[OSGeo-Discuss] The Yin and Yang of OSGeo

Cameron Shorter cameron.shorter at gmail.com
Mon Oct 16 12:50:20 PDT 2017

Thank you Jody for tackling what I think are hard questions, and being 
prepared to disagree. You are right, on re-reading I can see that my 
questions are leading to a specific answer. I do acknowledge the value 
of face-to-face meetings.

Maxi, great to see your responses - it is showing a community empowered 
to engage, which I think is really valuable. You are right, anyone can 
contribute to OSGeo. Why don't more people do so?

I suggest that the effectiveness of OSGeo's cross-community 
collaboration lapsed a few years ago, and has just started to recover in 
the last year or so.

I think that there are a few factors for this:

* There were lapses in respect between individuals, leading to 
unpleasant, "off topic" and sometimes noisy discussions which people 
preferred to avoid.

* There were shifts away from productive "bottom up" conversations; 
shifts toward "political" conversations; toward people "calling rank" 
using "you should ..." language; toward people being hindered from 
scratching their itch; toward ideas without practical implementation 
plans and without volunteers taking actions.

* Overall, it meant the "Return on effort", "Signal to Noise Ratio" and 
"Enjoyment from being involved" for each person in the community was 

I feel that the OSGeo board plays a part in setting the tone for OSGeo 
communication which in turn effects the level of engagement from the 
community. So I'm hopeful we will see our board continuing to improve on 
these factors.

Warm regards, Cameron

On 16/10/17 9:23 pm, Massimiliano Cannata wrote:
> i'm not a board member but i'd like to answer anyway... :-D
> 1. OSGeo committees are already empowered to take decision, the board 
> have to ratify them and eventually, in case ask for revision. This is 
> a normal structure of control to guarantee the whole community.
> 2. I think the community is made by person, that interact each others 
> to build trust and relationships. Without participation and presence 
> in person one cannot really say he understand the community, so 
> support presence to strategic events of board members is needed.
> 3. People can empower them-self, OSGeo is very open and anyone is more 
> then welcome to give his view and ideas. The main weak point of OSGeo 
> I think is the community, which is too silent also when a call for 
> opinion is rise.
> Cheers, Maxi

