At the HOT Summit, Tyler Radford shared his thoughts on the relationship between HOT and the worldwide humanitarian mapping community. This has come as a part of an ongoing conversation within HOT and the wider community. He outlined the steps he would like HOT to take to make that relationship more open, transparent, and supportive of the community.
It is a privilege to address 2020’s humanitarian OpenStreetMap Summit today. This year marks HOT’s 10th anniversary, and my own 5th anniversary with HOT starting from 2015. Today’s theme is the past, present and future of humanitarian OpenStreetMap and we have been thinking a lot about the future.
I wanted to share my Summit address (which you can watch here) on an OSM diary simultaneously, so that people can engage in the comments if they want to.
This is something of a statement of intent for HOT within the humanitarian and OpenStreetMap ecosystems and, while it has been shaped by many conversations with community groups, collaborators and contributors in the universe in which HOT exists, it only seeks to represent my own perspective and some of the recent thinking within HOT the NGO. Please think of it as an early draft and a contribution to a conversation.
I also acknowledge that HOT’s presentation of itself has increasingly highlighted our successes while smoothing over or not acknowledging challenges and failures. Today’s Summit features “failfest” sessions for the first time where friends and colleagues are sharing learnings from where they didn’t necessarily get it right. This statement is not about what we’ve gotten right, but about how we’d like to embrace a stronger culture of feedback and learning and hope that, by doing so, we can achieve great things, with all of you.
This year, we received the phenomenal news of our selection as one of eight world-changing ideas by TED’s Audacious Project. In 2019, the HOT voting members told us they wanted an area home to one billion people living in countries experiencing high risk of disaster or high poverty levels, added to OpenStreetMap. We took them seriously and pitched to Audacious Project investors the idea of mobilising one million humanitarian OpenStreetMap contributors as a way to achieve this. After months of work and multiple stages of application and assessment, several extraordinary philanthropists behind Audacious invested in this vision.
However, we know that even if these headline ambitions are achieved, we will have failed if there are not also active and sustainable OpenStreetMap ecosystems in many of the 94 priority countries once the Audacious Project finishes in 2025. The approach over the next five years must be community-centred and strive for local sustainability and local power as key outcomes.
This is a gamechanger for HOT and, hopefully, for the ecosystem in which we exist. The project funding model that we’ve relied upon in the past has meant an underinvestment in longer-term community support and contributions. This can now change. But, before it does, we know that serious self-reflection is needed.
First, we need to recognise what HOT is and isn’t. Ten years ago the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team could more or less describe all humanitarian-focused OpenStreetMap contributors. The numbers of people and initiatives were relatively small and the players heavily networked. Today, that is no longer true, but we intentionally continued to use the word ‘HOT’ as a catch all, in a genuine, but perhaps naive attempt to be as inclusive as possible. That was a mistake. In conversations over the past months, some people have made it clear to us that this can be problematic. When we refer to HOT communities or the ‘wider HOT community’ or Tasking Manager users as ‘HOT community members’, we can make the mistake of associating groups of people and their work with HOT, even where they haven’t themselves chosen that association. We understand now that, for those groups, this can feel like HOT taking credit or assimilating and, while this was never our intention, we will stop doing this. We of course welcome all who share our mission to consider themselves part of the HOT family, while doing so on their own terms.
In fact, in trying to work through this and define what we mean by ‘HOT’ and ‘community’, we came to a realisation that maybe it is not our role to do this defining… groups contributing to OpenStreetMap already define themselves and that is as it should be, just as many contributors define themselves as part of one or many groups. Maybe our role is to work out what HOT should be in relation to them in order to achieve the ambitions articulated through the Audacious vision.
A friend from the OSM Africa network recently told us: “Communities stop talking to HOT because HOT only talks about HOT”. We recognise that while HOT was instrumental in creating and nurturing the space for dialogue and collaboration to happen around humanitarian use of OpenStreetMap, recently we have too often ended up occupying that space. We will now work towards contributing as a valuable and active constituent part of a much larger network and ecosystem.
To achieve our Audacious goals, we know that HOT needs to be a part of a movement that champions local people, local devices and open knowledge and data to solve local problems. The movement needs to be inclusive, representative and value must flow across it in multiple directions. The resources that come from the Audacious prize can be instrumental in supporting this, but only if they enrich the movement as a whole.
In any ecosystem, money and resources equal power. The microgrants programme is a great example of where HOT has been successful in developing a mechanism to redistribute money from donors and funders to local communities trying to solve local problems. We need to work out how to be much more radical, though. One example is putting community support funding decisions in the hands of OSM-related groups in each region. And supporting the already great work led by local OSM groups, in established and emergent local NGOs, in INGOs and across OSM in places such as the Local Chapters and Communities Working Group and the OSMF. We need help working out how to best contribute to these initiatives and aims, how to turn HOT into a community amplifier, into a humanitarian OSM super-spreader, into a vehicle for people who want to save or improve lives, alleviate suffering and restore dignity using open data, tools and knowledge.
What does this mean, practically? Beyond this statement, we have already started to operationalise this intent.
FIRST You may have noticed that this event is no longer called the HOT Summit, but the humanitarian OpenStreetMap Summit - a space and time for all those who care about open data for humanitarian action to come together, share and learn. We are happy to resource and coordinate the event, but it must serve h.O.S.M not just H.O.T. This small step is the start of a process of de-occupation of the humanitarian OpenStreetMap space by HOT - think mailing lists, working groups, communication channels. For this world-changing movement to map our world to get bigger, we at HOT must create space for others to evolve and lead. Supporting the movement, inspiring it, amplifying it, but not controlling, or defining it - and making sure we get out of the way! As one small example of this, we have committed to stop opening new long term country offices and will support our country office staff in transitioning to fully independent local entities in 2021.
SECOND We have committed to resourcing four regional hubs as part of the Audacious project, moving decision-making and resources away from a remote, global team and closer to where we want to support people and communities. How these hubs evolve is something we need help with, particularly from contributors and communities in those regions.
THIRD We also commit to doing much more of our thinking in public. While it hasn’t been through bad intentions, we have gradually stopped documenting our work, thinking, and decisions in the open. This leads to a less rich ecosystem, limits our contribution to a commons of open knowledge and makes it hard for others to have an open dialogue with us. As part of that, we are going to re-prioritize channels for constructive feedback, criticism, suggestion and discussion. We have further work to do on how we welcome and facilitate these conversations, but we have made a start at hotosm.org/feedback.
At the heart of this is the will to work out what it really means to be a community-centric NGO in this ecosystem. It’s not easy: we all truly are trying to do something that’s never been done before: a map of our world by and for the people of our world. 1 billion people, 94 countries - we need to think ambitiously, even audaciously, as local and international humanitarian and development partners are relying on us for data that can lead to life-changing impact. But as our OSM Philippines colleagues suggested, we also need to ask ourselves “Audacious for who?”
How do we transform HOT and make it something that enables people living in areas vulnerable to humanitarian crises or with high levels of poverty to achieve their own audacious goals? Coming back to the future of humanitarian OpenStreetMap. The future is not HOT. It is all of us here today, across hundreds of organizations and groups working to make an impact through data. Imagine the realm of what we could make possible, together, if we get this transformation right. Thank you for reading and I look forward to this conversation continuing.
By the way, if you didn’t manage to make it to the Summit and would like to see the presentations and discussions, the videos will be made available - details at the Summit website shortly.