[OSGeo-Discuss] The Yin and Yang of OSGeo

Cameron Shorter cameron.shorter at gmail.com
Sun Oct 15 15:36:32 PDT 2017


*The 2017 OSGeo Board elections are about to start. Some of us who have 
been involved with OSGeo over the years have collated thoughts about the 
effectiveness of different strategies. Hopefully these thoughts will be 
useful for future boards, and charter members who are about to select 
board members.*


The Yin and Yang of OSGeo

As with life, there are a number of Yin vs Yang questions we are 
continually trying to balance. Discussions around acting as a high or 
low capital organisation; organising top down vs bottom up; populating a 
board with old wisdom or fresh blood; personal vs altruistic motivation; 
protecting privacy vs public transparency. Let’s discuss some of them here.

Time vs Money

OSGeo is an Open Source organisation using a primary currency of 
volunteer time. We mostly self-manage our time via principles of 
Do-ocracy and Merit-ocracy. This is bottom up.

However, OSGeo also manages some money. Our board divvies up a budget 
which is allocated down to committees and projects. This is top-down 
command-and-control management. This cross-over between volunteer and 
market economics is a constant point of tension. (For more on the 
cross-over of economies, see Paul Ramsey’s FOSS4G 2017 Keynote, 

High or low capital organisation?

Our 2013 OSGeo Board tackled this question:


Should OSGeo act as a high capital or low capital organisation? I.e., 
should OSGeo dedicate energy to collecting sponsorship and then passing 
out these funds to worthy OSGeo causes.

While initially it seems attractive to have OSGeo woo sponsors, because 
we would all love to have more money to throw at worthy OSGeo goals, the 
reality is that chasing money is hard work. And someone who can chase 
OSGeo sponsorship is likely conflicted with chasing sponsorship for 
their particular workplace. So in practice, to be effective in chasing 
sponsorship, OSGeo will probably need to hire someone specifically for 
the role. OSGeo would then need to raise at least enough to cover wages, 
and then quite a bit more if the sponsorship path is to create extra value.

This high capital path is how the Apache foundation is set up, and how 
LocationTech propose to organise themselves. It is the path that OSGeo 
started following when founded under the umbrella of Autodesk.

However, as OSGeo has grown, OSGeo has slowly evolved toward a low 
capital volunteer focused organisation. Our overheads are very low, 
which means we waste very little of our volunteer labour and capital on 
the time consuming task of chasing and managing money. Consequently, any 
money we do receive (from conference windfalls or sponsorship) goes a 
long way - as it doesn't get eaten up by high overheads.

Size and Titles

Within small communities influence is based around meritocracy and 
do-ocracy. Good ideas bubble to the top and those who do the work decide 
what work gets done. Leaders who try to pull rank in order to gain 
influence quickly lose volunteers. Within these small communities, a 
person’s title hold little tradable value.

However, our OSGeo community has grown very large, upward of tens of 
thousands of people. At this size, we often can’t use our personal 
relationships to assess reputation and trust. Instead we need to rely on 
other cues, such as titles and allocated positions of power.

Consider also that OSGeo projects have become widely adopted. As such, 
knowledge and influence within an OSGeo community has become a valuable 
commodity. It helps land a job; secure a speaking slot at a conference; 
or get an academic paper published.

This introduces a commercial dynamic into our volunteer power structures:


    A title is sometimes awarded to a dedicated volunteer, hoping that
    it can be traded for value within the commercial economy. (In
    practice, deriving value from a title is much harder than it sounds).


    There are both altruistic and personal reasons for someone to obtain
    a title. A title can be used to improve the effectiveness of the
    volunteer; or to improve the volunteers financial opportunities.


    This can prompt questions of a volunteer’s motivations.

In response to this, over the years we have seen a gradual change to 
position of roles within the OSGeo community.

Top-down vs bottom-up

OSGeo board candidates have been asked for their “vision”, and “what 
they would like to change or introduce”. 
https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Election_2017_Candidate_Manifestos These are 
valid questions if OSGeo were run as a command-and-control top-down 
hierarchy; if board made decisions were delegated to OSGeo committees to 
implement. But OSGeo is bottom-up.

Boards which attempt to centralise control and delegate tasks cause 
resentment and disengagement amongst volunteers. Likewise, communities 
who try to delegate tasks to their leaders merely burn out their 
leaders. Both are ignoring the principles of Do-ocracy and Merit-ocracy. 
So ironically, boards which do less are often helping more.

Darwinian evolution means that only awesome ideas and inspiring leaders 
attract volunteer attention - and that is a good thing.

