OpenStreetMap

About another OSMF board meeting

Posted by imagico on 19 January 2018 in English (English)

Some time ago i reported here my impression of the first public OSMF board meeting and i kind of feel motivated to make another report on the most recent meeting.

I have attended quite a few of these meetings as a guest in the meanwhile and in most of them there were very few people listening in - rarely more than one or two in addition to myself. Listening to these meetings gives you a bit of insight into how the board ticks, how they communicate and how they make decisions. The last meeting had a quite extraordinary number of visitors and also seemed quite a bit different in several aspects. You can read up the formal minutes of all of the meetings on the OSMF wiki - what i here want to present is my personal impression and commentary on the thing. This is my subjective impression so there are certainly things i understood in a different ways than others and there are likely things i missed because i did not pay attention to them. If you want a neutral record of the meeting look at the minutes or better yet listen in on the meetings yourself.

Let me start by thanking the board for continuing to hold the meetings in public, i think this is of fundamental importance for connecting OSMF politics to the OSM community base. This diary entry is my contribution to this discourse - both by communicating my impression of the meetings to a larger audience than those who were able to be at the meeting and to provide feedback to the board on how their work is perceived.

It was the first meeting after the last board elections so there was the selection of officers - which was ultimately uninteresting because the same people as last time were elected.

Next topic discussed was the membership fee waiver program drafted by the MWG. What amazed me about this is that while there was some discussion among the board members there was no specific mentioning of the discussion that had occured in public on the OSMF mailing list about what is the best and fairest way to actually get more people to become OSMF members. Although a decision can of course be made on the proposal as it exists (which is purely for handling technical payment difficulties) it does not seem very productive to me to approve the MWG draft without giving feedback to the MWG and the community members who are interested in lowering the barriers for people to become an OSMF members on if and how moving in that direction is considered desirable by the board. There were vague statements of individual board members that further work should be done regarding the membership fees but no commitment or acknowledgement of the need to substantially lower the barriers.

I think this might indicate kind of a more general problem. During the last year we have seen - largely through Dorothea's work - a significant improvement of communication of overall OSMF matters to the OSM community but this might hide the fact that there is still a lot of room for improvement of the communication between the OSMF and the OSM community on specific matters. This is something the OSM community can work on (by better articulating their wishes and opinions to the board and WGs, better identifying the right point of time to provide input) but it is also something the OSMF board can and needs to work on. If input from the OSM community on matters of policy of the OSMF is being offered but either not considered or considered but the fact that and how it is is not communicated to the people providing this input that is a serious communication problem.

Next was a discussion about a possible face-to-face meeting of the board. The history of the board face-to-face meetings is an interesting one. When the first more recent dedicated meeting of this kind was planned in 2016 (not sure if there were other similar meetings in the early board history or more or less complete meetings of the board during other events like SotM Edit: i missed a meeting in 2015 which can probably be understood to be the first more recent f2f meeting) the main argument was that the board members getting to know each other in person was very useful and important for a practical working relationship. Last year there was then another dedicated face-to-face meeting although the board composition had not changed (since both Frederik and Kate were re-elected) so this argument was obviously not the primary reason any more.

When the board reported on the last meeting on the OSMF blog i mentioned in a comment:

... But i sincerely hope that with a meeting like this costing quite a bit of both time and money you do evaluate the success of it in terms of measurable results – in other words: Go in with a clear idea what you intend to accomplish and evaluate afterwards if you managed to do so.

which pretty much summarizes my attitude to this subject. If a face-to-face meeting is useful i see no reason not to have one but IMO the board needs to justify and demonstrate to the OSMF members and the OSM community as a whole that it actually is worth the money spent. If you look at the list of "what we want to change" from the 2016 meeting you can get doubts about this.

There were some comments in that direction in the discussion but everything was pretty vague and non-committal overall. What i distinctly noted is that no one even mentioned the fact that there is a SotM conference this summer in Italy and travel costs could be significantly reduced probably by making a meeting there.

