[Docs] [txt|pdf|xml|html] [Tracker] [Email] [Diff1] [Diff2] [Nits]

Versions: 00 02 03 04 05 06 07 RFC 7282

Internet Engineering Task Force                               P. Resnick
Internet-Draft                               Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
Intended status: Informational                          October 04, 2013
Expires: April 07, 2014


                  On Consensus and Humming in the IETF
                     draft-resnick-on-consensus-05

Abstract

   The IETF has had a long tradition of doing its technical work through
   a consensus process, taking into account the different views among
   IETF participants and coming to (at least rough) consensus on
   technical matters.  In particular, the IETF is supposed not to be run
   by a "majority rule" philosophy.  This is why we engage in rituals
   like "humming" instead of voting.  However, more and more of our
   actions are now indistinguishable from voting, and quite often we are
   letting the majority win the day, without consideration of minority
   concerns.  This document is a collection of thoughts on what rough
   consensus is, how we have gotten away from it, and the things we can
   do in order to really achieve rough consensus.

      Note (to be removed before publication): This document is quite
      consciously being put forward as Informational.  It does not
      propose to change any IETF processes and is therefore not a BCP.
      It is simply a collection of principles, hopefully around which
      the IETF can come to (at least rough) consensus.

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.  The list of current Internet-
   Drafts is at http://datatracker.ietf.org/drafts/current/.

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on April 07, 2014.

Copyright Notice




Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                 [Page 1]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   Copyright (c) 2013 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   (http://trustee.ietf.org/license-info) in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.  Code Components extracted from this document must
   include Simplified BSD License text as described in Section 4.e of
   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as
   described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Lack of disagreement is more important than agreement . . . .   3
   3.  Rough consensus is achieved when all issues are addressed,
       but not necessarily accommodated  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   4.  Humming should be the start of a conversation, not the end  .   7
   5.  Consensus is the path, not the destination  . . . . . . . . .  10
   6.  One hundred people for and five people against might not be
       rough consensus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   7.  Five people for and one hundred people against might still be
       rough consensus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
   8.  Conclusion  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14
   9.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
   10. Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
   Appendix A.  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15

1.  Introduction

   Almost every IETF participant knows the aphorism from Dave Clark's
   1992 plenary presentation [Clark] regarding how we make decisions in
   the IETF:

      We reject: kings, presidents and voting.

      We believe in: rough consensus and running code.

   That is, our credo is that we don't let a single individual make the
   decisions, nor do we let the majority dictate decisions, nor do we
   allow decisions to be made in a vacuum without practical experience.
   Instead, decisions are made by (more or less) consent of all
   participants, and the actual products of engineering trump
   theoretical designs.  Our ideal is full consensus, but we don't
   require it: Full consensus would allow a single intransigent person



Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                 [Page 2]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   who simply keeps saying "No!" to stop the process cold.  We only
   require rough consensus: If the chair of a working group determines
   that a technical issue brought forward by an objector has been truly
   considered by the working group, and the working group has made an
   informed decision that the objection has been answered or is not
   enough of a technical problem to prevent moving forward, the chair
   can declare that there is rough consensus to go forward, the
   objection notwithstanding.  To reinforce that we do not vote, we have
   also adopted the tradition of "humming": When (for example) the chair
   of the working group wants to get a "sense of the room", instead of a
   show of hands, the chair asks for each side to hum for or against a
   question.

   However, in recent years we have seen participants (and even some
   folks in IETF leadership) who do not understand some of the
   subtleties of consensus-based decision making.  Participants ask,
   "Why are we bothering with this 'humming' thing?  Wouldn't a show of
   hands be easier?  That way we could really see how many people want
   one thing over another."  Chairs, many of whom have little experience
   in leading large volunteer groups like those in the IETF, let alone
   experience in how to gather consensus, are faced with factious
   working groups with polarized viewpoints and long-running unresolved
   issues that return again and again to the agenda.  More and more
   frequently, people walk away from working groups, thinking that
   "consensus" has created a document with horrible compromises to
   satisfy everyone's pet peeve instead of doing "the right thing".
   None of these things are indicators of a rough consensus process
   being used, and are likely due to some basic misperceptions.

