A group of HOT voting members, from across four continents) met on Tuesday evening as part of the HOT board’s strategy committee to discuss perspectives on community definitions and what we mean when we talk about community sustainability. These conversations are really pertinent at the moment as HOT begins to develop and implement the Audacious project, which provides a real opportunity to support local communities to power up as well as generate high quality OSM data in 94 countries.
It was acknowledged that HOT is many different things to different people. It was thought to both be a network or community (including volunteers and contributors, staff, humanitarian data users) and a node in other networks (where it was felt that HOT sometimes plays an important facilitation role). It was also suggested to be a (niche) social network, used for finding and developing information, knowledge, tools and relationships.
It was also perceived as a sub-community of the OpenStreetMap and as an NGO.
Whilst there were many positive attributes associated with HOT (diverse, collaborative, oriented to social good), it was also felt that HOT was sometimes a label applied too easily to contributors and communities in its networks, without thought for how they might define themselves. For example, the use of the phrase ‘HOT community’ to encompass any group doing humanitarian work involving OSM (or ‘HOT edits’ for any OSM contributions through the Tasking Manager) can be perceived as HOT staking an undeserved claim over the work of others and not indicative of a collaborative node in a network.
There was less discussion around this question. Partly, because the group seemed fairly aligned on the definition but also, partly because of my poor phrasing of the question. ‘What is a local OSM community?’ would have been a more accurate question and this was probably a missed opportunity.
In its broadest sense, the definition was contributors and users of OpenStreetMap data but it was agreed that within this definition a myriad of communities and special interest groups exist.
I group these together because the discussions overlapped to a large degree.
There was a strong alignment that Audacious should prioritise support to communities who wanted to use OSM to solve local problems, regardless of whether they were already affiliated to OSM, HOT or other actors in the network.
It was also broadly agreed that priority should be given to supporting existing communities and organisations in trying to solve these problems as this would also lead to greater chance of sustainability in the medium-long term.
It was suggested that data collection or generation needed to take place on the terms of the communities involved in order that it was, firstly, useful and, secondly, sustainable. In the same vein, support to communities should help them develop the power to innovate and evolve in whatever way they see fit (masters of their own OSM destinies).
Data users came up as important in both discussions in the sense that, without an ecosystem in which OSM data was used and valued locally, it could be unlikely that use of OSM would be sustained in the long term (demand being important as well as the supply).
Economic benefits were also discussed, with professional opportunities related to OSM, open data and GIS highlighted as a potential major driver for individuals (e.g. professionals and entrepreneurs) and collectives (e.g. local NGOs, community-based organisations and startups), especially acknowledging that, in the areas where the Audacious project will be focus, unemployment and poverty are significant and interlocking issues.
There was alignment that, for the Audacious project to be successful, tools, systems, networks, strategies, etc need to be grounded in a networked, community approach and not reliant on HOT (the NGO) by the end of the five years (i.e. the term of the Audacious project).
Finally, it was expressed that people involved need to be inspired and excited through engaging with OSM and humanitarian OpenStreetMap communities and networks if they are to continue to develop the OSM project and their part in it!
This was a small group conversation and only the start of this particular conversation. The next iteration will hopefully be hosted by the community working group (to be discussed at next week’s meeting). In the meantime, happy to hear comments, questions, constructive criticisms and alternative points of view.