OpenStreetMap

The most surreal and memorable OSMF board meeting yet

Posted by imagico on 16 November 2018 in English (English)

Yesterday was the last OSMF board meeting before this year's Annual General Meeting. And like it is already kind of tradition this last meeting had more visitors listening in than any on the previous meetings and IIRC even more than last years pre-election meeting making it probably the largest board meeting in OSMF history.

And this despite the guests having to wait for half an hour because the board started the meeting with a closed session.

And here is where the surreal part started. The closed part was - as you can read on the meeting agenda - meant to determine if two of the board members (Frederik and Heather) had a conflict of interest regarding the subject of the OSMF organized editing policy or guideline as it is now called. This is because apparently two other board members (Mikel and Martijn) were already considered to have a conflict of interest (and after me asking at the end of the meeting confirmed that they recused themselves). Now we don't know the details yet - no word was uttered by the board in the public part of the meeting about the outcome of the closed part of the meeting (did i already mention it was surreal?). We know that apparently Frederik and Heather were not determined to have a conflict of interest because they participated in the vote later. But we don't know who decided this and we don't know who decided that those who had a conflict of interest were allowed to participate in the discussion none the less.

The most amazing thing however is that this discussion and decision if there is a CoI for the various board members happened literally just minutes before the decision on the matter and not years ago when the whole process to develop an OSMF policy was started. And as if to rub in everyone's face that to fully participate in and influence the whole process from within the board despite an obvious conflict of interest is apparently no problem in today's OSMF Mikel essentially kicked off the public part of the meeting (after approval of the minutes from the last one and a few minor other things) by criticizing about the new organized editing policy draft (that i strongly criticized as being whitewashed and essentially mostly free of any hard requirements) that (and i obviously paraphrase here) the data working group should not have the right to sanction corporations for not doing what the policy requires them to do - specifically using as an example the requirement to document their organized activities on permanently available OSMF platforms (the wiki) rather than channels they control and can delete as they like (like github). The audacity of this is simply mind-boggling - both in substance of criticizing the possibility that a mostly toothless policy can potentially be enforced but also in the way of at least from my perspective dropping any pretense to act in the interest of the OpenStreetMap community en large on this matter, which we happen to know through among other things the survey the OSMF made, is to a significant part concerned about organized activities.

Never in the history of the OSMF board meetings - and i have listened in to quite a few of them - have i regretted so much that there is no verbatim transcript of the meetings. As a piece of real-life comedy this was just priceless.

But i am getting carried away. What inevitably followed was the vote on the weakened policy or guideline (it was approved). The punch line was a comment Peter gave with his vote critizing that apparently very recently yet another policy draft was proposed to the board that was apparently written by a mapping company and was discussed by the board. My request after the meeting that this draft be made available to the OSMF members was rejected since the board does not give out details of their internal conversation or documents they receive. But the fact that on a matter of policy making concerning the OSM community the OSMF board discusses specific drafts without making them available to the members or the OSM community is fairly remarkable. The board can obviously not control who sends them drafts for policy documents but they can surely refuse to look at and discuss drafts that cannot be made available to the OSMF members and the OSMF community. That this apparently did not happen is to me a major issue.

I kind of wonder what would happen if someone leaked this ominous draft. Because the only handle agaist making this public would be copyright and this would obviously require someone to claim authorship of said document. And i kind of assume whoever wrote and pitched this to the board does not really want to be associated with it...

After this topic was through everyone was clearly exhausted from the whole performance. The only major other thing discussed was the membership fee waiver program - which was considered to be urgent due to the potential influence of members eligible for voting in the upcoming elections. The discussion of this was quite reasonable and the result fairly acceptable although in total i think the concept of waiving membership fees upon request is not a solution for the overall problem of the lack of proportional representation of the OSM community in the OSMF.

That more or less closed this memorable OSMF board meeting.

Like Heather did in the meeting (she kind of managed to beat me on that) I would like to express thanks to Martijn and Peter for their work on the board - neither of who apparently re-runs in the upcoming elections.