Next topic was re-activating the osmf-announce mailing list for official announcements. This was an interesting and useful discussion about the purpose of this announcement mailing list and also the possibilities and the needs to communication to members from parties other than the board - like for example for initiatives from the membership to put forward proposals without going through and potentially even against the will of the board.

Then there was an item "Taking a stand against people publicly bad-mouthing the OSM project, OSM community, or OSMF" put forward by Frederik. This was about the infamous tweet by Dale Kunce which is the most recent and one of the most blatant examples of people badmouthing the OSM community on twitter and other social media channels. Frederik suggested that the OSMF board should make a clear statement to condemn such claims and make clear that the OSMF board stands behind the OSM community against people collectively calling them racists and other things while encouraging everyone to bring any specific cases of racism, misogyny or other discriminating behaviour to the attention of the board.

What followed were reactions mainly from Heather and Mikel who from my point of view very skillfully tried to spin this into yet another call for stricter rules on OSM communication channels, codes of conduct and policing use of these channels. This argument more or less went along the following lines:

  • the OSMF cannot control what is said on Twitter (which was of course not what Frederik was suggesting)
  • there were quite a few unfriendly, inpolite or similar statements on OSMF managed channels recently the Twitter statements should be seen in context with (i can't really help but this seemed oddly similar to Trump's famous "there was violence on both sides")
  • the OSMF should therefore strengthen and enforce rules on what may be said on OSM communication channels (which instead of condemning Dale Kunce's rant would actually kind of support it)

I of course paraphrase here, this is not literally what has been said but if i try to extract the essence of the arguments that have been made this is more or less what i end up with.

Peda was the only board members who spoke in support of Frederik's proposal so in the end no decision from the OSMF board to take a stand on bad-mouthing OSM and the OSM community. You can interpret this as you like. By the way Dale Kunce is president of HOT and works for the American Red Cross - the organization that has made the USD 25k donation to the OSMF last year that was kept 'secret' for more than half a year. Even if you are not into looking for conspiracies from a PR perspective this is really kind of like running at full speed towards a concrete wall. What credibility does a board that cannot even condemn a clearly outrageous statement that sweepingly calls essentially all OSMF members racists have on matters of communication tone in intercultural communication?

After that the meeting had already been running for an hour and several board members indicated they wanted to close it - Peda suggested to vote on the budget for 2018 before doing that.

For the visitors this is kind of a strange situation since the budget at this point is not public so you listen to a discussion about a budget that you cannot look at. The discussion however was mostly about the implications of the recent 200k donation and how this should be taken into account for financial planning. Ultimately the budget was approved as it was drafted by Frederik.

A followup meeting was scheduled for next week to cover the remaining agenda items.

It is still too early to draw conclusion in what direction the new board tends politically - even if there have been a few indications towards that in the way people communicated in the meeting. What i can say in review of all the board meetings i listened to overall is an increasing trend towards conservativism (mostly in the sense of sticking to a certain way of doing things because you are used to it rather than because there are convincing arguments to actually do it this way). This is not astonishing considering all of the current board members have been on the board for quite some time or bring in a certain experience from elsewhere how they are used to things being done they try to continue in this venue.

Also the board - with Ilya leaving - has become significantly less culturally diverse, we now essentially have a US-German-Canadian board. The most exotic voice on the board now seems to be Peda who is the only real hobby mapper with no professional relationship to OSM whose views maybe best represent those of a typical OSM mapper (though with a distinctly German perspective of course). Given that Peda is clearly the board member least fluent in English he also has the least chance to convincingly articulate his views against his rhetorically more skilled colleagues.

Comment from TomH on 19 January 2018 at 15:08

Just for the record I don't think the Red Cross donation was kept secret as such, it's just that the intention was to announce it was the machine it bought was installed and doing it's job and we in operations were a bit slow getting that done and it sat around for some months after initial installation and testing before we got it live.

