Feedback on the decision for no SotM 2023

I want to start this by saying that I have huge respect for the State of the Map working group members - I was a local volunteer in 2013 and part of the international team in 2015-2018 so I understand first hand just how much work goes in to organising it. For anyone it doubt; it is a HUGE amount of work. For multiple months of they year I was effectively doing two full time jobs (my actual paid job and then almost the same amount of time on SotM after work).

Having said all of that, I do think the decision to not hold a State of the Map in 2023 was wrong and want to use this as a chance to provide some feedback. I’m opting to do this publicly as the blog post has already received several comments. I feel it is better to have that conversation here where all users can contribute using their standard OSM log-in credentials.

The bid from Cameroon
This bid has been rejected on security and safety issues. I was curious as to the level of concern here so searched for more details via a (closed) system that my international employer makes available to it’s employees. While that are indeed some areas of the country that are classed as “Extreme Travel Risk” or “High Travel Risk” it is important in many countries to look at the local detail. The bid was to hold State of the Map in Yaoundé. Here the risk is classed as Medium with the advice that “Travel to Yaounde can proceed with standard security precautions”. A map was even included showing which areas of the city are the trouble spots. The proposed conference centre was outside of these areas.

Out of interest, I was curious as to how this compared the two cities I recently visited on holiday in South America. Both were also classed as “Medium Risk”.

The point I am trying to make here is that there are many places where the risk is higher than in places that State of the Map has previously been hosted. Managed properly this risk could have been reduced to a level where some members of the OpenStreetMap community would have been comfortable travelling. Given that an event is happening there anyway (the State of the Map Africa conference), it is a shame that the global project and the OpenStreetMap Foundation hasn’t found some way to support the event.

The working group continues to be keen on hosting an international State of the Map in Africa. May I kindly suggest that the OSMF pay for a professional company to help identify a suitable location and provide risk reductions. Without this pro-active engagement it is putting a lot of pressure on the local groups and we may find ourselves back in the same situation next year.

The bid from Kosovo
The reason why this bid was rejected is baffling. The bid was described as “strong” but rejected on the basis that it is in Europe and we have already held many SotMs in Europe. While I have not been to Kosovo, I have visited Skopje in North Macedonia some 2 hour drive away. Assuming Prizren is not too dissimilar, then it is going to be different to the other European cities State of the Map has been to. The rejection here sends a negative message to the local community; namely that we have a first-come, first-served policy in Europe and western European countries have already taken all the available places.

My proposal to the SotM WG

  1. Organising an event is hard. We struggle to get many local communities willing to host the conference so we need to try a different approach if we want to take SotM to new locations. The working group should ask OSMF to fund professional event companies to help identify suitable locations, manage much of the day to day admin and seek solutions that can minimise the risk to travellers.#
  2. Give people the choice. What some consider high risk, others may consider as a low to medium risk. While there is a need to avoid some places, other locations can be visited with sensible planning and with local guides. Information should be made available to the community so that individuals can decide or not.
  3. Local communities cannot change their national politics. We should acknowledge that and do our best to support these communities to host a SotM. Rejection should be an absolute last resort otherwise we risk sending the message that we want diversity but only if it meets an unrealistic set of targets. We should not reject a willing community just because recent SotM’s have been held in the same continent. (If this is a rule - which it shouldn’t be - then it should be set out in advance so that local communities do not waste a lot of time preparing a bid to have it rejected).

I’m sorry if this comes across as a bit of a moan. As per the start of my message, I know that the SotM WG members put a lot of voluntary effort into this. However, I was disheartened to hear the news today. I encourage the WG to work with the OSMF to rectify this for future years. Simply continuing as is, and hoping next year will be different, is not the right way forward now. OSMF: Open the purse strings and give SotM WG what they need to ensure they can bring a safe event forward next year. Success requires early planning.

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Maybe we need to look into the idea of running SotM in a decentralised way, as in a network of local and virtual events, because I think that could make logistics a lot easier and less vulnerable to disruption. And no, I am not saying we need to adopt NFTs or whatever crypto thing that’s trending now.

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Also, if no European STOTM is allowed to take place anymore - why noone told it before to potential candidates? This wasted time of French and Kosovo community in a completely pointless way.