   This document attempts to explain some features of rough consensus,
   explain what is not rough consensus, and suggest ways that we might
   achieve rough consensus and judge it in the IETF.  Though this
   document describes some behaviors of working groups and chairs, it
   does so in broad brushstrokes and it is not intended to dictate
   specific procedures.  It is intended to foster understanding of the
   underlying principles of IETF consensus processes.

2.  Lack of disagreement is more important than agreement

   A working group comes to a technical question of whether to use
   format A or format B for a particular data structure.  The chair
   notices that a number of experienced people think format A is a good
   choice.  The chair asks on the mailing, "Is everyone OK with format
   A?"  Inevitably, a number of people object to format A for one or
   another technical reason.  The chair then says, "It sounds like we
   don't have consensus to use format A. Is everyone OK with format B?"
   This time even more people object to format B, on different technical
   grounds.  The chair, not having agreement on either format A or



Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                 [Page 3]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   format B, is left perplexed, thinking the working group has
   deadlocked.

   The problem that the chair got themselves into in the above case was
   thinking that what they were searching for was agreement.  "After
   all", thinks the chair, "consensus is a matter of getting everyone to
   agree, so asking whether everyone agrees is what the chair ought to
   do.  And if lots of people disagree, there's no consensus."  But
   _determining_ consensus and _coming to_ consensus are different
   things than _having_ consensus.  Consensus is not when everyone is
   happy and agrees that the chosen solution is the best one.  Consensus
   is when everyone is sufficiently satisfied with the chosen solution,
   such that they no longer have specific objections to it.  The
   distinction might be a bit subtle, but it's important.  Engineering
   always involves a set of tradeoffs.  It is almost certain that any
   time engineering choices need to be made, there will be options that
   appeal to some people that are not appealing to some others.  The key
   is to separate those choices that are simply unappealing from those
   that are truly problematic.

   So in the case of a working group decision, after the initial
   discussion of the pros and cons of the available choices, it is most
   important to ask not just for objections to a particular proposal,
   but for the nature of those objections.  A chair who asks, "Is
   everyone OK with choice A?" is going to get objections.  But a chair
   who asks, "Can anyone not live with choice A?" is more likely to only
   hear from folks who think that choice A is impossible to engineer
   given some constraints.  Following up with, "What are the reasons you
   object to choice A?" is also essential.  Then the purported failings
   of the choice can be examined by the working group.  The objector
   might convince the rest of the group that the objections are valid,
   or the working group might convince the objector that the concerns
   can be addressed, or that the choice is simply unappealing (i.e.,
   something the objector can "live with") and not a show-stopper.  In
   any event, closure is much more likely to be achieved quickly by
   asking for and trying to accommodate the objections rather than
   asking for agreement.

   This also brings up an important point about reaching consensus and
   "compromising": Unfortunately, the word "compromise" gets used in two
   different ways, and though one sort of compromising to come to
   consensus is good (and important), the other sort of compromising in
   order to achieve consensus is actually harmful.  As mentioned
   earlier, engineering always involves balancing tradeoffs, and
   figuring out whether one engineering decision makes more sense on
   balance compared to another involves making engineering
   "compromises": We might have to compromise processor speed for lower
   power consumption, or compromise throughput for congestion



Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                 [Page 4]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   resistance.  Those sorts of compromises are among engineering
   choices, and they are expected and essential.  We always want to be
   weighing tradeoffs and collectively choosing the best set.