Comment from bryceco on 16 November 2018 at 05:08

Thanks for relaying the details on the board meeting since I don’t follow them otherwise.

I’ve never worked for a mapping company but I do appreciate the contributions that companies like Mapbox, Microsoft and many others make to support OSM and improve our open map. I believe it’s possible to have a mutually beneficial relationship and I welcome their ideas, while also recognizing the need to be true to our open data vision.

Comment from Richard on 16 November 2018 at 08:10

The most surreal and memorable OSMF board meeting yet

Ah, these youngsters.

Comment from imagico on 16 November 2018 at 09:42

@Richard - yes, i realize that i should have restricted that statement to the public board meetings. But of course part of the surreal was that it was public.

Comment from woodpeck on 17 November 2018 at 13:37

A long time ago I was the "secretary" of the OSMF and responsible for writing the OSMF board meeting minutes. I tried to make them as detailed as I could, explaining which arguments were raised and what was decided. I was then asked to stop doing that, as there was an - admittedly real - risk of me "spinning" things by giving some arguments more room than others. I remember discussing this with two other board members in person. I said: "Perhaps we should record the meeting and release a transcript, then there's no danger of being partisan." One of them replied: "No, that would make us look silly."

So, seconding Richard (with whom I briefly served on the board) I have to say I find the fact that the public is nowadays allowed to listen in a very good corrective against the stuff that makes us look silly. I found this past meeting rather civilised.

Comment from imagico on 17 November 2018 at 14:04

Yes, and i hope everyone sees that in particular in a situation like this having the board meeting in public - or at least parts of it - is of significant value.

And i want to point out that the terms i used - surreal and comedy - do not in any way mean silly. Surrealist art and comedy to me are anything but silly. Both are in a way methods to express something that cannot easily be expressed with conventional means. Because we have similar problems elsewhere in OSM community discourse i sometimes wish we had more surrealism and comedy in OSM. Anonymaps is an example in what direction this could go and what positive effects this can have.

My impression from the outside as a guest listening in to the public part of the meeting without knowing about the non-public part is of course very different from your inside perspective and neither of us can probably accurately assess how it looks like for the other.

Comment from imagico on 17 November 2018 at 20:04

https://twitter.com/Anonymaps/status/1063845660879962112

Unfortunately two days too late - Anonymaps running for board, that would have been something.

Does the MWG have Anonymaps registered as a member? Would Anonymaps be eligible for a fee waiver because Paypal is not available on Null Island?

Comment from Peda on 17 November 2018 at 20:15

Christoph, I want to comment on a few points you made and I'm trying to shed some light on questions you have. At least where I think that I don't violate confidentiality.

We did not discuss whether Mikel and Martijn may take part in the private session. Neither of them actively participated in the interview of Heather and Frederik. They just remained silent until we were finished.

The interview was chosen, because we don't have a CoI policy (yet). It was a way of finding out whether Frederik or Heather had a potential CoI becasue of their job.

Both Heather and Frederik gave a small description of their work and a few questions were asked. I tried to explain that asking these questions is not meant as a lack of trust or an attempt at silencing them, but it is our duty to the community to be thorough on matters like conflict of interests.

The three of us (Paul, Kate and I) discussed briefly how to continue and decided that a vote was not necessary and we thought that both Heather and Frederik could participate in the OEG vote.

As a side show there had been discussions (with Mikel and Martijn) if we had to vote on OEG that day and if there had been a circular or not. My stance on it was, that we had a circular (I actually created it) but only 3 persons participated (Frederik, Paul and I). Although our Rules of Order (ROO) mention that this does not constitute a quorum, it forces us to vote in the next meeting (i.e. this meeting). Others disputed the existence of the circular. It got a bit heated but in the end this was rather irrelevant and now after the meeting it seems to have clarified that the confusion resulted from a mistake made by me: While I noted that I start a circular on the board mailing list, I seem to have done some mistake (no idea what) in loomio (our tool for circulars) so the other board members did not receive a notification mail.

After all of that (I did not tell the story chronologicaly btw) we joined the public channel.

As for the other draft OEG: We have to ask or discuss its publication, I don't remember us declining to publish it.

