Re: Updating BCP 10 -- NomCom

John C Klensin <john-ietf@jck.com> Fri, 09 January 2015 21:45 UTC

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Date: Fri, 09 Jan 2015 16:45:12 -0500
From: John C Klensin <john-ietf@jck.com>
To: Brian E Carpenter <brian.e.carpenter@gmail.com>, Eric Burger <eburger@cs.georgetown.edu>
Subject: Re: Updating BCP 10 -- NomCom
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--On Friday, January 09, 2015 08:16 +1300 Brian E Carpenter
<brian.e.carpenter@gmail.com>; wrote:

>> As serving on nomcom in a liaison role in the past, I have to
>> *agree* with you 1,000%. The liaisons should have a voice in
>> the needs of their respective home groups, but should not be
>> deciding who nomcom serves up. That means they do not have a
>> burning need to be in the weeds of per-candidate nomcom stuff.
> 
> My only Nomcom experience is also as ISOC liaison, some years
> ago now, and I certainly agree that guidance about the limits
> on a liaison's role would be of value. However, there's also a
> practical aspect: if only certain information and certain
> parts of the discussions are open to the liaisons, there will
> be very clumsy discussions where a point has to be put on hold
> until the relevant liaison can be consulted.

We seem to now be having two separate discussions that are
getting confusingly (at least to me) intermixed.  One has to do
with instructions the liaising bodies give their liaisons and
what sorts of comments the liaisons are expected to make.   I
had every reason to believe that was under control when I first
commented in this thread.  Russ's note and comments from others
have reinforced that impression.

I'm not even concerned about liaisons exerting undue or
inappropriate influence.  As Mike StJohns more or less pointed
out, if the Nomcom Chair cannot control any tendencies in that
direction, we probably have much more serious problems.
Similarly, and borrowing further from him, I'm not wild about
liaisons participating in _candidate_ interviews, but not
particularly concerned about it either, especially if a
candidate can ask for another interviewer.

All of the about are related, in one way or another, to
information flow _to_ the Nomcom, _from_ the liaison.

I'm concerned about information flow in the other direction.  It
has to do with, e.g., liaison participation in actual
discussions of individual candidates, particularly in ways that
would expose them to community comments about those candidates
and information about (or that might permit the identification
of) those who made them.  My instinct -- driven by several
recent discussions and observations-- is that it is in the
interest of the community and high-quality Nomcom
decision-making to isolate the liaisons from community comments
on candidates on the same basis and to the same degree that
random members of the community are isolated.  

To illustrate with two extreme scenarios, if I were a relatively
junior member of the community, I might be quite concerned about
criticizing some individuals, especially incumbents, because of
fear of retaliation from that individual or their cronies.
Whatever concerns I might have would be reinforced if I knew
that one of the colleagues of those incumbents was going to be
reading my comments, would know who originated them, and might
react in ways I would find uncomfortable.  If I were a more
senior member, similar considerations would apply, especially if
what I wanted to tell the Nomcom was that the Ixx[x] was
<negative-expletive> and that I considered the candidate a major
part of the problem.  If the Nomcom has gotten more positive
feedback and wants to check things out, they should --I'd argue
that they would be falling down on the job if they didn't do so.
On the other hand, I don't think the liaison should have any
special access to express such an opinion nor be in a position
to volunteer any opinion about the quality of my advice because
he or she had seen my comments.

Against that background, I think the answers to your
hypothetical scenario is fairly obvious, but...
 
> Just to test where people think the limit should be, here's a
> hypothetical. The Nomcom has got feedback that nominee X has
> been consistently obstructive in resolving disputes and is
> always unwilling to compromise. Nomcom doesn't know whether
> this is valid. Should the liaison be asked to comment?

I think that, if the Nomcom needs validity data of that sort,
they should reach out -- to the chair of the relevant body if he
or she is not a candidate and maybe even if they are, to
selected people who have served with the candidate, and others
as appropriate.  I note that, as bodies become more open about
their deliberations (as the IESG has clearly been recently), the
range of people who might reasonably be asked expands.  They can
do so without compromising confidentiality: "we have heard that
X might have been obstructive" or "we are concerned whether Y's
obvious personality quirks might be a source of problems" do not
appear me to do so in any way.  Is is reasonable to ask the
liaison because the liaison is a member of the relevant group
who might have insights?  Sure.   Is it appropriate to ask the
liaison for a formal opinion _as liaison_ and give the answer
special weight as a result?  IMO, almost certainly not.  Just
posing the question in that context is an invitation to
inappropriate or disproportionate influence even if the fault
lies with the Nomcom and not the liaison.

IMO, maintaining a clear boundary in this area becomes more
important as Nomcoms (and the community) evolve so that the
Nomcoms are more dependent on questionnaires, interviews, and
feedback rather than Nomcom member personal knowledge of
candidates and their history and behavior.

> BTW there is another aspect of the liaison role: acting as
> part of the checks and balances, by being able to assure the
> confirming bodies that Nomcom has followed correct and
> unbiased procedure. To that extent, liaisons do need to
> witness discussions, without influencing them.
> http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc7437#section-4.7 actually places
> several specific duties on liaisons that effectively require
> them to track Nomcom discussion quite closely.

And there I believe that the costs of having the liaisons in the
dual role you describe outweigh the advantages.  We have enough
difficulties with confirming bodies second-guessing the Nomcom
-- a check I would not eliminate even though I have seen some of
the invocations of it as problematic -- to not also need the
liaisons _from_ bodies some or all of whose members are
appointed to the Nomcom to also act as either auditors and
witnesses or representatives/liaisons from the Nomcom back to
those bodies.  If the confirming bodies need to as questions
about how the Nomcom worked at the candidate level, let the ask
the Nomcom Chair or, if necessary, meet with the Nomcom and ask
questions of a group, not of an individual who is inherently in
the middle.   The dual role also creates a unique
opportunity/incentive for abuse (even though I have no reason to
believe it has ever occurred) which involves liaisons who want
to influence Nomcom outcomes being barred from doing that by
instructions from their own bodies, the Nomcom Chair, etc.,
turning around and expressing opinions of the results by
reporting back that the procedures were questionable.

If we need an auditing function for Nomcom's following
procedures -- beyond the Chair and former Chair-- we really need
to figure out another way to do that.  And we should also note
that we have no such auditing mechanism for, e.g., the IAOC
which, because of the way some of its membership is appointed,
is much less inherently accountable to the community.   That is
_not_ a criticism of the IAOC, merely an observation of where we
are putting out concerns and energy.

     john