Once it was live I believe the blog post happened more or less immediately.

Obviously the donation could just have been announced and then the machine later but I genuinely don't think there was anything underhand - it was just thought easier to do everything at once and then that took a lot longer than intended.

Comment from imagico on 19 January 2018 at 16:08

Note i put 'secret' in quotes.

My problem with that - as i have already indicated on osmf-talk i think - is not that this happened (everyone can make mistakes) but that the board presented it as if that was perfectly all right and just an insignificant delay and otherwise perfectly normal.

I would immediately stop "putting my finger into the wound" on this matter if the board

  • admitted that the way this was handled was wrong and counteracting the efforts in more transparency made otherwise.
  • put clear policy measures into place that will reliably prevent such thing from happening again (like for example a fixed requirement to publish any material contribution above EUR 5k within a month of it being made).

Comment from pnorman on 22 January 2018 at 21:42

We tried holding a short meeting at SOTM in Brussels last year. It didn't work well. All of us were exhausted from either running or attending the conference and didn't accomplish much over a normal board meeting. I know I always feel like I have no time at the OSM conferences, and am rushing between presentations and trying to meet with everyone who wants to talk.

Holding the board meetings before/after a non-OSM conference that most of us are attending might be an option, but finding one of these is harder.

Comment from Peda on 23 January 2018 at 22:49

Christoph,

Thanks for your write up. It's always interesting to see how others perceive something from the outside, especially when they're neutral on things (as I perceive your comments :-)).

I have two comments.

First, I am all for transparency but I think you exaggerate: We got a donation in July and wrote a blog post in December, i.e. 5 months later. You may call this a long time. But I think we owe it to the donor to only publish the news when the server is actually up and running to help them with their PR as well (i.e. give them something for their money). Btw, I don't want to blame OWG here as it still took us ages to actually write our blog post in the end :*). Anyway, what I wanted to say is, that I'd agree to something like "this was not handled well, we were too lazy and too slow" or so. But I don't think it was handled wrong per-se nor do I see a problem transparency wise as - like I said - I think we should cooperate with our donors as long as it doesn't harm our transparency in the long run (which it didn't).

Still, I like your suggestion, as a clear policy would help to make it clear what donors and OSMF can expect and what not.

Second, I like your suggestion and many things that had been said in the discussion on osmf-talk. However, I believe at the current time we owed it to the MWG to not delay this any further. In my opinion the MWG (and any WG for that matter) should be allowed to mostly work autonomously. There had been public discussion and every board member was free to comment on the draft at that point. We were asked to vote on the current program and not to start another discussion or give feedback what else should be done. Don't get me wrong, I guess we agree that the program should be further extended, but this is topic for another discussion and it would have been disrespectful to not vote on the fee waiver program at the meeting.

Comment from imagico on 24 January 2018 at 00:32

Thanks Paul and Peda for the replies.

I want to comment further just on one thing Peda said:

But I think we owe it to the donor to only publish the news when the server is actually up and running to help them with their PR as well (i.e. give them something for their money).

This very fundamentally differs from my understanding of the role of the OSMF and the OSMF board and the function of donations. I don't want to pass judgement on this - it very well could be a cultural difference - but i have serious problems with understanding the moral framework behind the concept of donations cited above, i.e. donations resulting in the OSMF board having the obligation "to give something back". This clashes with my understanding of a "donation".

If i for example read the "alternative fact" of Missing Maps accounting for 10% of all OSM mapping contributions in the blog post - which seems odd because it is so clearly misleading (it is actually more like one percent) and the author of the blog post (Martijn) can be assumed to be able to check this quickly - i am now wondering if that is part of giving something back for the money. Although i personally would reject that idea i am obviously not the yardstick here, i just try to understand it.

