[wg-review] Comments on WG procedures
As today is the 15th, the last day for submitting comments to this WG to
be forwarded to the Review Task Force, I would like the following
comments on Working Group procedures to be included:
Comments on Working Groups:
It has been observed for some time that there have been serious problems
with WGs in the DNSO. WG-Review gives us a great opportunity to review
some of these familiar problems, and adds a new wrinkle:
First, by definition, the membership of an open WG is self-selected from
a very much larger pool of potential participants, and therefore
susceptible to capture. That means that the membership of the WG may be
composed primarily of those who have a vested interest, which in turn
implies that the membership of any WG must be considered as potentially
biased, which further implies that even if the WG reaches consensus (by
any measure), that consensus cannot, without further evaluation, be
considered as a global consensus.
Second, WGs may be incapable of even finding internal consensus, if the
topic is extremely polarized, or too broad. And of course, many topics
in the purview of the DNSO are both extremely polarized and broad.
Third, for many interested parties, an online WG is a foreign
environment. This is obvious in the case of people who don't spend a
lot of time online, but it is also true for some people who are very
familiar with email lists as informal discussion forums -- they have a
hard time dealing with the focus required in order to be productive
Fourth, because it is difficult to keep up with high volume lists,
people will leave a list that is too demanding. This has a tendency to
bias memberships towards the most vocal factions.
Finally, WG-Review added a new wrinkle, where the NC rep in charge of
the WG actively advocated that the WG ignore the purpose approved by the
NC, and instead work on a much broader topic. This inconsistency
seriously damaged the integrity of the process, and contributed a great
deal of chaos.
However, I think that most knowledgeable observers had concluded that
there were serious problems with WGs long before WG-Review (and indeed
the NC did try to address some of these problems by giving the WG a very
The bottom line is that WGs are an insufficient mechanism for finding
This does not mean, however, that WGs are useless -- quite the
contrary. They are a potentially very valuable tool when used within
their limitations, as a component of an overall process managed by the
0) The basic purpose of WGs should be thought of, as the name implies,
as places to do work. They should not be thought of as general
discussion groups, or open forums.
1) WGs should be fine grained and focused. The focus should be on
production of particular documents, decided in advance; the topics
should be constrained; the lifetime should be constrained; mailing list
rules should strongly limit off-topic postings. Clear procedures for
WGs should be developed and refined over time. To facilitate this
refinement the NC should generally charter *small* WGs, pro-actively --
WGs with constrained mandates, limited lifespans, and strong leaders.
It is important, though, that WGs have some procedural freedom -- the
criteria for success of the WG should be the documents produced, not how
slavishly the WG followed procedure. This procedural freedom is
necessary if the procedures are to evolve and develop over time. (*)
2) Topics should be structured towards consensus goals. For example,
instead of a WG topic "Should there be new gTLDs", the topic could be
"What are the various positions concerning new gTLDs". The first topic
forces the WG to come to an impossible consensus; the second, on the
other hand, just gathers information. Moreover, the focus in the second
is on production of a document, not a policy decision.
3) If a WG is deadlocked, the NC should simply split the WG into
separate WGs to deal with the subtopics. This allows each side of a
position to work in relative isolation to form their own best statement
of their position.
4) Following the above guidelines would obviously tend to significantly
increase the number of WGs. This is good in and of itself, as it
partitions the participants, and tends to keep WG size small.
5) It should be easy for anyone to propose a WG on any topic, as long as
the goals are clearly defined, and meet the general guidelines above.
Special interest groups should be *encouraged* to form WGs to produce
position papers supporting their point of view. In this way the open
nature of WGs can be exploited to get wide input to the DNSO.
6) It must be explicitly acknowledged that a WG can simply fail.
7) Note that this model treats the tendency towards bias that WGs
exhibit as a virtue -- a WG is a place where those with a particular
point of view can get together and produce the most persuasive position
possible. Small unrepresentative WGs can be very productive in
isolation, and can produce better, more persuasive documents if they are
not hampered by contentious argument within the WG.
8) It always rests on the NC to make a determination of whether the
results of a WG represent a wider consensus. It may be necessary for
the NC to require a WG to seek wider consensus or a better balance, or
to merge the efforts of multiple WGs through a task force or another
tightly constrained WG.
9) WG chairs should be trained in online consensus management. The
IETF regularly holds sessions for WG chairs; the DNSO should call on
10) The above model, it should be clear, requires a much more hands-on
approach from the NC, and must operate within a large consensus
discovery process. I will address that point in a separate document.
(*) Some have contended that strong internal procedures in WGs, with
"clear votes", will solve the problems with WGs. This is obviously
false -- a WG full of vested interests remains a WG full of vested
interests, whether they vote or declare consensus. Votes in WGs are
quite useful as an information gathering tool, but they also tend to
polarize opinion, and must be used with caution.
Kent Crispin "Be good, and you will be
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