Retrospective - 2020 Microgrant Selections, Ethics

Quote taken from @SimonPoole from thread OSMF Local Chapter re-application - OSM Belgium

"So I gave a pointer to the conflict of interest situation that was discovered after the fact during the microgrant project, given that it is well documented no need to repeat things here, but it doesn’t inspire confidence that we get the whole story when dealing with OSM-BE.

But I would argue that the aspect that caused the upset was more of a technicality than the real problem, which was that the relevant projects were eligible for grants in the 1st place because nobody had considered adding conflict of interest avoidance terms to the already quite complicated participation rules."

Quote taken from @mikelmaron from thread OSMF Local Chapter re-application - OSM Belgium

There was a reference to microgrants and conflict of interest. Myself and Joost were on the board and were part of a unanimous vote which approved a dozen or so microgrants recommended by the microgrants committee. A couple were from orgs we had involvement in, and properly should have separated out the vote on them. When this innocent oversight was discovered, we made a public statement apologizing for it. My opinion was the way it was handled should be a point of more trust in us personally.

Then the contents of those discussions should have been minuted.

That is, as I pointed out, just a technicality. The proposals should never have been eligible in the 1st place and wouldn’t have been even in the most provincial of competition environments elsewhere.

The Board of Directors at the time saw it differently. You are entitled to your own opinion, but the Board members who approved the microgrants saw no substantive conflict of interest and viewed the proposals as deserving of support. You are welcome to second-guess Board decisions (why not, everybody else does) but impugning the honesty of Board members crosses a line. Please do not go there, Simon.


I’m not 2nd guessing the “board decision”, it isn’t even clear which decision that should be that I’m supposedly unhappy with. As I’ve said numerous times I have no issue with the fact that the board voted in globo on the proposals, that the board had a problem with its own procedures after the fact, is, well, the boards problem.

My issue is that there is no record of the selection committee or the independent observer ever being made aware of the conflicts of interests during the selection process or even after the fact (when it became clear that such exist to the board) and that submitting proposals with close to very close ties to board members wasn’t even against the rules to start with. So by definition there was no formal wrong doing, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.

Fellow then-board member chiming in! :wave::slightly_smiling_face: The Board CoI policy wasn’t followed at the time. :slightly_frowning_face: Board members are required to declare their CoI & then not vote. That didn’t happen. That’s why the initial vote was of all board members. After the rest of the Board (incl. me) were made aware of the CoI (after the vote), we apologised to the wider OSM community. Individual board member apologies followed in due course.

(I still think the microgrant which went to the belgian group didn’t have any CoI issues)

You are correct that the Board policy was not followed, but the vote was unanimous so the approval would have passed even if the two who failed to recuse themselves had not voted. We did apologize and to my knowledge the matter was laid to rest at that time. I am unaware of any subsequent failures to follow the conflict-of-interest policy requiring self recusal.

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This discussion was relevant, but tangential enough that I have separated it from the original thread at the request of a community member.

A mistake was made and an apology followed. The constant dragging up of this topic zaps energy from the community volunteers. It probably goes some way to explaining why no further microgrant programme has ever happened. So the community groups that really do need the financial support loose out because we cannot have adult conversations about our mistakes and move forward. Shame.

Nothing is ever perfect. We do the best we can and learn from it. Doing something is better than making processes so mentally draining that nobody ever takes up the mantel of running a microgrant programme.


Just to note that this is not factually true. There has been no widespread discussion of those events, not even a superficial debrief that could be integrated as “lessons learnt” in to a future programme. The apology was, as I have pointed out, for a technical/administrative board issue, not dealing with the underlying problem.

Rob does point out one of the other issues in that some local groups approached this as “at last manna starts raining from mama OSMF” and, yes that raises the question what to do with groups that are not able to finance their day to day operations and are not willing to rectify the situation, but that belongs in a different topic.


Can you tell me what is wrong with Local groups wanting some money to do extra things on their list of ideas? Any well functioning group will have a long long list of ideas and can fund some on their own but not fund all. Some non funded ideas are well worth pursuing. This is why OSMF should continue providing microgrants - i.e. to find the best of these ideas and allow them to happen.


So, I have been reading about this in two threads for weeks now, and so far as I can tell, there is some disagreement about the execution of a process, as well as an acknowledged mistake that happened in the
process. The mistake has been admitted. An apology has happened. The process is not perfect. And it all happened about five years ago?

Simon, I get that your standards are high, and this is a good thing, but I wonder if you know how discouraging this entire conversation is to volunteers like me, and likely many others. It’s difficult to read these long, long threads where volunteers are criticized and held accountable long after anything productive can be done to change the past? It makes a person not want to try to do anything at all, for fear of public castigation.

I share this feeling as a volunteer, and as a member of the CWG and fundraising committee who supports having the OSMF offer more bounty programs.

Here’s why:

I personally would like to fundraise to help with bounty programs of all kinds in OSM as means of fostering engagement globally. Not everyone can “afford to volunteer.” In fact, the luxury of volunteering is unequally distributed amongst upper middle class, salaried, knowledge workers who largely reside in Europe and the US. This consolidates a lot of power to a few communities.

