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W3C accountability

From: Simon St.Laurent <simonstl@simonstl.com>
Date: Sun, 06 May 2001 15:25:16 -0400
Message-Id: <5.0.2.1.2.20010506150515.02820070@pop.hesketh.net>
To: <www-talk@w3.org>
Cc: janet@w3.org, timbl@w3.org
[I'm not sure this is the correct place to send this message, but I don't 
see any other public forums for discussing general issues like this 
one.  If I'm in the wrong place, please let me know the proper place to go 
with this.  Thanks!]

The W3C issued a press release on 17 April 2001, "World Wide Web Consortium 
Grows to Over 500 Members":
http://www.w3.org/2001/04/500-member-pressrelease

In the the second paragraph of the section "W3C Produces Standard-Setting, 
Interoperable Technologies Through Consensus", the following sentence appears:
>To ensure
>accountability to all users of the Web, the W3C Process provides a clear
>description of how work is started, performed, reviewed, and completed.

This sentence has been ringing in my ears since I first read it.

The central problem is that publication of process does not "ensure 
accountability to all users of the Web".  While it does inform users of the 
processes by which the consortium claims to govern itself, publication 
alone has nothing to do with accountability.

Accountability requires meeting standards, not just publishing them.  In a 
stricter sense, accountability means auditability by trusted folks 
typically called accountants or auditors.  Because the general public has 
trust in those auditors - and because the auditors themselves are subject 
to audit - these mechanisms ensure that organizations abide by the 
processes they set forth.

This is pretty integral to a number of ISO process specs, though not 
entirely well-loved.  It doesn't appear to a part of the W3C process, 
however.  Apart from the fact that "audit" doesn't appear anywhere in the 
process document (at 
http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Process-20010208/process.html), the only 
oversight mentioned is that of the Chairman and the host institutions in 
non-W3C process situations.  The word conform appears only in particular 
contexts which again do not apply to process.

This may simply be the way the W3C chooses to operate.  If that is the 
case, however, I would strongly suggest that they remove references to 
"accountability to all users of the Web", as there is no enforcement 
mechanism for such accountability.  As the W3C chooses to operate most of 
its activities and working groups confidentially, there is no alternative 
means for the public to ascertain whether or not W3C process is actually 
applied in practice, or to evaluate the rules by which working groups 
conduct their business.

And yes, I'll be exploring how other consortia and standards bodies deal 
with these issues as a followup.


Simon St.Laurent - Associate Editor, O'Reilly & Associates
XML Elements of Style / XML: A Primer, 2nd Ed.
XHTML: Migrating Toward XML
http://www.simonstl.com - XML essays and books
Received on Sunday, 6 May 2001 15:24:57 GMT

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