Working Group methods

Dave Crocker dhc at
Tue Jun 3 16:40:04 CEST 2003


continuing with the separate points you made...

KM> 2. We need to change the methods by which working groups conduct discussions.

I believe you are correctly identifying an issue, but incorrectly
characterizing it. I believe we already have the necessary methods
available. However we do not reliably use them.

The IETF has had an extremely important strength in the flexibility of
its group process. When we have a small, focused, homogeneous groups
with clear deliverables that are clearly understood, it can operate in a
very streamlined way.

Hence, for example, the sub-thread about moderators needs to note that a
separate moderator is required only when they are required. That is,
some groups do better with FEWER people holding positions. Keeping
things simple is a Good Thing when things are, in fact, simple.

Many groups do quite well on their mailing lists and in their meetings.
Let's be careful not to "help" them to add unnecessary structure and
become less efficient.

I believe our repertoire of group management tools is quite rich. I
believe the problem is that we do not USE it properly. In particular, we
often do not have working group management invoke particular tools when

I would claim, therefore, that our tendency is to fail to notice when
things are not simple, and to fail to implement *and enforce* stronger
structure and management in those cases.

Frankly the reason I originally started working group chair training
roughly 10 years ago was not to teach new chairs about IETF formalities.
Rather, we had too many chairs who were so careful about being fair and
open, that they were not giving enough time to making forward progress.
A working group needs to balance these two -- often conflicting --
requirements. So, the real challenge of chairing a group that has a
difficult goal and/or a heterogeneous group, is shepherding the cats of

And, yes, this includes mailing list management. It is quite a bit more
difficult to manage an unruly list than an unruly meeting, partly for
technical reasons and partly for reasons of general experience. But it
is possible and it is done. The key in both cases is to impose highly
active and structured management.

So I am going to claim that the real requirements you are raising are to
make sure that

1) working group management understands the group tools (procedures) it
has available, and

2) that the working groups are encouraged to support the use of those
procedures. ("encouraged" is a euphemism, in case that is not obvious.)

KM> b. It's been repeatedly observed for several years that face-to-face meeting
KM> time isn't used effectively

Oddly, i think the problem is worse than this. Over recent years, we
have not only repeatedly noted the problem, we have repeatedly noted the
solution and it sure looked to me like we had community rough consensus
on the solutions.

But still we fail to heed all this guidance.  I do not understand why.
My best guess is that too few chairs really understand these issues and
ADs do not begin to have the time to enforce things at this level. (And,
yes, some ADs could, but choose not to.)

KM> Powerpoint-style presentations (not that it really matters which
KM> tool is used) tend to lull people into passivity, ...that are just
KM> repeated by the speaker is to make a really ineffective use of
KM> high-bandwidth meeting time.

Sorry, but I view this as an excellent example of entirely missing the
point. The issue is relevance and conciseness of the content, not the
means by which it is presented.

If we start forcing meetings to have carefully constructed agendas that
are designed to use the limited time appropriately, and we *enforce*
that structure, then we will not need to be distracted by the religion
of presentation style.

   My own pet suggestion these days is that meeting agendas need to
   state their deliverables. What is the purpose of the meeting and how
   will the group have made progress by the end of the meeting?

(And, by the way, displaying that purportedly unnecessary text is
*extremely* helpful to non-native english speakers -- as long as the
text is not too cryptic or slang-ful. For that matter, the real-time
blogging helps such folk also.)

KM> I suggest that the WG identify what kinds of things need to take place in
KM> face-to-face meetings;

A casual thought is to beef up the relevant section of the wg guidelines

Another is to get more people to read the damn thing.

KM> face-to-face meetings have to be narrowly focused on the WG; face-to-face
KM> meetings can also be good times to resolve differences with other WGs or other
KM> interests that aren't represented by WGs.

mumble.  I very much like the intent of your suggestion, but seriously
doubt that adding anything other than strict working group content to
working group meetings is a good idea.  WGs are already too easily

 Dave Crocker <mailto:dcrocker at>
 Brandenburg InternetWorking <>
 Sunnyvale, CA  USA <tel:+1.408.246.8253>, <fax:+1.866.358.5301>

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