Nomcom Enhancements: Improving the IETF leadership selection process (SUMMARY)
Every year the IETF's Nominating Committee (Nomcom) reviews and selects half of the IETF's leadership on the IESG, IAB and IAOC/Trust. In the 18 years since the inception of the Nomcom process, the Internet industry and the IETF have gone through many changes in funding, participation and focus, but not in the basic formation, structure or operation of Nomcom. This paper explores challenges that have emerged in the conduct of Nomcom activities, particularly due to changing IETF demographics. The paper reviews the nature, causes and consequences of these challenges, and proposes a number of specific changes. The changes provide better communication of Nomcom institutional memory, enhance Nomcom membership expertise, and produce stronger confidentiality and etiquette practices among Nomcom participants. Some changes require formal modification to Nomcom rules; others can be adopted immediately.
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Whatever their causes, some significant problems are affecting the operation of Nomcoms. The recommendations made here cover four basic areas of concern:
- Knowledge of IETF culture, rules and processes
- IETF leaders do work that is substantial and difficult. It is not possible to choose among different nominees without knowing the depth and breadth of that work, since different nominees will have different skills and limitations. Some IETF leadership work is managerial, some is conceptual, some is administrative and some is legal.
- A Nomcom voting member must understand which position requires which talents. By itself, attending a few IETF meetings cannot ensure enough experience with IETF leadership work to understand the current demands.
- Nomcom Confidentiality
- Nomcom performs a human resources personnel hiring, firing and retention process for the IETF. In order to obtain accurate and meaningful input from the community and in order to have full and frank discussions about nominees, the details of a Nomcom's work must be restricted to the current members of the Nomcom. The need is not merely for confidentiality of the comments made about nominees but also those made about everyone else. For example it can be extremely destructive to have a candid comment about the IESG get back to the IESG. Any pattern of such leakage makes it unlikely that candid comments will be offered.
- Nomcom Independence
- Since Nomcom is tasked with selecting IETF leadership, credibility in the Nomcom process relies on having Nomcom's operation be meaningfully independent of the current IETF leadership. At the same time, the process requires oversight, to ensure that it is fairly conducted. One source of tension, given these two requirements, is in having liaisons from leadership groups be responsible for oversight. They represent core IETF authority. Particularly within interviews, the fact of their role with those groups can sway participants away from full candor. This threatens the ability of Nomcom to obtain sufficiently complete information that is needed for making truly independent assessments.
- Politicking for Nominees
- An organized campaign that seeks selection of a particular nominee directly works against the Nomcom effort to select candidates based on merit. The use of political leverage is destructive to efforts at evaluating skills and accomplishments. However such politicking is common in some other standards groups and has been observed in the IETF.
In order to develop sufficient understanding of the task and to review and resolve the logistical details, each Nomcom must scale a very large, initial hurdle.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Nomcom Operations Guide
- A collection of past Nomcom chairs and participants should write non-normative guidance about common Nomcom operational process choices that have been made, when these choices seemed to work and what their limitations appeared to have been.
- (Implementation) This requires no formal authorization to start happening.
Each Nomcom is created as a new group. One challenge in the management of new groups is to ensure that fair and thorough discussion takes place. Any group has the risk of excessive participation by one or another participant.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Nomcom Discussion Management
- It is primarily the job of the Nomcom Chair to ensure that no individual dominates the group. All participants in Nomcom discussions are encouraged to assist the Chair in assuring that no participant dominates Nomcom discussions.
- (Implementation) The conduct of meetings and the staffing of interviews is already under the control of the Nomcom chair. So this topic requires no change to Nomcom rules.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Selective Exclusion
- The Nomcom Chair may selectively exclude any participant from a single Nomcom activity. This action may be overridden by a majority of Nomcom Voting Members.
- (Implementation) This is a formal change to rules concerning Nomcom "members", which will require a modification to RFC 3777.
3. Nomcom Member Knowledge
The danger of a Nomcom with voting members who have little experience in making the IETF work is that they will have little direct knowledge of the qualities necessary for the people being selected to run the IETF.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Nomcom Tutorials
- In order to select personnel for the IAB, IESG, and IAOC/Trust, Nomcom members need to understand the current responsibilities, activities and problems with these groups. To this end, it would be extremely helpful to hold a series of scheduled tutorials, during the first IETF meeting of a new Nomcom, by representatives of IAB, IESG, and IAOC/Trust.
- (Implementation) This does not require any formal approval.