Recognising ineffective control attempts

How do you recognise ineffective command-and-control techniques within a 
volunteer community? Look for statements such as:


    “The XXX committee needs to do YYY…”


    “Why isn’t anyone helping us do …?”


    “The XXX community hasn’t completed YYY requirements - we need to
    tell them to implement ZZZ”

If all the ideas from an organisation come from management, then 
management isn’t listening to their team.

Power to the people

In most cases the board should keep out of the way of OSGeo communities. 
Only in exceptional circumstances should a board override volunteer 

Decisions and power within OSGeo should be moved back into OSGeo 
committees, chapters and projects. This empowers our community, and 
motivates volunteers wishing to scratch an itch.

We do want our board members to be enlightened, motivated and engaged 
within OSGeo. This active engagement should be done within OSGeo 
communities: partaking, facilitating or mentoring as required. A recent 
example of this was Jody Garnett’s active involvement with OSGeo 
rebranding - where he worked with others within the OSGeo marketing 

Democratising key decisions

While we have a charter membership of nearly 400 who are tasked with 
‘protecting’ the principles of the foundation and voting for new charter 
members and the board. Beyond this, charter members have had little way 
of engaging with the board to influence the direction of OSGeo.

How can we balance the signal-to-noise ratio such that we can achieve 
effective membership engagement with the board without overwhelming 
ourselves with chatter? Currently we have no formal or prescribed 
processes for such consultation.


OSGeo Board members are not paid for their services. However, they are 
regularly invited to partake in activities such as presenting at 
conferences or participating in meetings with other organisations. These 
are typically beneficial to both OSGeo and the leader’s reputation or 
personal interest. To avoid OSGeo Board membership being seen as a 
“Honey Pot”, and for the Board to maintain trust and integrity, OSGeo 
board members should refuse payment from OSGeo for partaking in such 
activities. (There is nothing wrong with accepting payment from another 
organisation, such as the conference organisers.)

In response to the question of conferences, OSGeo has previously created 
OSGeo Advocates - an extensive list of local volunteers from around the 
world willing to talk about OSGeo. 

Old vs new

Should we populate our board with old wisdom or encourage fresh blood 
and new ideas? We ideally want a bit of both, bring wisdom from the 
past, but also spreading the opportunity of leadership across our 
membership. We should avoid leadership becoming an exclusive “boys club” 
without active community involvement, and possibly should consider 
maximum terms for board members.

If our leadership follow a “hands off oversight role”, then past leaders 
can still play influential roles within OSGeo’s subcommittees.

Vision for OSGeo 2.0

Prior OSGeo thought leaders have suggested it’s time to grow from OSGeo 
1.0 to OSGeo 2.0. Update our vision and mission.  A few of those ideas 
have fed into OSGeo’s website revamp currently underway. This has been a 
good start, but there is still room to acknowledge that much has changed 
since OSGeo was born a decade ago, and there are plenty of opportunities 
to positively redefine ourselves.

A test of OSGeo’s effectiveness is to see how well community ideas are 
embraced and taken through to implementation. This is a challenge that I 
hope will attract new energy and new ideas from a new OSGeo generation.

Here are a few well considered ideas that have been presented to date 
that we can start from:


    Michael Gerlek July 2015, “We won. It's time for OSGeo 2.0”,


    Darrell Fuhriman: September 2015, “OSGeo is becoming irrelevant.
    Here's why. Let's fix it.”


    Marc Vloemans, March 2014, OSGeo Marketing Analysis,


    OSGeo Board of 2013, “OSGeo Board Priorities”,


    (There are a few more which I haven’t located - please do suggest them).


So where does this leave us.


    Let’s recognise that OSGeo is an Open Source community, and we
    organise ourselves best with bottom-up Meritocracy and Do-ocracy.


    Wherever possible, decisions should be made at the committee,
    chapter or project level, with the board merely providing hands-off
    oversight. This empowers and enables our sub-communities.


    Let’s identify strategic topics where the OSGeo board would benefit
    from consultation with charter membership and work out how this
    could be accomplished efficiently and effectively.


    Let’s embrace and encourage new blood into our leadership ranks,
    while retaining access to our wise old white beards.


    The one top-down task for the board is based around allocation of
    OSGeo’s (minimal) budget.

Cameron Shorter
Open Technologies Consultant
Geospatial & Software Architect
Information Demystifier

M +61 (0) 419 142 254


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.osgeo.org/pipermail/discuss/attachments/20171016/f7ee5558/attachment.html>

More information about the Discuss mailing list