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WCAG decisions and Working Process

From: Andrew Kirkpatrick <akirkpat@adobe.com>
Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2016 18:37:25 +0000
To: WCAG <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <B276A237-5963-49D5-879C-1B3A5AD4A365@adobe.com>
WCAGer’s,

Over the last few months the Working Group has conducted a lot of important discussion, and has also spent many cycles on topics which are tangential to the discussion or that are related to the process we use to arrive at decisions. Some of this seems to be due to differing expectations from people about the manner in which work gets done in the group, so we wanted to discuss that.

The goal of this message is to review how the Working Group achieves the W3C definition of consensus and how the decision policy is designed to support that. This requires staying current on discussions, being open to varied perspectives, and willingness to compromise. It is important for participants to present views effectively and concisely, and to listen carefully to other views. The Working Group needs to make good decisions reasonably quickly, and this requires that participants understand that their preferred approach will not be the one taken for some decisions. Overall we seek the best overall consensus that will keep the work moving forward in a timely and effective manner. The rest of this message goes into more detail about how the chairs understand the needs of the Working Group and plan to manage the process.

It is worth pointing out that we are all after the same goal – improving accessibility. There are inevitably differences in how this may be achieved and that is where we are running into the most challenges.

Within the group, concerns have been raised that:

  1.  The group is making decisions without hearing feedback from everyone
  2.  Discussion is happening outside of Working Group meetings or in inappropriate ways

Regarding the group's decision-making process, everyone should be familiar with the WCAG Decision Policy (https://www.w3.org/WAI/GL/decision-policy). This policy, which the WCAG Working Group adopted in September 2015, is designed to be in keeping with the W3C process around establishing consensus (http://www.w3.org/2015/Process-20150901/#Consensus).

The chairs heard comments last week from some that suggests that the CfC process isn’t allowing enough opportunity for feedback. This was raised in part because comments and requests for changes to a CfC were not readily accepted or were not considered. We think that we (the chairs) can do better by more carefully considering the path by which the group has come to a proposed resolution. If an item is discussed on the list, and then on a call the group in attendance arrives at a compromise position the chairs can make sure that there is some additional time for people who were not on the call to review and comment on the list regarding the latest proposal. On the other hand, if an item is raised on the list, surveyed, and agreed to on the call without substantial changes, the chairs may start a CfC right after the call. The chairs welcome feedback on these decisions as the group conducts CfCs.

Related to this issue is the obligations of participants with regard to decisions. Working Group members are expected to engage with the group’s activities. Following the list, completing surveys, participating in discussions on GitHub issues, participating on calls, and reading minutes when unable to attend a call all represent work, but being on a Working Group represents a commitment to do work. If the only time a Working Group member can commit to doing work is reviewing CfC’s, that is not enough to really engage in the decision-making process, and you should make sure that you are asking whether you can live with the CfC as it is or not and make sure that your response includes that information. We do not expect every participant to use all channels all the time, but it is important to engage enough to be generally up to date on the topics under discussion.

If a Working Group member is on vacation when a decision is being made, the Working Group cannot wait for that member to return to conduct a CfC (there are over 50 members of the group and doing so would slow decision-making to a crawl). However, if the group makes a consensus decision that will cause problems, decisions can be reopened, per w3C policy. Simply raise the question, citing the new information that the group hasn’t considered in the initial decision and the group can change the decision (through a new CfC process).

Regarding the second type of concern, work in WCAG and any other standards group doesn’t happen only while at a F2F or only in full-group emails. People in standards groups talk to others inside and outside the group. That’s ok. Gathering information to support a point you wish to make and bringing it back to the group for consideration is helpful. It is also ok, and expected, for the group to critically judge the information and the analysis. There is much work to be done and it won’t happen in 90 minutes a week. If you feel that another group member is actively collecting data which will counter an point you are making, this is actually a good thing. If your point withstands the scrutiny then it is all the stronger for it. If you feel that your point cannot withstand scrutiny, then you want to collect additional data yourself and evaluate the point you are making.

All of this discussion/communication/debate needs to happen in a respectful, professional manner. This can be challenging. We work in a diverse group and not everyone has the same expectations for how communications happen. Some people respond well to direct challenges, other people want to hear the arguments for and against a topic and are best able to think about their position more independently. Some people prefer to hash out a topic in spirited discussion, others need the opposite.

The W3C’s participation criteria for individuals (http://www.w3.org/2015/Process-20150901/#ParticipationCriteria) speak to three criteria for group members:

  1.  Technical competence in one’s role
  2.  The ability to act fairly
  3.  Social competence in one’s role

The last of these relates most directly to the communications that occur within a group and is worth thinking about. Part of the necessary ability to work with each other in a large and diverse group includes being aware of the impact your individual style of interaction has on others and responding in a way that allows the others to be productive. Similarly, part of this includes being able to recognize and communicate on your own behalf. For some people this may mean being able to convey a need to work through more of an issue more independently rather than engaging in direct debate with others. If we can actively work to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to express ideas, thoughts, and concerns, we believe that this will benefit the productivity of the group.

None of this means that everyone will always get their way in group decisions, and accepting a group consensus that isn’t fully aligned with your personal views is a challenge. This is an important challenge for each of us to take on as it is a near certainty that as we work on the next WCAG that there will be decisions that are not exactly the way that we would individually prefer. We believe that if people are familiar with the decision policy, understand what is expected of them in the group, and seek to ensure that everyone’s voice can be heard that the group will progress more quickly and with an improved working environment.

If anyone has any questions, please let us know.

The chairs:
Andrew Kirkpatrick
Joshue O Connor




Received on Monday, 14 November 2016 18:38:01 UTC

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