Also, why it is cancelled instead of making online SOTM 2023?

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I agree completely, especially since the Kosovo bid was described as strong, but rejected in favour of a SotM in Africa, which in turn was rejected due to safety concerns. If Cameroon is going to be rejected because of safety concerns, why not have Kosovo host instead of cancelling the whole thing?

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I want to start this by saying that I have huge respect for the State
of the Map working group members … For anyone it doubt; it is
a HUGE amount of work. For multiple months of they year I was
effectively doing two full time jobs

Hear hear! :slightly_smiling_face: (I’ve never organized a SotM, but been involved with other things.) It’s amazing how much work goes into organizing a lot of things. When you just attend an event, you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

So much of OSM currently runs on volunteer labour & time, and it can be so hard and demotivating, and empowering sometimes. :slightly_smiling_face:

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The bid from Cameroon
This bid has been rejected on security and safety issues. I was curious
as to the level of concern here so searched for more details via a
(closed) system that my international employer makes available to it’s
employees.

I’m curious does it say about openly queer/trans/gay/LGBTQ* visitors? Or is the advice exactly what one would expect? I know that was an issue.

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Hi Rob,

I appreciate the constructive feedback. I am part of SotM WG but the views I will share here are my personal views.

TL;dr - it’s a different barrier / levels of accessibility for each of us, let us not conflict them but rather, meet in the middle. And I strongly support my colleagues at SotM WG for this humility and decision.

LONG story:
This is a long post but hope you can hear me out.

I hear your point - let us not punish the Cameroon bid with the policies they cannot control (as we don’t punish European bids for policies they cannot control eg visa application and decisions).

On travel risks and policies, By a quick Google search, you can see all precautions and recommendation to “travel at your own risk” in Cameroun. As stated in the blog (which was shortened and simplified), we have closely discussed this with the team in Cameroon. We have considered providing travel transports from hotel to venue, etc. These travel advisory risk (and even the policy against LGBTQI+) does not reflect realities on the ground. One concrete example that Cameroon team gave is that the venue in Yaonde has been used by international orgs (eg World Habitat Day) making Yaonde the safest city in Cameroon. I also had a chat with a community member and they informed me that LGBTQ are free to express themselves in the area and didn’t get punished for it (touches on policy implementation by countries).

However, as much as I love and advocate for an international SotM in Cameroon, I also hear and considered concerns esp from minority contributors (LGBTQ members); and although policies and travel risk does not actually reflect what is on the ground, I am committed to providing the highest safety for all participants. When we hear and cater to the concerns of the most affected/vulnerable in our community and in this situation - the LGBTQI+ members, we cater to the needs of the whole/everyone.

On the Kosovo bid, yes this is a strong bid and there’s absolutely no flaws in their bid, everything is well organized, except that it is another European country. I was vocal and voted against it (To be clear, I am not against the Kosovo team) and mainly because of the reason shared in the blog. To add, although “visa requirements” is a main criteria of call for bids, it doesn’t really reflect on the ground realities - the deeper criteria is that if there is visa appointments. This issue has been faced by community members hoping to attend SotM in Italy (factor in the limited embassy service dues to Covid19 restrictions per country). This was faced by me and I tell you, visa processes are VERY STRESSFUL (and I know you and Dororthea know about this ;). So my plea was, is it too much to ask for a break from visa applications and organize SotM in a country where it is visa-free or less visa restrictions for people from my region (Asia) and Africa?

I also hear and happy with your recommendations. I look forward to continue support and working with SotM WG to ensure inclusivity and safety to all participants.

=Arnalie

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Thanks for this point Mateusz. I believe, if my memory serves me right, this was discussed and the WG saw the difference and value (to organizers and participants) in conducting an in person vs (purely) online event.

To share my own experience and opinion, as an organizer, hosting an online event is much stressful than doing an in person one. As a participant - after the online event, there is less opportunities for networking and building relationships.

I am not opposed to this idea, but I support the WG consensus and decision.

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For start I want to thank you for commenting and response.

But I really strongly disagree with decision and reasoning being used.

It seems to me to be an equivalent of banning 20 most active accounts of editors from Poland/Germany/UK to improve diversity statistics.