To me, making it difficult to apply for and get support. from the OSMF (whether as a recognized community, a bridge loan for SoTM sponsorship, or a bounty program) makes it difficult for new communities and communities in less wealthy countries to be able to fully and actively contribute to the project. This is a loss to the project.

It’s a luxury not to have to care about funding ones volunteer project. If we want a vibrant, diverse, creative, effective global OSM, we have to find ways to financially scaffold the work of people who do not have the ability to contribute hours and hours and hours of unpaid time.


B doesn’t follow from A. If you can’t find financing for a project, aka convince an external organisation of which there are many, that your project is worthy why should the OSMF do it? Essentially you are saying the OSMF should fund raise for you.

Now there are many different models of operation from independent organisations to completely dependent (most of the Wikimedia local chapters are not allowed to fund raise themselves). But you typically can’t have your cake and eat it.

The point is to change the future and not repeat the same mistakes, the bone of contention is that some people think it was just fine.

Except that we are not talking about actual less wealthy countries in any of the discussions leading up to this point.

That said, yes supporting budding communities in countries might be a worthy thing to do, the question is if that needs to be with money and in the format of local chapters.

And if that is the answer, how do we avoid the slippery slope that leads for example to Wikimedia (donors believing they are donating to something completely different than what they believe) and FIFA (ruling cabal stays in power by liberally financing corruption in the local organisations). Just two examples, but essentially all multi-national non-profits have to deal with the same issues.

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I’ve tried to stay out of this, but now this post makes no sense to me. The OSMF, in a purely economic sense, works to raise funds and to use them for the good of OSM. Maybe that’s larger servers, maybe it’s paying someone to work on an OSM-related project, or maybe it’s even handing out dollar bills at a street corner. As long as it benefits OSM and the board has made the decision* that it is the best use of the money that should be fine to me.

* Provided the decision was made correctly of course, which may not have been the case in the specific instance

The OSMF has significantly better abilities to fundraise than most smaller groupings, not to even speak of individual developers. So again, if I (hypothetically) have a project that would benefit OSM in a way such that it’s the best bang-for-the-back the OSMF can get to improve OSM overall, but I have no realistic way to raise the funds myself, why shouldn’t I ask the OSMF, and provided the opportunity is equal to all the community (and proper procedures are followed, see previous *) then why shouldn’t the OSMF grant me that money?

In a way, I’d even go as far as saying that fund raising for me is an important tasks of the OSMF.

Though using the benefit of the doubt I’m assuming that is not the case, but your posts here make it sound very much like you’re opposed to programs such as microgrants on principle (rather than just how they were handled in the specific instance).


Many things to say here, but most of it would be repeating the discussions in the lead up to the micro grant project and given that they can still be easily accessed no point in that.

That said the main issue was with “the best bang-for-the-back the OSMF” which was more or less by design. Given that I am on the record many times as arguing for spending money for developing and maintaining central infrastructure and tools I don’t think we are in disagreement there.


My point is that many people read these threads and extrapolate norms and beliefs from them that then reify in the culture more broadly, whether in affluent communities in the Global North or elsewhere. And sometimes the effects are dampening or discouraging. People routinely state that they find the combative tone in some of the threads to be intrinsically depressing.

Is there any harm in considering the way these debates might push away new and emerging communities and community members? What if critiques were framed as positive proposals? What if we assumed everyone’s best intentions and focused on actionable improvements. What if we piloted and iterated toward success instead of focusing on worst case scenarios?


It’s absolutely true that all multinational non-profits have to deal with these issues, but to very different degrees. The idea that, unless everyone is extra vigilant, OSM could accidentally slip-slide down a slope into being like FIFA or Wikimedia, is comical. How about we actually raise some very basic, very responsible levels of funding for some very basic infrastructure and community projects and then check in on whether or not we’re on the brink of being a global cabal. We don’t even have basic fundraising infrastructure. We don’t even know the passwords to all of our “official” social media channels.

I’m not just saying this to you, Simon, I am saying this more broadly. Folks need to step back and realize that we are worlds away from being remotely like Wikimedia. It’s not a slippery slope between us and them, it’s Mount Everest.

For reference: Wikimedia’s annual revenue in 2022-2023 was $180 million and they have something like 700 employees and contractors working for them.

Wikimedia Foundation reports/Financial/Audits/2022-2023 - frequently asked questions - Meta.


I realize that this is gonna make me sound very foolish and American, but how else would we support budding communities if not with money?

Your are pointing out that my response to a hypothetical is a hypothetical :slight_smile:

That said, the issues don’t tend to scale down with size of the organisation (for example essentially every Olympic accepted sport organisation is a mini-FIFA) the amount of money involved is largely irrelevant. That does play in to the whole “supporting less well off communities” meme, because purchasing power disparity gives organisations in well off countries substantial leverage in less well off ones even with what they consider small amounts of funds.

Wikimedia is interesting because it has very strong compliance enforcement and keeps close tabs on any organisation or/and projects it funds, but most of those activities are for projects that are at best just loosely related to what donors think they donating too. Even by a wide stretch of the imagination there is no wrongdoing, just a big mismatch in expectations.

Just as when you are asking for donations to the OSMF you are likely to be arguing that we need the funds to keep the servers running, improve staffing, tooling and software and so on, and it is unlikely that a donor would assume that the money would be spent on paid mapping and “humanitarian” projects.