Thoughts on the OSMF Face-to-Face Board Meeting 2018

Like 2016 and 2017, the OSMF board had a face-to-face meeting again this year. This time, we met in Karlsruhe, Germany, at the office of Geofabrik. Meeting at Frederik’s and Christine’s place was a great choice and Frederik was a great host. In addition to having plenty of room to talk and work we even got home-made cheese cake from Christine (thank you!).

OSMF Board eating cheese cake after an invitation by Christine. © CC-BY-SA Dorothea

I had a short trip by car and arrived on Friday, 27th of April in the late afternoon and the official schedule started Saturday morning. Most of my colleagues, who had to take a longer trip by plane, arrived early on Friday or even Thursday and thus had the chance to meet at Frederik’s place for some early preparations and working on some OSMF stuff.

I don’t consider this post a detailed summary of what happened and what was talked about. It’s more about my thoughts about the meeting and about the most prominent topics we talked about. There will be more detailed minutes at a later stage.

Preparation

Like in previous years, we filled in a small questionnaire about our expectations and plans for this face-to-face meeting and once again it was Mikel who did a great job collecting the input and assembling a schedule for us. The schedule was less tight than in past years and we deliberately left some space for some last-minute topics. We also had some topics where it wasn’t clear if we could make it in the time set, so it was good to have some space for that.

Social interactions

One of the more generic recurring goals was to understand each other’s points of view, work and communication styles. I kind of find it funny how much such a meeting helps in that regard as it’s still a huge difference between reading, hearing and also seeing someone to get to know them better. And while most of us have met before, I think I still gained from it. Additionally it was Heather’s first meetup with the rest of us, so I took the chance to get to know her better.

On the mailing list we were asked about the value of the meeting, if it’s worth it. And as every year I feel the pain of giving a concrete answer to that. It’s hard to measure it as you don’t have any revenue to compare against. Anyway, I think the social aspect of the meeting is an important one. “Did they want to offend me?”, “Are they serious about that or was that a joke?”,… knowing someone in-person makes it easier to understand and classify a response. This makes overall communication easier and more productive I think. And given our organizational budget compared to the money spent, I guess my suggestion for future boards would be to just have a face-to-face meeting by default, without trying to ponder about its value.

Conflict of Interest

The topic about conflict of interest (COI) was a very difficult one and I felt the urgent need to talk about it early on. I thought that some other topics might pose a COI for some of us, so we should talk about COI first.

The problem that I have is that it’s very easy to construct a scenario where something might be a potential conflict of interest and as I wrote in a similar discussion on osmf-talk mailing list, you could easily argue that Mikel, as an employee of Mapbox, kind of always has a potential COI. Rightly Mikel told me, that it’s not hard for him to construct a case making me have a potential COI as well, for whatever topic we talk about.

I seemed to be very passionate about that topic as I got asked several times to explain myself and that the others perceived me as having a strong opinion on it. I actually did not, I had a lot of questions and I felt the need to answer them. We discussed the topic for quite some time, but only very few questions could be answered. Anyway, we agreed that we should have a guideline at some point. Until then, I’d like to invite you to take part in that discussion and share your thoughts on our mailing list. We are supposed to support the community and value their input.

The second conclusion was, that we could use some professional help. That’s why we wrote a mail to “our” lawyer to clarify some of the questions we had. E.g. the legal text about COI speaks about a COI if a person is director in two companies, which basically only applies to Frederik and Kate at best. But what about if you’re an employee in one company and director in the other, like e.g. Mikel or Martijn. The law reads as if that can’t be a COI. So independent of our guideline, such questions should be answered first and I hope we’ll be able to share them with the community soon.

Micro Grants

We had talked about micro grants before and somehow didn’t follow up or finish it. As I said, some of us had been in Karlsruhe on Thursday or Friday, so they took the chance to start working on it at that point in time and we continued to work on it on Saturday and Sunday together. I guess in the end we have a pretty decent plan.

