Study on governance

This entry displays the current state of the mini study I am doing for TransforMap looking at existing Online Collaborative Communities modes of governance trying to learn a few useful things for TransforMap.
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Here is a short piece on defining the social dilemma we’re trying to address setting up TransforMap (ie. as a platform embedding a set of routines, social norms, guidelines, software, servers, etc.). It is in the essence of a commons to face one or more social dilemmas.
Social dilemmas are situations in which collective interests are at odds with private interests (eg. Prisoner’s dilemma).

#Preliminary: What is/are the social dilemma(s) TransforMap has set itself to address?

In its simplest definition, a commons is a resource shared by a group of people that is subject to social dilemmas (Hess and Ostrom 2007, p.3). Typical dilemmas affecting knowledge commons are commodification or enclosure, pollution and degradation, and non-sustainability (Hess and Ostrom 2007, p.5).

Maps relevant to TransforMap are produced in different places, in an asynchronous way, running under different mapping platforms – some of which having restricting license terms – and data/information is structured in multiple and divergent ways (no standard taxonomy). Every mapper acts in its own community (local or of practice) using the tool that he/she can use or know.
The result is that maps cannot be aggregated across geographical regions and across themes, or even less re-sampled, in order to create a global pool of cartographic knowledge about what is sometimes called the new economy: i.e. new forms of economic organization not driven by profit but social and ecological benefits.
The dilemmas can be summed up as the following:

  • free-riding on the development of dedicated mapping software (most relevant maps use existing software as they don’t have the resources to develop their own or contribute to existing open source software)
  • commodification of mapping software (ie. Google Map Maker)
  • knowledge fragmentation (no standard taxonomy) and dispersion (no central directory - until Mapping of Mappings).

Reference: Hess, C., & Ostrom, E. (Eds.). (2007). Understanding knowledge as a commons: From theory to practice. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Retrieved from

#Analysis of TransforMap through the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework.

The Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework was developed by researchers like Elinor Ostrom to analyse the governance of common-pool resources such as natural commons like forests, lakes, fisheries. The framework was adapted to study cultural and digital commons by Madison et al. (2010) and further adapted to look at online creative communities (OCCs) by Fuster Morell (2013).

##1. Resource characteristics – the commons

  • What the literature tells us: in online creative communities (OCCs), the resource doesn’t need to be preserved as in natural commons, it needs to be built. The resource is a permanent work in progress. Pooled resources are easily identifiable and usually form an archive “gathering and coherently systematizing the contributions”.
    “Additionally, even if the knowledge resource is the central goal around which OCCs interact, OCCs also depend on an infrastructure to support interaction, and so an infrastructure architecture also results from the process.” (Fuster Morell 2013, p.7) However, the establishment of an infrastructure is not itself the central goal of the process, it only sustains the main goal (i.e. developing knowledge). Scholars differ in analyzing the infrastructure as part of the resource (Schweik and English 2012) or as part of the governance process (Fuster Morell 2013).
  • What does that mean for TransforMap?
  • This is a reminder that developing a dedicated infrastructure (for managing the process as well as the mapping itself) for TransforMap is not the main goal, it is an intermediary objective. Gathering and publicizing relevant data on maps (the commons) in a coordinated way is the main goal.
  • The architecture of the infrastructure will heavily influence the governance of TransforMap. Therefore, it seems reasonable to ensure that the TransforMap infrastructure is being designed in accordance to existing social norms among the participants.
    Possible answers: Wikipedia uses consensus (i.e. the absence of objections) to agree on proposals for policies and guidelines. the sociocratic approach seems to be rather consensual).

##2. Community attributes – the commoners

  • What the literature tells us
    Clear boundaries of the community are difficult to establish for online creative communities, as they are open to participation. This is a major difference with natural commons, where clear boundaries are one of the conditions for the success of self-governance given that natural resources are exhaustible, as opposed to digital ones (even if crowding a server may happen too).

  • Community size: Openness does not necessarily result in actual participation. The size of the community varies very much from one OCC to another. The more specific the interests are the smaller it will be and conversely: as encyclopedia Wikipedia has around 18 million participants.

  • Voluntary engagement: Participants in OCC are volunteers (apart from the provider with sometime paid staff). As a consequence, resource-rich participants with free time, connectivity, skills and money can contribute more easily than those without such resources, leading to a disproportionate representation of resource-rich participants. A variety of additional reasons for non-participation: wanting to learn more about the community before diving in; not being able to use the software because of poor usability; not liking the dynamics that they observed within the group; or feeling represented in what was said by other participants {Fuster Morell Nov 2013 #2745:9}.

  • Community heterogeneity: There is usually a great diversity of interests and motivations driving the participants. However it is observed that OCCs are usually largely dominated by men.

  • External relationships: Some research suggests that external relationships of OCCs with market actors within open-source ecosystem would support participation. OCCs also often cooperate together: this is the case of Wikipedia and Wikihow adopting the same licenses and protocols to facilitate the flow of content and participation between the platforms.

  • What does that mean for TransforMap?

  • Community size: What size do we envision for the TransforMap community? How can we reach that size?
    Possible answers: Ideally TransforMap would gather a subset of the OSM community that is supplemented by mappers from communities of practice. TransforMap should think about how to increase engagement among those two target groups in particular.

  • Engagement: how can we reduce the barriers to engagement?
    Possible answers: improve our communication content, ensure communication platforms are user-friendly, provide overview of needs for skills/time.

  • Community heterogeneity: This is not a surprise for TransforMap, but stresses a contradiction between ideals and reality. How can we support economic and gender diversity among the TransforMap community?
    Possible answers: funding could go first to individuals with lowest income capacities (already the case). Targeted efforts to existing female participants to understand how they could be supported to further engage.