Having 20 good things from Europe and 1 good thing from Africa is preferable to having 1 good thing from Europe and 1 good thing from Africa. Even if the first one has worse diversity statistics. At least in situation where good things done in Europe are not done at cost of good thing in Africa - but as far as I can see, 2023 STOTM in Kosovo would not harm 2024 STOTM in Africa.

Complete cancellation of STOTM taking place in Europe is not going to magically improve situation in Africa. Announcing from start that next STOTM is going to happen in Africa and other communities should not bother with applying at least makes some sense, as communities allowed to apply would likely put more effort.

Deciding that even the best bid from Europe will be rejected, purely due to location - after 2023 bids were submitted - is really obnoxious and insulting to people who put effort into this, just to be told that their attempt was doomed from start no matter what they did. With “some richer countries in the same continent run this event earlier” as justification.

It is especially weird as with reasonable diversity metrics, Kosovo event would be improving things rather than making it worse.


This entire thing pushes me toward rejecting any quotas and DEI stuff as counterproductive to actual diversity. And even more to actual targets of the project.

Remind me about Goodhart’s law - “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”

In this case diversity was not improved at all, only one specific metric was improved. At cost of reducing even what was being attempted to be optimized and harming diversity.

And I also want to comment that while diversity is worth something, I see no reason for it to be treated as the most important goal. Assuming that STOTM in general would be a good thing, then yet another STOTM in Europe, even in country that had highest count of STOTM so far would be a good thing. Even if diversity points would not be gained from this.

It is a mapping project, not diversity project. And I still do not get how it helped even with specifically diversity.

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Hmm, so we had a situation where both bids posed barriers to some people (as was the case in all previous SotMs) which we could work to reduce but not eliminate. And now we have put up a barrier to all people by cancelling the event and likely demotivated two communities both of which would have brought more diversity to SotM than many previous events. I have to say, I still believe that cancelling this event was a wrong decision. My hope is that the OSMF recognises this and gives you all the support you need to avoid a repeat of this in the future.

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Remember folks, you can stand for election to the OSMF Board if you want to change decisions like this. :slightly_smiling_face::slightly_smiling_face:

Is OSMF board able to override this decision?

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Is OSMF board able to override this decision?

So I don’t really want to comment on that, because it’s a complicated, and nuanced, issue.

However I bring it because someone said:

My hope is that the OSMF recognises this

And for the next few days you have to choose whether to stand for the board. So if you want to change “The OSMF”™, this is an oppertunity, and a clear path forward. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Or at least vote. OSMF elections were multiple times decided by just few votes (I think there was one where just one person changing vote would change results)

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Alternatively, perhaps we could join the
FOSS4G 2023 Kosovo conference ( 2023 June 26th / July 2nd )

(As a separate OSM session under the FOSS4G umbrella)

And if it “happens” to be held at the same time as the local Cameroon local osm conference, we might be able to watch each other’s presentations on a projector over a fast internet connection.

And in the future we could even have a regular joint conference ( with the FOSS4G) , which would be much easier to organise. Anyway, I think there is a big overlap between the two communities.

Kosovo is not an “EU Schengen Area” member;
so maybe it has a lighter visa rule compared to Italy or France;

Kosovo visa rules:

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There is some overlap in the developer community and there are numerous companies that have business interests in both sides, but outside of that we could just as well be aliens from Mars. Further the conference ticket for FOSS4G .this year was 600 Euro plus 120 per workshop, OK when you are there for business purposes, but I doubt something that would appeal to many OSMers,

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… while the other half of the community hangs out on some YM or HOT (un)summit. Problem solved.

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More like 99%…

You are taking @mmd and my tongue in mouth comments just a bit too serious.

My non-joking comments: SOTM is primarily, or at least should be, an event for OSM contributors. Learning what other contributors in other countries are doing, seeing interesting applications of OSM data and, most important, getting to meet and discuss with other contributors.

Its purpose is not to add legitimacy to loud ‘humanitarian’ groups and deep pocket business events, which at best are only peripherally related to OSM.

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other context:
https://wiki.osmfoundation.org/wiki/Board/Minutes/2022-09-08#On_Cameroon_bid

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