This is my position statement for the December 2017 board election.
Where I'm coming from
Since joining OpenStreetMap, I’ve found myself on a slippery slope of ever stronger engagement to the project. Not only have I been mapping at least every other day, I’ve grown into being a community organizer. At first I was mostly interested in South America, where it felt like OSM has a much larger niche to fill than in Europe. I didn't start off as an open source and open data enthusiast, but as someone crazy about maps. As a sociologist and data analyst I was fascinated by the data and the people behind it. I liked the way OpenStreetMap could solve real problems, and enjoyed being part of those solutions. Riding on the tails of Jorieke Vyncke (current Missing Maps coordinator) and Ben Abelshausen (awesome OSM routing developer and tireless organizer), it always seemed logical that we should build the map together.
Building OpenStreetMap Belgium, we worked with crafty local mappers, while supporting like-minded people around the world. We helped the development of what tools we could make with our local community, instead of complaining about the lack of global solutions. We had beers (and tea) together, to put faces to the usernames. We worked on humanitarian mapping to build consciousness about the project and to create a network of volunteers. We worked with open data - as just another tool to improve OSM. We worked with local government and other organizations to increase our visibility - using their networks for exposure, instead of having to build one from scratch. We worked on larger events - they would have been a failure without Ben’s sense of responsibility and the network of volunteers we grew during the mapathons. We worked on our online presence, with a nice website, a single point of contact for questions about OSM in Belgium, a newsletter. Finally, we are finalizing becoming a local chapter. We felt how more and more people started taking the project seriously.
This approach has been quite successful, and I would like to apply that experience to the entire project. It means focusing on growing the number of volunteers and letting them grow in their roles. It means sharing the work as much as possible, but still make sure things get done. I think I have been instrumental in that process, and I believe I could help the OSMF realize more of its plans. That’s why I am a candidate for the Board Elections.
Priorities as a Board Member
As an OSMF Board Member, I would devote most of my energy to growing the community. For me that means supporting local volunteers - which is why I am enthousiastic and impatient about microgrant and local chapter and event support plans. There are many relatively simple things that could help community builders everywhere (here's a collection of ideas I worked on). As a board member I would focus on finding more such ideas - and turning them into realities. That would need growing the OSMF and the Working Groups, finding more people to share the work. And it requires helping the OSM community be a more friendly place - not just a fun place to map, but also a fun group to be part of.
Developing local communities. We should try to offer more to local organizers. Some basic tools and functionalities, maybe a network for best practices. Local mappers should have more tools available to monitor the successes and failures in their community. We need those organizers to come to SotM, even if they can’t afford to (and offer our help actively). At SotM, full focus on local successes and failures should be obvious. A small amount of money can go a long way - we could do more to help.
OpenStreetMap needs as diverse people as possible. We should take the time to think about solutions, even if they seem to be impossible.
- How can we reach more non-English speakers, and how do we break the dominance of those that are fluent in English? In Belgium, a third language was part of the solution to surmount the language divide between French and Dutch speakers. But even so, we noticed we were excluding those who weren’t so good at foreign languages. So we include all three languages - it’s a lot of work, but it is necessary.
- Communication isn’t just about languages, but also about bridging the gap between cultures. We should be aware of the gaping holes in our understanding of each other, be it based on education, culture or gender. We should be more active in helping people learn to do this, and avoid pointless arguing, especially on media that encourage that.
- Even though OSM is a deadly serious thing, we should never forget that people contribute because it’s fun. A new mapper picks it up because they enjoy fixing that first mistake. Just as important is that an advanced mapper can keep enjoying the hard work they do. It should be just as enjoyable to become more active in the community.
We should realize we don’t know ourselves all that well. Still we have endless discussions based on assumptions, or just our own personal experience. To have more meaningful discussions, we need more facts. That means more analysis and research on how we function as a community. There are plenty of researchers both within and outside our community who are interested, let’s talk to them. My work experience might help here, as I work in government data research, mainly turning data into into actionable info. Between the mapping and organizing, I've devoted a lot of time to OpenStreetMap analysis (see my profile for an overview), I intend to expand that and actively work on the relation between OSM and science.
We should be aware of the risk of running out of steam. Every year, most people who picked up mapping, stop mapping. That’s normal, but it also means we need to keep growing in order to survive. The same people who enjoyed mapping from a blank slate, might not be the people who enjoy fixing mistakes or adding ever smaller details. We need to keep looking for new ways to engage people, to spot the new use cases that were unrealistic dreams just a few years ago. At the OSMF Board, we should actively seek out new use cases for OSM, especially if they have the potential to grow the mapping community.
That said, I don’t think we should change all that much. We are rightly proud of being able to achieve so much with so little structure. We should not sacrifice our criticism or our open way of working in exchange for anything else. There are almost always win-win compromises possible. It’s just a matter of creativity and good will to find them. There is still an enormous potential for growing our community. Most people still haven’t heard about us. As the project matures, many use cases are only now becoming possible. Many minds are only now opening up to the option of open collaboration. We can grow, and we can do it together.
For more about how we’re building OSM Belgium, check out OSM.be
For more about me, check out my OSM profile