June 24 of this year, the President of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Mark Reichardt sent a letter to OGC members referencing an extraordinary dialog that was ongoing at that time among both members and the user community about the GeoServices REST candidate standard as it neared a vote. Mark related that the dialog had been both passionate and insightful, but most importantly it showed that the OGC standards process must do better to motivate discussion, seek agreement, and work to facilitate decisions earlier in the process.
More generally as the OGC continues to grow with a diversifying membership representation, its policies and procedures need to continue to be agile and developing. Since 1994, the OGC has grown to be much more than a standards organization. It has become the world's leading forum for technology providers and users to meet, discuss and test the advancement of location and spatial data sharing and service interoperability in an increasingly broad range of disciplines.
After Mark and the OGC staff had received critical feedback and many thoughtful suggestions from members, alliance partner organizations and the public, Mark felt that this moment in time provided a unique opportunity to review the OGC's vision, mission, policies and procedures. Even though OGC resources are limited, there are times when making the time to assess, adapt and improve the effectiveness of the organization becomes a priority. This is not the first time the OGC has gone through something like this, it has undertaken similar initiatives many times since 1994.
The Ideas4OGC Leadership Initiative
Mark asked Jack Pellicci and myself from the OGC board to join with him to create a voluntary leadership group, dubbed "Ideas for OGC", to solicit ideas and produce recommendations for action within 90 days. He asked for volunteers from the OGC membership to participate in this group to represent the diverse areas of the OGC membership.
The objective of the "Ideas for OGC" effort was to collect critical feedback, ideas, and comments as a basis for developing recommendations and planning actions to improve the OGC. The guiding principles of the Ideas4OGC effort were
- Inclusive - Include OGC members , non-members, OGC staff and members of the Board of Directors
- Open - Maintain openness and transparency
- Efficient - Ensure the process is clear, concise and efficient
- Prioritized - Prioritize issues for action, with guidance from the voluntary leadership group
- Solicit critical feedback - Encourage constructive criticism, while following the OGC Principles of Conduct
- Flexible - adjust the process on the fly as required
The process involved collecting critical feedback through a number of channels - Ideas4OGC Wiki, email (Ideas4OGC@), face to face discussions, Technical Committee (TC) discussions, three webinar series in July at different times for North American, European, and Asian participants, and input from OGC staff.
The next step was to evaluate and prioritize the suggestions and feedback. The feedback was compiled under 37 topics. A process of prioritization led to 10 of these being selected as core, meaning that because of dependencies these 10 need to be addressed first. (In November a second process began to look at the remaining 27 topics.)
The top 10 deal with fundamental issues such as the OGC vision, mission and values, whether the OGC should countenance overlapping standards, should the OGC be open to standards from outside organizations, standards harmonization, revising the SWG creation process to catch early the issues that the GeoServices REST standards process experienced, and improving how OGC polices and procedures are communicated to a lay audience.
- Vision, Mission, Values
- Standards Diversity
- Standards Life Cycle And Harmonization
- External Submissions
- SWG Creation
- Quality versus Quantity
- Integrate Programs
- Improve Communication
- Active Direction
- OGC Architecture Board
Initial recommendations were made available to membership prior to the September 2013 Technical Committee/Planning Committee (TC/PC) meetings in Frascati, Italy and reviewed at that meeting. Candidate recommendations based on the 10 priority topics were presented at the OGC Quarterly Board Meeting in December. Implementation of urgent recommendations have commenced already based on prioritization.
After having been involved in this process, I can say that it was wide open and resulted in recommendations that not only improved and strengthened existing OGC policies and procedures, but also brought into the discussion some ideas with far reaching implications, especially from the developer community, some which have the potential to be transformative.
Traditionally the OGC has relied on wikis to manage the documents and the feedback involved in the standards development process. But many developers these days rely on Git (originally developed for Linux) and a hosted site Github that uses Git for source code management. It has been proposed by the OGC that Github be recognized as an alternative for managing standards documents and feedback. As an experiment, the OGC supported the Geopackage Standard Working Group's (SWG) using Github for specification feedback.
By way of background, OGC members currently have early access to certain standards documents, which are not made available to the public until relatively late in the process when the standard is released for public comment. It has been suggested, and supported by a series of white papers prepared by Chris Holmes, that the OGC would benefit from more open processes similar to those used by many of the open source organizations such as OpenStack. In particular this could make the OGC more attractive to the developer community and others who are not OGC members but would like to contribute to OGC projects. This could have important implications for a membership-based organization such as the OGC as it is currently structured.
An alternative standards development process
Current OGC practice in developing a new standard is to first prepare a written specification followed by one or more implementations. A proposal before the OGC is, for the development of certain standards, to turn this process on its head - "code first, than document." It has even suggested that there should be several implementations before a standard is adopted. This would require the development of new policies and procedures for this alternative approach to standards development.
These potentially transformative ideas continue to be discussed within the OGC community and at this point no recommendations or decisions have been made with regard to them.