of the license by the organization holding the rights on the OSM data - there was no recap of the process leading to the guideline, the reasoning behind making the guideline the way it is and how the board thinks this fits into the OSMF mission (which it probably does - but still). Also i would have expected a kind of outlook in lines of where to go from here in terms of developing additional community guidelines or modifying existing ones.
Part of this could have been due to the fact that no one from the license working group was present and the board probably considers the guidelines to be managed mostly independently by the LWG and their role being purely oversight in terms of preventing possible gross blunder in these.
Another topic which was still in a much earlier state of discussion was a possible donation drive for the OSMF to be conducted later this year. Here my understanding was somewhat hampered by the fact that apparently this idea has been already extensively discussed on the face-to-face meeting of which there is not yet a comprehensive record. The discussion was mainly about how to proceed about this regarding the purpose of the donations (what the money is needed for), possible legal implications (if the donations can only be used for the purpose they were announced to be needed for) and timing (what is the best moment to start such a drive). The impression i got from this is that the board considers a fairly general donation drive to support their efforts to put OSMF finances on a less volatile basis (meaning less from hand to mouth and more of a cushion to compensate fluctuation in either income or expenses). One topic touched in that regard was the matter of trust in the OSMF board (specifically by the operations working group which is considered instrumental for a donation drive but also in a broader sense). My own impression is that this in general are important matters and it is good to see these are discussed although i kind of see the risk of starting to build the house from the top. Trust in the board regarding finances is a prerequisite for a successful donation drive and having an overall concept and realistic plans for both income and expenses is necessary to build such trust. With plans for corporate membership and widening general OSMF membership still somewhat vague and little long term (i.e. beyond yearly budgets) plans and directives on expenses (what the money will be spent on and what it will not be spent on) there is little basis to form an informed opinion on an individual matter like a donation drive. I can see the possibility of all of this developing into a solid an trustworthy concept but there is still a lot of work to get it there.
Overall i see the concept of public board meetings on a good way. Mikel made an interesting suggestion to have alternating formal board meetings and more informal talks in between which could make the whole thing more participative and more interesting for the community (although care needs to be taken for this not to degrade into a general chat).
A final suggestion to the board: It would probably be good if in the future you were all easily identifiable on Mumble by your Mumble name for anyone entering at any point in the meeting. IIRC Mikel was kind of cryptic. Maybe just agree on a common form (first name, first + last or OSM username).