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Saying no in a consensus-based organization

Excessive politeness is not something I'm used to being guilty of. The IESG responded to a proposal recently. As I read this response the IESG is saying that it has significant problems with the proposal and wonders whether it is worth spending the time to fix these problems. The IESG is also saying that it will work with the working group if the working group does in fact decide it thinks the proposal is important. We spent a lot of time trying to minimize the feeling that we were not being constructive and to soften our message while still saying what we wanted to say. At least my experience has been that as an AD, your words always have more impact than you intend even when you take this into account. Apparently we over did it this time. The message that got across seems to be something much more muddled and along the lines of "The IESG is going to try and kill this proposal with a series of poorly formed objections that they will not articulate." Communication is hard. Saying no constructively is apparently even harder.


Welcome to the IESG!

Hey, Sam, welcome to the IESG! :-)

I don't think you've quite got it yet, though.

IESG members don't really get to say 'no'. We have three choices (in increasing order of effort): (1) to say 'yes' now, (2) to work with the interested community until they produce something to which we can (however grudgingly) say 'yes', or (3) to work with the interested community until the community decides to say 'no'.

Only the interested community (typically represented as a working group) can say 'no', and getting a large working group to that point is a Herculean effort. I have accomplished it once or twice, and it was probably worth it, but....

Re: Welcome to the IESG!

I actually think I understand this. I was recently describing things as follows:

I don't know about the rest of the IESG but I'll never actually say no
to something. I'm willing to say "I think this has significant
problems; I'm not sure how to fix them and I'd rather you not try." I
think that's the strongest no I can ever imagine saying and still
being honest. I don't know what it would mean to say something
stronger than that. I cannot stop someone from evolving some idea and
if an idea goes through enough evolution it might become good.

Normally, community response is that you're too harsh and that you are not willing to work with people. Here, the complaint is that the IESG is not being firm enough and is not sending a clear message. I'll forward details.


Yes, IMO, you have captured the situation really well. And, I think that is exactly how things should be.

I don't think that the problem with the IESG's post on ISDs is (only) that we were too indirect in our wording. We also posted as a group, which made our opinions effectively anonymous. That makes it very hard for the recipients to strike up a dialogue... Are they supposed to reply to the IESG mailing list? I think that might be off-putting for some folks.

I really liked your follow-on note pointing out some issues that you personally were concerned about. I think that your post was more constructive than the "official" IESG opinion, if only because people could write back and say "Hey, Sam, I don't agree...".

I hope that some of us will engage in a real, ongoing e-mail discussion on the newtrk mailing list. I do believe that there are one or two good ideas floating around in the ISD proposal, and maybe we can work with the authors and active WG members to figure out what they are, get them separated from the other stuff, and make them work. That won't happen from one posting, though... Some of us need to get engaged in this group and start working with them on an ongoing basis to develop a workable proposal.

I believe that the main reason that the community places so much import on what we say is that we say too little, and we take way too long to say it. If we engaged in more open dialogue with the community (WGs, IETF list, etc.), then folks would start to view us as participants in the discussion, instead of viewing everything we say as some sort of pronouncement.

And, BTW, you have probably been involved in the IETF for longer than I have, and I am beginning to suspect that you are quite a bit smarter than I am, so don't believe everything that I say.

[I really would have liked to insert a few more acronyms into this post so that it would be completely meaningless to non-IETFers who read this thread (like that long list of your friends, none of whom I actually know), but that is hard to do with a process topic... Maybe we can do a technical one later. ;-)]

September 2019

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