Annual General Meetings/2021/Chairperson’s report

From OpenStreetMap Foundation

OSMF Chairperson's Annual Report for 2021

The year just past in review

As of November 26, 2021, OpenStreetMap's statistics showed (percentages in parentheses indicate growth in the past year):

Number of nodes 7,338,510,331 (+12%)
Number of ways 818,534,800 (+13%)
Number of relations 9,441,041 (+12%)

Other data show that as of the second quarter of 2021 we were maintaining the previous year's level of about 4.5 million map changes per day. About 50,000 individual contributors per month were responsible for most of this activity. On February 25, 2021, OSM hit its 100,000,000th changeset.

During 2021 the number of OpenStreetMap Foundation (OSMF) members passed 2,000, mainly a result of the active contributor membership program.

In January-February 2021 the Board released a survey of the OSM community intended to shed light on community sentiment regarding the future of the project as well as to collect demographic data about the community. Anonymized results of the survey were published on the OSMF website, presented in a series of three interactive video conferences on March 10-11, and discussed on a Geomob podcast released after the video conferences. Roughly one-third of the OSMF membership participated in the survey. The Board studied the results and used them to guide its deliberations over Foundation priorities, and in particular in beginning work on a strategic plan for the OSM project.

One major outcome of the survey was identification of the community's strongly held sentiment that stability and robustness of the hardware and software platform constitute the project's top priority. The Board was already focusing on raising sufficient funds to fund fully the Operations Working Group's budget request, as well as to finance hiring of a systems reliability engineer on a full-time contract as well as continuation of a full-time software developer. The survey confirmed community support for these efforts.

A corollary of this was the Board's work to revitalize, and expand the remit of, the Engineering Working Group (EWG), with the intent that it will assume responsibility for coordinating, to the degree necessary, software projects needed to keep the OSM project humming. This in part grew out of the Board's experimental funding last year of upgrades to three important software tools (Nominatim, osm2pgsql, Potlatch). The Board anticipates funding the EWG at some level; the EWG has submitted a budget request that will be folded into the 2022 budget. The Board's intent is to ensure availability of a core FLOSS path for mapping.

Following the December 2020 “Call to take Action and Confront Systemic Offensive Behavior” to deal with intemperate language in OSMF-sponsored communications media, the Board asked the Local Chapters and Communities Working Group (LCCWG), OSMF's de facto most diverse working group, to undertake a rewrite of our Etiquette Guidelines and to create a body of moderators. The former is done; the latter is in the process of formation as this is written and should be done by the 2021 Annual General Meeting (AGM). The Board is deeply grateful to the LCCWG for its year of hard work on this.

The Licensing Working Group (LWG) in concert with the Board completed new Attribution Guidelines. While the new guidelines do not please everyone in the community, they constitute a workable compromise that does no harm to the Foundation's ability to protect its intellectual property under terms of the Open Database License (ODbL) while spelling out to data users what the OSM community expects in the way of attribution. The Board is deeply grateful to the LWG for its two years of work on the guidelines.

What Lies Ahead

First, the next all-volunteer Board will face pressing issues that have been held over from the past:

  • Takeover protection;
  • Dealing with Brexit, since OSMF is incorporated in England and Wales;
  • Institutionalising budgeting and fund-raising processes as well as oversight of our paid contractors.

The Board on 28 July 2021 appointed Andy Allan and Michael Collinson to the special committee on takeover protection, and charged them with fleshing out the committee, then studying options to protect OSMF from hostile takeover. The results of this remain pending. Takeover protection was mandated by the OSMF membership at the 2020 AGM, and the 2021 community survey revealed it to be the second-highest priority after stability of core infrastructure.

Board member Jean-Marc Liotier has collated information received from several EU member-states into a series of pros and cons regarding whether and how OSMF might reincorporate as a non-profit in the EU. This issue requires thoughtful, methodical analysis, and thus will take time. Although dealing with Brexit ranked last in the community survey, it cannot be ignored due to its legal implications for the OSM project.