With the above in mind i also noticed the blog post does not actually call it a donation, it calls it a "grant" - which is conceptually quite different. This would of course lead to the question what the contractual conditions of the grant are and in general to what extent the board can and should accept contractual obligations in exchange for money.

Given the overall volume of donations the OSMF now gets this might be a subject that deserves a somewhat broader discussion.

Comment from SimonPoole on 25 January 2018 at 08:34

Just for the record: face to face meetings have been a regular "feature" of the OSMF board since it exists, and they have been slightly controversial since then too :-)

Comment from imagico on 25 January 2018 at 09:31

I looked through the minutes and found the following face-to-face meetings:

  • 2010-01-23
  • 2010-12-11
  • 2011-06-11
  • 2011-11-04
  • 2015-02-16
  • 2016-05-28
  • 2016-09-25
  • 2017-05-20

I missed the 2015 one when writing this post but anyway there seems to be a distinct gap and therefore speaking of a regular feature does not seem quite right.

I think this also kind of relates to the matter of conservativism i mentioned in the end - if you do things out of tradition or of you do things because there are at the moment convincing arguments to do them.

Comment from SimonPoole on 25 January 2018 at 10:29

You are missing

Which would bring the years without a f2f down to 2013 and 2014 (aka 2 of 7 past years).

Comment from wonderchook on 25 January 2018 at 17:07

I just wanted to make a minor correction. I currently am not being paid for doing any work related to OpenStreetMap. I am currently looking for work, but generally, have been applying and talking to organizations in open source/data though not related to OpenStreetMap.

All the mapping I've done in the past year (which I admit is not very much) has been of the hobby mapper variety.

Comment from imagico on 25 January 2018 at 18:12

Thanks for the comment and the additional perspective.

I assume you are referring to me pointing out that Peda is the only real hobby mapper with no professional relationship to OSM on the board. This is being said in the context of cultural diversity. With that in mind i think this is still a valid assessment because IMO what primarily defines my cultural background is not what i am doing right now but what i have done in the past.

When you are currently looking for work you are probably primarily looking for something where your past professional experience (which includes OSM) can be valuable - even if the work is not directly OSM related - just like Paul and Frederik will do work for customers that is not related to OSM. Peda however (who as you probably know started a new job last year) has no such OSM related professional background. This IMO gives him a unique perspective among the current board members.

But my point ultimately is not to argue who of the board members is the one that can most meaningfully speak for the OSM community - this would inappropriately reduce a highly multi-dimensional question to an arbitrary single dimension. I wanted to point out that the bandwidth of cultural backgrounds on the board is small so that even the most 'off-band' member (be that Peda or anyone else) is still very much mainstream compared to the bandwidth of backgrounds that exist in the OSM community.

And i am sure most of the current board members do at least occasionally perform recreational mapping.

Comment from mikelmaron on 25 January 2018 at 19:27

Thanks for your write up and perspectives @imagico. It's helpful for me to get a chance to clarify areas where there's confusion on what's happening within the Board, through an outsider perspective. Appreciate comments from others here. There's one point I want to weigh in on now.

The discussion on "Taking a Stand" was much more wide ranging than your write up. Here are my thoughts, for the record. I was not happy with Dale's tweet at all. There was other discussion on social media I found disappointing. And I'm not excusing it all but -- these tweets are being blown way out of proportion. Dale did not call all OSMF members racist, but the mailing list activity in the election racist, and then he backed that out to prejudice, and that 90% of the mailing list posters are fine. I still am not happy with the tweet.

Further, this tweet has not had much or any impact outside of OSM. Frederik has painted a picture of Dale running around and knocking on doors all over DC, calling OSM a viper pit of racism to everyone who listens, and people recoiling in disgust. Of everyone in this discussion -- I'm the only one who lives in DC. And I talk about OSM nearly every day. And I have 5 times the followers on Twitter than Dale. And I have never seen the level of interest and support for OSM than we have right now in DC, or anywhere. OSM is highly respected.

