Monday, 16 October 2017

The Yin & Yang of OSGeo Leadership


The 2017 OSGeo Board elections are about to start. Some of us who have been involved with OSGeo over the years have collated thoughts about the effectiveness of different strategies. Hopefully these thoughts will be useful for future boards, and charter members who are about to select board members.
The Yin and Yang of OSGeo
As with life, there are a number of Yin vs Yang questions we are continually trying to balance. Discussions around acting as a high or low capital organisation; organising top down vs bottom up; populating a board with old wisdom or fresh blood; personal vs altruistic motivation; protecting privacy vs public transparency. Let’s discuss some of them here.
Time vs Money
OSGeo is an Open Source organisation using a primary currency of volunteer time. We mostly self-manage our time via principles of Do-ocracy and Merit-ocracy. This is bottom up.
However, OSGeo also manages some money. Our board divvies up a budget which is allocated down to committees and projects. This is top-down command-and-control management. This cross-over between volunteer and market economics is a constant point of tension. (For more on the cross-over of economies, see Paul Ramsey’s FOSS4G 2017 Keynote, http://blog.cleverelephant.ca/2017/08/foss4g-keynote.html)
High or low capital organisation?
Our 2013 OSGeo Board tackled this question:
Should OSGeo act as a high capital or low capital organisation? I.e., should OSGeo dedicate energy to collecting sponsorship and then passing out these funds to worthy OSGeo causes.
While initially it seems attractive to have OSGeo woo sponsors, because we would all love to have more money to throw at worthy OSGeo goals, the reality is that chasing money is hard work. And someone who can chase OSGeo sponsorship is likely conflicted with chasing sponsorship for their particular workplace. So in practice, to be effective in chasing sponsorship, OSGeo will probably need to hire someone specifically for the role. OSGeo would then need to raise at least enough to cover wages, and then quite a bit more if the sponsorship path is to create extra value.
This high capital path is how the Apache foundation is set up, and how LocationTech propose to organise themselves. It is the path that OSGeo started following when founded under the umbrella of Autodesk.
However, as OSGeo has grown, OSGeo has slowly evolved toward a low capital volunteer focused organisation. Our overheads are very low, which means we waste very little of our volunteer labour and capital on the time consuming task of chasing and managing money. Consequently, any money we do receive (from conference windfalls or sponsorship) goes a long way - as it doesn't get eaten up by high overheads.
Size and Titles
Within small communities influence is based around meritocracy and do-ocracy. Good ideas bubble to the top and those who do the work decide what work gets done. Leaders who try to pull rank in order to gain influence quickly lose volunteers. Within these small communities, a person’s title hold little tradable value.
However, our OSGeo community has grown very large, upward of tens of thousands of people. At this size, we often can’t use our personal relationships to assess reputation and trust. Instead we need to rely on other cues, such as titles and allocated positions of power.
Consider also that OSGeo projects have become widely adopted. As such, knowledge and influence within an OSGeo community has become a valuable commodity. It helps land a job; secure a speaking slot at a conference; or get an academic paper published.
This introduces a commercial dynamic into our volunteer power structures:
  • A title is sometimes awarded to a dedicated volunteer, hoping that it can be traded for value within the commercial economy. (In practice, deriving value from a title is much harder than it sounds).
  • There are both altruistic and personal reasons for someone to obtain a title. A title can be used to improve the effectiveness of the volunteer; or to improve the volunteers financial opportunities.
  • This can prompt questions of a volunteer’s motivations.
In response to this, over the years we have seen a gradual change to position of roles within the OSGeo community.
Top-down vs bottom-up
OSGeo board candidates have been asked for their “vision”, and “what they would like to change or introduce”. https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Election_2017_Candidate_Manifestos  These are valid questions if OSGeo were run as a command-and-control top-down hierarchy; if board made decisions were delegated to OSGeo committees to implement. But OSGeo is bottom-up.
Boards which attempt to centralise control and delegate tasks cause resentment and disengagement amongst volunteers. Likewise, communities who try to delegate tasks to their leaders merely burn out their leaders. Both are ignoring the principles of Do-ocracy and Merit-ocracy. So ironically, boards which do less are often helping more.
Darwinian evolution means that only awesome ideas and inspiring leaders attract volunteer attention - and that is a good thing.
Recognising ineffective control attempts
How do you recognise ineffective command-and-control techniques within a volunteer community? Look for statements such as:
  • “The XXX committee needs to do YYY…”
  • “Why isn’t anyone helping us do …?”
  • “The XXX community hasn’t completed YYY requirements - we need to tell them to implement ZZZ”
If all the ideas from an organisation come from management, then management isn’t listening to their team.
Power to the people
In most cases the board should keep out of the way of OSGeo communities. Only in exceptional circumstances should a board override volunteer initiatives.
Decisions and power within OSGeo should be moved back into OSGeo committees, chapters and projects. This empowers our community, and motivates volunteers wishing to scratch an itch.
We do want our board members to be enlightened, motivated and engaged within OSGeo. This active engagement should be done within OSGeo communities: partaking, facilitating or mentoring as required. A recent example of this was Jody Garnett’s active involvement with OSGeo rebranding - where he worked with others within the OSGeo marketing committee.
Democratising key decisions
While we have a charter membership of nearly 400 who are tasked with ‘protecting’ the principles of the foundation and voting for new charter members and the board. Beyond this, charter members have had little way of engaging with the board to influence the direction of OSGeo.
How can we balance the signal-to-noise ratio such that we can achieve effective membership engagement with the board without overwhelming ourselves with chatter? Currently we have no formal or prescribed processes for such consultation.
Reimbursement
OSGeo Board members are not paid for their services. However, they are regularly invited to partake in activities such as presenting at conferences or participating in meetings with other organisations. These are typically beneficial to both OSGeo and the leader’s reputation or personal interest. To avoid OSGeo Board membership being seen as a “Honey Pot”, and for the Board to maintain trust and integrity, OSGeo board members should refuse payment from OSGeo for partaking in such activities. (There is nothing wrong with accepting payment from another organisation, such as the conference organisers.)
In response to the question of conferences, OSGeo has previously created OSGeo Advocates - an extensive list of local volunteers from around the world willing to talk about OSGeo. https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/OSGeo_Advocate
Old vs new
Should we populate our board with old wisdom or encourage fresh blood and new ideas? We ideally want a bit of both, bring wisdom from the past, but also spreading the opportunity of leadership across our membership. We should avoid leadership becoming an exclusive “boys club” without active community involvement, and possibly should consider maximum terms for board members.
If our leadership follow a “hands off oversight role”, then past leaders can still play influential roles within OSGeo’s subcommittees.
Vision for OSGeo 2.0
Prior OSGeo thought leaders have suggested it’s time to grow from OSGeo 1.0 to OSGeo 2.0; time to update our vision and mission.  A few of those ideas have fed into OSGeo’s website revamp currently underway. This has been a good start, but there is still room to acknowledge that much has changed since OSGeo was born a decade ago, and there are plenty of opportunities to positively redefine ourselves.
A test of OSGeo’s effectiveness is to see how well community ideas are embraced and taken through to implementation. This is a challenge that I hope will attract new energy and new ideas from a new OSGeo generation.
Here are a few well considered ideas that have been presented to date that we can start from:
Recommendations
So where does this leave us.
  • Let’s recognise that OSGeo is an Open Source community, and we organise ourselves best with bottom-up Meritocracy and Do-ocracy.
  • Wherever possible, decisions should be made at the committee, chapter or project level, with the board merely providing hands-off oversight. This empowers and enables our sub-communities.
  • Let’s identify strategic topics where the OSGeo board would benefit from consultation with charter membership and work out how this could be accomplished efficiently and effectively.
  • Let’s embrace and encourage new blood into our leadership ranks, while retaining access to our wise old white beards.  
  • The one top-down task for the board is based around allocation of OSGeo’s (minimal) budget.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Making GovHack (and Open Government) more impactful

