Archives for November, 2019


OSMF Board: Give Newbs A Chance

I’ve been a member of the OSMF board of directors for over seven years now (since September, 2012), and my time on the board is coming to an end in four weeks’ time. In theory either my board colleague Kate or I could have stayed on for another year since only one of us (chosen by agreement, or by lot) is required to step down, but we both thought it was time to make room for new people.

I am thankful for the trust the members have placed in me by voting me in three times (and if a little vanity is allowed, in each election where I stood I received the highest number of votes). At the same time I feel that I have let people down a bit because I am more combative in everyday mailing list discussions than I was in my work on the board. Concentrating, at least in the second half of my tenure, on the treasury, I haven’t advanced the cause of the hobby mapper against the steadily tightening grip (or should we say “embrace”?) of corporate interests as much as I would have liked to. You could even say that by inviting corporate membership, the OSMF is now more open to corporate influence than it was when I took office. This influence is not overt but subtle. It’s not that our corporate members tell us “please make these guidelines so that they are in our favour” – it is more that the board feels it needs to act “professionally” and this makes us vulnerable to influence from those who are better at “being professional” than we are.

One of the factors that made me less effective at fighting overbearing commercial involvement in OSM is of course that I am a commercial player myself. My small (5-person) OSM consultancy, Geofabrik, might not play in the “corporate” league and we’ve never touched venture capital with a barge pole but still, people look at me puzzled when I tell them that I think OSM should remain true to its “hobby mapper” roots. And if I rant against the next American giant embracing OSM, people suspect that a competetive business interest might be the real reason.

The OSMF now has assets worth over half a million pounds (mostly that’s cash in the bank), compared to £120k when I joined the board. This is nothing to do with my work – it’s a combination of successful State of the Map conferences, a huge donation from the Pineapple Fund, and a corporate membership scheme that is working well. And being the treasurer of an organisation with full coffers is certainly easier sailing than if you have to scrape together every last pound. At the same time, having money is also risky – you can easily do things that make you depend on a constant influx of more money, and then you might have to bend over to ensure that influx.

I am leaving the board because I think it is time to make room for new people with new ideas and fresh energy instead of reiterating my old points. People who might bring new views, and different priorities. I am in favour of term limits, and the 6-years-in-office limit we are proposing now would certainly apply to me. It is easy for a board member to think they are indispensable – “we need continuity”, “with too many new members who will tell them how things work”, etc. – but I firmly believe this is one’s self-esteem getting the better of oneself. In my opinion, one of the best chairpersons we ever had at the OSMF board was Simon Poole, who was freshly elected to the board and hadn’t ever served on it before.

I don’t know who I’ll be voting for yet, but my top four choices will certainly be people who haven’t ever served on the board before. Give Newbs a chance!