[Osmf-talk] The role of face-to-face meetings in the future of the OSMF board

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Sun Oct 26 22:27:13 UTC 2014


   much has been said about personal meetings ("face-to-face" or "F2F")
in the last couple of days. I think one person as even suggested that
board members should commit to *multiple* in-person meetings per year
but I may mis-remember, I can't find that bit right now.

When I joined the board after the Tokyo AGM, planning for a new
face-to-face meeting was already underway, and I somewhat reluctantly
agreed to take part. Newly elected to the "secretary" position, I drew
up the agenda with contributions from everyone who wanted to discuss
something, Oliver arranged a meeting space and accomodation in Berlin,
and everybody booked their flights or train tickets or whatnot. (That
particular meeting had Henk, Oliver, Steve, Matt, Simon, Dermot, and
myself attending. Richard Fairhurst who was still on the board at the
time couldn't come.)

I had read minutes and blog posts from previous OSMF face-to-face
meetings and my general impression was that such meetings were largely a
bonding exercise at which one would have good food, go horseback riding,
and agree on lofty goals for the future of OSMF that would then never be

The minutes from our meeting are here:


As you can see, we were mainly concerned with defining where we stand -
can we find common goals, a common understanding of whom the OSMF is
there to serve, who "the community" is, and so on. It was already
obvious at the time that there were different ideas about this and we
hoped that we'd be able to define a common ground. That also included a
"rules of order" document that was supposed to lay down some basic rules
for how we operate.

The minutes read ok, but it was a very stressful weekend, mostly because
we had decided that we don't want to overrule people - we wanted to only
produce documents that we *all* agreed with. This occasionally led to
half-hour discussions about a single sentence which 5 people were
already ok with. With hindsight, it was wrong of us to be so polite; we
should have had more majority decision.

We ended the meeting with a lot of unanimous decisions but it didn't
help much really. Maybe too much of the "unanimous" was just an
exasperated "ok, if I say yes will we then stop discussing this?". Maybe
we all *wanted* to believe that agreeing on these things would make us
an effective group that can work together well. There were some heated
discussions but overall, I found that the atmosphere was friendly. We
didn't go horseback riding but we did have good food. During the breaks
we talked about private stuff that was unrelated to our OSMF work in an
attempt to bridge any gaps that might exist - even if you disagree with
the other person's vision for OSMF, you can still agree about a film you
both liked, and so on.

After Birmingham, when Kate had been newly elected as a replacement for
Richard, we discussed a potential F2F on several occasions. On average,
the situation was like this:

Two people said that we need to have a F2F because it would be the
professional thing to do and the only chance to get over our
difficulties in working together and decide on the future of the OSMF.

One person said that they would like to weigh the cost against the
potential outcome and asked to have a report on how much the Berlin F2F
had cost. (Such a report has to this day never been compiled.)

Three people were somewhere on the fence, and said things like "sounds
good but let's have a concrete plan about what we want to achieve
first", or said nothing at all.

And I was usually very much against because I felt that our desire to
have at least some harmony would simply let us agree to some rather less
meaningful stuff, after longish and wearing debates, at a relatively
high cost the the OSMF *and* the individual board members.

Now I am the first to admit that working together online is always
better if you have met the other person(s) at least once, or even better
if you meet them every now and then. That's why I like hack weekends a lot.

But for the OSMF board I don't see in-person meetings as the silver
bullet to solve most problems. I think such meetings are mainly a
self-made brainwash. You meet, you dine, you feel important, you spend a
lot of money, you are therefore under some pressure to deliver
something, so you try hard, and come up with a result that looks good on
paper. (Go on - read some of the results of past F2F meetings and
compare them to what became of the plans.) Some individuals will have
more experience with such meetings and have ways to get others to sign
off on what they want; others may have lesser rhetorics skills and
therefore will not have as much of an influence. A F2F is not something
where you can take an issue home with you and think about it; a F2F is a
pressure situation.

(It also puts pressure on those who might feel unable to come due to
other commitments. One person at the Berlin F2F said about the
non-attending Richard: "I think he should resign if this meeting is not
important enough for him." - if the F2F indeed is a bonding exercise for
those who come then not coming essentially seals your fate in the group.)

Personally I have come to like F2F meetings when there's a deadline.
When a conference programme must be finalized, I like having people
discuss things beforehand and then meet to seal the schedule and have
any last-minute discussions. But the board F2F is not such an occasion;
to me it seems that the board F2F is seen by its most fervent proponents
as a replacement for, and not an addition to, discussions held by E-Mail.

I think that in the future of the OSMF board, F2F meetings are going to
become more difficult and more expensive as we're bound to have several
directors from outside of Europe, so there will be long flights and
expenses that far exceed £5000 or may even go into the five digits, per
meeting. (It's nice if we have directors whose employers or companies
pay for the trip but we can't assume that to be the case.) F2F meetings
can never replace, or be a condition for, effective working through
E-Mail; a board that cannot get their act together on the E-Mail list
cannot expect the OSM Foundation to pay for a nice meeting so that they
can all "touch base" and "find common ground".

There is a place for F2F meetings, but in my opinion they should not be
taken for granted; a F2F meeting can be held if there are concrete
issues to discuss or resolve which (a) are likely to be resolvable at a
F2F but not (or not as good) on the list, and where (b) the usefulness
expected outcome outweighs the expected expenses.

"Because it is the professional thing to do" or "because we do it every
year" or "because we can then work together so much better" are, in my
opinion, not a sufficient reason to hold an in-person meeting. Anyone
who wants to hold a F2F must be able to explain why they think it is

And after our Berlin F2F and seeing how the results worked out (example
- long discussions about rules of order, finally agreed to them
including a paragraph that said all info must be shared, but that got
promptly ignored), the reasons would have to be quite compelling for me
to agree that we should spend money and time on another F2F.


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

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