   However, there is another sense of "compromise" that involves
   compromising between people, not engineering principles.  For
   example, a minority of a group might object to a particular proposal,
   and even after discussion still think the proposal is deeply
   problematic, but decide that they don't have the energy to argue for
   it and say, "Forget it, do what you want".  That surely can be called
   a compromise, but a chair might mistakenly take this to mean that
   they agree, and have therefore come to consensus.  But really all
   that they've done is conceded; they've simply given up by trying to
   appease the others.  That's not coming to consensus; there still
   exists an outstanding unaddressed objection.  Even worse is the
   "horse-trading" sort of compromise: "I object to your proposal for
   such-and-so reasons.  You object to my proposal for this-and-that
   reason.  Neither of us agree.  If you stop objecting to my proposal,
   I'll stop objecting to your proposal and we'll put them both in."
   That again results in an "agreement" of sorts, but it also results in
   two outstanding unaddressed issues, again ignoring them for the sake
   of expedience.  These sorts of "giving up" or "horse-trading"
   compromises have no place in consensus decision making.  In each
   case, a chair who looks for "agreement" might find it in these
   examples because it appears that people have "agreed".  But again,
   answering technical disagreements is what is needed to achieve
   consensus, sometimes even when the people who stated the
   disagreements no longer wish to discuss them.

   Coming to consensus is when everyone comes to the conclusion that
   either the objections are valid (and therefore making a change to
   address the objection) or that the objection was not really a matter
   of importance, but merely a matter of taste.  Of course, coming to
   full consensus like that does not always happen.  That's why in the
   IETF, we talk about "rough consensus".

3.  Rough consensus is achieved when all issues are addressed, but not
    necessarily accommodated

   The preceding discussion gives an example where the working group
   comes to consensus on a point: Either the objector is satisfied, or
   the working group is satisfied.  But that doesn't happen all of the
   time, and it's certainly not the problematic case.  Engineering is
   always a set of tradeoffs.  Often, a working group will encounter an
   objection where everyone understands the issue and acknowledges that
   it is a real shortcoming in the proposed solution, but the vast
   majority of the working group believe that accommodating the
   objection is not worth the tradeoff of fixing the problem.



Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                 [Page 5]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   So, an objector might say, "The proposal to go with protocol X is
   much more complicated than going with protocol Y. Protocol Y is a
   much more elegant and clean solution, which I can code much more
   easily, and protocol X is a hack."  The working group might consider
   this input, and someone might respond, "But we have a great deal of
   code already written that is similar to protocol X. While I agree
   that protocol Y is more elegant, the risks to interoperability with
   an untested solution is not worth it compared to the advantages of
   going with the well-understood protocol X." If the chair finds, in
   their technical judgement, that the issue has truly been considered,
   and that the vast majority of the working group has come to the
   conclusion that the tradeoff is worth making, even in the face of
   continued objection from the person(s) who raised the issue, the
   chair can declare that the group has come to rough consensus.

   Note that this portrays rough consensus as an "exception".  In one
   sense, it is: As a working group does its work and makes its choices,
   it behaves as if it is striving toward full consensus and tries to
   get all issues addressed to the satisfaction of everyone in the
   group, even those who originally held objections.  It treats rough
   consensus as a sort of "exception processing", to deal with cases
   where the person objecting still feels strongly that their objection
   is valid and must be accommodated.  But it is certainly true that
   more often than not in the IETF, at least someone in the group will
   be unsatisfied with a particular decision.  In that sense, rough
   consensus might be closer to the norm than the "exception".  However,
   when a participant says, "That's not my favorite solution, but I can
   live with it; I'm satisfied that we've made a reasonable choice",
   that participant is not in the "rough" part of a rough consensus; the
   group actually reached consensus if that person is satisfied with the
   outcome.  It's when the chair has to declare that an unsatisfied
   person still has an open issue, but that the group has truly answered
   the objection, that the consensus is only rough.


















Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                 [Page 6]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   Now, a conclusion of having only rough consensus relies heavily on
   the good judgement of the consensus caller.  The group must truly
   consider and weigh an issue before the objection can be dismissed as
   being "in the rough".  The chair of the working group in one of these
   cases is going to have to decide that not only has the working group
   taken the objection seriously, but that it has fully examined the
   ramifications of not making a change to accommodate it, and that the
   outcome does constitute a failure to meet the technical requirements
   of the work.  In order to do this, the chair will need to have a good
   idea of the purpose and architecture of the work being done and use
   their own technical judgement to make sure that the solution meets
   those requirements.  What can't happen is that the chair bases their
   decision solely on hearing a large number of voices simply saying,
   "The objection isn't valid."  That would simply be to take a vote.  A
   valid justification needs to me made.