I've finally attended the GovHack weekend. As a dad, weekends used to be for taking kids to birthday parties and soccer games. But my boys have grown up, giving me the chance to see how GovHack compares to the Open Source communities I've been involved with for decades. I wanted to see what each can learn from the other and signed up as a coach.
GovHack is an annual event where volunteers band together for 48 hours to write applications with Open Government data. Participants compete for prizes for the most innovative and useful applications. It has grown every year since it started in 2009, attracting thousands of volunteers, running in 36 locations across Australia and New Zealand, and attracted numerous sponsors and an excessive list of open government datasets. Credit must go to the organisers for creating such a sustainable winning formula. But lets ask some tough questions and hopefully help GovHack become more impactful in future?

What is the point of GovHack?

What is the point of GovHack? It wasn't obvious from looking at the main website, but I found an answer buried in the GovHack 2016 Year in Review:
In his opening address, Craig Laundy, the Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science highlighted that open data was one of the keys to the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda. He read a letter from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull which paid the following tribute to Govhack:
“Data without ingenuity is like a lamp without power – only when the two are connected do opportunities to innovate become clear. This is why GovHack is so important.”
Recommendation 1: We should be clear about the purpose and value of GovHack. We should prominently promote messages like "GovHack aims to contribute to the government's Innovation Agenda by encouraging and facilitating ingenuity with government's open data."

Is GovHack enabling Innovation?

So how successful has GovHack been at enabling innovation? It's hard to say really. The 2016 Year in Review provides plenty of details about numbers of participants, datasets used, awards, VIP presenters, red carpet events, but there is barely a mention of how successful GovHack has been at enabling innovation. The best I could find was a passing mention of an "IP Nova App" which started in GovHack 2015. I’ve since been told about a couple of others. But the point is that we are measuring how busy everyone is, and how much buzz is being created, but completely failing to report the impact on innovation.

Recommendation 2: Let's measure and report on the realised innovation resulting from GovHack. Let's then assess results and work out ways to improve GovHack's impact on innovation.

Maturing ideas is hard work

Why is it hard to find reports of GovHack ideas progressing into sustained initiatives? I can't say for sure, but suspect very few GovHack ideas actually grow into something. The simple truth is that good software takes substantial effort to design, write, test, deploy and maintain. While a 48 hour GovHack is useful for brainstorming ideas, it stills requires significant follow up if it is to mature into something useful. And here we notice the difference between Open Source Code Sprints and GovHack. On completion of Code Sprints, there are established and experienced communities committed to adopting and advancing worthy ideas. Who in the GovHack community is offering to help take good ideas through to maturity? I don't see such support mentioned in GovHack web pages.

