[IAEP] [sugar] Proposed Governance - was: (Re: Sugar Digest 2008-06-09)

Benjamin M. Schwartz bmschwar at fas.harvard.edu
Mon Jun 9 17:34:37 CEST 2008

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Jim Gettys wrote:
| 3) The decision panel mechanism seems cumbersome, and fraught with
| political danger; if people don't believe the oversight board is being
| fair, they should get rid of the oversight board.  There is the
| (possible) issue of how to evaluate technical decisions in dispute if
| the board ends up less technical than many projects (which might in fact
| be the long term outcome we'd like to see in Sugar).
| Some mechanism that permits the board to delegate decision authority (or
| solicit advice) may be useful. It might just be the same committee
| mechanism, if committees are easy to establish/de-establish.
| In a (technical) meritocracy, often many of the people *best* able to
| judge the technical merits of technical controversy end up serving on
| the board, and I think it a mistake to forbid oversight board members
| from serving on such committees.  In short, while there may be
| circumstances where such a panel is needed, I suspect as currently
| proposed, the decision panel being enshrined in governance is a mistake;
| and we can use the general committee mechanism to handle the cases where
| it may be needed.

As the instigator of this Decision Panel business, I should attempt to
clarify the idea.  My goal is to make serving on the Oversight Board as
unappealing as possible.  Ideally, it should be _difficult_ to find seven
people willing to serve on the Oversight Board.  As such, the document
specifies that members of the Oversight Board _cannot_ decide
controversial issues.  It also specifies that members of the Oversight
Board _must_ act as secretaries, taking minutes for every meeting of every
committee.  Oversight Board members are also prohibited from voting in any
of the committee meetings, even though they must attend to take minutes
(that's been part of the draft from the beginning).  I hope this will be a
very frustrating experience for members of the Oversight Board.

I am a firm believer that the worst people to give power are those who
want it.  The Oversight Board, as described so far, has the responsibility
of keeping Sugar Labs running smoothly, but almost no power to decide the
interesting issues.  This makes me very happy, as the Oversight Board is
therefore most likely to attract people who are interested only in keeping
Sugar Labs running, not pushing a particular personal agenda, even a
technical agenda.  My hope is that people will be elected based on a
history of being calm, focused, personable, and reasonable, not on the
basis of any platform (they don't have the power to execute it) or
technical knowledge (they can't use it).

I would much rather keep the technical experts _out_ of governance until a
technical decision must be made that requires domain-specific expert
knowledge.  Most technical decisions should be made on the mailing lists
anyway; only issues that must be decided in order for work to continue,
and on which the community is otherwise deadlocked, should be escalated to
a Decision Panel.  I expect the Oversight Board to be concerned almost
exclusively with the mundane details of managing finances and
partnerships, making sure the communications channels are open, etc.  I do
not want the Oversight Board to be a Court of Last Resort.

I still favor the presence of the Decision Panels section in the draft,
but that's not surprising.  I see it as an easy lightweight system for
moving political issues away from the Oversight Board.  I welcome other

- --Ben
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