[Osmf-talk] Running

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Sat Oct 25 21:48:58 UTC 2014


   I can't help but smile a little, because I see Sarah unknowingly
re-tracing discussions in public that I must have had a hundred times in
the board, and which form part of my general frustration with things.

I'll use her discussion with Henk to identify a few recurring motives
(which are, however, not uniquely Henk motives but certainly I've
experienced them all with him).

(1) The "I am so busy" theme.

When I joined the board and took over the post of "secretary" from Henk,
I assumed that this would also include the membership management and
shortly after asked Henk politely(*) to transfer the relevant data to me.

The response was that the two tasks (membership secretary and other
secretary) were not automatically the same and that Henk wanted to keep
the role to himself. (He said at the time that he had started
configuring a membership registration system that would make everything
easier, and my response was "great, one less thing I need to worry
about" - I only became impatient later when nothing happened and the
apparently ongoing process kept me from implementing improvements.)

Thing is, the board has three special "roles" - the chairperson, the
treasurer, and the secretary, and each of these are decided by an
election between the members of a new board. There was never an election
for "membership secretary"; I have more than once made it clear to the
board that I would be interested in doing this and that I was relatively
sure to be able to do it better than using a Google spreadsheet but
things never went anywhere.

Twice in my career on the board, Henk stood for election to the post of
chairman. At one of these occasions I became a little agitated and
explained to Henk how he was, at the same time, the only person who knew
how to run SOTM, the only person to know who our members are, the
interim chairperson of the Management Team, the person essentially
running the Local Chapters Working Group, one of three people on
Communications Working Group, and he was also the person exclusively
communicating with our English lawyer about the proposed changes to the
Articles of Association. Whereas a couple of other board members were
essentially doing nothing and some of them, like me, had multiple times
expressly made themselves available for some tasks.

I'll give Henk the benefit of the doubt and say he doesn't do this on
purpose - it just happens to him. But when it does as often as it does,
perhaps one should at least listen to others who say "hey, you've got
too much on your plate already".

> I see. Have you considered relinquishing some of your responsibilities or
> at least asking for help from other board members, now that you do have too
> much work on your hand?

(2) The "you don't trust me" theme.

Isn't it strange how within only a few posts, Sarah has already been
maneuvered into a defensive position. She is portrayed as someone who
alleges immoral behaviour and has to defend herself:

> It was not my intent to imply that you are gaining an advantage. If you got
> that impression, I apologize. 

When in fact all she wanted was to create a situation that is not based
on trust alone - in Germany we a saying that loosely translates as
"trust is good, checks and balances are better".

The exact same thing often happened to me on the board. For example when
I asked for a list of expenses claimed by board members, or when I said
that we should at least discuss "essential OSMF travel" (for which
expenses can be claimed) on the board beforehand, to avoid e.g. an
European board member going to the US for a simple hack weekend and
later claim expenses for "essential OSMF travel". I was, however, told
by the treasurer that "the expense system has never been abused" and
that we shouldn't make things more complex than they are.

Which put me in the same uncomfortable position as Sarah:

> You have put the membership in a very unconfortable position because
> we now only have your word that membership and sponsoring
> were handled properly. So either, we revoke the trust we have put in you
> (essentially asking to resign) or we sign off proceedings that we should
> have checked but cannot. I don't like either possibility. Can you offer
> a third?

Any question I'd ask would essentially boil down to accusing an
individual board member of taking advantage (or even colluding with the
treasurer to do so). Asking for being able to check something was
already creating disharmony. So, until this day there are no checks and
balances and every board member can claim as "essential OSMF travel"
whatever they want without the others even knowing, before or after.

And I am *not* saying that this is abused (we only have a couple
thousands of pounds in travel expenses per year anyway) but I'm
uncomfortable with it, and it is symptomatic for the "you don't trust
me" theme. If every call for verifiable diligence is taken as a personal
attack then there will be many personal attacks.

It happened to me a number of times that something that, for me, clearly
was a conflict of interest was claimed to be not a problem at all by the
other party. So there seem to be different views. How am I to know that
something that would never be "essential OSMF travel" for me, is also
not "essential OSMF travel" for everyone else when we can't even discuss it?

(3) The "why do you need to know" theme.