Recommendation 3: GovHack sponsors' should aim to realise true value by helping to mature innovative ideas into reality. 

The majority of people I saw in the Sydney GovHack appeared to be University students or recent graduates. For these young people, GovHack provides a great practical learning experience, some mentoring, and an opportunity to network. However I couldn't help feeling there was an level of exploitation of these young volunteers. Government agencies are gaining significant value from volunteers testing their datasets, something that would cost orders of magnitude more if implemented internally. Morally, I feel these agencies should give more than a free meal and a chance to share in a prize. A good symbiotic relationship would hopefully consider providing more value for our young community.

Recommendation 4: Sponsors should consider formally setting up cadetships or project development opportunities as awards.

How good is the data?

Integrating data into innovative web or mobile applications typically should follow standard design patterns, with data published through a web service, then processed, integrated, and presented in innovative ways. Ideally government agencies should make data really easy to use, setting up data web services and providing clear documentation and examples. Instead teams were spending much of their GovHack time setting up the infrastructure to publish this data rather than spending their time being innovative.
It is worth being reminded of one of The Australian Digital Transformation Agency Design Principles:
Principle 4. Do the hard work to make it simple.
Making something look simple is easy. Making something simple to use is much harder - especially when the underlying systems are complex - but that’s what we should be doing. Don’t take “It’s always been that way” for an answer. It’s usually more and harder work to make things simple, but it’s the right thing to do.

Recommendation 5: Government should define a best practices guide for publishing data services, and then follow this guide.

How does government know if they are doing a good job? Ruthless survival of the fittest principles apply to Open Source and market economies. People don't buy substandard products. Only the best Open Source projects attract communities. Again, refer to the DTA design principles:


Principle 5. Iterate. Then iterate again.The best way to build good services is to start small and iterate wildly. Release minimum viable products early and test them with actual users; move from Alpha to Beta to Live adding features, deleting things that don’t work and making refinements based on feedback. Iteration reduces risk: it makes big failures unlikely and turns small failures into lessons. If a prototype isn’t working, don’t be afraid to scrap it and start again.

Recommendation 6: Agencies should measure the usability and usefulness of their datasets, assess and adjust accordingly. GovHack provides an opportunity to measure these metrics.

How good are we are implementing Open Government?

And so I come to my most pointed point, which was recorded as a video for my GovHack contribution:


Australia has embraced great policies around Open Government. These describe how openness and collaboration enable innovation. However, the practical implementation of these open principles have proven elusively difficult, with reported success stories coming from a few charismatic champions rather than being systemic across all government.
Why is that? Well, it’s complicated. There is a wealth of established wisdom, spread across the domains of Open Source Software, Open Standards, Open Data, Open Government, and more. However, we still lack clear and definitive guides which draws all this wisdom together into practical playbooks which can be easily applied by government agencies. Instead, current government practices and guidelines regularly hinder collaboration. Let’s fix that.

Recommendation 7: Let’s build an Open Government Playbook.

Let’s document the subtle magic which makes open and collaborative communities work.
This Playbook should cover technology, processes, governance, leadership, business paradigms, and ethics. It should be written in simple language, designed to support decision makers, architects, implementers and citizens to understand open principles.

Could GovHack be more impactful?

Acknowledging that GovHack runs impressively efficiently and has attracted a huge ground swell of interest and momentum, could we make it more impactful? I think we can. We should remind ourselves of the Open Government and GovHack goal of promoting innovation. We should measure innovation enabled and adjust accordingly. Adjustments will likely include aligning more closely with Open Source development practices.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

OSGeo-Live 11.0 Reboot



Version 11.0 of the OSGeo-Live GIS software collection has been released, ready for FOSS4G which is the International Conference for Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial - 2017 in Boston, USA.

Download

Download the OSGeo-Live 11.0 image at http://live.osgeo.org/en/download.html

Release Highlights

This release has been a major reboot, with a refocus on leading applications and emphasis on quality over quantity. Less mature parts of the projects have been dropped with a targeted focus placed on upgrading and improving documentation.
Dropped
  • Windows-only applications/installers
  • Overviews of OGC Standards
  • Some applications that did not meet our review criteria
  • We now only support a 64 bit distribution (32 bit is built but not officially supported)
Added
  • Support for isohybrid ISO images with UEFI

Known Issues and Errata

Post release issues are listed here: https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Live_GIS_Disc/Errata/11.0

About OSGeo-Live

OSGeo-Live is a Lubuntu based distribution of Geospatial Open Source Software, available via a Live DVD, Virtual Machine and USB. OSGeo-Live is pre-installed with robust open source geospatial software, which can be trialled without installing anything.
It includes:
  • Close to 50 quality geospatial Open Source applications installed and pre-configured
  • Free world maps and sample datasets
  • Project Overview and step-by-step Quickstart for each application
  • Lightning presentation of all applications, along with speaker's script
  • Translations to multiple languages
Homepage: http://live.osgeo.org
Download details: http://live.osgeo.org/en/download.html
Credits
Over 180 people have directly helped with OSGeo-Live packaging, documenting and translating, and thousands have been involved in building the packaged software.
Developers, packagers, documenters and translators include:

