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[wg-d] Robert's Rules
Robert's Rules of order were developed to allow orderly time slicing in a
real time, full bandwidth setting. We can do much better than that if we use
asynchronous conferencing. There is no reason for someone to re "recognized"
or to "have the floor". To the contrary, discussions can proceed in parallel
if they take place in threaded form -- and everyone can decide what to pay
attention to and make a text based contribution when they are ready to do
so. The voting and amendment process contemplated for a real time meeting is
simply unnecessary when the gradually developing debate and multi-channel
feedback can repeatedly send a group attempting to draft something that can
pass with general endorsement back to do more homework.
The key missing ingredient from a plan for working groups is ... work. The
point of a working group is not (just) voting at the end of some discussion
to canvass views. It is also to develop a clear statement of the problem and
proposed solutions, to canvass impacted stakeholders and report on their
reactions, to prepare a careful and complete record of the state of mind of
the relevant interests.
So, even if we develop some conventions re the role of the moderator in
discussions among the working group, it is much more important to develop a
template for the kind of report that a working group should produce. Much of
the work on the report could be done informally by small groups of drafters,
sometimes proceeding in parallel and even in temporary disagreement. The
template should include, at a minimum:
1. a clear and concise statement of the proposition as to which consensus is
to be suggested.
2. an full analysis of who might be impacted, in what ways, by such a
3. a summary of past discussions (within and outside the wg) and the history
of exchanges of views on the proposed policy.
4. a record of affirmative outreach to the impacted communities.
5. a summary and analysis of evidence as to how the impacted groups (not
just the wg members) feel about the proposed policy.
6. a fair statement of points in opposition and a substantive analysis of
their merits and the intensity of the opposition.
7. a summary of the best arguments for adoption of the policy.
8. additional factual materials relevant to an analysis of the policy.
9. an analysis of whether and how the proposed policy implicates the
interests of other SOs
10. an analysis of the risks and costs of moving forward with the policy
despite any noted opposition.
Another function of Robert's Rules is to keep proposals that have no chance
of serious consideration from taking up peoples time. We could all use a
little relief from having to read every message. This suggests that a
serious proposal should start with indications of support for a particular
text from some minimum percentage of the group (or maybe from members of the
group representing some minimum cross section of views). The support could
be drummed up in private exchanges between members of the working group --
and proposals that can't meet some minimum threshold would not need to
burden the rest of the group.
Still another function of Robert's Rules is to make sure any participant has
the option of changing the agenda by putting forward a proposal that has or
could gain wide support. This suggests NOT limiting working groups to
addressing questions posed by a chair.
Because so much can be done in parallel online, the task of structuring the
web site inherently merges with the discussion of procedures. For what it is
worth, I've experimented with systems that nest discussions underneath
particular proposals (represented as graphical objects) with the goal of
allowing participants to ignore "non-starters" and pay attention to those
things that appear to be gaining support. (I'll be glad to supply details to
anyone interested -- but the key point is that we can and should channel
discussions into threads tied to particular proposed formulations or
proposals, so we can tell from endorsements and comments what is gaining
support and what clearly needs more work.)
Meanwhile, we should also make sure that any small group of participants in
a working group can put forth proposals and, if they get encouragement, be
called upon to develop a helpful and complete set of documentation the
design of which requires them to do their homework, do outreach, collect
facts, and produce credible analysis of the state of opposition/support. It
should be the job of the working group chairs to get the members of the
working group to do this work. There is no requirement that all members of a
working group be involved in all drafting -- only that substantial proposals
be open for the kind of debate that can either send the drafting
subcommittees back to the drawing board or show, by endorsement in a final
round of voting, that they did a good job.