At the 2020 AGM the OSMF membership approved the Board's suggestion that it be allowed to form administrative committees that include non-members of the Board. The Budget and the Fund-Raising Committees remain in process of formation, and have yet to institutionalize procedures for budgeting and raising funds.

Second, the draft strategic plan outline remains just that--an outline. When submitted for community consultation, the outline received exactly two comments, both positive. On the one hand, this is good news, i.e., that the draft outline accords well with community sentiment. On the other hand, it provides precious little fodder for the Board to use in fleshing out the outline into a strategic plan. Only the preamble is complete, and much work remains. Community participation in this would be very welcome.

A Valedictory Address from the Chair

As most of you certainly know, I chose not to run for re-election to the Board after only one term. The reason is simple. I turned 66 at my last birthday and have many things to do while my health and physical condition still allow. I am an amateur genealogist who, due to the overseas nature of my career as a diplomat, was unable to examine dusty records in courthouses and public libraries across America. There are places in America I have never visited, and want to while I can still drive long distances. My wife and I have friends around the world we want to visit (COVID pandemic permitting). I could go on, but you get the picture. I could not do that and simultaneously do justice to the Foundation's important work.

The 2021 community survey coupled with the 2020 outreach to stakeholders and SWOT analysis fed directly into the strategic plan outline, the bottom line of which is that OSM has a rare opportunity, if it chooses to seize it. If we wish, we can remain small, lightweight, nimble, and relatively unbureaucratic, despite our global reach and a database with a replacement value of $1.7 billion. There is no pressing need for the OSM project to balloon in terms of staffing, budget, or rules and regulations.

We can hire a very small number of contractors to do mission-critical work related to hardware and software reliability, and raise sufficient funds to cover those plus our customary operating expenses. I foresee, in this case, an OSMF with an annual budget of no more than half million Euros per year, versus past budgets of about GBP 120,000. Compared to the replacement value of the database as Accenture pegged it, that is a pittance. Compared to the Linux Foundation's budget of $200 million per year, it is peanuts. We can and should keep expenditures relatively small. We should not, however, seek poverty for poverty's sake. It's simply not necessary, and it would be a disservice to the community.

The Board and community must also grasp the nettle and put an end to obnoxious behavior in OSMF-controlled media, particularly the mailing lists, for it drives away community members who would otherwise make valuable contributions. The shockingly low proportion of women in the OSM community, only eight percent based on the survey, is a prima facie indicator that something is very, very wrong. This impression is supported by the divergence in attitudes expressed by women vs. men in the survey. The OSM community should welcome all positive contributors. If it does not, it endangers its future.

Finally, I firmly believe that the local communities and chapters are the future of the project. The local communities and chapters are where the training takes place, the recruitment of new members is accomplished, and the projects to augment the map are instigated. In the last two years we doubled the number of local chapters, and expanded their coverage from one continent to five. We need to keep at that. These communities and chapters are also the Board's link to the broad, global OSM community, and will only grow in importance over time.

Please let me close by thanking certain individuals for their help and contributions. First, I thank my fellow Board members for their voluntary work in support of the OSM project, and the stellar Dorothy Kazazi, who keeps the Board organized and on track.

I thank the Working Group volunteers, the local communities, the Advisory Board members, and the many donors of financial support for the OSM project, large and small. I thank the software developers and maintainers, without whom OSM would be a database that most of us could not figure out how to use. I thank the data users, who help us advertise to the world the availability of "a map of the world that anyone can use." I thank the various community members who have spent hours on the phone with me, serving as informal counselors and sounding boards.

Of course, the most fervent thanks go to the mappers, without whom we would not have over 7 billion nodes, over 800 million ways in the database, and over 100 million changesets. Without the mappers, who constitute 87 percent of the community (according to the survey), we wouldn't have the richest open-source cartographic database in the world. And that, my friends, would be a crying shame.

Thank you all, and happy mapping!

Allan Mustard