Peda

Comment from imagico on 17 November 2018 at 20:48

Regading the "Mapping company draft" - Kate replied on that and cited general board policy regarding internal communication IIRC and that the board cannot therefore make it available. Michael's partial transcript kind of confirms that.

Regarding your description of the closed part of the meeting - you don't mention any discussion or decision whether the CoI of Mikel and Martijn disqualifies them from participating in the discussion (which considering the "CoI demonstration" by Mikel in the public meeting i described is an obvious question from the perspective of the outside observer).

Did i understand you correctly that in internal discussion Mikel and Martijn were against voting on the policy in this meeting? For Mikel this seems pretty obvious but Martijn did not say a word in the public discussion so it would be significant to know.

This is certainly not the place to discuss Conflicts of Interest in general. As you know i have asked several question about this to the board candidates for the upcoming elections and i will certainly bring this up again afterwards.

Comment from imagico on 17 November 2018 at 21:05

Additional question: Did the question of employment contract clauses like Rory brought up in the board candidate questions play a role during the interview of Heather?

Comment from Peda on 17 November 2018 at 21:43

Well, I hoped to answer questions not to raise more new ones :D

As for participation in discussions: My stance (since start of OEG discussions within the board) was, that participation in a public and transparent discussion are ok even with CoI. We briefly discussed this, but I can't remember the details as I was happy enough that we eventually will move to the public part of the meeting for further OEG discussions. So someone else would have to answer that.

As for voting on the policy: I can't argue about Mikel's or Martijn's intention. They were mostly disputing the existence of the circular resolution.

Regarding the last question: I don't think it played a role. But to be honest, I had major trouble following the conversation due to lack of better english knowledge :(

Comment from imagico on 17 November 2018 at 22:09

Thanks - i think there are not too many other reasons why Mikel and Martijn would dispute the existence of a circular resolution that did not meet quorum so... ;-)

Regarding disqualification from discussion - without intention to open up a full discussion on CoI here - my understanding of recusal would be that the board member recused for a certain matter on that matter would not have any of the privileges of a board member including the right to speak at a board meeting without invitation. But as you said this is not such a big issue in the public meeting because this is subject to public scrutiny - an opportunity which i made use of here.

But of course if the recusal extended to other things than votes the question why this was not considered much earlier in the process would become more significant.

Comment from pnorman on 18 November 2018 at 01:01

Regarding your description of the closed part of the meeting - you don't mention any discussion or decision whether the CoI of Mikel and Martijn disqualifies them from participating in the discussion (which considering the "CoI demonstration" by Mikel in the public meeting i described is an obvious question from the perspective of the outside observer).

Having a CoI does not require someone recuse themselves from discussion, just voting. We have been advised on this by a lawyer, and it is supported by other documents I have read about the UK's companies act. The OSMF could adopt a stricter CoI policy.

To take an example that isn't over organized editing, I have a CoI with contracting out the GDPR-related backend development work on the API.[1] By law, I am allowed to listen to and speak in board discussions on it. I choose not to, and only listen to public discussions.

I cannot vote on matters related to this contracting out. If the other members of the board were to vote to authorize me under s. 175 (4)(b), I could then vote. I have not asked for a vote, and if I did, it would appear in the minutes.

Similarly, if Mikel or Martijn had asked for a vote, we would have held it and the results would be in the minutes. They didn't ask for a vote.

[1]: I'm a freelance backend developer, looking for work, and could submit a proposal. If it were frontend UI work it would be different, because that's not the type of work I actively seek.


Did i understand you correctly that in internal discussion Mikel and Martijn were against voting on the policy in this meeting? For Mikel this seems pretty obvious but Martijn did not say a word in the public discussion so it would be significant to know.

If we do a circular and Loomio fails to send notifications properly, does it count as a circular? If it is, then holding a vote is automatic. If not, a board member would need to request a vote. Since we held a vote, it's a moot point. We just need to make sure that circular notifications get done correctly in the future.


The interview was held because not all of us are familiar enough with their business interests to understand if they had a CoI or not. It was agreed that they didn't, so there was no need for a vote.

