[HOT] A wish for the next Board

Jean-Guilhem Cailton jgc at arkemie.com
Sun Mar 8 14:00:32 UTC 2015

Hi all,

It has been great to see the new contributors and partners joining in
the past year, bringing their contributions, enthusiasm, competences,
uses and support, and all the great things that were done, and that will
continue. This can be read about in more details in several other places.

But something less positive also happened, that I feel necessary to
share with you. For the first time, in 2014, the fifth year of my
personal commitment in OSM in the context of humanitarian crises (since
Haiti 2010 earthquake), I have witnessed a deliberately taken decision,
apparently supported by the previous HOT Board (or at least a majority
within it), that resulted in our collective help, through mapping, to
health and humanitarian actors that were struggling to save lives in
West Africa not being quite as efficient as it could have been, at
certain times and places. Deliberately obstructing use of valuable

The only explanation I can find is that some interest, whether personal,
economical or political, got precedence over the general interest. And I
think that's wrong. And that volunteer contributors deserve to hear
about it, even as succinctly as above.

I'd like to remind something that may tend to be easily forgotten.
Persons who happen to be at the interface between the contributors
community and the partners and general public, are important (and
rightfully honored, recognized, valued, etc...) but not more than other
members of the community. If 1000 contribute to an activation, each with
their time, knowledge, skills, intelligence, network, etc... from a
human point of view, all are important.

This is also true if, instead of a human point of view, you had rather
look at it from an economical or financial point of view. Budget amounts
in a few millions USD may look huge in comparison to a volunteer's
contribution. But think of the global value of OSM community work,
accumulated and improved over the years. If you look at the market prize
of roughly equivalent enterprises, it could be estimated to at least a
few billions USD.

So again, the order of magnitude, or scale, we are looking at is less
than a thousandth.

So who should be on the board of the organization that presents itself
(especially towards the outside) as representing the OSM community for
humanitarian actors?

It is ok if there is no requirement of volunteer OSM contributors to be
on the Board of humanitarian organizations for them to partner with HOT.
The contrary might of course look surprising, as some of them can be
much bigger that HOT. Yet this does not prevent them from partnering
with HOT.

It might be fine too if a few representatives of partners, or of people
who sometimes work for HOT or for related organizations, are members of
the Board, as their presence can make internal discussions easier.

But the crucial point is that there should be at least a majority of
volunteer contributors (not necessarily mappers in the technical sense,
but in the sense of representatives of the community of “volunteer
contributors”, whatever their mode of contribution and field, whether
mapping, training, field work, communication, fund-raising, etc...),
and, what is more, able to think independently of even powerful external
partners with strong influence (i.e. for example able not resist “spin”,
and not let their decisions be based on misleading representations of
reality). This is a requirement for all the volunteer contributors, who
are generally recognized to be the most important “component” of OSM, to
have a least some chance of a fair representation (that they do not have
elsewhere for the humanitarian field, unlike partner organizations who
are already strongly structured).

Of course, other competencies than mapping are valuable and recognized.
But people could also bring them without needing to have a dominant
position at the Board. The most important role of the Board, the one
no-one else should play in its place, it to set the cursor at the right
position when it is needed to make a decision between differing
interests. And if it is not independent enough, it will tend to favor
external interests with the most influence, whose natural role is to
promote themselves.

That the various interests linked to HOT US Inc. should be under
independent internal control is a basic rule of sound governance.

The volunteer contributors can be fooled once, or a few times, but won't
be forever, and, after a while, when they figure that things aren't
organized as they should be, they'll move on, to give their
contributions, good will, time, and intelligence to other projects that
they'll find more relevant for their vision of the general interest, or
more soundly organized.

The motto of the OSM Foundation, “Support but not control” the
community, should not just be an empty slogan, but a reality, for HOT
too, a necessary condition to allow the role of OSM in the humanitarian
field to reach its full potential (and not just provide "free or cheap
labor" for the privileged benefit of a few). (Maybe a way to think about
it “spatially” would be for those who play these roles to think about
themselves as “under”, rather than “above” the community – as
traditional hierarchical organizations are often thought about).

If you feel that this resonates with you, and encourages you to propose
your candidacy to the Board, then this message will not have been
useless. There are already some good candidates, but more are needed.
Especially of course if you would enrich the also needed diversity. (I
had written this before seeing Nama's candidacy – great! - impressive
work what was done in Nepal).

Best wishes,


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