Elections for the board of the OpenStreetMap Foundation 2018


It is December again and that means – like last year – time for OSMF board elections. And like last year i urge all OSMF members to vote and to vote responsibly in the interest of the OSM community. If you are eligible to vote you will have received a mail with a voting link. If you have not although you think you are eligible you should contact the MWG.

Like last year there are two seats (from seven in total) to be elected but unlike last year none of the existing board members whose seats are up for election is re-running. So while last year we had essentially only one truly contested seat with Paul re-running without significant opposition (so it was nearly sure he would be re-elected) this year the race is open for both seats.

Last year i mentioned the elections were pretty significant for the direction of the OSMF and the results – while pretty narrow in the end – ultimately pointed to a direction towards less influence of local hobby mappers and a larger influence of external organization with the number of HOT voting members on the OSMF board raising from two to three and the number of OSMF board members doing paid work related to OSM or working for an organizational OSM stakeholder staying at a constant high of five of seven members.

As a result of that it was visible during the last year that the OSMF board was increasingly struggling to actually make decisions in the interest of the local hobby mapper community. I think you can observe an increasing divide between parts of the board and the mapper community. Some of the board members seem much more interested in working together with their peers on the level of organizational stakeholders and hardly engage in eye level communication with the hobby mapper community any more and as a result are not aware of the matters normal mappers all over the world care about and that are of importance for the future of the project.

At the same time it has become clear over the recent months that the previous trend of decreasing cultural and geographic diversity in the OSMF membership has continued – partly driven by initiatives of corporations urging their employees to sign up as OSMF members. Nearly half of the OSMF members eligible to vote are now from the United States which have more than twice the number of OSMF members per active mappers (including SEO Spammers) compared to the best represented countries in continental Europe. In a way you could say the OSMF membership structure seems to align itself to the composition of the board (which is kind of odd since you’d normally expect it to happen the other way round). There were some promising initiatives to recruit more hobby mapper members in non-English speaking countries this year (which i wrote about) but overall the effect of this was not able to reverse the overall trend.

With that as background this year’s elections are less of a crossroads decision than last year where the major direction was decided. That does not mean this year’s elections are not significant. And since this time two seats are up for a fully open election there is also in principle the option to revise last year’s decision for overall direction. I have heard some people saying all of the candidates this year are equally qualified. Depending on your idea of qualification that might be true but there are huge differences between what the candidates represent – maybe even larger than last year.

From my perspective the elections this year will decide if the divide between the OSMF board and the mapper community that has become increasingly visible during the last year will widen, maybe to the point of a full breakup or if the board is able to change direction and steer back towards the OSM community in a meaningful way. And the ability of the candidates to accomplish that seems to differ a lot. Note i am not talking about finding a compromise here with the local hobby mappers bending to satisfy the interests of organizational stakeholders. This – with the board in many aspects, in particular on the matter of the organized editing policy, representing the organizational interests towards the mapper community and the working groups getting worn down in the middle – is essentially what we have seen last year and what has led to the widening divide i observe.

So OSMF members: Choose wisely. There is a quite a lot of material available on the elections:

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