I can’t estimate if micro grants will be successful or not, but I think that it’s a good idea to have something like that and to encourage people to take place in it. In the German chapter, the FOSSGIS e.V., we have something similar and in my opinion it has been proven to be quite valuable, so I hope the OSMF micro grants prove to be a similar success.

Anyway, I guess some more details will pop up on the mailing list soon and the program is scheduled to start at this year’s State of the Map.

Working Groups and Volunteers

This is the second topic we resumed from last year and I’m getting a bit emotional about that one. I love the OpenStreetMap project and its community, the amount of volunteering time spent on the project and the output, our great database and map.

Still I find it very sad that only very few people spend their time on helping to run the project. Almost all working groups suffer from a lack of volunteers, only very few people help developing code for the core services, almost no one participates in organizational discussions about the project and so on. So if you’re reading this post you most likely are not in a working group. Why? It’s so easy to join and help!

Anyway, we talked about ideas how to solve that and how to get volunteers to help. It was a tough topic and I think I was not really enthusiastic about any of the ideas. And in the end I felt the need to abstain from further discussion. I can’t say if there’s a conclusion to that, but one thing we felt is the need to better identify the needs of working groups. I guess it’s not obvious for everyone how much we lack volunteers to keep the project running.

Diversity and Communications

The diversity and communications topic was something I was afraid of as I considered everyone having a very strong opinion on that. At least I have. I thought we’d get into a fight over that, but all of us left without a black eye.

As I said in the begining, these are my thoughts and my opinions, so I don’t want to get into too much detail. But if I read e.g. this code of conduct, my blood pressure rises. I consider it very unfair, I can’t stand rules that know who’s guilty in advance and that consider insults acceptable if they are coming from the correct set of people. I also
dislike how the issue is often approached with a clearly defined “desired outcome”, instead of openly discussing real problems and their potential solutions.

Still, the discussion was not so bad after all. We split up into two smaller groups and I discussed with Frederik, Mikel and Kate and it was interesting to hear their opinions on it. I especially appreciate talking with Kate about it. She’s kind of passionate about the topic and she is able to provide very good examples and insights and she’s amazingly patient with people who ask silly questions :-). It helped me very much understanding other points of view. It didn’t change my mind though but I think the discussion gains much from people like her.

GDPR

The GDPR is a very important topic as it starts taking effect soon. We talked quite much about it and Heather took the lead on it. She was very well prepared and put considerable time into it. I think she’s also concerned with it in her professional life, so she knows what she’s talking about. I had some reservations that from the outside it would look like we’d overrule the LWG, but we ended up mostly devising strategies for the bits that fell outside of LWG‘s responsibility, and otherwise agreeing with their recommendations.

You can read more on the topic at several places, but I guess the most comprehensive information or summary can be found in Heather’s blog post here

Summary

I will abstain from a judgement on whether the meeting is worth the money or not. As Frederik put it some time back: We should just make it default to have a face-to-face meeting and that’s my suggestion for the boards to follow as well.

I think we did get some things done and meeting in person makes it easier, quicker and more productive. As I said above, I hope we’ll gain as a project from the micro grants. I also hope that we started a process to get a guideline for the conflict of interest and I’m eager to read the lawyer’s reply. I deliberately didn’t include details, as you’ll be able to read them in the minutes anyway. But I somehow hope that my post furthers the interest in our project and organizational topics. Please participate in the discussions and share your thoughts.

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on the OSMF Face-to-Face Board Meeting 2018

  1. chris

    Thanks for the summary. This is the first more elaborate information we, the OSMF members, got from the meeting which makes it rather important. I want to comment on a few things:

    Regarding the value of the meeting – i think ultimately it is not only up to you (the board members) to decide if it is worth it. You have an important perspective on the matter but you are not neutral in that regard, i hope you all realize that. The idea of spending several thousand Euros for such a meeting every year without each year evaluating the value of it and giving the membership all the information needed to independently verify this evaluation themselves is to me questionable at least.

