Monday 4 March 2013

OSGeo Board priorities

A productive virtual meeting of the OSGeo Board resulted in general consensus over OSGeo's priorities, which in turn should help the OSGeo Board and OSGeo committees when guiding OSGeo into the future.
These principles are:
  • OSGeo should act as a low capital, volunteer focused organisation.
  • OSGeo should focus support on OSGeo communities and initiatives which support themselves.
Current priority areas include:
  • Global, regional and local FOSS4G related events, or events which include a FOSS4G stream.
  • Marketing OSGeo, which is currently focused around OSGeo-Live.
  • Education, which is currently focused around the network of Open Source Geospatial Research and Education Laboratories.
  • Local Chapters, as outreach initiatives are typically driven at the local level.
So lets expand on these:

OSGeo as a low capital, volunteer focused organisation

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 Eclipse 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, over the last seven years, 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. As discussed and agreed by the board, this low capital path is something that is working very well for us, and is the path we should continue to follow.

Support initiatives which support themselves

With the thousands of great initiatives and opportunities that OSGeo could get involved in, and limited budget, how should OSGeo set funding priorities? Acknowledging that our volunteer community is blessed with many talented individuals, our most effective way to tap into community potential is to welcome individuals to "help scratch their itch". Extending on this, funding priorities should follow the actions of already successful communities. (Note the difference between "talk" and "action"). If a task or project is important enough, it will attract volunteers and/or sponsors to make it happen. In practice, this will usually equate to providing co-contributions rather than outright funding.
OSGeo's focus should be on initiatives which are of value to all or most OSGeo projects, and to get best value for our limited budget, OSGeo should target initiatives which have high value with minimal investment.
With that in mind our priorities should be:
  • Cover the costs of running OSGeo: Bank fees, insurance, infrastructure, hosting etc.
  • Support marketing and out reach activities, with a primary focus on our FOSS4G global conference, followed by regional and then local FOSS4G or related events.
  • Educational type activities are a high priority, but likely will be a minimal cost activity from OSGeo's perspective.
  • Other initiatives which fit our priorities, as suggested by membership.
Initiatives which probably wouldn't quality:
  • Sponsoring core development of a particular project. (Too expensive, and only supports one project)
  • OSGeo speaker travel expenses, or booth registration costs at a conference. (If conferences/local community feel this is important, they will either: 1. pay for the keynote, 2. make use of local talent, 3. waive fees for our non-profit, 4. find a local sponsor)

Conferences and related events

Conferences are financially risky events. They need to be planned well in advance, and you are never sure how many people will turn up, or whether some global event will have a substantial impact on registrations. Consequently, conferences such as FOSS4G require financial guarantees up front in order to secure a venue. To support and enable these conferences, OSGeo will endevour to retain sufficient capital to offer such guarantees for any FOSS4G event requesting it. If OSGeo's support is requested, then OSGeo would expect these events to budget for a modest profit under conservative estimates, and for OSGeo to retain profits from such events. To date, such profits, while relatively modest, have been OSGeo's primary income source.
Other spatial conferences regularly request an OSGeo involvement, such as providing presenters, workshops, OSGeo-Live DVDs for distribution, or providing a booth. OSGeo facilitates such requests to the level we can achieve with interested volunteers, but typically expects the conference or sponsors to cover expenses.
OSGeo has limited budget set aside for code sprints, which are seen as a valuable forum for giving directly back to development teams. OSGeo will typically expect co-contributions from interested sponsors, and would prefer to support code sprints which are of benefit to multiple projects and communities.


OSGeo is very supportive of educational initiatives which is helping the spread of OSGeo to students across the globe. This is currently focused around the growing network of Open Source Geospatial Research and Education Laboratories within Universities around the world.
This educational initiative is currently progressing well without requiring OSGeo's financial support.

Packaging and Marketing

OSGeo's marketing effort has primarily been focused around the packaging and documentation efforts of OSGeo-Live, and to a lesser extend, osgeo4w. In 2012, OSGeo-Live was used at 45 events without OSGeo's financial support. It has been entirely driven by volunteer labour, by 140 OSGeo-Live volunteers, and printing costs have been covered by local events or sponsors.
In the last couple of years, OSGeo has covered local chapter expenses required to purchase non-consumable items for conference booths (such as a retractable banner).
In moving forward, OSGeo hope to extend marketing reach by providing co-contributions toward printing costs of consumable items at conferences, such as toward OSGeo-Live DVDs.

Local Chapters

Much of OSGeo's marketing initiates are applied at the local level. In many cases, this is best supported through as little as an email list and wiki page. OSGeo also supports local chapters by offering to pay for an Exhibition starter pack for local chapters. Local chapters are also usually the coordinators of conferences and related events, as mentioned above.


OSGeo will continue to welcome sponsorship. Due to OSGeo's low capital model, we are able to make sponsor's contribution provide substantial benefit to the greater OSGeo community. In return, we promote sponsors' logos on our website and through our OSGeo-Live marketing pipeline (which was used at 45 geospatial events around the world in 2012).
However, OSGeo is doesn't plan to either task volunteers with specifically chasing sponsors, or hire someone to chase sponsorship on OSGeo's behalf.

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