There was plenty of messages over the course of the election that I found really troublesome. I am not about to call out one, especially one that while really not good, has been highly misconstrued. This has nothing to do with loyalty for receiving a donation, the suggestion is ridiculous. I wouldn't call out anyone in particular at this point, because it doesn't help us work together better as a community.

Finally, I did not call for stricter rule on OSM communication. Back in 2011, the Board accepted Etiquette guidelines and moderators. We've had this in place for years, it has been very helpful at times, even recently, though applied very inconsistently and the awareness is not what it should be. It's not cohesive. My point is that we need to examine and discuss that this guidelines and processes are up to date, and then make sure they are resourced in a responsible way. And that this is certainly not the only thing we should consider, the only frame, or necessarily the starting point.

Comment from Peda on 25 January 2018 at 19:51

Christoph,

I don't think our understanding really differs. I still guess that you exaggerate the case and/or I fail to properly express myself.

Btw, the above written is my personal opinion on that case and how I interpret what happened.

I didn't say (and didn't meant to imply) there's an obligation "to give something back". I just think that it's a courtesy if we help as long as we don't harm our values. I also think that it's pretty common for donors to name an aim on how the money should be spent (the German 'Zweckbindung').

If I spent some money to FOSSGIS to use for the OverpassAPI-Server, I can expect it to be used for that only. If FOSSGIS e.V. is not able to, they have to return the money. That's how I understand the legal situation at least in Germany. If I have to account for that donation to e.g. my wife before she finds out we now won't be able to afford holidays any longer, then I'd be really happy to see FOSSGIS actually spent that money before the treasurer thanks my wife.

So no matter how it's called, I see it as a normal donation that was aimed for a backup database server. This server was on the wishlist of OWG for a longer time and OWG made the decision how it had to look like. There was no other whatsoever contractual obligations (that I know of ;D). I'm not even sure we should call it a courtesy but only laziness that the post didn't go out earlier.

Comment from imagico on 25 January 2018 at 20:42

Peda,

I don't know the contractual details between the OSMF and the American Red Cross and i don't know what exactly is the chain of events that resulted in the timing of the announcement of the donation - nor why Martijn wrote the blog post in the form it was published. Therefore i don't want to speculate on these things. But the board should be aware that if they generally feel that they should aim to "give something back" for donations as long as it does not directly harm the goals of the OSMF people will look at actions of the board with that in mind and will wonder if things the board does are motivated by inherent interests of the OSM project and the community or of they are primarily in the interest of donors.

Is delaying the announcement of a donation or inflating the importance of Missing Maps in OSM something that harms OSM? Maybe not. But because it is not clear if these are favours given in return for the money it certainly makes it less likely that people take things the OSMF board says at face value, i.e. it has a negative effect on credibility.

Which i think brings us well back to the topic since credibility of the board was my main point regarding the subject in relation to which i mentioned the donation - i.e. the taking a stand agenda item.

Having clear policies on such matters, being transparent and avoiding organizational secrets as much as possible - and in this case: taking a clear stand on demeaning statements made in public by people with some connection to OSMF business are all ways to make it easier to maintain credibility.

Comment from SimonPoole on 25 January 2018 at 20:51

@peda the discussion on if the OSMF should accept earmarked donations od not goes way back and there is not really a clear solution. On the one hand it is obviously quite OK to accept such donations for something that you had at least planned to do, for example purchase another database server, on the other hand there is a clear danger of third parties actually setting the OSMFs agenda.

Luckily this can't go all too far for tax reasons (if a donation boils down to payment for a specific service or product profits from that activity would be taxed, just as SOTM profits are).

Comment from mikelmaron on 25 January 2018 at 20:57

@imagico There is no relation between the donation and our discussion on the taking a stand agenda item. There are no "favors" doled out. To suggest these things are you are here is a colossal conspiracy theory, erodes the credibility of other good points you make, and frankly this attack on the OSMF Board is actually something worth taking a stand against.

