Recently the OpenStreetMap Foundation issued the OpenStreetMap Awards.

The whole thing was primarily organized by Ilya Zverev who deserves thanks for doing this and for the courage to try something new.

When this was first suggested it seemed like a good idea to me but during the process i already had some critical thoughts on the way it turned out. I did not want to speak up while the votes were still running not to influence the procedure but now i think it is time to bring this up.

First of all the whole process was quite biased towards English language activities. There were non-native English speakers among nominees and winners but almost everyone on the list was nominated for activities in English language. Since the whole process was done in English only it was not possible for someone who does not understand English to competently participate in nomination and voting and assessing someone nominated for activities in a language you don’t understand is not really possible either - the few suggestions in the first nomination round that were formulated in languages other than English never stood a chance. This is a hard problem. But still i think this can be done better with not too much additional effort.

The three stage process - open nomination, preselection by committee and final open vote again - does not really work in reality. It gives an impression of manipulation since it appears the preselection is used to eliminate undesirable nominees and the final vote therefore appears staged. In the future i would probably either skip the committee selection (making it a fully open process) or eliminate the final open vote making the final choice by the committee - which would of course require this committee to be selected in an open process somehow.

Somewhat related to this the award categories do not really work either. The initial nomination round showed that people often simply wanted to nominate someone and put them into a category that seemed to fit best. As a result in many categories nominees were not really comparable because they were nominated for very different things which kind of defeats the purpose of having categories. The categories should either be more strictly defined or nomination should be across categories and votes decide on which category they are awarded for.

All of this of course does not mean the winners do not deserve their awards - all winners and nominees should be commended for their work. I have slight misgivings only about Frederik - who specifically said before he did not want the award and about Manuel Roth and Lukas Martinelli who certainly deserve an award although IMO not in the category ‘Innovation’. The technology they thankfully make more accessible to a broad range of users is for the largest part the innovative work of others. Now i don’t say that Mapbox employees should have been awarded here instead because awards like this should primarily be given to those who volunteer their free time and not to professionals who get paid for their work. However if you strictly evaluate the innovative merit of the nominees’ work this seems a somewhat odd choice to me. But of course voters will usually consider who of the candidates they think deserves an award most and don’t care what particular award this is.

I hope these comments will help improving future award processes and maybe start some further discussion on how the OSM community wants to reward and acknowledge contributions.

Comment from Zverik on 7 October 2016 at 13:51

Thanks for your opinion, I too think there were many flaws in the process. Regarding the language, how do you think a non-English blog could win in the “writing” category? Not sure about other categories, since they look language-independent.

Comment from imagico on 7 October 2016 at 14:18

As indicated the language problem is hard, esp. for subjects like writing, community building etc. It might be an option to include local chapters in it - like having a global nomination process but also allow the local chapters to additionally nominate a number of candidates.

If selection is made by a committee it would likewise be an option to put together this committee at least partially from local representatives.

Since the problem of comparing activities in different languages and from different cultural backgrounds is often inherently unsolvable it might also be an option to make the awards non-competitive across languages - meaning each category would have a winner for every language there are nominations in. This of course would only work for categories where a language can be clearly identified for each nominee like writing - mapping for example can be but does not need to be language specific.

Comment from RobJN on 7 October 2016 at 18:11

The main thing this year was that it happened! That in itself was a huge success.

In regards to changes for next year, there could be many ideas. Do you think it is worth setting up a task force/working group to look into these? Time limited to keep the activity going.

Comment from SK53 on 9 October 2016 at 12:05

Thanks to @imagico for discussing this topic. I had more reservations at the outset, but clearly this was an innovation which need to be tried out.

I would like to make some other suggestions for future occasions:

  • Current members of the OSMF board & the selection committee should be ineligible. This may be hard on people who have made substantial contributions to OSM as a whole, but I think it improves how the process appears.

  • Previous winners should also be ineligible. Many of the nominees were the ‘usual suspects’ for good and obvious reasons. However, I would like the awards to find the unsung OSM heros (of all genders). Winnowing out previous winners ought to make the field more open.

  • Regional awards. Another way to broaden the nomination pool might be to make the process 2 stage with continent-wide regional awards, with the regional winners forming the pool for the global awards. This would have two effects: decent chances of recognition in very active mapping communities without overwhelming participation from other areas; potentially more familiarity of nominees within area. I see no reason to restrict voting for regional nominees to the region which would make everything more complicated. This concept presumes a decent pool for regional nominees (easy in Europe in North America, but less easy in other regions which leads me to:

  • Nominations. Any open nomination process is always subject to a degree of bias: largely through self-selection in participation. Perhaps the role of the selection committee should be in working on creating a broader range & diversity of nominees: in particular from outside the relatively small pool of people who regular engage in the various forms of OSM communication. The committees role would then be to facilitate a broader pool of nominees: NOT to interfere otherwise with nominations. There are many members of the community whose contributions are not well-known by the broader community.

An awareness of the gifts & talents that these people bring to OpenStreetMap is only latent. Let’s make them known!

Comment from RobJN on 14 October 2016 at 18:03

Note: All people were both nominated and part of the selection committee followed a simple rule of not participating in the selection process in the category in which they were nominated.

All good ideas but not going anywhere unless we form a group to properly implement this!

Comment from Geonick on 19 October 2016 at 23:04

Just as a side comment since you mentioned the work of Manuel Roth and Lukas Martinelli: Of course their work stands on the shoulders of open source software and spec. from others. But don’t underestimate the work they did for keeping the vector tiles updated. This was the main topic of their bachelor thesis which can be openly accessed at .

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