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.