    Yes, getting to know people in person can be helpful for working together but if the benefit of this is not visible to the outside observer that is still a questionable goal to spend money on, in particular in a project where hundreds of thousands of people work together productively with most of them never having met each other in person. As you said except for Heather you have all met before and most of you are likely going to meet again in two months at SOTM. Last year there was no new board member so all of you had met before. So i consider the “meeting in person is valuable” essentially a straw man argument.

    All of this does not mean an in person meeting is generally a waste of money. On the contrary i know this can be very productive. But you should be able to demonstrate this to the outside observer then. Rejecting this need to me fundamentally clashes with the ideas of accountability and financial responsibility in an organization like the OSMF.

    * Conflicts of Interest

    Frankly i am disappointed – though not really surprised – that the only outcome of discussing this seems to be “we should have a guideline at some point”. I have already mentioned a few ideas on the topic on the mailing list and will probably write more about this in the future. My impression from past attempts to discuss this topic in the OSMF context was that people usually fail to even find agreement on what they are discussing – if this is avoiding and handling COIs according to some agreed on definition of COIs and in line with principles of good management and governance or if to meet minimum legal requirements in corporate law and compliance and anti corruption regulations in some specific jurisdiction. Your discussion as you describe it seems to struggle with exactly this problem.

    * Volunteers for Working Groups

    I can only speak for myself here. What i ask myself regarding volunteering for OSMF working groups is why should i do that instead of investing my time in doing other OSM related work (like mapping, software development, writing documentation etc.). The obvious reason would be to support the OSMF but what i actually want to do is support OSM and i am not so sure if the OSMF is actually committed to support OSM to develop in a sustainable way and in a direction that is in the interest of the broad and diverse global OSM community and of the project goals.

    The main reason for this quite significant mistrust in the OSMF (in myself but i also see this in others) is ultimately the lack of diversity and proportional representation in the OSMF membership.

    In other words: What i think would be immensely helpful to encourage volunteers for engaging in the OSMF is if the OSMF would show more substantial commitment to representing the interests of the global OSM community. Most of the things i have brought up as an OSMF member in the past – transparency and accountability, language diversity and reducing discrimination due to wealth for becoming an OSMF member, Conflicts of Interest and oversight of OSMF structures – go in this direction. I see positive developments and individual people on the OSMF working in the right direction but i also see alarming levels of ignorance and disinterest in fundamental issues. And above all i see that the OSMF membership which ultimately decides on the direction of the OSMF (although UK corporate law makes it very resistant to changes from the status quo) becoming not more but less diverse (and i am talking mostly about geographic, language, social and economic diversity here). This often makes me think that at the moment it is better if the OSMF is smaller and has less influence on OSM rather than more.

    * Diversity

    It seems we are pretty much on the same page here. What i would love to see on this topic (and also on other topics like the COI matter by the way – but lets keep this focused) is a presentation of the moral basis behind concepts of behavior regulation in a global and culturally diverse community like OSM that can be evaluated against general ethical frameworks we have. You indicate something like that might have been subject in the discussion you had and it would be great to hear about it in more detail.

    Reply
  2. Rob

    I think face to face board meetings are a no brainer. You’d be hard pushed to find any effective organisations that don’t do this. Cost is tiny in comparison to total spend and set to become even smaller percentage once micro grant scheme is up and running.

    Speaking of which – having read scholar applicants to the last 3 State of the Map events, I’m confident that these will be hugely popular. There is so much amazing work going on in all corners of the world and to many this is unknown. I’m looking forward to the micro grant scheme highlighting some of this. From small communities in remote or poverty struck locations, to dedicated software developers looking for that leg up on a project, it’s set to be an amazing new part of the annual OSMF workload.

