Improving the affiliation scheme of the OSMF

Hello OSM community,

Opening this thread for your ideas on how we can improve affiliation scheme in OSMF!

The topic of improving/expanding affiliation schemes in OSMF has been an agenda of LCCWG for quite some time now. Early this year, we prioritized updating the Local Chapters process and documentation and tabled this topic for Local Chapters Congress as well as in other spaces (e.g. regional SotM’s self-organized sessions, if any).


Currently, the OSMF only recognizes geography-based Local Chapters as affiliates of the Foundation (see the Local Chapters page on the OSMF website). The Foundation has now recognized 18 Local Chapters.

It was observed that having Local Chapters as our only affiliation model is too limiting and sometimes provides a high or unreachable burden for various OSM communities worldwide. Taking a leaf from other open-data and open-knowledge communities such as the Wikimedia Movement, it was recognized that other forms of affiliation model would be nice to have. One suggested model is to have a lightweight user group model that can be used in lieu of or as a stepping stone to Local Chapter status. Another model is to also recognize thematic groups or communities such as Youthmappers, GeoChicas, etc.

Again, we welcome your ideas on how we can improve affiliation scheme in OSMF through this thread!

We highly encourage you to join LCCWG to help us advance this agenda :slight_smile:

OSMF Board member
LCCWG member


Comment from @ImreSamu Local Chapters: What To Know and How to Join - #4 by ImreSamu

Some models we can review / refer to:

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The question is what benefit both parties would get from “recognition” and what are the downsides?* And given the nature of small informal groups, how do you even formalize such a status?

The idea itself goes back to when we originally created the LC process more than a decade ago, but nobody has ever made a convincing case for the introduction of such a status.

In my opinion comparing to the WMF is in any case a bit tricky as they have the additional dimension and complication of money. The WMF local chapters get heaps of money and for that reason need substantially more vetting than the user groups, I would even argue that OSMF LCs are probably closer to WMF user groups than to WMF LCs.

PS: on the side, the LC documentation on the OSMF site is missing a statement that LCs need to be self financing, potentially creating the impression that this is where the big handouts are.

* don’t forget that the WMF can deal with a lot more trouble, and trouble is inevitable, than we can. Just the WMF legal department on its own is an order of magnitude larger than the whole OSMF.


And just before I forget it: one of the larger issues with respect to users groups is their Internet presence. To make this easier, way back the OSMF offered to register and provide domain name service for “user group” domains, I believe this has never been withdrawn and is still available.


Perhaps a survey should be conducted to understand why some OpenStreetMap communities have not yet joined the OSM Local Chapter program. This could provide insights into the barriers they face, making us more informed.

Additionally, we need to decide on the adherence to the OSM Diversity Statement and to what extent we take it seriously.

Here’s an extreme example:
For instance, if a formal OSM group were to be established in Afghanistan, it’s likely that local women wouldn’t be able to become members, thus the local OSM female mappers wouldn’t be represented officially.
If Afghan women formed their own group, they still wouldn’t be able to fulfill the legal registration required by the OSMF LC. As a result, if they wish to engage in the OSM community work, they would probably need to do so under pseudonyms, a practice not currently acknowledged by the existing OSMF LC framework.
How could they meet the “Non-profit incorporated entity” requirement? Not likely…
This situation arises from the backdrop of restrictive measures, such as prohibitions on women and girls traveling without a male relative, bans on post-primary education for females ( teaching OSM? ), restricted employment opportunities, and recent bans on women working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations Mission in the country as of early April 2023.

Why is the recognition of the (fictional) “OSM Anonym Afghan Women Mappers Group” necessary? Recognizing this group represents a forward-thinking move towards nurturing an inclusive and diverse OpenStreetMap (OSM) community. By acknowledging the OSM Anonym Afghan Women Mappers Group, we validate the substantial contributions these women have made, despite the challenging circumstances they navigate. Furthermore, this recognition sets a meaningful precedent for accommodating anonymity in situations where it’s crucial for participation. It illustrates a willingness within the OSM community to adapt traditional frameworks in order to foster wider participation and ensure that voices from all walks of life are heard and valued. This not only enriches the OSM project with a broader range of perspectives and local knowledge, but also sends a powerful message about the OSM community’s commitment to inclusivity and equity, making the mapping platform more accessible and representative of the global community it serves.

You can extend this example to other marginalized or legally restricted minority groups, such as:

  • “OSM Anonym XXX LGBT Mappers Group”

If we are serious about the OSM core value: “We want to make the best map data set of the world,” then alongside the current format, a simplified community registration process should be enabled. This would cater not only to those who happen to live in more democratic parts of the world, but also to those in regions where legal and societal constraints hinder open participation. By offering a streamlined registration pathway, we can embrace a wider spectrum of contributors, thereby enriching the OSM project with diverse perspectives and experiences that reflect the world’s complexity. This inclusive approach underscores our commitment to creating the most comprehensive and accurate map data set possible, by ensuring that everyone, regardless of their geographical or societal circumstances, has an opportunity to contribute to the OSM community.


Even a nominal affiliation to the OSMF could be beneficial to some groups. There’s value in merely being able to call yourself “OpenStreetMap Terranullius, an OpenStreetMap Foundation affiliate” when attempting to partner with a university, apply for a grant, or access government data. The trademark policy allows informal use by community members, but there can still be confusion in the absence of a formal affiliation. OSMUS certainly experienced some of that before becoming an official local chapter, despite its track record as a component of the OSM community.

There are some fundamental differences between the legal risks that the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia contributors take and those that the OSMF and OSM contributors take, particularly when it comes to intellectual property rights. However, I think the Wikimedia Foundation’s need for legal capacity is in larger part a consequence of Wikipedia’s size and prominence, and thus its perceived responsibility to protect contributors and also advocate for sensible policy globally. (There is a need: I’m reminded of the time that French security officials interrogated a Wikipedia administrator about the contents of a geographical article that they didn’t even write. It could well have been a mapper instead.)