I also gave a brief statement that none of my recent contracts nor job applications have involved companies doing any organized editing that would be impacted by the policy we voted on, or any other policy others had suggested. I do not do paid editing myself. I cannot foresee the future, so this could change.


https://twitter.com/Anonymaps/status/1063845660879962112

Unfortunately two days too late - Anonymaps running for board, that would have been something.

Does the MWG have Anonymaps registered as a member? Would Anonymaps be eligible for a fee waiver because Paypal is not available on Null Island?

They'd have to be a normal member, which requires the full address. One on null island would be invalid. So they should run, then we'll know exactly who it is!

Comment from imagico on 18 November 2018 at 11:17

Having a CoI does not require someone recuse themselves from discussion, just voting. We have been advised on this by a lawyer, and it is supported by other documents I have read about the UK's companies act. The OSMF could adopt a stricter CoI policy.

To be clear that refers to the minimum legal requirements under UK law. It does not in anyway prevent the OSMF to create CoI rules beyond the minimum legal requirements.

As Mikel so nicely demonstrated in the meeting there are very good reasons why a board member with a CoI should not have any privileges in discussions on the matter in question. This is not a question of minimum legal requirements to me but a question of credibility of the board. Knowing that the specific secondary interests represented by board members with a CoI have unlimited representation in the internal discussion of the board while any other special interests have none totally undermines the position of the board as a balanced representation of all the interests of the OSM community.

Comment from Dalkeith on 19 November 2018 at 10:49

I would say any sort of meeting where there are lots of people all with competing interests - it is often not possible to have any considered discussion as there are so many random opinions flying off at tangents. Don't think this is necessarily an OSM issue its just happens in big meetings.

Comment from Stereo on 20 November 2018 at 12:04

As a clarification maybe: the "other policy draft proposed to the board that was apparently written by a mapping company" is probably either the document written by the advisory board, or the set of amendments to the current guidelines that Mikel proposed to water them down. DWG and I know of no other document.

Comment from imagico on 20 November 2018 at 12:29

Peter's statement in the board meeting clearly indicates this was not a document previously circulated but something new. From the statements made so far it is not completely clear to me if it was communicated to the board directly from the outside or if it was introduced by a board member.

And since this is repeatedly being communicated incorrectly - this was not a document written by the advisory board, it was something written by members of the advisory board (unclear who exactly was involved) - it was never discussed by the advisory board as a whole AFAIK before being proposed publicly - if it were this would have been documented in the board meeting minutes. If i make a policy proposal that does neither make it a document written by the advisory board even if i write it together with Patrick Stählin or Christian Quest or someone else on the AB. It only becomes a suggestion from the advisory board by being transparently proposed on the advisory board mailing list giving all other advisory board members the opportunity to provide input and making sure the process is properly minuted.

Comment from pnorman on 20 November 2018 at 15:55

The most surreal and memorable OSMF board meeting yet

Ah, these youngsters.

+1

Comment from b-jazz on 25 November 2018 at 19:44

Ah, these youngsters. +1 I'd like to see something more substantive from OSM leaders like Richard and pnorman rather than dismissive ad hominem attacks.

Comment from b-jazz on 25 November 2018 at 19:47

(Ugh. I should have previewed that comment before posting. And apparently I can't remove it.)

Ah, these youngsters.

+1

I'd like to see something more substantive from OSM leaders like Richard and pnorman rather than dismissive ad hominem attacks.

Comment from Richard on 25 November 2018 at 21:15

It's not meant to be dismissive and certainly not ad hominem; more a jokey reference to how bad OSMF board meetings used to be during my time on the board years ago - and seriously, they were. (And as a member of the board at the time clearly I take partial responsibility for that!) In retrospect I should probably have commented "oh, you sweet summer child" which would have been more obviously tongue-in-cheek, but one always ends up having to explain jokes on the internet...

Comment from b-jazz on 25 November 2018 at 21:34

Thanks Richard. I took it to mean, "you're acting like a child complaining about this". I appreciate the clarification.