Activity Workshop, Alan Boudreault, Alex Mandel, Alexandre Dube, Amy Gao, Andrea Antonello, Angelos Tzotsos, Anton Patrushev, Antonio Santiago, Argyros Argyridis, Ariel Núñez, Astrid Emde, Balasubramaniam Natarajan, Barry Rowlingson, Ben Caradoc-Davies, Benjamin Pross, Brian Hamlin, Bruno Binet, Bu Kun, Cameron Shorter, Dane Springmeyer, Daniel Kastl, Danilo Bretschneider, Dimitar Misev, Edgar Soldin, Eike Hinderk Jürrens, Eric Lemoine, Erika Pillu, Etienne Dube, Fabian Schindler, Fran Boon, Frank Gasdorf, Frank Warmerdam, François Prunayre, Friedjoff Trautwein, Gabriele Prestifilippo, Gavin Treadgold, Gerald Fenoy, Guillaume Pasero, Guy Griffiths, Hamish Bowman, Haruyuki Seki, Henry Addo, Hernan Olivera, Howard Butler, Ian Edwards, Ian Turton, Jackie Ng, Jan Drewnak, Jane Lewis, Javier Rodrigo, Jim Klassen, Jinsongdi Yu, Alan Beccati, Jody Garnett, Johan Van de Wauw, John Bryant, Jorge Sanz, José Vicente Higón, Judit Mays, Klokan Petr Pridal, Kristof Lange, Lance McKee, Larry Shaffer, Luca Delucchi, Mage Whopper, Marc-André Barbeau, Manuel Grizonnet, Margherita Di Leo, Mario Carrera, Mark Leslie, Markus Neteler, Massimo Di Stefano, Micha Silver, Michael Owonibi, Michaël Michaud, Mike Adair, Milan P. Antonovic, Nathaniel V. Kelso, Ned Horning, Nicolas Roelandt, Oliver Tonnhofer, Patric Hafner, Paul Meems, Pirmin Kalberer, Regina Obe, Ricardo Pinho, Roald de Wit, Roberto Antolin, Robin Lovelace, Ruth Schoenbuchner, Scott Penrose, Sergio Baños, Sergey Popov, Simon Cropper, Simon Pigot, Stefan A. Tzeggai, Stefan Hansen, Stefan Steiniger, Stephan Meissl, Steve Lime, Takayuki Nuimura, Thierry Badard, Thomas Gratier, Tom Kralidis, Trevor Wekel, Matthias Streulens, Victor Poughon, Zoltan Siki, Òscar Fonts, Raf Roset, Anna Muñoz, Cristhian Pin, Marc Torres, Assumpció Termens, Estela Llorente, Roger Veciana, Dominik Helle, Lars Lingner, Otto Dassau, Thomas Baschetti, Christos Iossifidis, Aikaterini Kapsampeli, Maria Vakalopoulou, Agustín Dí­ez, David Mateos, Javier Sánchez, Jesús Gómez, Jorge Arévalo, José Antonio Canalejo, Mauricio Miranda, Mauricio Pazos, Pedro-Juan Ferrer, Roberto Antolí­n, Samuel Mesa, Valenty González, Lucía Sanjaime, Andrea Yanza, Diego González, Nacho Varela, Mario Andino, Virginia Vergara, Christophe Tufféry, Etienne Delay, Hungary, M Iqnaul Haq Siregar, Andry Rustanto, Alessandro Furieri, Antonio Falciano, Diego Migliavacca, Elena Mezzini, Giuseppe Calamita, Marco Puppin, Marco Curreli, Matteo De Stefano, Pasquale Di Donato, Roberta Fagandini, Nobusuke Iwasaki, Toshikazu Seto, Yoichi Kayama, Hirofumi Hayashi, Ko Nagase, Hyeyeong Choe, Milena Nowotarska, Damian Wojsław, Alexander Bruy, Alexander Muriy, Alexey Ardyakov, Andrey Syrokomskiy, Anton Novichikhin, Daria Svidzinska, Denis Rykov, Dmitry Baryshnikov, Evgeny Nikulin, Ilya Filippov, Grigory Rozhentsov, Maxim Dubinin, Nadiia Gorash, Pavel, Sergey Grachev, Vera, Alexander Kleshnin, kuzkok, Xianfeng Song, Jing Wang, Zhengfan Lin, Jakob Miksch

Sponsoring organisations


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

What's in the OSGeo-Live 11.0 reboot?

In line with the OSGeo-Live reboot we have identified the following actions:

We will only support a 64 bit distribution, (32 bit will be built but not tested or officially supported).

We will no longer provide:
  • Windows installers,
  • Write ups for OGC Standards,
  • Write ups for libraries without a user interface (on a case-by-case basis)

Stray projects:

We haven't got a point of contact for these projects. If you know something about this project, and can help review docs, then please consider adopting the project. Without a volunteer, we will need to consider retiring them from OSGeo-Live. Work commitment is low, kudos and karma very high :)
  • openlayers
  • osgearth
  • gmt
  • iris
  • jupyter
  • JOSM ( OpenStreetMap editor )
  • proj4
  • mb-system
  • zygrib

Projects recommended to be retired from OSGeo-Live:

  • geokettle
  • geomajas
  • javaworldwind
  • kosmo
  • mapnik
  • pywps (quickstart broken)
  • sahana
  • tinyows
  • ushahidi
  • viking

Remaining projects:

  • Most projects have at least minor tweaks required for the docs, some have outright errors.
  • We are asking each project to, check their project overview, run the application on an OSGeo-Live VM (10.5 or a recent nightly build), run every step of the quickstart, update if required, and tell us when done.
  • Once verified, we will add the project back into the OSGeo-Live 11.0 builds.
  • We will call on all projects to test their projects and quickstarts again in an OSGeo-Live 11.0 beta.
For specific project comments, see the OSGeo-Live status spreadsheet, column T "11.0 Comment", and column U "10.5 Doc Review".

