[Osmf-talk] Elections: Avoid Mandate Creep

Tom Chance tom at acrewoods.net
Mon Nov 14 11:14:09 UTC 2011

On 14 November 2011 09:26, Jean-Guilhem Cailton <jgc at arkemie.com> wrote:

> 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"?

I think we need to recognise a difference between the way a community
produces and the way it is governed.

Once we open the governance bag of tricks the choice is not "commons vs.
market vs. magerial command" - that's a choice of production methodologies.
The choice is between various kinds of democracy, technocracy, oligarchy,
aristocracy, tyranny, monarchy, demagoguery, and totalitarianism.

I'm quite happy with the commons-based peer production model for the
activity of producing geodata, it works spectactularly well for

But it's not unusual for free software projects, artists collectives and
other peers producing in a commons to adopt a mixed democratic/technocratic
governance structure. I used to be a member of KDE e.V., for example, which
had a mandate to make decisions that the community then had to follow, and
gave legitimacy to technocrats who led on big technical decisions like
major API changes. This governance model provided effective leadership that
saw through major changes in a project that could otherwise have fragmented
or stagnated.

As Magrassi has argued,

"it has become common place to refer to [free software] as a manifestation
of collective intelligence where deliverables and artefacts emerge by
virtue of mere cooperation, with no need for supervising leadership. We
show that this assumption is based on limited understanding of the software
development process, and may lead to wrong conclusions as to the potential
of peer production. The  development of a less than trivial piece of
software, irrespective of  whether it be FOSS or proprietary, is a complex
cooperative effort requiring the participation of many (often thousands of)
individuals. A subset of the participants always play the role of leading
system and subsystem designers, determining architecture and functionality;
the rest of the people  work “underneath” them in a logical, functional


Frederik Ramm has long argued that OpenStreetMap can emerge through
cooperation alone, which suggests (to return to your question) that the
OpenStreetMap community should have no governance at all, just an outside
Foundation charged with maintaining basic infrastructure to enable the
community to peer-produce. In Frederik's ideal world, OSM Foundation
governance has no mandate within the OSM community.

Long ago Aristotle suggested that the absence of formal governance in a
community of mixed interests tends to lead to demagoguery or aristocracy,
which commands little popular support and tends not to provide effective
leadership where it is most needed (e.g. for people unable to contribute
due to technical barriers).

I'd echo Richard Fairhurst's sentiment that the OSMF working well means
effective leadership enjoying popular support that enables the community to
grow and members to get on and have fun.


http://tom.acrewoods.net   http://twitter.com/tom_chance
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