My thoughts about the problems of the IETF

Margaret Wasserman mrw at
Wed Apr 16 11:54:14 CEST 2003

I generally agree with the problems that Harald has
identified in his message, but I do have a few comments.

At 11:45 AM 4/11/2003 +0200, Harald Tveit Alvestrand wrote:
>Problem: The IETF runs on personal relationships
>   The fact that we trust each other, and are able and
>   willing to act on that trust, is a great strength of
>   the IETF.
>   The fact that we have so little institutional memory
>   outside of the memories of the people in the process is
>   a weakness.

Scaleability and institutional memory are not the only problems
associated with organizations that run on personal trust.  While
such organizations can be highly effective, and extremely fun
to work in when things are going well, they don't tend to be
objectively fair, and they are seldom as diverse (across all
axes) as they should be.

The personal nature of the organization also makes it hard for
newcomers (even well-qualified newcomers) to become effective
in the IETF, unless they already know an established player.

IMO, it is oxymoronic to claim that the IETF values fairness
and openness AND to claim that it is desirable (or even acceptable)
that the whole organization runs on personal trust -- these are
incompatible concepts for an organization with the size and
visibility of the IETF.

>   Some people have suggested adding more technology or
>   support functions (such as more formal minutetaking,
>   more rigid frameworks for the work of WGs) in order to
>   improve our institutional memory. I do not know how
>   much this aids the building of trust networks; it
>   certainly would aid the ability to detect their
>   breakdown.

More formal processes would make our systems less reliant
on the trust networks, perhaps allowing us to move to
less trust-based management methods, such as posting open
"jobs" on the IETF list and choosing the most qualified
applicant...  We couldn't move to that type of model
today, because of the intense level of personal contact
and trust that is needed between involved parties to make
our current systems work.

More formal systems could also help us to better understand
our roles and responsibilities, so that concepts like
"most qualified applicant" could have any meaning

>Problem: Technology "Focus" is Designing for Stagnation
>   The IETF, I like to quip, currently has a very scalable
>   management structure; it scales all the way up to 700
>   participants.
>   One classic response to this is of the form that "The
>   IETF should focus on its core technologies and tell the
>   other 800 people to take their work somewhere else".

I agree with this entire section.  Organizations either
continue to grow to meet the demands of their "customers",
or they die...

This rather stinks for those of us enjoy working in smaller

>Problem: The AD job can't be done well
>   In the way the IETF and the IESG is currently
>   structured, I personally believe that the job of Area
>   Director is impossible to do satisfactorily. The fact
>   that we still have some people who do a good job of it
>   is a miracle, not something we should depend on for the
>   future.

I think that this is the most important point in Harald's
message.  We need to come up with some way to solve this,
as this is the core scaling problem of the IETF, IMO.


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