   Any finding of rough consensus needs, at some level, to provide a
   reasoned explanation to the person(s) raising the issue of why their
   concern is not going to be accommodated.  A good outcome is for the
   objector to understand the decision taken and accept the outcome,
   even though their particular issue is not being accommodated in the
   final product.  Remember, if the objector feels that the issue is so
   essential that it must be attended to, they always have the option to
   file an appeal.  A technical error is always a valid basis for an
   appeal.  The chair (or whoever is responsible to hear an appeal) may
   determine that the issue was addressed and understood, but they also
   have the freedom and the responsibility to say, "The group did not
   take this technical issue into proper account" when appropriate.
   Simply having a large majority of people agreeing to dismiss an
   objection is not enough to claim there is rough consensus; the group
   must have honestly considered the objection and evaluated that other
   issues weighed sufficiently against it.  Failure to do that reasoning
   and evaluating means that there is no true consensus.

4.  Humming should be the start of a conversation, not the end

   We don't vote in the IETF.  In some ways, we can't vote: Since the
   IETF is not a membership organization, it's nearly impossible to
   figure out who would get a vote for any given question.  We don't
   know who the members of any given working group are at any one time,
   and we certainly don't know who all of the members of the IETF are.
   Indeed, we often recruit additional implementers and other experts
   into working groups in order to ensure that broader views are brought
   into the discussion.  So voting is simply not practical.  We've also
   decided that coming to consensus (albeit sometimes rough consensus)
   is an important thing to do.  So instead of voting, we "hum".





Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                 [Page 7]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   However, more and more we see people who think that a hum is a sort
   of anonymous vote, with some chairs calling every question they have
   for the working group by asking for a hum and judging the result by
   the loudest hum, even saying things like, "There were lots of hums
   for choice 1 and very few hums for choice 2, so it sounds like we
   have rough consensus for choice 1."  This really misses the point of
   humming and is almost certainly mis-assessing the consensus.  Hums
   should not be used as votes.

   So, why do we hum?  The first reason is pragmatic.  Quite often, a
   chair is faced with a room full of people who seem to be
   diametrically opposed on some choice facing the group.  In order to
   find a starting place for the conversation, it is often useful for
   the chair to ask for a hum to see if one of the choices already has a
   stronger base of support than the other.  If choice "foo" has a
   significant amount more support than choice "bar", it is likely
   easier to start the discussion by saying, "OK, 'foo' seems to have
   quite a bit of support.  Let's have the people that think 'foo' is a
   bad idea come up and tell us why it is problematic."  At that point,
   the group can start going through the issues and see if any of them
   are showstoppers.  It may turn out that one of the objections is
   instantly recognized by the entire group as a fatal flaw in "foo" and
   the group will then turn to a discussion of the merits (and demerits)
   of "bar" instead.  All that the hum does is give the chair a starting
   point: There were likely to be less objections to "foo" than to "bar"
   at the beginning of the discussion, so starting with whatever got the
   most hums can shorten the discussion.
























Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                 [Page 8]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   But couldn't the above could have been done with a show of hands
   instead of a hum?  Sure, but there are more formal reasons for using
   a hum instead of a show of hands: Another reason we hum is because it
   actually gives the chair the opportunity to take the temperature of
   the room.  A smaller bunch of loud hums for choice A and a larger
   number of non-committal hums for choice B might indicate that some
   people believe that there are serious problems with choice B, albeit
   the more popular by sheer number of people.  The chair might decide
   that starting with choice A and getting objections to it is the
   easier path forward and more likely to result in consensus in the
   end.  Remember, coming to consensus is a matter of eliminating
   disagreements, so the chair wants to choose the path that gets to the
   least objections fastest.  A bunch of people who are not strongly
   committed to B might have no real technical objection to A, even
   though it is not their first preference.  There is always a chance
   that this could be misleading, because some people are more willing
   to hum loudly than others (just by dint of personality), but keep in
   mind that taking the hum is to figure out how to start the
   conversation.  The chair could always be surprised because the hum
   turns out to be unanimous.  Otherwise, the hum begins the discussion,
   it doesn't end it.

