Updated membership prerequisites plan

Cross-post from osmf-talk

Hi all,

Thank you all for your feedback to the consultation on membership prerequisites. Based on your responses and discussion at the board’s virtual face-to-face meeting, we have decided not to call an extraordinary general meeting to change membership rules. We intend instead to implement measures on new memberships through a board decision at the next OSMF board meeting (if we’re happy with your feedback here). We will limit new memberships to people who have at least registered three months ago and mapped 15 days. Later, we will use a survey to gather additional feedback and confirm the membership’s support for the change. We also evolved our thinking on the criteria. More on both points below.

Point 1: The implementation.

The plan so far was to implement membership prerequisites through a general meeting. Because the next AGM in December is still a long time off, moving forward with this now would require an additional meeting to be scheduled specifically for this topic. Calling a meeting of all foundation members, and doing the same for any future tweaks to the requirements, seems cumbersome.

To avoid this, we want to install requirements on new memberships through a simple board decision (which we’re allowed to do by the Articles of Association). We’re not casting anything in stone, and a future board can adjust the requirements.

Later this year, we will formally survey of the membership. Compared to a general meeting, a survey is more flexible in the types of questions we can ask. We will not be limited to simple yes-no votes, but can specifically ask about details such as the number of days, the types of contributions, and other aspects of the proposed requirements. Based on your response to the survey, we would decide whether further, less or different measures are necessary.

Point 2: The requirements.

We’re hearing a lot of discussion about how to validate non-mapping contributions. We also hear workload concerns from our working group volunteers. That’s why we’re now considering to count only mapping days, but set the barrier so it isn’t too high for people who mostly contribute in non-mapping ways.

Pending membership feedback, the Board therefore intends to accept new normal and associate memberships applications only from persons who have mapped over 15 days, and have registered at least three months ago. The Board will ask the Membership Working Group to implement these restrictions.

Please let us know your thoughts on our plan.


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Can you remind us what the reasoning behind this new requirement is? If I remember right, the goal is to avoid an attempted “takeover” of OSMF by a bad actor. Given that a hostile actor could fund hundreds of people to map and participate in OpenStreetMap for 15 days over 3 months, become members, and then continue with the “takeover”, how does this proposal address that concern?

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First, you’re correct that this is not by any means an insurmountable obstacle to a takeover. We hope that it helps at least a little bit insofar as coordinating the required editing effort is an extra inconvenience for the attacker (and an extra opportunity for them to mess up/show up on our radar). Preventing a takeover still requires vigilance, for example to spot the editing activity + coordinated signups in time to reject the membership applications of the people involved in the takeover attempt.

The reasoning behind the change isn’t just about takeover attempts, though. In my opinion, it is also valuable because it helps us more clearly define the role of the foundation in the OSM ecosystem and community. To quote from the rationale of the 2020 AGM resolution: “This change would more firmly establish the OSMF as an entity serving the people and communities who create OpenStreetMap.”

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It is not clear what this ‘value’ is. The resolution mentions seems like business speak used to obscure reality. If OSMF wants to serve the community better it could begin to force transparency in these boards (which use “moderation” based on secret words defined by admins and not by community consensus).

e.g. My dissent voice in this message is silenced by “flags”.

I’ll post it here in the open but have shared this with the board multiple times:

If you want proper takeover protection, you need solutions that make it unappealing to any organisation considering a takeover. For example, you could remove the “profit” motive by changing the legal structure of the OSM Foundation to a form that has an Asset Lock protected in law. This is what OSM UK had done; we set up as a Community Interest Company which includes such an Asset Lock (you legally cannot extract profit from the company ensuring it all goes back to our community).

From what I can tell, the main reason the OSMF have not done this is that they are still considering their options post Brexit. I was lucky to speak up the UK governments Geospatial Commission and they offered to speak to the OSMF about their options and what the UK government may be able to do for them. I passed this offer on to the OSMF last year and despite several attempts to ask if anyone in OSMF has even bothered to have a single chat to find out more, have not heard anything.

The conclusion I took was that takeover protection is not important to the OSMF board. Personally I think the whole takeover talk is over hyped anyway so am not too fussed that little action has happened here. But if you want proper protection you need something with legal backing (such as changing from a normal LTD company to some other form) and that requires expert advice and knowledge not kicking around an idea in board meeting chats.

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