>> When Frederik asked me for the membership list I've asked him where he
>> wanted to use it for. The most clear answer I've ever gotten was "board
>> stuff". I still don't know what that means. I've asked whether he wanted
>> certain statistics (like geographical spread, female vs male, age, etc). No
>> answer, other than "I want the list" and "we should not have secrets for
>> each other". 
> Why do you believe that the membership list should only be given to other
> board members if they have a valid reason to see it? Who decides if a
> reason is valid or not?

Who indeed.

(As I mentioned before, Henk has taken to make copies of the list
available in spreadsheet form; this happened on 02 Feb, 09 Mar, 13 Apr,
06 May, 11 Jun, 21 Jul, and 12 Aug this year. None since then, and no
direct access to the source database, which among other things meant
that signups to the osmf-board email list were slow - I can sign people
up but I need to know whether they're members to do that, so I have to
defer to Henk if someone claims they are a member but are not on my 2
month old list...)

As a side note, I wrote to Henk on 21 September 2012, in response to his
question about what I wanted to do with it: "I want to make an analysis
about how many people we have from which countries (percentages of
membership) and compare that to the general OSM project activity. I hope
that this will then give us an idea in which countries we have a
below-average membership uptake and find out what the reasons are. (Ie -
are people in that country less likely to become members because they
have their own chapter, or because it is a country of OSMF haters, or...

So much for "never giving reasons".

In January 2013 we created rules of order that explicitly say that all
board members should have access to all information but for some reason
these rules were creatively applied and it took another year for board
members to be granted the above mentioned occasional snapshot.

Henk never really got that transparency thing. For him, handing out
information to anyone is a potential source of problems and therefore
needs to be reduced to the minimum one can get away with.

I still remember how once an diplomatic official of some Asian country
contacted the OSMF board about having a meeting. Henk said, in passing,
that he had already spoken to that person. In the end, Matt had a
meeting with the Diplomat in London and sent us a detailed report. Henk
had not even thought it was necessary to inform us before the guy showed

Now it is perhaps not easy to get transparency exactly right - do too
much and nobody can see anything amid the masses you share - but let's
just say some people tend to err on the side of too much, and some on
the side of too little. For example, Simon was involved in a couple of
discussions with officials e.g. from the EU, or Wikimedia, or whatnot,
and every time he told the whole board in advance that he was going to
meet someone (sometimes even asked if he thought he should go), and
after the meeting we received a detailed report about it. We never had
to ask him for that. It never happended that we accidentally came across
a conference schedule where "OSMF Chairman Simon Poole" was listed
talking about something without him having informed us beforehand. And
we were certainly never asked "why do you want to know". The same after
having taken over the AoA or Local Chapter issues from Henk; Simon
informed the board about every step (occasionally this indeed led to
someone asking: "And why are you telling us that" and Simon said "No
action item, I just wanted to keep you informed". Perhaps that was
erring on the "too much info" side but frankly, that's what I preferred
and why I would have had quite the paranoia had Henk become our chairman.

I have been criticised for saying that SOTM is a one-man show and yes
that was wrong; of course there's always the local team who put in a lot
of sweat and tears and that must not be belittled (I know it first-hand,
even if from a non-OSMF SOTM). But at "central command" it is just one
single person and that's Henk. Only Henk knows which submissions there
are, if any, for next year's conference. Only Henk knows when the
decision is made (and I should not be surprised if anyone but him were
to make it). Only Henk knows when the conference will be. Or maybe not
even him - but I repeat, we (as in the board) have carefully asked Henk
for a status update a number of times and the response was usually
indignation of the "why do you want to know" type.

"Why do you need to know?" - It's the "truck factor" for one but that
doesn't only mean that something bad can happen to a person - it can
also be something good, like a lucrative contract at work or falling in
love and suddenly having no time for something. If OSMF is to ever
function as an organisation, it must be able to abstract from
individuals. We can't have people who, be it for personality or power
reasons, insist on being in the loop of near everything and irreplacable
because only they know something.


(*) I know that some people must think I am unable of writing polite
messages. For illustration purposes, the full text of the message I
wrote on 19 Sep was:

> Hi Henk,
>    I guess I am now in the lucky position to have to deal with membership management. Can you give me a quick run-down of what the tasks are and where the current membership data resides?
> I am guessing:
> * watch paypal/other accounts
> * on payment of membership fee, add people to list
> * after 11 months (?) send renewal reminder
> * after 12 months drop people from list (?)
> Bye
> Frederik

Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail frederik at remote.org  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"

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