Comment from wonderchook on 26 November 2018 at 01:04

Regarding the alternative policy mentioned in the meeting, it was sent to the board but I don't think it is fair to say it was considered. Meaning I don't think the board read it and considered voting on it, I myself did not. Had we read it and discussed voting on it I would agree that it should be shared publicly since we did not I think it is a different situation and up to the person that wrote it.

Comment from imagico on 26 November 2018 at 10:46

Thanks for the additional information. Was the text sent to the board from the outside or did a board member send it to the board? Did any discussion happen among the board members about the content of the draft?

I would still encourage anyone who has access to said text to make it available publicly - if you prefer to anonymously.

Needless to say there is no reasonable expectation of confidentiality of a policy draft sent to the board since the only reasonable purpose of such action would be to try making such draft into actual policy which would obviously make it public anyway. Therefore the claim by the board they can't make it public to me is a straw man argument to avoid responsibility. The level to which this discredits the board as a whole is pretty extensive. I mean in the end this essentially means anyone can try anything to influence the board by sending them 'suggestions' and would not have to fear any serious backlash because the board does not publicly disclose such attempts at influencing their work.

Comment from LivingWithDragons on 26 November 2018 at 11:47

So has this now been accepted (by the board) as OSMF policy? An announcement from the board would be good so we know we should be abiding by it.

I see Organised_Editing/Activities wiki doesn't exist yet.

Comment from wonderchook on 26 November 2018 at 23:36

@imagico I don't think board members anonymously leaking information is a great way to have an effective board. It would be a great way to return to some of the problems that @Richard is alluding to though.

I fail to see how the board not sharing something that wasn't considered somehow discredits the board. Typically when you send an email to someone do you expect them to feel free to share it publicly without permission? Call it a strawman, but I call it email etiquette. Should board members make it a point to never speak to anyone at a SotM because they might be somehow influenced as well?

Comment from imagico on 27 November 2018 at 00:09

Equating a policy draft sent to the board for consideration with private conversation between individuals is not something i would consider fitting. I have already explained there is IMO no reasonable expectation of confidentiality in this case. And that this kind of approach will likely sooner or later fall onto the board's feet.

I fully agree that anonymous publication is not the ideal solution in this case - but it might be the only way for the OSM community to get to know how corporate interests try to influence policy making of the OSMF.

I also distinctly noted that you did not answer any of my questions from my last comment.

Comment from wonderchook on 27 November 2018 at 00:28

A board member sent an edited policy to the board based on the one that was approved. No discussion occurred about the content of the draft.

Comment from imagico on 27 November 2018 at 01:25

Thanks.

Based on what Stereo wrote above:

the set of amendments to the current guidelines that Mikel proposed to water them down

that board member seems to be Mikel. Which means he actively lobbied for corporate interests not only during the board meeting but already before.

Given the intensity with which special interests are pursued today from within the board combined with the silence and passivity on this by most other board members i have serious doubts about the board's ability as a whole to self regulate and to ensure they pursue the interest of the OSM community.

I understand it might seem that other matters are more urgent at the moment but you should not underestimate the importance of this question (the ability of the board to collectively make decisions in the interest of the OSM community also against significant outside pressure and the trust of the OSM community in this ability).

Comment from wonderchook on 27 November 2018 at 01:38

imagico: I don't think Mikel was lobbying for corporate interests, the guidelines wording could have been more clear. I voted in favor of them because I figured it was best to have an initial release than try to come up with a perfect policy. For example in the guidelines "should" is used heavily but "must" would make more sense at least in US culture. If the goal of the Organised Editing Guidelines was mostly aimed at American organizations then changing the language to clarify it so it is best understood by those organizations makes sense to me.

I'm curious why if you have serious doubts about the current board's ability to self-regulate you have never put yourself forward to the board? Did you not recently say "Wer im Glashaus sitzt sollte nicht mit Steinen werfen?" Komm, sitz mit uns.

I do think the board should have a conflict of interest policy. There are the requirements from the UK Companies Act, but in my experience having a policy additionally sets a schedule for reviewing potential conflicts and recording them. For non-profits in the US it is required as part of the application to get tax exempt status.