Key Milestones

  • 5-Jun-2017 OSGeo-Live Feature Freeze (final application versions installed)
  • 19-Jun-2017 OSGeo-Live delivered to UAT (final application versions installed - Beta stage)
  • 24-Jul-2017 OSGeo-Live Final ISO
  • 14-Aug-2017 FOSS4G 2017 Boston
... full schedule

About OSGeo-Live

OSGeo-Live is a Lubuntu based distribution of Geospatial Open Source Software, available via a Live DVD, Virtual Machine and USB. You can use OSGeo-Live to try a wide variety of open source geospatial software without installing anything.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

What applications and versions should be included on OSGeo-Live 11.0?

We are asking all OSGeo-Live projects to let us know:
  1. What versions of projects should be on OSGeo-Live?
  2. Are there any new projects which should be on OSGeo-Live?
  3. Are there any projects which should be dropped from OSGeo-Live?
As per last announcement [1], with our next OSGeo-Live release we intend to focus on quality, and as such will be asking each project:
  1. To help install the latest stable version of the software.
  2. To verify Project Overview and Quickstarts are both up to date and in line with our documentation standards.
You can see results of our first pass review in our status spreadsheet [2], column T "11.0 comment", and column U "10.0 Doc Review".

[1] https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Live_GIS_Disc_Press_Release_75

[2] https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Q5BaEgQtgw4O1bXyeWMlM8XtAOhUgcjZ7Y2O0FZc2H0/edit?hl=en_GB#gid=2014800150

Key Milestones

15-May-2017 Decide versions of applications to be installed on OSGeo-Live
22-May-2017 Draft installers for new applications complete
5-Jun-2017 OSGeo-Live Feature Freeze (final application versions installed)
19-Jun-2017 OSGeo-Live delivered to UAT (final application versions installed - Beta stage)
24-Jul-2017 OSGeo-Live Final ISO14-Aug-2017 FOSS4G 2017 Boston

... full schedule

About OSGeo-Live

OSGeo-Live (http://live.osgeo.org) is a Lubuntu based distribution of Geospatial Open Source Software, available via a Live DVD, Virtual Machine and USB. You can use OSGeo-Live to try a wide variety of open source geospatial software without installing anything.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Building an Open Government Multistakeholder Forum

Background

The Australian government's Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is asking for community input on the development of an Open Government Multistakeholder Forum: a group that will allow government and the community to ensure the commitments of Australia’s Open Government National Action Plan are realised. The plan's commitments involve strengthening and improving:
  • Transparency and accountability in business,
  • The availability of open data and the digital transformation of government services,
  • Access to government information,
  • Integrity in the public sector, and
  • Public participation and engagement.

Framing the question

Let’s be more specific by defining the question this forum should aim to solve:
How can decision makers make good decisions about complex topics which address community needs and reflect community values, incorporating community engagement and earning community trust?
Unfortunately, the utopian vision of open government has inconvenient practical limitations requiring a healthy dose of pragmatism in order to be effective. The following challenges exist:
  • How do you attract the attention and contributions from people, acknowledging that we are in an era of information overload and competing priorities?
  • How do you facilitate conversations about complex and intricate issues, acknowledging that it requires substantial time to fully understand and then debate concepts?
  • How can you assess comprehensive community opinion on complex subjects, acknowledging that most people don’t have time to engage in the study or debate.
  • How do you avoid inappropriate bias from vested interests, acknowledging that vocal minorities (companies or individuals) may promote self serving principles contrary to the interests of the majority?
  • How do you gain trust from communities in presented information?
  • How do you manage communication overhead from a large community, finding and promoting the best ideas? (Increasing the signal-to-noise ratio).
  • How can people with a good ideas know they will be heard, and hence be encouraged to participate, noting the best ideas for complex subjects will be time consuming to develop and express? (Increase voice-to-signal ratio).
  • How do you efficiently avoid conversations being derailed by inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour? (Don't feed the trolls)

Learn from Open Source

In answering these questions we can learn from the communities behind established Open Source Software projects. Most of the principles behind Open Government are inherited from Open Source best practice, which in turn are based on morals found in gift economies such as family gatherings and local community groups.
Established Open Source communities typically have embraced Merit-ocracy, Do-ocracy, Reciprocity, Respect, Modularity, Pragmatism, Sustainable Practices, and have attracted Strategic Funding. Each of these points should be considered in detail as to how they should be applied in the Open Government context.
Open Source projects typically are started by a small volunteer base. All the team know each other intimately. Leaders organically evolve, based on meritocracy and do-ocracy. If the project successfully grows, it builds a technical base which becomes too big to maintain on volunteer labour alone. The project either hits a glass ceiling, or attracts external funding to resource core activities (such as project coordination). Australian Open Government has grown to a size comparable to large established Open Source projects and should be managed and resourced accordingly.

