User:Frederik Ramm/2014 OSMF Board Elections Manifesto
I've been on the OSMF board for two years now, having been elected at the same time as Henk and Simon. One of us three needs to step down, either voluntarily or chosen at random. I decided to step down voluntarily, and I am standing for re-election.
I am not eager to continue though - I'm offering to continue if you want me to. I welcome fresh faces bringing new energy to the board and if you're a voter and there are other candidates that appeal to you, then don't hesitate to vote them in.
So, in lieu of a proper "please vote for me" Manifesto, I'm re-reading what I wrote in my manifesto two years ago, to check what, if anything, I have achieved.
I did join the OSMF board with high hopes of improving transparency and democracy. I wrote down lofty goals like:
- I'm not in favour of lots of rules but I think that OSMF board would do well to give themselves a couple rules that govern how they do their job, just so that things are clear to everybody. Every aspect of board work and communication should be public to OSMF members, except those parts where board members explicitly decide that something should not be public (not the other way round). Board meeting agendas, if any, should be published in advance to give project members a chance to voice their opinion. To improve transparency I would even try to invite, to each board meeting, one member of the OSM community to write the minutes.
I was in for quite a reality check when I joined, because many aspects of OSMF board work were not even transparent to board members. It took well over a year before I, as a board member, even was allowed to see the list of who our members are. Today, the board still hasn't been given live access to a database but at least the membership secretary is kind enough to compile a spreadsheet once a month. The same with finances; even though the whole board is responsible for what OSMF decides, only the treasurer knows how much money is in our bank account and gets to see the bank statements or expense reports.
Things like that happened quite often, and you're rapidly pushed into a corner where a request that you would consider perfectly legitimate ("can I see how much every board member has been paid in expenses") is suddenly turned into a "your lack of trust is insulting" situation, and each time you ask the question again you are a trouble maker. I quite honestly admit that I lost the will to fight these windmills after a while, and did much less than I could have done. Even in a situation where a majority of board members is in favour of some transparency measure, they often lack the determination to actually force a non-compliant board member to do something. The reason for this is, again, a transparency issue. Even tabling a board resolution that says "The board asks board member X to hand over the Y documents/database/reports within 7 days or step down from his position" would be considered a hostile act because it would end up in the minutes, and who wants to be seen as hostile?
Speaking of board meeting minutes; as the secretary it was my responsibility to write the minutes and I did so in a very detailed fashion initially, trying to summarize who argued for what, so that OSMF members could get an idea of what their elected representatives were doing. I was however soon asked to stop that, and only minute the results of any vote or decision instead of how that decision came to pass because my reporting was perceived as potentially biased. I was also asked to stop putting draft stuff up on the Wiki right away in case something needs to be redacted from public view which would not be possible because of the Wiki history.
I had initially planned to make the board meeting agenda publicly available before any meeting but that led to calls from some board members to first (in private on the board mailing list) agree on which items should be on the agenda at all, to avoid the agenda becoming a platform onto which everyone could put their pet issue. This complicated the process to the point where it wasn't worth the effort.
I have moved the minutes to the OSMF wiki (they were on Google Docs before) which I consider a small success, but everything else about board meetings, or board work altogether, has to be considered an utter failure in the transparency department. I still have the desire to improve this but I fully admit I'm quite jaded about it.
In my manifesto of two years ago, I said that I think we should have a very liberal trademark policy. Together with Simon I cobbled one together from various online sources and a short discussion on OSMF-talk and sent it to LWG and CWG as a very early "discussion document" asking for comments. This lead to a massive rift in the board however because one other board member felt that we were not the right people to even write such a draft, instead board should decide what elements need to be in such a policy, then delegate to Management Team which would then either handle it or delegate further.
This is a good example how board business often goes. Simon and I had intended to just start a discussion with our draft and carelessly sent it around without thinking that we actually need to put on a disclaimer "this is not a board decision but just something that we thought would be nice to have". We then caught flak for allegedly pre-empting discussion in Management Team/Working Groups who might feel forced to rubberstamp what was "handed down from the board".
The idea of having a board that meets only rarely, issues guidance to a Management Team, and the Management Team then fleshes things out and/or coordinates with working groups, sounds good in theory - all of us on the board agreed that we would like to try working with such a setup. But at the same time, each board member is involved in (often multiple) other bodies, not because we're all power grabbers but because most of us had been active in some working group even before we joined board, and didn't feel like we could just drop the task. It turned out to be quite unnerving (for me) to hear "shouldn't this be delegated to the Management Team" when at the same time it was clear that such delegation would mean that the same board member now doing something, would do the same again two months down the line, after Management Team has met and decided to delegate to X working group of which said board member was the most active contributor or so. It can border on the kafkaesque.
Stuff like that is capable of draining you of lots of the positive energy you bring to a task - roadblocks that not even tell you "you're doing the wrong thing" but "you might be doing the right thing but you need to jump through these extra hoops in the correct sequence". The worst thing about this is that it is our own fault for making up these rules in the first place, and with good intentions.
So, we still don't have any trademark policy and my enthusiasm about this has been thoroughly sapped.
I'm happy that we now allow corporate members to join OSMF and that the last AGM has been given the option of deciding that these corporate members don't get to vote in OSMF matters; that's what I had been campaigning for. I am nonetheless thoroughly disappointed by the fact that until now we only have four corporate members; I think that as a board we should have taken up this idea with more enthusiasm and at least get organisations that we know to join. I run a business myself and am in contact with many business users of OSM data; I should have done more.
Working Groups and Leadership
In my manifesto I wrote:
- I want OSMF board work, and board meetings, to be calm, factual, consensual, and boring. OSMF board work is not where the big wheels are spun and far-reaching decisions about the future are made. OSMF board is a maintenance job; OSMF greases the wheels of the project. OSMF board members are not managers and they should not conduct themselves as if they were.'
- Board members or working group members cannot be expected to spend more than 10 hours per month on their "job", they cannot be expected to make room for "emergency meetings" on a holiday with two days' notice, and they cannot be expected to make regular intercontinental trips for face to face meetings.
I still think the same (and in fact I was one of the majority voices against holding a face-to-face meeting this year on the grounds of unneccessary expenditure and likely lack of achieving anything that couldn't be achieved remotely). Sometimes, though, I'm exasperated at just how relaxed some of my colleagues on the board are with their communications; the OSMF board email list is a very silent place where you're unlikely to get much, if any, feedback on anything you suggest, and between that and a one-hour telephone conference every odd month there's simply not very much bandwidth available. I'd love to be part of a board where you can throw a fresh idea on the list and get a couple of responses within a day or two but that isn't very likely here. In a way I fear that this lethargy is contagious; once everyone has the mindset of "that's not going to go anywhere anyway" then nothing happens any more, everything just ends up being questioned "is this really a board matter" or "let someone investigate this and report back" and that's the end of it, and even new board members will quickly "learn" these ways.
So, while I was outside of the board I had always thought it would be dangerous to have people on the board who wanted to "spin the big wheel" and "achieve something", but the lethargy I am seeing now is perhaps also not ideal.
I'm a bit disillusioned; I think in my two years on the board I managed to achieve some baby-step good things and I prevented some bad things but on the whole it's rather tedious and the ratio of energy invested (including emotional investment) to output achieved seems quite a bit worse than if you do something in a working group. I'm not eager to continue but willing to if asked; my values haven't changed but I'm more realistic about how my values can actually influence things now ;)