[Osmf-talk] Conflict of Interest
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,
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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