OpenStreetMap

OSMF Governance Thoughts

Posted by mikelmaron on 6 December 2019 in English (English)

“Governance” are the key rules and processes by which an organization functions. Setting the structure is one of the primary responsibilities of the Board, and in the long run where Board work has the most impact. It’s top of mind for me for the future of OSMF. I think a lot of the churn in OSMF can be settled by having better processes. This is not about centralized control, actually quite the opposite. I talk about this in my Board candidate statement and Q/A, but it’s kind of buried. And it can be pretty dry. Don’t expect excitement here. But it’s important. Want to surface a few ideas and my perspectives.

The most immediate action I want us to take is splitting the Advisory Board into a group of Local Chapters, and a group for corporates. The Advisory Board as-is has failed – the Board asks for nothing from it, and the Advisory Board offers up very little. I don’t think Local Chapters and companies have the same concerns, or have a lot to say to each other in front of the Board. So let’s split and see if it becomes more interesting. As usual, discussions from the Advisory Board would be reported out publicly.

I’m more interested in what Local Chapters have to say. I think empowering Local Chapters in OSMF governance is how we make sure that OSMF is relevant and serving more communities and mappers. There was an excellent discussion on this during State of the Map. It’s not clear what governance models make sense – federated decision making, designated rotating Board seats, etc – but let’s start looking at this in what will be a long deliberation. I think the Local Chapters and Communities Working Group could also be a good place to dig in.

We need rules of order for how the Board and Working Groups work together. This is exactly not the Board trying to exert more control over Working Groups. Rather, it’s making much more clear to Working Groups what they should expect from the Board when they need something. And so the Board can hold itself accountable to being responsive and predictable. Take a look at the Board Rules of Order, and it’s all about how we communicate, timelines, and decisions. Frankly, the Board has been bad at communicating how long we will deliberate on a request from a working group, and communicating the results back. Maybe another and better way to frame this would be additions to the existing Board Rules of Order.

We need to draw up and adopt a conflict of interest policy. This is being discussed on osmf-talk right now. With a written policy, it will be clear to all what constitutes a conflict of interest and how to handle it.

Finally AoA changes on the ballot, particularly term limits. I’m grateful that my fellow Board members worked on these, particular Frederik and Kate. They’re all worthwhile, and my preference for term limits would be:

A retiring member of the board shall be eligible for re-election only if they have not yet been elected to a board position three or more times during the most recent eight board elections.

I do not want this to benefit me. If elected, I’m not intending to run again after that (please stop me if you see me considering it!). Rather, I think a lifetime limit is very long for this organization, and could conceivably remove someone valuable from serving the organization again after time away. Anyway, I’ll be fine with the passage of the more restrictive version as well.

Curious to hear thoughts about governance ideas, and what else we should be thinking about to bring more balance to the OSMF.

Comment from Ben Abelshausen on 7 December 2019 at 12:22

Excellent suggestion about splitting up the advisory board and local chapters. We see a much more active engagement from local chapters in the LCCWG already now and it would be great to continue there. It’s a very strange thing to put corporates and local chapters together.

We also need a decent way for corporates to voice their concerns/ideas/suggestions preventing them from feeling the need to have say via a board position. Together with a decent COI policy that could fix a lot of problems.

As for term limits, I think we should set hard limits. I’m sorry to say but we need new people in the OSMF not more of the same, that clearly doesn’t work. I think it’s best in the long run to have more turnover in the board, even if that means missing out on experienced members. The board can always ask for help. Not the mention that it should reduce the number of personal issues getting in the way of work being done.

Another suggestion we heard from OSM-BE members: can’t we become OSMF members automatically when becoming a member of the local chapter. OSM-BE will be working on getting that done somehow!

Comment from Nakaner on 8 December 2019 at 19:37

Ben Abelshausen wrote:

Another suggestion we heard from OSM-BE members: can’t we become OSMF members automatically when becoming a member of the local chapter. OSM-BE will be working on getting that done somehow!

Chaos Computer Club e.V., a German non-profit hacker organisation, had a membership scheme where one could automatically join the national association when he/she joined their local club (also an e.V.). I don’t know the details why the stopped it but it was summarised as it did not work because there were always a few local organisations which did not regularly report their membership data to the superior association. Given that most local chapters are – like the Foundation – run by volunteers, it is very likely that the Foundation will struggle with getting up-to-date memberships lists. Having them is crucial for a legally correct AGM – even more important than getting the membership fees paid to the local association. Therefore, I strongly recommend against a shared membership programme. (FOSSGIS e.V. does not plan any)

Mikel Maron wrote:

The most immediate action I want us to take is splitting the Advisory Board into a group of Local Chapters, and a group for corporates. The Advisory Board as-is has failed – the Board asks for nothing from it, and the Advisory Board offers up very little. I don’t think Local Chapters and companies have the same concerns, or have a lot to say to each other in front of the Board. So let’s split and see if it becomes more interesting. As usual, discussions from the Advisory Board would be reported out publicly.

There were no topics really important to businesses on the boards agenda this year except minor topics such as indirect sponsoring of local SotMs. The Organised Editing Guideline was done last year. Therefore, it is no surprise that it is quite quiet.

I have somehow mixed feelings about this. Even if the board reports to the public about the topics discussed there, I feel way more comfortable with having someone from my local chapter present there and watching it as well (checking yourself is better than trust). If we (FOSSGIS e.V.) want something from the OSMF Board, we approach the board directly. If it is something which requires discussion, we would propose it in the public (a mailing list, the German forum, whatever place fits best). I am currently unable to imagine any case when something could be discussed at the Advisory Board being – no matter whether it is split or not – which would not fit onto a public communication channel. Discussing it at the Advisory Board is not public as in law but still quite open.

Mikel and all the others reading this, the Advisory Board was created because members on the OSMF-Talk list showed their disagreement with a yearly phone call with a board member when the board presented the corporate membership programme in its current form. I understand why a private conversation guaranteed by a membership does not face applause in an open community. If the Advisory Board is “useless” (as in not being used), why don’t we just drop it? It was invented to have some kind of benefit for the upper levels of corporate membership. Why don’t we invent an incentive to replace it? If companies have issues, they will email/call a board member or the board as a whole. If they want to get in touch with other companies, they will likely have someone there whom they know by person.

I am a member of the board of FOSSGIS e.V. but I did not discuss this posting with my fellow board members.

Comment from mikelmaron on 10 December 2019 at 16:34

There was discussion about automatic member registration from local chapters to OSMF a few years ago, but I think the immediate blocker was legal complexities. Don’t recall the details.

I’m aware of the history of the Advisory Board. I agree it’s not well framed as a “benefit”, and that should be rethought too. I think the benefit is actually to the OSMF, to have a structured means to hear from corporate perspectives. The general level of discussion about corporate interests in OSM is really uninformed, and I don’t think there’s a good existing forum for that to change. Most companies are going to be a bit risk averse and not able to keep up with the volume of existing channels. I don’t think setting it up as an untrusted space if helpful. Some degree of confidentiality in discussions are ok.

On the other side, totally understand the need for transparency on these kinds of channels, and think that public reporting on topics and views would be necessary. How else are we to learn what those perspectives are?

Login to leave a comment