[Osmf-talk] Conflict of Interest

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Wed Jul 29 15:32:44 UTC 2009


    I would like to give a very simple example of a "conflict of 
interest" situation - a hypothetic but quite realistic example actually, 
involving myself.

I am one of the founders of a small OSM-related business. Among the 
things I sell is a WMS service, where people pay a monthly subscription 
fee to be able to access our WMS server.

Now it is entirely possible that at some point, some people in the OSM 
project will set up such a WMS service on behalf of OSM (in fact, a long 
time ago, a WMS service was run from OSM's own servers). Further, it is 
entirely possible that they request a machine to run it on from OSMF, 
and the matter comes up for discussion in a board meeting.

There would be reasons for supporting the community WMS ("gives us more 
exposure to GIS circles... we have enough money for it... nice 
advertising opportunity...") and reasons against ("is this really a core 
service, does it not impact our other capabilities..."). There would be 
the question whether the OSMF operated WMS would be available to all, or 
just to project members or for personal use or some such.

These questions, and the answers found, would make a difference to the 
revenue I can generate from offering WMS. My commercial interest would 
of course be for OSMF to not offer such a service, or if offered, only 
offer it to people whom I do not target as customers. Obviously, were I 
a board member, I should refrain from voting on the issue. But more; I 
should also not take part in the discussion, I should try not to 
influence the opinion of my fellow board members.

But then again: What if I honestly had a strong opinion about the WMS 
project, completely independent of my business - what if I thought that 
yes, it would really be a giant step forward for the project and should 
be done? Or the other way round, what if I thought it would really 
adversely affect our ability to do other cool things?

So even assuming that I properly detect and declare my conflict of 
interest (and not all cases are that simple!) and do the only thing 
that's morally right - completely remove myself from the discussion and 
vote on this topic -, the whole situation would still be undesirable 
because I'd be withholding my (perhaps valuable) input from the board 
and not be available for any related tasks.

A conflict of interest, and this is my point, hurts the work of the 
board of directors by merely existing. It does not have to be exploited 
by anyone to cause problems - it causes problems even if there are no 
evil people. It would be very short-sighted to say that just because no 
conflicts of interest are known to have been exploited in the past, 
everything is fine.

I wish to stress this again: A conflict of interest is not a weakness of 
character or something that only evil people suffer from. A conflict of 
interest is a dilemma situation that causes stress for the individual 
and the organisation involved; and whereever such a conflict can be 
avoided. that is a good thing to do.


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