On 17/10/17 2:44 am, Jody Garnett wrote:
> I think Maxi beat us all to answering and has spoken very well.
> On 16 October 2017 at 03:11, Cameron Shorter 
> <cameron.shorter at gmail.com <mailto:cameron.shorter at gmail.com>> wrote:
>     OSGeo Board Candidates,
>     I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on these ideas. Most
>     pertinently:
>     1. How do you feel about empowering OSGeo committees, avoiding
>     over-riding committee decisions in all but exceptional
>     circumstances. (Board members can join committees)?
> Your question is a bit leading - in assuming an answer about over-riding.
> I think we have a mechanism in place to empower committees:
> - negotiating a mandate with the committee,  which can be revised as 
> required (we saw the conference committee take on an additional 
> responsibility this year)
> - providing a budget for activities, although this plays a smaller role
> By negotiating a mandate the board is empowering a committee, that 
> negotiation may or may not include the ability to over-ride a 
> committee decision. The incubation committee for example has a direct 
> note about independence. This is also why I am interested in seeing 
> committee and project officers covered by our insurance - each 
> committee is provided considerable responsibility and should be backed 
> accordingly.
> The key glitch, that I have talked through with several committee 
> chairs, is the realization how much responsibility their committee has 
> - and that the group do not have to wait on the board for approval. 
> They have a mandate, and are left with the the much tougher task of 
> gathering together and motivating our volunteers and contributors.
> I do not want to over emphasis the role of a budget - we have direct 
> evidence that we are a volunteer driven organization in that our 
> committees lack active volunteers to spend the money they outline each 
> year.
> Board members, the individuals, can of course join committees. Keep in 
> mind they would then be operating as committee members (tracking the 
> purpose of that committee) and not be given any additional responsibility.
> I also really like the idea of short term initiatives that are formed 
> to tackle a idea, and dissolve when the their goal is accomplished.  I 
> think this is a great thing for the board, or any committee, to do. I 
> would love to see more focused "initiatives" gathering together 
> interested parties from across our organization.
>     2. How do you feel about minimising the perception of board
>     positions being considered as a "Honey Pot". Do this by avoiding
>     having  board members be expected to attend events which require
>     travel expenses, and hence avoid having board members being
>     reimbursed from OSGeo.
> This is tricky, I certaintly understand how this impression could be 
> formed. Once again this is a leading question where you have provided 
> your own preferred answer.
> For some of our relationships OSGeo is expected to act in a 
> professional manner and send delegates to events, or provide someone 
> "official" to attend and speak on behalf of our organization. When we 
> had a paid representative this was easy, we booked a plane ticket.
> For a while we moved to exhausting our president (often the same 
> person who chaired the board meetings) flying them around to perform 
> this function.
> We are currently trying out having vice-presidents in each region, it 
> has certainly reduced travel costs and allowed us to treat Venka with 
> more care.
> I know cameron that you have tried to create an "advocate" system 
> where each region would have a number of people recognized as being 
> able to speak on behalf of our organization. For my personal take I 
> think *any osgeo charter member* can be asked by a committee or board 
> to speak and act in an official capacity.
> I like the idea of *any member operating in official capacity* being 
> able to be reimbursed for expenses. I do not mind if if that is at the 
> bequest of a committee or the board (hey the board is a committee 
> too!). As long as the committee is operating with in its mandate, and 
> has secured budget or sponsorship to act, please use what limited 
> funds we have to be more effective.
> Let me try with a foss4g example, OSGeo project chairs have a 
> responsibility to attend the AGM and report (providing transparency in 
> how the project is doing, if there needs are being met, and how they 
> spent their budget if they requested one). In 2017 some projects met 
> this responsibility by sending a project team member who was already 
> attending the event. In 2018 I would like projects to consider 
> budgeting for their chair to attend the event, as part of the cost of 
> being part of our organization.
> So I see your request to reduce board travel, and I answer with a 
> request to distribute travel better across our organization.
> With respect to board travel, this configuration of the board was much 
> more effective in face to face meetings (and in hangouts) than in our 
> traditional IRC meeting format. As such it was the right decision to 
> have several face to face meetings - I am pretty sure the key benefit 
> was being unplugged from their day to day work responsibilities to 
> have a chance to focus on our organization. We can see a number of 
> requests for a secretary to make this format more effective. I instead 
> recommend the board members adopted a consistent chair and secretary 
> between meetings; and nail down action items coming out of any decision.
>     3. Do you think you can help empower people who think they can
>     positively update OSGeo's vision?
> This is tricky as you are asking about me personally, rather than the 
> board. The best thing I can do personally is extend people my trust 
> and enthusiasm.
>     On 16/10/17 9:36 am, Cameron Shorter wrote:
>>     **
>>     *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,
>>     http://blog.cleverelephant.ca/2017/08/foss4g-keynote.html
>>     <http://blog.cleverelephant.ca/2017/08/foss4g-keynote.html>)
>>     High or low capital organisation?
>>     Our 2013 OSGeo Board tackled this question:
>>     https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/OSGeo_Board_:_Board_Priorities_2013#OSGeo_as_a_low_capital.2C_volunteer_focused_organisation
>>     <https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/OSGeo_Board_:_Board_Priorities_2013#OSGeo_as_a_low_capital.2C_volunteer_focused_organisation>
>>     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
>>     <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 initiatives.
>>     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 committee.
>>     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.
>>     Reimbursement
>>     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.
>>     https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/OSGeo_Advocate
>>     <https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/OSGeo_Advocate>
>>     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”,
>>         https://lists.osgeo.org/pipermail/discuss/2015-July/014521.html
>>         <https://lists.osgeo.org/pipermail/discuss/2015-July/014521.html>
>>      *
>>         Darrell Fuhriman: September 2015, “OSGeo is becoming
>>         irrelevant. Here's why. Let's fix it.”
>>         https://lists.osgeo.org/pipermail/discuss/2015-September/032616.html
>>         <https://lists.osgeo.org/pipermail/discuss/2015-September/032616.html>
>>      *
>>         Marc Vloemans, March 2014, OSGeo Marketing Analysis,
>>         https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Talk:Marketing_Committee
>>         <https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Talk:Marketing_Committee>
>>      *
>>         OSGeo Board of 2013, “OSGeo Board Priorities”,
>>         http://cameronshorter.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/osgeo-board-priorities.html
>>         <http://cameronshorter.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/osgeo-board-priorities.html>
>>      *
>>         (There are a few more which I haven’t located - please do
>>         suggest them).
>>     Recommendations
>>     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 <tel:+61%20419%20142%20254>
>>     http://shorter.net
>>     * 
>     -- 
>     Cameron Shorter
>     Open Technologies Consultant
>     Geospatial & Software Architect
>     Information Demystifier
>     M+61 (0) 419 142 254 <tel:+61%20419%20142%20254>
>     http://shorter.net
>     _______________________________________________
>     Discuss mailing list
>     Discuss at lists.osgeo.org <mailto:Discuss at lists.osgeo.org>
>     https://lists.osgeo.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss
>     <https://lists.osgeo.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss>

Cameron Shorter
Open Technologies Consultant
Geospatial & Software Architect
Information Demystifier

M +61 (0) 419 142 254

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