   Of course, a chair could get the temperature of the room by doing a
   show of hands too, and knowing who specifically feels one way or
   another can help a good chair guide the subsequent conversation.
   However, a show of hands will often leave the impression that the
   number of people matters in some formal way.  It takes a chair and a
   working group with a solid understanding of how consensus works to do
   a show of hands and not end up reinforcing the mistaken notion that a
   vote is taking place.  A chair can always take the hum and then later
   ask for specific folks to identify themselves to elicit more
   discussion.  The hum makes it perfectly clear that the chair is
   simply figuring out the direction of the conversation.

   This also points to another misuse of the hum: If the chair is
   already convinced that the group has come to consensus, there is no
   reason to take a hum.  In fact, taking the hum only serves to
   discourage those who might be in the minority from voicing their
   concerns to the group in the face of a large majority who want to
   move forward.  The right thing for the chair to do if they already
   sense consensus is to say, "It sounds to me like we have consensus
   for choice A. Does anybody have any concerns or objections to going
   with A?"  This allows folks to bring up issues to the group that the
   chair might have mistakenly missed without having them feel that the
   majority has "already spoken".

   There are times where the result of a hum is a pretty even split.  In
   practical terms, that means it doesn't matter where the chair starts



Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                 [Page 9]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   the discussion.  And in fact, we've had working groups where a coin-
   flip decided which proposal to start with.  That doesn't mean that
   the coin-flip determined the outcome; if a fatal technical flaw was
   found in the solution that won the coin flip, it is still incumbent
   upon the group to address the issue raised, or abandon that solution
   and find another.  Rough consensus on the technical points, in the
   end, is always required.  Any way to find a place to start, be it the
   hum or the coin-flip, is only getting to the beginning of the
   discussion, not the end.

5.  Consensus is the path, not the destination

   We don't try to reach consensus in the IETF as an end in itself.  We
   use consensus-building as a tool to get to the best technical (and
   sometimes procedural) outcome when we make decisions.  Experience has
   shown us has been that traditional voting leads to gaming of the
   system, "compromises" of the wrong sort described earlier, important
   minority views being ignored, and in the end worse technical
   outcomes.  Coming to consensus is what we do during the process to
   arrive at the best solution.  "Declaring" consensus is not the end
   goal.  Indeed, attempts to declare consensus at the end of a
   discussion often get us back into the voting mentality that we're
   trying to avoid.




























Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                [Page 10]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   We often hear chairs say that they are making a "consensus call".
   Sometimes, they simply mean they are making a call _of_ the
   consensus; that is, they are declaring the consensus that has, in
   their view, been reached when the discussion has reached an end.
   That's a fine thing and what chairs are supposed to do: They are
   "calling" the consensus.  Sometimes, when a chair says that they are
   making a "consensus call", the chair is actually making a call _for
   discussion_ of a particular point in order to reach consensus.
   Although it's a bit odd to call that a "consensus call" (as opposed
   to a "call for discussion" or the like), it is fine for a chair to
   occasionally identify a particular point of contention and get the
   group to focus discussion on it in order to reach consensus.  But
   more and more often, we hear chairs say that they are making a
   "consensus call" at the end of a discussion, where the chair will
   pose the classic "Who is in favor of choice A?  Who is in favor of
   choice B?" questions to the working group.  That's not really a
   "consensus call", and has the same potential problems as the "hum" at
   the end of a discussion: It can be tantamount to asking for a vote.
   Even talk of "confirming consensus" has this problem: It implies that
   you can confirm that there is consensus by counting people, not
   issues.  The important thing for a chair to do is to "call consensus"
   in the sense of declaring the consensus; others can always object and
   say that the chair has gotten the consensus wrong and ask for
   reconsideration.  But the chair ought to be looking for consensus
   throughout the discussion, not asking for it at the end.

   There are some times where chairs will ask a question or take a hum
   toward the end of a discussion in order to figure out the state of
   consensus, but this must be done with extreme caution.  This is
   discussed in the next section.

