Working Group methods

Keith Moore moore at
Tue Jun 3 22:59:12 CEST 2003

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

I suspect we are mostly in agreement about that.  Working groups already have
a great deal of latitude as to how they conduct discussions, and different
mechanisms are appropriate for different groups with different needs.   
I am not suggesting that we impose new structures on working groups that don't
need them.   I am suggesting that most working groups are not now operating
effectively, and that overall, the operation of most working groups need to

That doesn't necessarily require imposition of new structures.  However, there
are strong expectations in the community that mailing list discussions and
meetings will be conducted in certain ways.  We need to change these
expectations, especially where they are found to do harm.  I attempted to
list some examples of these expectations in my previous message.  

We may even need to change some of our cherished mechanisms.  Perhaps, for
instance, we should abandon the notion that we can obtain a meaningful
conseneus on a large mailing list whose active participants vary considerably
from one week to the next, and where it's difficult to distinguish silence
that indicates a lack of dissent from silence that indicates exhaustion. 

> 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.)

I don't disagree with either of the above, but I don't think they're quite
equivalent to what I was suggesting.  I don't think this is a change that
can be effected by working group management alone - I think it will require
buyin of the entire community.  Ordinary working group participants need
to understand that the way we participate in working groups has to change,
and we need for the community, not merely the WG leadership, to reinforce this
within itself.  We need to break our bad habits.

> KM> b. It's been repeatedly observed for several years that face-to-face
> KM> meeting 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.)

My best guess is that in most cases neither chairs nor ADs felt like they had
sufficient actual political power (as opposed to what our procedures say they
have) to make the changes that were necessary, in the face of strong community
expectation that the old, familiar procedures be used.

> 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.

The medium really does have an effect.  Yes, you can use PowerPoint to
present a topic in a concise and relevant manner, but the medium encourages
exactly the opposite - it encourages over-use of words and under-use of
pictures (because good pictures are hard to draw in PowerPoint); it encourages
a highly linear and one-way discussion rather than a multi-way exchange of
ideas.   If you had to present the same ideas using a white board or chalk
board, you'd have much more incentive to be concise and focused.

Which is not to say that I want to ban PowerPoint.  But as long as we're
using tools like this, we need to understand how to use the tools in the
best manner, and we need to respect their limitations.

> KM> face-to-face meetings have to be narrowly focused on the WG;
> KM> face-to-face meetings can also be good times to resolve differences with
> KM> other WGs or other 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
> distracted.

When planning a meeting, every WG chair needs to ask: "what kind of input or
discussion to we need to be having that we can't easily have over the net?"
If that's purely WG discussion, so be it.  If the WG needs external input,
then by all means the WG should make use of the opportunity to get those
people in the room.  And it would probably be a good idea for each WG chair to
discuss this with his/her AD before meeting planning gets too far along
(assuming, of course, that both the AD and the WG chair can find enough time
to actually plan the meeting - I know that when I was AD meeting planning
didn't get enough of my cycles.)

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