[Osmf-talk] Elections: Avoid Mandate Creep

Jean-Guilhem Cailton jgc at arkemie.com
Mon Nov 14 09:26:24 UTC 2011

Le 12/11/2011 19:10, Tom Chance a écrit :
> On 12 November 2011 15:35, Serge Wroclawski <serge at wroclawski.org
> <mailto:serge at wroclawski.org>> wrote:
>     we should
>     explore exactly what we want OSMF doing.
> I completely agree with Serge's response.
> By the way, I think there's a major flaw in applying Yochai Benkler's
> theory of "commons-based peer production" to OpenStreetMap.
> In a free software project there's a clear difference between
> production and use. Participation in its development is necessarily
> technical and difficult, and most communities who want to engage more
> people in production tend to develop communities for art work,
> documentation, translation, marketing, etc. In production, everyone
> really is a "peer" with roughly similar skills and aims. Communities
> that then want to ensure their product can be used by a wider range of
> people take a structured approach toward usability.
> OpenStreetMap aims to engage a much wider range of people in
> production, people who aren't all peers in the same sense. So we need
> to take a more structured approach toward aspect of production, both
> in collaborating on our core data and on producing useful spin-offs
> like maps and data analysis.
> Often when I read Frederik's emails I get the feeling that he can't
> recognise any form of organisation outside of Ronald Coase's "market
> prices" or "managerial command" models besides an anarchic
> interpretation of Benkley's "commons-based peer production". People
> don't study sociology and political science for nothing.
> Regards,
> Tom
> -- 
> http://tom.acrewoods.net   http://twitter.com/tom_chance

Thank you Tom for answering on substance.

I disagree with your view that "there's a major flaw in applying Yochai
Benkler's theory of "commons-based peer production" to OpenStreetMap"
and your characterization above.

I refer to his article "Coase's Penguin" [1]. By the way, I encourage
everyone interested to read it if they have not already (even though it
may be a bit long by current Internet standards), and I thank again
Schuyler for making me aware of it in a talk at Where 2.0 2010 [2]. I
know that, even though it was written in 2002, when OSM did not yet
exist and Wikipedia was just getting started, it allowed me to
understand better the underlying mechanisms that make OSM possible and
fitted very well with what I perceived of its inner workings. (The
article also include a section "Threats to motivation" that may be of
interest in the context of the numbers reported by Kai. The topic of
motivation was also mentioned in the first replies to Frederik's port,
it seems that no answer in this thread has taken it in consideration
yet. Also my understanding was that one of Frederik main worries was
with possible mis-allocation of resources. Efficient allocation of
"human resources" is one of the key advantages of common-based peer
production according to this article).

The example cases covered by Benkler are not restricted to free
software, and include endeavours with quite a wide range of needs,
including academic research for example. He also recognizes the possible
need for structures to support common-based peers production, including
the possibility of monetary rewards for some functions (see p. 64 of the
pdf, for example).

It may be that there are better organisation theories that could be more
useful for OSM. Please feel free to enlighten us about them.

But let us consider for now the framework that he proposes : that there
are three modes of production, either contract-based in firms
("managerial command"), property-based in markets ("market prices"), or
commons-based peer production.

For me, it is very clear that the third mode, "commons-based peer
production", is the best one to describe the OpenStreetMap Project.

Mikel's blog post made me realize that the OpenStreetMap Foundation,
with its Board and the hierarchy of working groups, - or at least a part
of it -, might be best described as a "managerial command system".

There are functions, like finances or central public relations, for
which this might be the best system. (Though it is not even certain).

>From a "logic of organisations" point of view, I think that the
interface between the two modes of organisation, commons-based peer
production and managerial command system, must be considered very
carefully, and that risks for clashes are located there.

For example, the OSM foundation might impose terms that contributors
must accept if they want to remain active in the OSM project. Or some
"manager" might inadvertently give an order to a participant who could
considerate it aberrant given that he thought that he had signed up for
a "commons-based peer production" organisation. (These examples are of
course purely imaginary).

The question of the best organisation for the particular commons-based
peer production project that is OSM is certainly not easy.

In particular, should its governance be mainly a "managerial command
system" or "commons-based peer produced"?

Indeed, if commons-based peer production was so successful to produce
OSM database, could it not also produce OSM governance?

And how? Since this mode of production is so recent, there might not be
an easy answer, that could be taken off the shelf. But who better than
the OSM community could collectively discover or construct it?

In this sense, this "Avoid mandate Creep" thread highlights the risk
associated with a commonly prejudiced view that a "managerial command
system" is the only possible governance organisation in general, and
hence for OSM. There is some internal logic that most people who end up
on the board would share this view. (Otherwise, why run?) So it must be
especially difficult for them, given their (remarkable and never
acknowledged) strong commitment, to take a step back and consider this
possibility. But I am sure they would do it if they think it is better
for the project.

Again, this is the question I would like to raise here, because I think
it is very important: should OSM governance be mainly a "managerial
command system" or "commons-based peer produced"?

So what do I suggest concretely? (have I been asked in a direct mail). I
don't know. I do not claim to have an answer. Here are just some example
suggestions that come to mind.

Mikel describes a simple technique that the OSM-F board uses to come to
a consensus on a topic, by casting 5 votes on brainstormed choices.
Could it not be generalised online to all OSM-F members, for OSM-F
issues? Or even to all OSM community members, for OSM project issues?

For example a wiki page created as an exercise by the Strategic working
group compiles suggestion/comments made by the OSM community as to the
future direction of the project. The OSM-F board has just defined goals
for the OSM-F for 2012. Experiments in "commons-base peer produced"
governance could include asking all the OSM-F members what they think of
the OSM-F goals, or OSM community members what they think of the goals
of their "supporting" OSM-Foundation. Or the OSM community members which
of the suggestions of the global list seem more valuable.

If it was so great to share ideas and discussions between the board
members, wouldn't it be great to do so between the OSM-F members, or
between the OSM community members? (Which may include sociologists or
political scientists).

Of course, there is nothing really new here. This is already what is
happening more or less informally all the time on the lists and other
communication means. What could be maybe new (at least to some, judging
by some of the mails in this thread) is the recognition that this is a
legitimate, well adapted governance mode. That respecting it and
avoiding to interfere with it (eg by reshaping the project, or the
community, from the "top") is not "doing nothing". And that, on the
contrary, supporting and developing it might be worthwhile.

Other example suggestions for topics that might be worth of a
consultation or collective decision might include:
- what are appropriate modes of organisation, or domains of competence
for OSM project support structures?
- what are the biggest problems facing the OSM project?

(When asked what was the biggest problem facing Google, Larry Page
answered "Google".
It should be not be a priori excluded that if asked what is the biggest
problem facing the OSM community, the community itself might answer
"OSM-F" ;)
(or at least some tendencies within it).

Thank you for reading this far.

Best regards,


[1] Summary: http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.html
Full text: http://www.yale.edu/yalelj/112/BenklerWEB.pdf
[2] http://whereconf.com/where2010/public/schedule/detail/13201
script translated in French:

"The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club"
(Thanks to Stefano Zacchiroli, Debian Project Leader)

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