Answering Specific Questions

Government have suggested a basis for founding an Open Government Multistakeholder Forum and asked for community input. Highlights include:
  • Purpose: [The scope of work described for forum members, covering review, building a reasoned opinion based upon analysis, debating and then explaining opinions as recommendations which would require a non-trivial amount of time for diligent members to complete properly.]
  • Ways of Working: The Forum [will] meet at least every two months, in a location rotated between capital cities.
  • Ways of Working: Forum members [will] not be remunerated, but that its community members be reimbursed by government for reasonable travel costs.
  • Structure: The Forum [will] comprise not more than 16 members ... with equal representation from government ... and the community.
  • Appointment Criteria:  The Forum [should] broadly reflect the [social] diversity of the Australian community. In particular ... women and men should hold at least 40 per cent of positions on the Forum. ...
Question 1: Are there any other functions the Forum should usefully perform?
Question 2: If you do not agree with the single forum model, how do you think another model should work?
Question 3: Are there other ways of working you think the Forum should usefully adopt?
Question 4: Are there any other criteria or guidelines that should inform the appointment of community members to the Forum?

Answers 1-4:
There is a significant mismatch between the apparent workload, the accountability that should exist, and the expectation that leadership should come from unfunded volunteers. This should challenge our underlying human morals and ethics.
  • For forum members to provide valuable leadership, they should allocate substantial time analysing, debating and deciding on issues. This would equate to multiple days per week, which is more than most volunteers have available to them. Note that you want to attract committed people already playing leadership roles in open project(s).
  • As well as being morally questionable, I'd expect that having the Australian government expect forum members to work for free is counter to Australian labour laws.
  • I would expect that nominated government employees would be paid to participate as part of their daily work. This will create a mismatch in effort and influence that can be applied by government employees verses community members.
  • If community members are instead paid to participate by an external employer, one should question likely conflicts of interest.
  • If continuing with unpaid forum membership, the scope of tasks expected of forum members should be reduced to be in line with typical capacity of volunteers. 
  • The "Purpose" for the Multistakeholder Forum should be accompanied by realistic time and task commitment expectations of forum members, such that candidates and the community have a clear understanding of what should be done.
  • As well as aiming for social diversity, the forum would benefit from having a multi-disciplinarian team. 
Question 5: How should a selection panel to recommend Forum appointments be composed?
Question 6: Should nominations to the Forum be published?
Question 7: Having regard to the desirability to appoint Forum members without unnecessary delay, is there a better way to administer the nominations and appointment process?

  • If forum membership is treated as a paid position, then candidate selection should be treated with the same privacy applied to standard job hiring.
  • If membership is unpaid, then a public process could be considered. For instance, each candidate could provide a brief statement about themselves. The community can then vote on potential candidates to help short list candidates. The final selection should go to the selection committee who considers community votes when doing face-to-face interviews.
Question 8: Should appointments to the Forum be staggered?
Question 9: How should any mid-term vacancies be filled?

  • More relevant is "How should the Forum be refreshed?" In order to ensure history from one panel to the next, only a maximum of half the panel should be updated in any election cycle.
Question 10: How can the Forum best hear and respond to the range of community perspectives on open government?

This question requires construction of a well thought out plan. Here are a few memory jolters (to be considered with comments above):
  • Define a clear vision and set of principles which casual members of the community can quickly assess and agree or disagree with.
  • Trace all actions back to these principles.
  • Acknowledge the diversity in your community's level of interest and time commitments and adjust accordingly. 
  • Make use of tools which efficiently capture crowd wisdom. Eg: Allow comments on posts, and allow communities to vote up/down comments based on merit.
  • Respect the time and value of your community. Treat them as partners rather than a survey point. Adopt tools and processes which enables the community to maximise each individual's value of each contribution.

Post Note

This response is based on my background working within Open Source communities, Open Standards communities, activist communities and local communities. Do these ideas make sense to people with different experiences?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Reducing scope of OSGeo-Live for next 11.0 release


For our next OSGeo-Live release, 11.0, we propose to reduce the number of packages included, and only support a 64 bit distribution, (32 bit will be built but not tested or officially supported).
Factors leading to this suggestion include:
  1. Some projects have dwindling communities and momentum.
  2. Increased OSGeo-Live scope has increased our core maintenance and testing.
  3. Reduced engagement from projects (partly due to less core time spent reaching out to projects)
  4. Missing our first release milestone in 9 years.
From our options of reduce quality, become more efficient, increase volunteer engagement, find a sponsor to support core activities, and reduce scope, reducing scope is our most viable and acceptable option. Other ideas are welcomed.

Questions we will ask in assessing which projects to keep include:
  1. Is there an ACTIVE OSGeo-Live liaison person/people for the project? See "Contact" column in our Package List.
  2. Has the Project Overview and Quickstart been reviewed and are they current and complete?
  3. Do OpenHub metrics reflect an active and healthy community: 
  4. Is the project being updated on OSGeo-Live with each release?
Key Milestones
  • 5-Jun-2017 OSGeo-Live Feature Freeze (final application versions installed)
  • 19-Jun-2017 OSGeo-Live delivered to UAT (final application versions installed - Beta stage)
  • 24-Jul-2017 OSGeo-Live Final ISO
  • 14-Aug-2017 FOSS4G 2017 Boston

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The elusive "Open Business"


Variants presented at:
  • The “Geo-enabling our communities” conference, hosted by the Australian/New Zealand Surveying & Spatial Sciences Institute, Canberra, Australia, 25 November 2016.
  • The International Digital Earth Symposium, Sydney, Australia, 6 April 2017.
  • The "Spatial Information Day" conference, Adelaide, Australia, 11 August 2017.


