[Osmf-talk] Gender in OSM/OSMF

joost schouppe joost.schouppe at gmail.com
Wed Dec 6 12:37:56 UTC 2017


I'm happy to see some direct action already taking off. But I think we also
need to know more about what exactly is the problem. There's many aspects
to it, and they all might have different solutions. It also relates to
other diversity aspects, I believe. As someone interested in these kinds of
questions (I've studied sociology), I'd like for us to propose a research
agenda. Hopefully researchers (both within and outside our community) could
take on some of these questions. Or add links to existing research. It
would probably be best to make a wiki page about it. Here's my own
deconstruction of the problem, but feel free to throw it out and start over.

- the random new mapper seems to be in vast majority male (and middle
class, with some sort of technical background and often 30-something). I
wonder if there's anything at all we can do about that. The main thing to
investigate would be to see if this assumption is correct, and if this is
evolving over time and different from place to place. It would of course be
interesting to know the root causes, but I'd reckon it is so ingrained in
general culture that it's not something we can just change. Useful to the
community as background knowledge.

- non-random new mappers are more easily to skew towards diversity it
seems. As an example, at humanitarian mapathons, the gender balance is much
different from a classical OSM meetup. This is pretty evident, so the main
thing to investigate might be to find best practices: what kind of events,
talking to what kinds of organisations has the highest probability to
recruit people different from the current mapper profile.

- once you have a new mapper, you usually never see them again. This Great
Filter, is it random with regards to gender (and atypical backgrounds)? If
not, why? I don't think we're anywhere near finding out if it is, and if so
why. It is really hard to do, since you are left with such small numbers
that stay active.

- among these mappers (in the broadest sence, as I also mean to include
people who support the project but don't really map much themselves), is
there anything limiting their participation in the mailing lists and other
decision making media, in the OSMF? To know that, you first have to answer
the previous questions. If there is a systematical filtering at a previous
step in the process, but not in this last step, we have to work on the
previous steps to get a better result here.
I found the remark interesting that people might not reveal their gender
here. I've noticed in the Reddit community that everyone is a "he" unless
they say they aren't. Maybe a part of the percieved problem is just
closeted women. Which sounds hilarious, but would be extremely sad if true.
So I'm happy to see the gender related surveys going on, as they might give
us an idea as to the scale of the actual imbalance, and not just the
percieved one.
A general research question could also be to compare the "heavy mapper
profile" to the "involved in the community media profile". It would be
interesting to see if there are differences in gender balance and in other
background information (country, education, values). Explicitely asking
about barriers to participation might be useful too, though I'm afraid
technically it would be hard to do. I suspect the vast majority don't
participate because they don't really care. The subgroup that would
participate if only participation would mean a slightly different thing, is
likely to be quite small. Still, seems worth the try.
Personal experiences like Kate's writing over the summer do really help to
form theories about what's going on.

All that said, personally, I'm pretty sure that the very medium we choose
(mailing lists) and our belligerent tone (we're arguing and disecting, not
trying to build common ground) when dealing with each other are a limiting
factor to wider participation in the core project by the larger OSM
community. So I would personally welcome any initiatives that tries to
change that. But getting a better idea about the root causes and the size
of the problem might help in convincing others of the priority and
usefulness of such work, and might help in shaping policies that actually

One last note is that it would be good if we could coordinate more on
surveys. There are many similar things going on. One of the reactions to
our OSM-science initiative [1] was exactly this. I was a bit hesitant at
first, but I'm starting to feel an osm-science mailing list might be useful
(or a different medium might be good or better). Then there could be one
place to send survey plans to, and look for ways in which surveys can
empower each other instead of duplicating each other in parts.

1: http://www.openstreetmap.org/user/joost%20schouppe/diary/42134

Joost Schouppe
OpenStreetMap <http://www.openstreetmap.org/user/joost%20schouppe/> |
Twitter <https://twitter.com/joostjakob> | LinkedIn
<https://www.linkedin.com/pub/joost-schouppe/48/939/603> | Meetup
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