  • External relationships: It is crucial for TransforMap to have strong external relationships. This means: to be developed as an open-source ecosystem where some businesses may participate, and adopt licenses and protocols as close as possible to existing and relevant large OCC: e.g. OSM.
    Possible answers: the current discussion on licenses among the TransforMap community has already emphasized the need to align on OSM licenses. Following OSM protocols whenever possible may also be a safe way to ensure participation of OSM community. Other large communities could also be considered.

##3. Governance of an online creation community (the commoning practices)

What are the rules and institutions that govern an OCC?

Governance models for online creative communities

Here is a table that has identified different models of governance for online creative communities such as Wikipedia (representational foundation), Flickr (Corporation), Howto Wiki (mission enterprise), and defunct [OpenESF] ( (self-provision assembly).

source: adapted from [Fuster Morell] ( (2013)

To read the table: the column on the left outlines various dimensions of governance, and for each case it is specified:

  • who is in charge or decides;
  • for properties with question marks, it is indicated whether this is the case or not;
  • for infrastructure provision it specifies whether it is open or not.

According to that model we are clearly in the self-provision assembly (surprise!).

Dimensions of governance for TransforMap

feel free to edit

Mission Not clearly agreed by the community. From website: "We are a collective of individuals and organizations that aim to visualize the existing multitude of alternative socio-ecological initiatives. Our goal is to provide standards tools and taxonomies to map the socio-ecological transformation happening on the ground."
Social norms Self-organized group with no formal hierarchy, not-for-profit, strong normative orientation (common good), collaboration, open source software, open data, openness (this is challengeable)
Design platform of participation The community generally decides on that but leading role is de facto played by one individual (Jon Richter).
Participants self-allocation and management? Complete self-allocation of participants so far. No management structure.
Formal policies No formal policies, only social norms. This involved high transaction costs for decision-making.
License No set yet. Consensusto let it open and reusable. There are divergence whether data should be closer to public domain or include restrictions (Share alike, non-commercial use, commons reciprocity license).
Decision-making & conflict resolution at community level? "Yes. This is currently very informal. One individual plays de facto a role of leader (Silke Helfrich).
Recent conflict due to ways to make decisions as well as perception of unbalanced patterns of power. "
Infrastructure provision Open. TransforMap attempts at being a platform for the provision of open source software and a dedicated taxonomy needed for collaborative mapping.

A governance overview of Wikipedia and OSM

feel free to edit

##1. Governance overview – Wikipedia

  • The Wikimedia Foundation supports Wikipedia by hosting its contents, owning licenses and trademarks.
  • Five Pillars (principles that define what Wikipedia is/is not):
  • Policies and guidelines (more detailed):
    • Definition of rules and guidelines are done by consensus not majority. Most commonly, a new policy or guideline simply documents existing practices, rather than proposing a change to them. Consensus is built through a process of listening and discussion with a progressively larger group of editors. If consensus is not reached after a few months for a specific proposal, the proposal is considered as failed.
    • The “Ignore all rules” policy: If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it.”
    • Policy proposals, ideas, technical issues are discussed here:
  • Daily enforcement of rules:
  • “Enforcement on Wikipedia is similar to other social interactions.” That means all Wikipedia editors are all participating to enforce policies and guidelines by trying to persuade an editor who violates policies to adhere to them. In case the editor does not comply, more forceful means such as administrator and steward actions are available.
  • “Administrators are Wikipedia editors who have been granted the technical ability to perform certain special actions on the English Wikipedia, including the ability to block and unblock user accounts and IP addresses from editing, protect and unprotect pages from editing, delete and undelete pages, rename pages without restriction, and use certain other tools.” Admins are volunteers who have gone through a community review process. There are 1383 admins, over 500 active. There are some critics that admins have evolved intp a somehow authoritarian body (
  • “Stewards are users with complete access to the wiki interface on all Wikimedia wikis, including the ability to change any and all user rights and groups. They are tasked with technical implementation of community consensus, and dealing with emergencies such as cross-wiki vandalism. For example: wikis without administrators may call upon stewards to fulfill that role; stewards will act as bureaucrats as needed on wikis without bureaucrats.”

##2. Governance overview – OSM

  • The Open Street Map Foundation supports OSM: it publishes the data, holds trademarks and licenses, collects funds, and hosts the various servers.
  • The General Meeting elects annually the OSM Foundation Board and its Director. The OSM Foundation’s Board gives strategic direction and oversees the Management team.
  • The Management Team is composed of a representative from each Working Groups and a Chairman. The OSM Management Team is the core operational and decision-making body:
  • Plans budgets, administers WGs, reports on Board and WGs activities, communicate externally, etc.
  • Approves policies and document them. Anyone in the community can propose new policies, relevant working groups will review it and pass it to the Team for approval. In case a new policy has large implication, the Team has to forward the proposal to the Community and/or the Board.
  • The Working Groups are very open and are responsible for the daily enforcement of policies. The Data Working Group in particular supports the resolution of issues in copyright violation, disputes, vandalism, and bots, beyond the normal means of the community. (

@Silke @almereyda @josefkreitmayer @species @wellemut @gandhiano @Michael …
You are welcome to edit the two previous posts to complete, refine my input.
On this basis, I am preparing now a governance structure proposal combining Josef’s and Jon’s respective proposals for TransforMap. I think we could then enrich that proposal online at so that all transformappers can provide input to possibly agree on it in Potsdam in January.

This is the same content as my pdf-publication on that topic.
What do you think?