The Open Source story about creating Free Software sounds a bit like a fairy tale. 
Highly motivated developers, 
joyfully beaver away, 
in the middle of the night,
to create high quality software systems,
which they give away for free.
While this simplistic recount is mostly true, 
it glosses over the many subtle details required to create a successful Open Source project. 

Why do so many people give away so much of their time?
Why are these volunteers so effective?
Why does open source work?
Why has the business world found the open source formula so hard to replicate?

Surprisingly, many of the answers are found of our core morals and ethics.

The question of Open verses Proprietary actually breaks down into a series of sub questions.
  1. Should you use Free Software or Free Data?
  2. Should you design systems using Open Architectures and Open Standards?
  3. Does it make sense to contribute back to communities?
  4. Is there a business case to help lead community initiatives?
  5. And if so, should you help scale community and tap into the world’s collective intelligence?

This is a big topic and we have limited time, so I will focus on some of the key messages, mostly at the “use and implement” end of the continuum.

Lets start by asking why you might use Open Source GIS Software?
If you are starting from scratch, the answer is simple. 
There is a comprehensive stack of mature, widely used and widely supported Open Source Geospatial applications, all available for free.
This is a screenshot from the OSGeo-Live software distribution. 
OSGeo-Live includes 50 of the best geospatial Open Source applications, along with sample data, project overviews, and quickstarts for each application.
Lets look at a few of the more popular applications:

QGIS is a desktop GIS application similar to ArcGIS with comparable features, but it free.

OpenLayers is similar to Google Maps API, or ESRI’s Javascript APIs, also free.

Cesium provides a 3 dimensional globe of the earth, like Google Earth, but free.

GeoServer is a map rendering server, similar to ArcGIS Server.
It is the reference implementation for a number of the OGC standards, and is … free.

PostGIS adds spatial functionality to the Postgres database.
It is comparable in maturity, stability, performance and features to Oracle Spatial and Microsoft SQL Server, except it is … free.

For free data, you can use Open Street Map, and Open Route Map. This data is typically pretty good, and suitable for most use cases, but still not as consistent as datasets such as Google Maps.

Ok, so the software and data can be free, but there is more to applications than just the purchase price.
There is deployment, maintenance, training, support.
And who are you going to call at 2am in the morning if something goes wrong?

And that is where companies like Jirotech, EnterpriseDB and Redhat step in.
They backfill the capabilities of organisations deploying these free applications with enterprise level support and services.

So we have covered the first obvious question, 
“Does open source compete favourably feature-for-feature?” It does.
But we have just started. When considering an organisations’ technical roadmap, there are more reasons for selecting Open strategies.
Lets start by considering some of the characteristics of the digital age.

And the amount of software created is innovating at a similar rate.

Odds are that any software you own will be out-innovated within a year or two.
Your software is not an asset!
Your software is a liability!
It needs to be updated, maintained, and integrated with new systems.
It is technical debt, and you should try to own as little of it as possible.
You can achieve this by purchasing Proprietary Software, by using Software as a Service, or by leveraging Open Source.

Because software is so time consuming to create and so easy to copy, it is excessively prone to monopolies.
This holds true for both proprietary and open source products. A product that becomes a little better than its competitors will attracts users, developers and sponsors, which in turn allows that product to grow and improve quickly, allowing it to attract more users. This highly sensitive, positive feedback leads to successful software projects becoming category killers.
Where Open Source and Proprietary business models differ is how they respond to monopolies. 
Proprietary companies are incentivised to lock out competition and increase prices as much as the market will bear. 
However, the open source licenses are structured such that multiple companies can support the same open source product, so the market self corrects any tendencies toward price-fixing.

This leads us to Vendor Lock-In. 
Vendor Lock-In occurs when replacing a vendor’s product would significantly impacts your business.
It is a significant risk, as vendors then have excessive influence on price and your future technical design options.
There are two key strategies to mitigate against vendor lock-in.
  1. Is to use open source, as multiple vendors can all support the same codebase.
  2. Is to design modular architectures based on open standards. 

Using modular architectures:
  • reduces system complexity,
  • which reduces technical risk,
  • and facilitates sustained innovation.

It means you can improve one module, without impacting the rest of your system.
This helps with maintenance, innovation, and keeping up with latest technologies.

Committing to and sustaining a modular architectures requires continual vigilance and forward thinking, especially when acquiring new systems.
There will always be quick fixes and vendors offering more features if you are prepared to accept a level of lock-in.
You should be considering:
  • Long term maintenance,
  • Ability to integrate with other systems, 
  • Obsolescence,
  • And the cost of a future exit strategy. 


What I’ve described so far is practical, main stream advice.
Using open standards, open source and open data is now promoted in government policies and purchasing guidelines, and can be justified based on sound traditional economics.
But the Open Source culture is not based on traditional economics.

Open Source and Open Data communities are usually founded on gift cultures, and continue to retain the principles of the gift culture in their DNA. 
If you wish to successfully engage with these open communities, 
If you wish to have these communities adopt and maintain your codebase,
It helps to understand and respect these gift cultures.
And this starts by understanding our human desires to do things intrinsically good and valuable.