    Finally, on COI: Personally I wouldn’t worry too much on this. There are two major protections in place: (1) Legislation sets the role of Directors and what is expected of them, and (2) members hold all the power at election stage. We’re a democracy! Note: Number 1 is why the main COI stuff you can find is for someone who is a Director of multiple Companies – they have a genuine conflict as they are legally bound to represent two entities. Although a overlap between a Director role and an Employee role may exist, the legal requirements of the directorship outweigh the contractual requirements you have as an employee. Mikel and Martijn’s employers will know this and (if sensible) will have put provisions in place for when OSMF Directorship takes precedence (e.g. moving certain decision making away from Martijn and Mikel to a different employee who doesn’t hold a Directorship position). That is, the COI topic is more an issue for Mapbox and Telenav than it is for OSMF!

    Reply
  3. Rob

    > although UK corporate law makes it very resistant to changes from the status quo.

    Chris, I don’t get this point at all. Last time I checked there were thousands of UK registered companies doing all sorts of different things. Many going through huge transformational programs. As a Limited Company the OSMF has a lot of freedom to reinvent itself if it wants to.

    On your volunteering point, I can say from 4 years experience with the SotM WG that the concept of OSMF versus OSM is crazy. For the four years I was in the WG, the only people who set a direction were other OSM community members. We never saw ourselves as representing the OSMF above the OSM community. The OSMF does have to exist though. You need some legal entity to protect you when you reside over EUR 100k annual flows in and out. Some entity has to be named on your event insurance, delegates prefer to pay some entity for a ticket (rather than an individual), sponsors prefer to pay an entity (rather than an individual), and so on.

    My suggestion to anyone reading this is to be waste your time worrying about the boring legal stuff (nobody is trying to cheat you) and instead focus on the exciting opportunities OSM can deliver.

    Reply
  4. chris

    Rob, your reaction is expected and perfectly understandable considering your perspective (as a long term SOTM WG member and a representative of the UK local chapter which is based on the same legal principles – only slightly different nuances – as the OSMF) As such it would be fairly surprising if you were more critical of the legitimacy and the moral basis of these circumstances.

    With this background it seems doubtful to me that we can have a productive discourse on these matters. As already hinted in my comment we probably could not even agree on the fundamental basis of the discussion. Just an example to give you an idea what i am talking about here: Statements like “We’re a democracy” about an organization where you have to (and can) pay to have a voice seem just ridiculous to me.

    To make this clear i consider your views to be a relatively extreme case within the OSMF but it is in particular people like you who claim to have the moral high ground without visible self reflection on if that is actually the case, people who show no sign of doubt about their decisions and the nature of the framework they are operating in that lead to people like me to be highly critical about the long term ability of the OSMF to represent the interests of the OSM community.

    Reply
  5. Rob

    Hi Chris,

    I’m perfectly happy to have a discussion, all I ask is that you don’t make it personal with statements like “people like you”. I also find it odd that you don’t believe I ever reflect on things. I’ve spent plenty an hour mulling over things, often to the point where it distracts me from other parts of life.

    Nevertheless we do at least agree that OSMF membership should be free. The income from it is so small anyway.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: The OSMF Face-to-Face Board Meeting 2018 – GeoNe.ws

  7. Gregory Marler

    As a community member, I’m more concerned about “potential COI” than a “legal COI”.

    Yes, Mikel has a potential COI in every discussion because he works for Mapbox, and that should be declared to the others in the discussion. I’d be worried if Mikel kept it secret that he was employed by Mapbox. What thoughts might he be deliberately mentioning so you make the choice Mapbox wants? What unconscious biases would he have that would alter his choices without knowing?

    Of course it’s openly known that Mikel works for Mapbox. In this case, Mikel and the board are more likely to think and be aware of potential COIs. There may be times he needs to say “we are working in this area, so consider I might have typical thoughts of a certain part of the community”, but there might be times when he needs to say “this would have big impact for my employer, I can give input but should leave the room before the vote”.

    Reply

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