Comment from imagico on 27 November 2018 at 11:39

I don't think Mikel was lobbying for corporate interests

Well - his public statements indicate otherwise. And since we can't look at the policy draft i can only assume this goes into the same direction as the public statements. I very much doubt there is any change in that policy draft that makes the policy any stricter in a meaningful way towards organized actors.

I'm curious why if you have serious doubts about the current board's ability to self-regulate you have never put yourself forward to the board?

Me volunteering for a position on the board would be contingent on the OSMF at least broadly representing the OSM community. The board as it is right now is not a parliament where every member is independently voicing his or her opinion and follows their individual principles. The board makes and executes decisions jointly and i would not be able to do that for decisions i disagree with if the board does not have the legitimization from actually representing the OSM community and is ultimately subject to control by the community it represents. I know that my views are not always in line with the majority of the OSM community and that my ability to anticipate what is actually in these interests is limited, especially with topics that are 'relatively far from home'. So i would depend on being able to trust the other board members to bring in the necessary additional perspective, their ability to make responsible decisions taking into account all the arguments and their willingness to open this process to the scrutiny of the community.

I do think the board should have a conflict of interest policy. [...]

I am glad you say that but i don't think this would be enough. Taking non-profits in the US as a model would only increase the strategic advantage of people from the US and people well versed in US organizational culture to route around the rules. And it is pretty clear to me that the model of a US non-profit is not suitable to guard against influences of outside interests.

My impression is that the OSMF needs more radical reforms to be able to in the future work in the interests of the OSM community. I am not sure though if the OSMF is able to initiate such reforms from the inside. I hope that in the upcoming elections candidates will present bold and practicable visions in that direction. At least they have gotten the questions that could encourage them to do so. We would then be able to see if the OSMF members are able and willing to jump over their shadows and vote for candidates that are likely to work to reduce the privileges they currently enjoy.

I also have a tiny bit of hope left that the corporations and organizations currently pressuring for more control over the OSMF to realize that biting the hand that feeds you is not usually a useful long term strategy (And yes, it is the OSM community that feeds the corporations, not the other way round). But that hope is rather small. One of the main constants in our society is that money is short sighted and stupid.

Comment from wonderchook on 27 November 2018 at 16:45

Regarding a Conflict of Interest Policy, my point was not to use non-profits in the US as a model. Just that it is common to have a Conflict of Interest Policy. A policy can be developed to specifically serve the OSMF's needs as long as it covers UK Companies Law. It not being enough doesn't mean there shouldn't be one.

If your views "are not always in line with the majority of the OSM community and that my ability to anticipate what is actually in these interests is limited, especially with topics that are 'relatively far from home'." Then are you sure radical reforms are needed to serve the needs of the OSM Community? In my experience, there is a disconnect in the needs of individual mappers from country to country. I could see someday having a more parliamentary model with representatives from local chapters and then some "at-large" members, though we would need many more groups to sign on as local chapters to make it work.

Comment from imagico on 27 November 2018 at 17:39

Regarding the structure of OSMF governance and checks and balances - i think we have discussed this before - i generally tend towards a direct democracy and am fairly critical towards multiple levels of indirect control (like local mappers -> local chapters -> OSM parliament -> executive board). But the need to facilitate communication across language and culture barriers is of course paramount and this is obviously a difficulty with direct democracy.

I think it would be good to work on and discuss different options in this domain but any such scenario would mean the current board and the OSMF members essentially giving up a large part of their privileges and i am not sure this is realistic.

Regarding the basis of my assessments about what the OSMF needs - yes, i make fairly bold statements here and do not support all of them with a lot of arguments. My assessments about this kind of thing are usually based on plausible scenarios i see. But it is always possible there are scenarios i do not see. Therefore i always look for others describing possibilities that are new to me. If you have a scenario how the current development of the OSMF without any major changes leads to a future with the OSMF supporting the local OSM contributors all over the world in their diverse needs without this being overshadowed by external interests i would be eager to hear.

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