Comment from imagico on 25 January 2018 at 22:55

Mikel,

I think i made it very clear that i do not want to speculate on matters i have no insight into.

If you want to ignore my advise that the way things have been handled is not good for the credibility of the board and how this can be improved that is your choice. I think i explained my reasoning well enough so that anyone with an open mind would either be able to follow my reasoning or point out where my reasoning is flawed (so we could have a productive discussion like i had for example with Peda and Kate).

But i am not sure what you are trying to achieve with diverting into baseless and unrelated accusations. If that is an attempt to bully me into not speaking my mind in the future - that is not going to work.

Comment from mikelmaron on 26 January 2018 at 01:59

Whoa there @imagico, let's slow down here. I want nothing more than a reasonable discussion, as you say you are doing. I would never suggest that you shouldn't speak your mind, and I hope you would extend the same courtesy to others, particularly people and institutions you are commenting on.

Through the course of this post and comments, my actions and the Board have been suggested to be "spin", lacking in "credibility" and lacking an "open mind", and finally a "bully". I am not here to defend myself against name calling, but to claim that these cv aracterizations are part of a reasoned discussion doesn't strike me as accurate.

My first comment explained at some length my thinking on the Taking a Stand topic. You haven't engaged in my reasoned points at all.

You do state that you don't want to speculate, but then you do go on to speculate. You speculate "it is not clear if these are favours given in return for money". This is what led me to call you out for peddling conspiracy theories.

I am all for transparency and clear processes. There's already been a full accounting of the donation in this case. I don't see much issue with how it was handled myself. But I can agree with you that developing clearer procedures is something we should do.

Linking credibility to Taking a Stand, and implying repeatedly that our decisions are influenced by the donation, is not reasonable. Again I've explained why I don't think that's the right course of action.

Comment from imagico on 26 January 2018 at 10:49

You do state that you don't want to speculate, but then you do go on to speculate. You speculate "it is not clear if these are favours given in return for money". This is what led me to call you out for peddling conspiracy theories.

I think you are confusing speculation (in the sense of considering an unproven assumption to be true) with skepticism. Citing the paragraph in question as a whole:

Is delaying the announcement of a donation or inflating the importance of Missing Maps in OSM something that harms OSM? Maybe not. But because it is not clear if these are favours given in return for the money it certainly makes it less likely that people take things the OSMF board says at face value, i.e. it has a negative effect on credibility.

This argument does not hinge on the assumption that favours are given in return for the money (i.e. speculation), it is based on the uncertainty if they are (i.e. scepticism, not assuming something unproven to be true).

Another general remark regarding your style of communication in this discussion - i found your focus on specific words and use of language in contrast to focusing on the underlying reasoning and arguments which are independent of the specific words used (both in your replies to me and the analysis of Dale Kunce's remarks and context) problematic. Most people in the OSM community are not native English speakers and it is mostly a courtesy to you and other English speakers if they write in English. But there are many who feel deterred by the prospect of what they write being dissected into individual words and phrases which are then evaluated without giving consideration to the reasoning and arguments they are embedded in.

Comment from mikelmaron on 26 January 2018 at 11:32

Sometimes you're hilarious @imagico. You split hairs about the meaning of the word "speculate", then admonish me for focusing on words. Meanwhile one of your key points hinges on specific words in a tweet. And finally, you focus on one part of my response that's about your word choice and ignore my arguments.

Comment from Zverik on 27 January 2018 at 14:47

On the results of face to face meetings:

To me a F2F felt like the most productive meeting of all year. Basically we come up with new ideas and discuss them, and then from these we form a plan for an upcoming year. We don't have any communication delays or distractions, as with email or IRC. We have plenty of paper and post-it notes to record our ideas, unlike Mumble. We are not confined to discussing past matters, like on regular Board meetings. F2F is where the strategic planning is done, usual meetings are for finalizing current matters.

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