Strategic Plan Outline

From OpenStreetMap Foundation

The OpenStreetMap Foundation Board of Directors approved the draft Strategic Plan Outline at its July 2021 public meeting. The Board now needs the community's assistance in fleshing out the outline into a strategic plan. Wherever the outline lacks narrative text, please feel free to suggest text either by direct email to the Board ( or via the OSMF-talk mailing list.

OSMF Strategic Plan Outline


The OpenStreetMap project is unique in its global diffusion of crowdsourced data collection, distributed responsibility for data quality control, and diversity of its community, ranging from individual volunteer mappers contributing highly specific local knowledge to large corporations contributing satellite imagery and artificial intelligence tools. It is unusual in its fostering of a commercial ecosystem that provides hundreds of jobs side by side with empowerment of localised civil society, small and medium businesses, and humanitarian organisations.

The project and its community seek not growth per se, but rather data quality, consisting of accurate and ever broader, deeper, and more detailed geographic coverage of its database, meanwhile ensuring that this database will remain free of charge and free to use, to allow anyone, anywhere, to create a “map of the world that anyone can use”. As a result of this philosophy, however, growth has found OpenStreetMap, and demand for its data now increases by no less than 20 to 30 percent year on year. This growth is straining the project’s volunteer workforce, its hardware and software platform, and it threatens the long-term viability of the project. Unlike most private companies, which seek growth and develop strategic plans to achieve it, OpenStreetMap is in the position of needing a strategy for coping with a growth rate it did not and does not intentionally encourage.

The OpenStreetMap Foundation (OSMF) supports but does not control the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project. It is responsible for ensuring that the project has what is necessary not only to survive but to thrive well into the future. This responsibility calls for creation of a strategy for dealing with the demand growth thrust upon the project while simultaneously preserving the core philosophy that has made OSM such a success: focus on local knowledge and distributed intelligence; on empowering volunteer mappers; on providing tools mappers need to collect, enter, and check quality of data; on cross-border and cross-cultural collaboration; and on volunteer working groups.

A limit on growth of expenditures on administration of the project is also core to OSM’s philosophy: we often hear the refrain that OSM should not become another opaque and inaccessible bureaucracy-heavy NGO, with large paid staff. Adherence to this core philosophy will ensure that OSM remains a free project, independent from influential donors. By empowering volunteers rather than staff, it will also remain a vibrant project that attracts enthusiastic contributors, because it will remain fun as well as useful – and we volunteer contributors, at the end of the day, are why OSM is today the success story that it is.

Key Inputs and Process

A strategic plan is a big undertaking. Our approach is to set high-level directions across all the efforts and structures of the Foundation, and then to take a phased approached to develop more specific ideas and determine details of plans. To start we will focus on technical planning.

Demand Growth Forecast 2020–2025

Working with SSRE and OWG, we shall develop a range (low/medium/high) of OpenStreetMap platform services growth projections in 1-, 3-, and 5-year timelines. Determining implications for hardware, hosting, software and workload will feed our financial planning.

  • Implications for hardware, software, and workload
  • Implications for sustaining the core philosophy

Engagement of community in planning process

This document is a conversation. We will seek commentary on the document, perform structured surveys for input, and directly reach out with questions to stakeholders.

  • Survey
  • Stakeholders: mappers, developers, data users, funders, companies

The Foundation at OpenStreetMap’s core

Discussions of the OpenStreetMap Foundation’s role have often turned to discussing what is core. To build its strategy on firm ground, the Board has sought to improve that definition and offers the following:

The core is the mapping process.

That is a new way to define core, functionally rather than technically.

So, we now have two complementary definitions:

  • Technical core: rock bottom, without which OpenStreetMap disappears. Mostly the database and its API.
  • Functional Core: The Mapping Process.

Part of the OpenStreetMap Foundation’s mission is to ensure that there is at least one fully Free and Open Source Software path to complete the OpenStreetMap mapping process. Decisions about what software to support will follow directly from this.

Financial strategy

Ensure OpenStreetMap’s sustainability

  • Benefits of a financial reserve
    • Survival of OpenStreetMap
      • Technical core
    • Buffer role for temporary gaps
      • Avoiding opportunity costs
      • Avoiding contract termination costs

A formal approach shall reassure stakeholders (OSMF members, donors, contributors) that the OSMF is serious about sustainability, by taking concrete formal steps. In times of crisis, a formal document as a guideline has a stabilising effect. So, the Board shall draft a simple formal reserve policy for approval.