The random selection of Nomcom members usually produces a number who have extensive IETF experience, but this really is merely a matter of statistical happenstance. The criteria for volunteers and the manner of selecting them make it statistically likely that some Nomcom will eventually have none of these "senior" participants.
A Nomcom whose voting members lack sufficient expertise about IETF management issues is overly dependent on its advisers and liaisons.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Nomcom Expertise Requirement
- There needs to be review and agreement on the baseline level of expertise that must be represented within Nomcom's voting members.
Based on this requirement, here is a specific proposal...
- RECOMMENDATION -- Selection Pool
- There needs to be assurance of a minimum presence of Nomcom voting members who have meaningful knowledge of IETF "decision and leadership processes".
- Therefore, create a second pool of volunteers who satisfy more stringent Nomcom participation rules.
- Volunteers in this 'expertise' pool must have been on the IESG, IAB or IAOC/Trust, or have been a working group chair. These positions require a degree of direct involvement in the process of IETF leadership.
- Three (3) volunteers from the 'expertise' pool are selected first. Those who are not selected from that pool are then added to the general pool of volunteers, for the second round of selection. Nomcom is not limited to having only three of its members be experienced.
- (Implementation) This is a formal change to Nomcom selection rules, which will require a modification to RFC 3777.
4. Nomcom Confidentiality
The IETF mandates that Nomcom's internal activities be confidential. Nomcom is a personnel hiring process and confidentiality is, therefore, an appropriate professional standard.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Confidentiality Agreement
- Everyone participating in Nomcom needs to sign a formal Confidentiality Agreement.
- (Implementation) Will require a modification to RFC 3777. Note, however, that Nomcom members and those participating in the Nomcom process can voluntarily choose to sign the agreement.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Anonymous Input
- Any individual can submit anonymous comments, by approaching a Nomcom voting member and requesting to have their comments communicated with some obfuscation.
- (Implementation) Private contact with a Nomcom members are existing means of providing anonymous input. However this is not necessarily well known to the community. It will probably be useful to emphasize this alternative in the operations Guide document and possibly the Nomcom web page.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Liaison Disclosures
- Liaisons are required to disclose some Nomcom information back to their groups, but there is no clear guidance about what is acceptable to disclose and what is not. Previous efforts to specify this as a strict rule reached an impasse, as did the effort to formulate one for this proposal.
- (Implementation) If a liaison is not completely certain that it is acceptable to convey certain information to the confirming body, or to answer a particular question, they should bring the issue to the Nomcom chair and abide by the chair's guidance.
5. Nomcom Independence
There are several concerns that have the potential to undermine the independence of the Nomcom process. The multiple roles of liaisons from the IETF groups for whom candidates are selected can produce competing goals and their presence in portions of the Nomcom process can produce distraction or intimidation. In addition, attempts to assert undue influence in terms of promoting a nominee based primarily on affiliation and politicking in general have become problematic. Separately, any participant in Nomcom's internal or interview processes can come to exert excessive influence.
5.1 Liaison Influence
- RECOMMENDATION -- Interview Monitoring
- Liaisons must not sit in on interviews without a specific invitation. In order to achieve the required monitoring of interviews, the Chair and Advisors are tasked with attending interviews as needed, possibly at the specific request of a Liaison. RFC 3777 (section 4, rule 3) gives any committee member the right to propose the addition of advisors to participate in some or all of the deliberations of the committee. Committee members may choose to propose one or more advisors to monitor interviews, under that authority The chair can therefore appoint additional Advisors to assist with this, where the Advisor is not affiliated with any IETF leadership group and is not a candidate for any position with one.
- (Implementation) As a formal prohibition, this is a formal change to Nomcom selection rules, which will require a modification to RFC 3777, presumably as an enhancement to an RFC 3777 revision effort. Note, however, that the Nomcom Chair is entirely responsible for defining Nomcom procedures.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Etiquette Guide
- In order to ensure that every participant and organization involved in the Nomcom process can be easily and adequately informed of what is expected of them in the process, there should be an "etiquette" guide supplied to all participants, nominees, nominees' organization, interviewees, and others.
- (Implementation) This is not, technically, a formal change to Nomcom rules.
- RECOMMENDATION -- Politicking
- Any evidence of politicking should be reported to Nomcom and should be treated as a significant, negative factor when considering the nominee who is intended to benefit from the politicking.
- (Implementation) Nomcoms develop their own criteria.
This draft is the result of discussions among an ad hoc Nomcom Selection Design Team, including Spencer Dawkins. Additional review and suggestions have been provided by: Ross Callon, Olaf Kolkman, Jason Livingood, Danny McPherson, Hannes Tschofenig.