OSMF board elections are taking place in December and this year there are four seats on the board to be filled so it will be a fairly significant event. Candidates for the board will be asked to nominate themselves in a few days.

Having observed the board elections during the past years with very different people putting themselves up for election and attempting to convince the OSMF members to vote for them using various strategies i thought i’d this year formulate some advise to potential candidates in advance based on my observations of the past years.

There are mainly two reasons for me doing this:

  • In a culturally and individually diverse community like OpenStreetMap the ability and techniques of candidates to present themselves to the members naturally differs a lot. On the one hand this is nice because it celebrates the diversity in the community, on the other hand however these differences in ability for self presentation massively influence how convincingly candidates can communicate their qualification to the OSMF members and this ability at self presentation is not really the most important qualification for doing a good job as a board member. So i hope my advise here might in a way help leveling the playing field and give highly qualified candidates who might be somewhat insecure in how to present their ideas and who might therefore be tempted to disadvantageously try imitating the mainstream style of anglo-american campaigning techniques in past elections a better chance.

  • In the past elections questions from the members to the candidates have been a major communication element between the candidates and the members before the elections. While i contributed actively to these questions in the past few years i have constantly been dissatisfied with the answers because they often failed to substantially address the core of my questions. This has led me to the conclusion that it might be helpful to turn around the communication a bit and instead of asking questions to the candidates regarding their views to actively explain expectations from the community to the candidates. Of course this bears the risk that candidates might try to just pretend meeting these expectations - which however will likely practically be quite difficult.

So what do i think is important for candidates to consider - here are my thoughts on that

  • Don’t try to be a politician. The OSMF members are not the general population of some country offered to vote on their representatives whether they want to or not. We have all chosen to have a say in the composition of the OSMF board. Most of us deeply care about the project and have been involved and have observed the OSMF for years. So don’t try to lure us into voting for you with some bloomy but ultimately hollow statements or avoiding making clear statements on anything of substance not to alienate any potential voters. That is not likely to get people to support you.

  • Be honest and don’t try to hide your goals and motivations. You do not have to volunteer information on private aspects of your life to run for the OSMF board but any project, organizational involvement or job in your past, present and future connected to OSM, geodata or cartography in some way is not private business if you are a candidate for the OSMF board. For most members ambiguity and inconsistency in information about this is much more troublesome than anything you openly tell.

  • Present a clear stance on the core questions on the OSMF. Clear stance does not mean you have to have a firm and unchangeable position on matters. What we want to know is where you stand - even if that on some matters means you have no opinion on them so far. Also very useful is if you tell us what (moral) principles guide you when forming an opinion on matters you don’t have a position on yet. But don’t try to hide your actual position behind superficial platitudes for tactical reasons. Because (a) people will notice and (b) even if you are elected you will have a very hard time because people will soon realize they can’t trust what you say. Obviously incomplete list of some of the core questions of OSMF work: Corporate involvement and influence in the OSMF, Transparency in OSMF work and decision making, Money (sources of income, use of OSMF funds, volunteers vs. paid staff etc.), License matters (interpretation of the ODbL and dealing with violations), Checks and balances within the OSMF (CoI, oversight on decision making in working groups and board), Relationship with the broader OSM community and local organizations of it.

  • Show us how you work and communicate. This is easiest if you have a history of commity involvement in OpenStreetMap. For most voters this will be at least equally important as your position on specific thematic questions. And this is not something you can hope to just tell us about in an abstract form. So if you have not already done so in the past: Get involved in public community work and communication.

  • Show us your qualifications. Again this is not something you can really just tell because we are not talking about formal qualifications and job experiences here as you would list them on a job application. Having watched the board’s work over the past years and having participated in quite a few board meetings i can clearly say that broad knowledge of the project, the OSM community, the written and unwritten rules within the project, its values and the current practical day-to-day problems of mappers in different parts of the world are of significant value and importance. You don’t need to worry if you have gaps in knowledge and experience in those fields since every candidate will have them but it is important to show us where you are familiar with how the project and the community tick.

  • Be aware that whatever your background is the majority of OSMF members will have a personal and cultural background very different from your own. Your ability to express yourself in a clear, easily understandable and non-ambiguous form will be essential both for your campaign and for your work on the board if you are elected. Note this is not a matter of sophisticated English language skills, it is more about clarity in thought and expression. Often the people most capable at this are people who don’t speak English as a first language.

  • Show us your ability to recognize and appreciate things beyond your own horizon. This is probably the most tricky of my recommendations, in particular because i think only a fraction of the candidates in past elections and of the current board members have good abilities in this field. What i mean is the ability to question your own views and assumptions. Kind of the opposite of being stuck in your ways. With that i don’t mean a general flexibility to adjust your position on things to what is most convenient in a certain situation. Nor do i mean platitudes like ‘i listen to everyone’ or ‘i try to look at all sides of a problem before forming an opinion’. What i really mean here is the ability to recognize and question what cultural and habitual constraints and preconceptions and personal, economic or career interests limit your ability to regard things for what they truly are and make decisions truly in the interest of the whole OSM community. There is no fixed recipe how to show this but it is a significant ability to have for a board member.

Overall potential board candidates might read this and think these are tough suggestions and therefore feel discouraged to run. Don’t be! None of the candidates (and also none of the current board members) will shine on all of these points. They are just meant to provide some guidance how to approach your campaign, how to write your manifesto and how to answer questions in case you are unsure what is important to the members. In fact a significant amount of self-doubt about your ability to contribute productively as a board member is probably a good sign of qualification.

Comment from 24coins on 2 November 2019 at 16:03

Is there a tenure requirement for candidates? How long should one be a member to self-nominate? Thanks.

Comment from imagico on 2 November 2019 at 17:57

AFAIK right now any member of the OSMF can run for the board. If you are no member you would have to sign up before you nominate yourself.

Note there is going to be a change in the AoA up for vote this year as well that would require a 180 day lead time in the future:

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