  • Financial scalability
    • Steps to avoid reaching a point where reserve use is considered
      • Establish a framework to match funds to projects
        • Earmark exceptional donations to specific projects
        • Match project end to funding horizon
        • Avoid funding running expenses with exceptional income
      • Ability to scale down: prepare the OpenStreetMap Foundation for a hypothetical financial worst-case scenario
        • Fallback to core OpenStreetMap – the doomsday plan
          • Define the barest minimal OpenStreetMap that remains OpenStreetMap
          • Calculate core OpenStreetMap’s gross burn rate
        • Operational reserve to fund transition from plenty to thrift
          • Operating Reserve Policy for a Board-Designated Operating Reserve
  • Impact on the funding process
    • Any increase in the budget must be tied to an increase in reserves
      • Special reserves (subdivisions of the reserve) might make the process more granular
    • Donors seeking to increase the OpenStreetMap Foundation’s resilience might be interested in funding an endowment

Financial infrastructure

Banking remains challenging and time-consuming – it is unusual for an organisation the size of the OSMF to have such an international financial context. The OSMF will explore paths to make banking in USD and EUR easier.

Technical strategy

providing tools mappers need to collect, enter, check quality of, and use data

  • hardware platform
    • development platform for vector tiles by volunteers
  • software/website
    • revitalise EWG
    • evolve data model + API
    • role in encouraging standardisation and collaboration in the ecosystem
    • foster ecosystem of open source tooling and libraries
    • define what we host ourselves, and what we leave to third parties
  • staffing
    • website maintainer
    • key updates: make site easier to develop, GDPR
    • support contributors
    • additional sysadmin
    • successor(s) for iD development
    • supporting other editors in agreement with maintainers

empowering volunteers

  • education and training
  • curated tags proposal
  • dialogue moderation
  • infrastructure for testing/development
  • access to test databases
  • project hosting

IT security review and plan


  • Resiliency
  • Stability


  • Backups
  • Disaster recovery
  • Separation of privilege
  • Redundancy
  • Vulnerability assessment
  • Project hosting

Community strategy

A sketch that will be approached in more detail in the next phase.

Focus on local knowledge and distributed intelligence

  • Expand local chapters and communities
  • Opportunities for more structured input to project direction and topics
  • Promote local groups and events, give better visibility to community content

Cross-border and cross-cultural collaboration

  • Support SOTM and support local SOTMs
  • Address language barriers
  • Address cultural barriers
  • Trust and safety in communication, define role of local chapters in moderation
  • Provide modern, open communication platforms

Gender diversity

With confirmation from the recent survey, the Board recognises the lack of non-male participation in the project and considers it a problem since our ambition for the project is to benefit the whole of society and to take advantage of as many contributions as possible.

The Board will develop a strategy to promote gender diversity. To give it sound foundations, it will start with the Board Members personally reaching out to non-male persons around OpenStreetMap, including former participants and non-participants. From analysing that round of interviews, the Board will start pursuing specific initiatives.

Humanitarian mapping

  • Through dialog, explore ways for the OSMF to support the expanding and changing ecosystem of diverse actors in humanitarian mapping.

Community relations

As we have defined OSM’s core as the mapping process, we have to remain engaged with each of its stakeholders – individuals and corporations, contributors and users.

  • Volunteer relations
  • Corporate relations
  • Data user relations

Institutional strategy

Scope bounding

  • *The Foundation is established for the purposes listed below:
    • (1) encouraging the growth, development, and distribution of free geospatial data; and
    • (2) providing geospatial data for anybody to use and share.*
  • What definitely falls within the OpenStreetMap Foundation’s mission?
  • What definitely doesn’t fall within the OpenStreetMap Foundation’s mission?
  • What are we unsure about falling within the OpenStreetMap Foundation’s mission?
  • Should we make some of that explicit, in response to questions about the OpenStreetMap Foundation’s legitimate scope of action?


Brexit is important to OSM because the OSMF is incorporated in the UK. Brexit threatens enforcement of our database rights in the European Union.

To OSM, Brexit isn’t an incoming wall – the erosion will be gradual. Nevertheless, it is now time to start studying whether to move to a more favourable jurisdiction and how that could happen.

Takeover protection

Public trust in the Foundation’s commitment to OpenStreetMap is paramount to the Foundation’s mission. The Board will therefore seek to enhance institutional mitigation of the risks of third parties leading it astray, through thorough assessment and identification of major and subtle risks. From there, the design of mitigation at the organisation, process, and financial levels will be implemented.


Volunteer working groups

Working Groups are the OpenStreetMap Foundation’s operative organs. Community participation in the Working Groups is critical to OpenStreetMap’s health. Therefore, the Board seeks to increase retention and recruitment.

The Board shall seek to increase the visibility of Working Groups and their activity, so that the community recognises and understands them. The Board will offer help to Working Groups to exchange best practices and in particular to enhance onboarding. With those foundations solidified, the Board will organise a Working Group Membership drive, using its access to promotional channels.


  • fundraising and budgeting
  • strategic diversification and leverage of OSMF’s unique position
  • limits on expenditures and growth of overhead
  • Administrative support for the Board

Foundation management

  • ensure continued participation by individual volunteer contributors