6.  One hundred people for and five people against might not be rough
    consensus

   Remember that consensus is found when all of the objections have been
   addressed.  Because of this, using rough consensus avoids a major
   pitfall of a straight vote: If there is a minority of folks who have
   a valid technical objection, that objection must be dealt with before
   consensus can be declared.  This also reveals one of the great
   strengths of using consensus over voting: It isn't possible to use
   "vote stuffing" (simply recruiting a large number of people to
   support a particular side, even people who have never participated in
   a working group or the IETF at all) to change the outcome of a
   consensus call.  As long as the chair is looking for outstanding
   technical objections and not counting heads, vote stuffing shouldn't
   affect the outcome of the consensus call.





Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                [Page 11]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   So in a large working group with over 100 active participants and
   broad agreement to go forward with a particular protocol, if a few
   participants say, "This protocol is going to cause congestion on the
   network, and it has no mechanism to back off when congestion occurs;
   we object to going forward without such a mechanism in place", and
   the objection is met with silence on the mailing list, there is no
   consensus.  Even if the working group chair makes a working group
   last call on the document, and 100 people actively reply and say,
   "This document is ready to go forward", if the open issue hasn't been
   addressed, there's still no consensus.  It's the existence of the
   unaddressed open issue, not the number of people, which is
   determinative in judging consensus.  As discussed earlier, you can
   have rough consensus with issues that have been purposely dismissed,
   but not ones that have been ignored.

   This brings us back to when a hum could be used (cautiously) at the
   end of a discussion.  A discussion may be ongoing for some time, and
   a particular objection seems to be holding up the decision.  A
   diligent chair who's been carefully listening to the discussion might
   think, "I have heard person X make this objection, and I've heard
   responses from many other folks that really address the issue.  I
   think we have rough consensus.  But the objection keeps coming up.
   Maybe it's just the one person getting up again and again with the
   same argument, but maybe we don't have rough consensus.  I'm not
   sure."  At this point, the chair might ask for a hum.  If only a
   single hum objecting can be heard, even a loud one, in the face of
   everyone else humming that the objection has been answered, the chair
   has pretty good reason to believe that they heard the single
   objection all along and it really has been addressed.  However, to
   say immediately after the hum, "It sounds like we have rough
   consensus" and nothing else is at best being slipshod: What the chair
   really needs to say at that point is, "I believe the only objection
   we've heard is A (coming from person X), and I've heard answers from
   the group that fully address that issue.  So, unless I hear a
   different objection than the one I've just described, I find that
   there is rough consensus to move on."  That leaves the door open for
   someone to tell the chair that the objection was really on different
   grounds and they misevaluated, but makes it clear that the chair has
   found rough consensus due to the discussion, not due to the hum.
   Again, it's not the hum that ends things, it's that the issues have
   been addressed.  If the small minority (even one person) still has an
   issue that hasn't been addressed, rough consensus still hasn't been
   achieved.

7.  Five people for and one hundred people against might still be rough
    consensus





Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                [Page 12]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   This one is the real mind bender for most people, and certainly the
   most controversial.  Say there is a very small working group, one
   with half a dozen truly active participants who are experts in the
   field; everybody else is just following along, but not contributing
   to the discussion.  The active folks come up with a protocol document
   that they all agree is the right way forward, and people inside and
   outside the working group agree that the protocol is likely to get
   widespread adoption; it is a good solution to a real problem, even if
   the non-experts don't have the ability to fully judge the details.

   However, one of the active members has an objection to a particular
   section: The protocol currently uses a well-known algorithm to
   address an issue, but the objector has a very elegant algorithm to
   address the issue, one which works especially well on their
   particular piece of hardware.  There is some discussion, and all of
   the other contributors say, "Yes, that is elegant, but what we're
   using now is well-understood, widely-implemented, and it works
   perfectly acceptably, even on the objector's hardware.  There is
   always some inherent risk to go with a new, albeit more elegant,
   algorithm.  We should stick to the one we've got."  The chair follows
   the conversation and says, "It sounds like the issue has been
   addressed and there's consensus to stick with the current solution."
   The objector is not satisfied, maybe even saying, "But this is silly.
   You've seen that my algorithm works.  We should go with that."  The
   chair makes the judgement that the consensus is rough, in that there
   is still an objector, but the issue has been addressed and the risk
   argument has won the day.  The chair makes a working group last call.
























Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                [Page 13]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   Now the worst case scenario happens.  The objector, still unhappy
   that their preferred solution was not chosen, recruits one hundred
   people, maybe a few who were silent participants in the working group
   already, but mostly people who work at the same company as the
   objector who never participated before.  The objector gets them all
   to post a message to the list saying, "I believe we should go with
   the new elegant algorithm in section Z instead of the current one.
   It is more elegant, and works better on our hardware."  The chair
   sees these dozens of messages coming in and posts a query to each of
   them: "We discussed this on the list, and we seemed to have consensus
   that, given the inherent risk of a new algorithm, and the widespread
   deployment of this current one, it's better to stick with the current
   one.  Do you have further information that indicates something
   different?"  And in reply the chair gets utter silence.  These
   posters to the list (say some of whom were from the company sales and
   marketing department) thought that they were simply voting and have
   no answer to give.  At that point, it is within bounds for the chair
   to say, "We have objections, but the objections have been
   sufficiently answered, and the objectors seem uninterested in
   participating in the discussion.  Albeit rough in the extreme, there
   is rough consensus to go with the current solution."

   There is no doubt that this is the degenerate case and a clear
   indication of something pathological.  But this is precisely what
   rough consensus is designed to guard against: vote stuffing.  In the
   presence of an objection, the chair can use their technical judgement
   to decide that the objection has been answered by the group and that
   rough consensus overrides the objection.  Now, the case described
   here is probably the hardest call for the chair to make (how many of
   us are willing to make the call that the vast majority of people in
   the room are simply stonewalling, not trying to come to consensus?),
   and if appealed it would be incredibly difficult for the appeals body
   to sort out.  Indeed, it is likely that if a working group got this
   dysfunctional, it would put the whole concept of coming to rough
   consensus at risk.  But still, the correct outcome in this case is to
   look at the very weak signal against the huge background noise in
   order to find the rough consensus.

8.  Conclusion

   Although this document talks quite a bit about the things chairs and
   working groups and other IETF participants might do to achieve rough
   consensus, this document is not really about process and procedures.
   It describes a way of thinking about how we make our decisions.
   Sometimes, a show of hands can be useful; sometimes it can be quite
   damaging and result in terrible decisions.  Sometimes, using a device
   like a "hum" can avoid those pitfalls; sometimes it is just a poorly
   disguised vote.  The point of this document is to get all of us to



Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                [Page 14]


Internet-Draft                On Consensus                  October 2013


   think about how we are coming to decisions in the IETF, to make sure
   we avoid the dangers of "majority rule" and actually get to rough
   consensus decisions with the best technical outcomes.

9.  Security Considerations

   "He who defends with love will be secure." -- Lao Tzu

10.  Informative References

   [Clark]    Clark, D., "A Cloudy Crystal Ball - Visions of the
              Future", July 1992.

              In

   [IETF24]   Davies, M., Ed., Clark, C., Ed., and D. Legare, Ed.,
              "Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth Internet Engineering
              Task Force", July 1992,
              <http://www.ietf.org/proceedings/24.pdf>.

   [Sheeran]  Sheeran, M., "Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in
              the Religious Society of Friends", December 1983.

Appendix A.  Acknowledgements

   This document is the result of conversations with many IETF
   participants, too many to name individually.  I greatly appreciate
   all of the discussions and guidance.  I do want to extend special
   thanks to Peter Saint-Andre, who sat me down and pushed me to start
   writing, and to Melinda Shore for pointing me to Beyond Majority Rule
   [Sheeran], which inspired some of the thinking in this document.

Author's Address

   Pete Resnick
   Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
   5775 Morehouse Drive
   San Diego, CA  92121
   US

   Phone: +1 858 6511 4478
   Email: presnick@qti.qualcomm.com









Resnick                  Expires April 07, 2014                [Page 15]


Html markup produced by rfcmarkup 1.129d, available from https://tools.ietf.org/tools/rfcmarkup/