Which brings us to the topic of motivation. While traditional carrot and stick incentives improve motivation for boring, mechanical type tasks, research has shown it to be counter-productive for higher order thinking, such as creating software.
Dan Pink has collated this motivational research into a compelling book called Drive where
he describes how we humans are wired with deeper and more effective motivations. Namely: …

Autonomy, the desire to be self directed.

Mastery, the urge to get better at stuff.

And purpose, the desire to do something with meaning and importance.
So if we facilitate the collaboration of highly motivated people, with the interconnectedness of the internet, and provide them with creative tools, amazing things happen.

Like:
  • Wikipedia which has displaced Encyclopedia Britannica as the authoritative information source,
  • And Linux which is the dominant operating system in IT service centres,
  • Open Street Map, which provides detailed maps of the entire world,
  • And the OSGeo-Live distribution of Open Source Geospatial Software, a project I’ve been involved in for close to 10 years and which has attracted hundreds of contributors.

So how does this translate to attracting and engaging communities?
Professor Charles Schweik tackled this question. He and his team studied thousands of Open Source projects to identify common characteristics of successful projects, and they came up with some interesting findings. Like:
  • Most successful open source projects are small, with just 1, 2 or 3 developers. This is surprising if your exposure to Open Source is through the media stories which almost exclusively reference large projects such as Linux or Android.
  • Also, most open source projects are abandoned. 5 out of 6 according to Charle's research. 

But this is not a weakness, the low success rate is actually a good thing.
Developers vote with their time, and only great projects survive.

Also, when your developers are also users, wanting to scratch an itch, they are the best qualified to decide what is best for a project.

And when your developers are motivated by Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, they will be motivated to spend extra time to “Get things right” rather than compromise on quality.


What Charlie's team found from their research was that successful projects usually possess:
  • A clearly defined vision,
  • Clear utility,
  • And leaders who lead by doing.
Then as projects move into a growth phase, successful projects tend to:
  • Attract an active community.
  • Provide fine scaled task granularity, making it easier for people to contribute.
  • And often benefit from attracting financial backing.
Lets expand on this. What attracts community?

Attracting volunteers involves helping maximise the unique, intrinsic value a person can contribute based on their limited time available.
Effectively maximise the usefulness and moral return on effort.

This starts with a clear and compelling vision, inspiring enough that others want to adopt the vision and work to make it happen.
This should be followed by a practical and believable commitment to deliver on the vision. Typically this is demonstrated by delivering a “Minimum Viable Product”. 

Then you need to be in need of help, preferably accepting small modular tasks with a low barrier to entry, and ideally something which each person is uniquely qualified to provide.
If anyone could fix a widget, then maybe someone else will do it. But if you are one of a few people with the skills to do the fixing, then your gift of fixing is so much more valuable, and there is a stronger moral obligation for you to step up.

Attracting collaborators means new ideas, new ideologies, and new visions.
A successful project works out how to balance competing priorities of adding features, retaining quality, remaining sustainable, and staying on task.

As projects mature and increase in complexity, reliance on the experience of core contributors increases.
Eventually core tasks for large projects usually becomes more consuming than can be sustained by volunteers.
At this point, sponsorship really helps.

As an example, I’ll reference the OSGeo-Live project I’ve been involved in.
Ten years ago, the Open Source Geospatial Foundation was a collection of Open Source applications, but lacked consistent marketing and was difficult for new users to navigate and understand. 
So we proposed to package all the applications on a DVD, ready to run, with sample datasets and consistent documentation. This was our vision.
We then created a minimal first version of the distribution, demonstrating our commitment
As some of us were on the organising committee of the next international geospatial Open Source Conference, we committed to hand out the DVD at the conference, creating a targeted marketing pipeline. This provided clear value for the developers we were recruiting. 
Then we provided simple guides on how to write installers and documentation and went to the open source developers saying:
“If you package your application and write documentation, like this…, then you can tap into a targeted marketing pipeline”. This made it easy for developers to provide discrete and uniquely valuable contributions. 
And it worked. We have attracted 100s of volunteers, to package 50+ projects, with documentation translated into over 10 languages, which is updated every 6 months.

Ok, so maybe you might be thinking that giving back to open communities might be noble, worthy, the right thing to do.
But there is no way you’d be able to justify it to management. You wouldn’t be the first to face this dilemma. We regularly help organisations answer various permutations to this question.
The answer typically references “Opportunity Management”.
Opportunity Management is the reverse of Risk Management. However, instead of identifying what could go wrong and putting strategies in place to prevent it, you identify things that could go right, then put strategies in place to help make it happen.
Help an open source community, and the number of users, developer and sponsors will grow, and you will indirectly reap the benefits.

So what have we covered?
  • Software is a liability.
  • Minimise your technical debt.
  • Design modular architectures with Open Standards. 
  • It reduces vendor lock-in, increases maintainability, agility and ability to innovate.
  • There is a breadth of Open Source applications which are feature rich, mature and commercially supported.
  • And there is Open Data available to address many of your use cases.


To take things to the next level, to engage with Open Source communities and tap into their collective creativity, you should re-learn how gift cultures work.
The beautiful part to this is that it involves reconnecting with our inner morals and ethics, and doing the right thing.