That said, OSMF doesn’t provide formal legal protection to even its bona fide local chapters, so less formal affiliates wouldn’t be able to expect this benefit anyways.


None of that is “informal” use and implies close association with the OSMF, if not vetting by it. In practical terms that boils down to a contract with clear rights and responsibilities with somebody/something having to be in place (as with any kind of affiliate scheme in any realm of human activity).

I don’t think we need to go through the whole history of OSM-US except to point out that it is a good example of why you want to have the paper work in place before you bestow explicit or implicit special status on a partner organisation. Luckily that has been amicably resolved, but there’s still that other elephant in the room.

Imre went off on that tangent, and while there is a lot to be said about that, for example what a tremendously good idea it is to entice people that are already engaging in a extremely risky activity to do so in an organized fashion so that the OSMF can get some brownie points out of it, that was not what I was talking about.

I was just referring to the run of the mill every day stuff like people going AWOL for one reason or the other, corruption, fraud, embezzlement and all the other stuff that actually happens.

PS: on the side, the LC documentation on the OSMF site is missing a statement that LCs need to be self financing, potentially creating the impression that this is where the big handouts are.

thanks for flagging this! I see previous board members have requested for financial documentation from the applying community.

Based on your experience, do you think “financially self-sustaining” or financial report be an eligibility/required document or should OSMF be more clear in the expectations (i.e. that OSMF does not provide direct funding)?

As a tendency the later, while vetting the financials before accepting an application is not unimportant, the point is that manna is not going to be raining after being awarded the status.

Introducing a simplified community group registration process to accommodate contributors from all backgrounds and circumstances is something that I’ve seen working really well in other open source communities (such as Mozilla), where historically only one group was recognized at a country or language level.

The reasons @ImreSamu lists are examples on why a more open approach to this really empowers everyone.


I gave the Mozilla system a look, leaving away the fluff, it is literally just creating a community category on the Mozilla forum system, simply with a lot less bureaucratic overhead than doing the equivalent here*.

There is only one group stopping a more open approach and empowering everyone here.

* and naturally light years away from any equivalence to WMF user groups.


OSM is not an open source community.

Any agreement has to be between two entities. If there isn’t something that can agree to the LC terms, who is the OSMF entering a contract with? The only way for a group of people to enter a contract is via incorporation.

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Definetly, WFM has a more systematized approach to this and it’s a great example for inspiration.

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In conjunction with improving the affiliation scheme, I think it is critical to pair the improvement of soft and hard infrastructure for OSM communities.

OSMF, and specifically LCCWG, might consider sponsoring and/or investing in projects like OSM Teams and OpenStreetMap Calendar to build a solid foundation for Local Chapters and beyond.


Some legislations will assume incorporation for joint activities (for example pooling funds to buy a lottery ticket). This is in general something that you -don’t- want, besides the general fuzziness, as it typically means joint and separate liability for everything anybody in the group does in the context of the common activity.

BTW this is the contract you need to sign for being recognized as a WMF user group Wikimedia user groups/Agreement and code of conduct - Meta

OSM Calendar was actually financed by the OSMF, but noting that past exception (Microgrants/Microgrants 2020/Proposal/OpenStreetMap Calendar - OpenStreetMap Wiki) , I believe it is fair to say that there are currently no funds available for taking on additional responsibilities over what has already been committed to.


Thank you for that bit of history, Simon!

In my own case, there is an existing “Local Chapter” with really strong online presence here. But somehow it’s not listed as the official OpenStreetMap Foundation Local Chapter.

Open membership - the way you are incorporated should allow easy and mass membership and democratic participation in the decisions processes. The LC should seek to have members from across the full geographic area it represents.

But as far as I know, there is neither open membership nor democratic participation there.

In some countries, incorporation is expensive and involves a significant bureaucratic process. This may be one of the major reasons why some communities have not yet joined the LC program.

How about a city/region-wide local chapter then (but without the burden of establishing a non-profit incorporated entity)?

The main goal is:

  • Uniting mappers in the area to establish a region-specific consensus on how things should be mapped and to collaborate in addressing local vandalism.

  • Providing formal representation to local government, organizations, or institutions. Perhaps something akin to a “Mapper in Residence” program around here.

  • Ensuring that local data users adhere to OpenStreetMap’s licensing and attribution requirements. (For example, I have seen many local government applications here use OSM layers without proper attribution, and we probably need a reporting mechanism for such cases)

This city or region-wide local chapter is just an extension of the online-based volunteer work typically done in OpenStreetMap. Therefore, there should be no financial transfers from OpenStreetMap (or any group) to this city/region-wide local chapter at this stage. This limitation simplifies management, as there’s no need to establish a formal legal entity.

TLDR: It’s a lightweight version of a local chapter, without incorporation (and no money either, but I guess they’re really fine with that. Acknowledgment alone is more than enough for them).

P.S : Sure, there are still several drawbacks to this idea. Such as… What if the members go AWOL? (Perhaps we should establish a mechanism to revoke the LC status once its main members have ceased to exist.) Additionally, what if the LC actually damages the OpenStreetMap brand as a whole? (Maybe, once again, we should consider implementing a mechanism to revoke their status.)


Essentially the only way to do this is that the OSMF owns all IP associated with the “local group” which is why that offer wrt domain names that I mentioned above exists.

BTW a good example of this happening is that have gone completely AWOL with a domain name that will costs $$$$ to retrieve (if at all possible) if there is a new group in SE in the future.


has a lot to do with the elephant in the room naturally.