Network Working GroupD. Crocker, Editor
Internet-DraftBrandenburg InternetWorking
Intended status: InformationalS. Brim
Expires: January 17, 2011J. Halpern
B. Wijnen
B. Leiba
Internet Messaging Technology
M. Barnes
July 16, 2010

Nomcom Enhancements: Improving the IETF leadership selection process


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.

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

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 in January 17, 2011.

Copyright Notice

Copyright © 2010 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 ( 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

The IETF conducts an annual process, selecting half of its leadership. Selections are made by a Nominations Committee (Nomcom) of randomly chosen volunteer participants. Each Nomcom spends more than 6 months, recruiting nominees, interviewing them and the community, and laboring over criteria and trade-offs. The Chair of Nomcom and the liaisons from IETF-related groups are appointed, non-voting members. The selections made by a Nomcom are reviewed by Confirming Bodies that consider the conduct of the Nomcom process and, to some extent, the adequacy of selected candidates. The Nomcom process was developed in 1992. In the 18 years since then, 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. The only significant changes were to add to Nomcom's workload, by creating more staffing positions for the recently-formed IAOC/IETF Trust and the RAI area, and to its disclosure by making the list of nominees public. [RFC5680]

When the Nomcom process was created, most IETF meeting attendees were heavily involved in a range of IETF work; most really did see themselves as integral to an IETF "community". Today there is significantly greater diversity in IETF participants' background, knowledge, and working styles. Many participants still are deeply involved in the IETF, but many others are more narrowly focused, with limited IETF involvement. Often they track only one working group and contribute to none of its discussion, writing or leadership. Many participants are more familiar with the process and culture of another standards body and are therefore more likely to use that frame of reference when pursuing IETF work. This results in volunteers with potentially less IETF experience, less understanding of IETF culture and less appreciation of the specific strengths (and weaknesses) of the IETF approach to standards development. Instead, they bring their own norms, often including a stronger sense of loyalty to other groups.

This can create conflicting goals. One of the cornerstones to the IETF's cultural model is that an individual participates as a private individual rather than as a representative of their employer. The IETF Nomcom process requires confidentiality among participants. For example it is not acceptable for a participant to report details of the process to their work supervisor. Violation of confidentiality threatens participant willingness to be candid in interviews and discussions. Equally, politicking intimidates participants and makes political leverage more important than the skills of an applicant.

Nomcom decisions are to be based on individual merit, such as quality of technical contributions. The model of personal participation encourages individual assessments based on professional judgment, rather than on expedient corporate preferences that are driven by current business interests. Certainly Nomcom takes note of organizational affiliation, but this is for better understanding the current perspective of the individual and for attempting to ensure diversity of views. Still some participants have difficulty making the distinction between their role as an individual, versus their role as a corporate representative.

Whatever their causes, some significant problems are affecting the operation of Nomcoms. (For example, see [Nomcom2009].) The recommendations made here cover four basic areas of concern:

The basic concepts of confidentiality and protection against conflict of interest are intended to ensure that those entrusted with an important process are free to perform it, without any appearance or reality of external pressures and with strict focus on the quality of the process. This is not a question of individual integrity, but rather of inherent confusion created by any participant exerting undue influence on the Nomcom process.

This note discusses some of these challenges and offers recommendations for alleviating them. The recommendations are specific. However the reader should distinguish between a suggested framework for action, configured according to a number of types of choices. That is, definition of parameters, versus the specific values assigned to those parameters. Therefore, the reader should separately consider the approach being suggested for solving an issue, versus the specific details suggested when using that approach.

For example, there is a suggestion to have two different pools for selecting Nomcom members and criteria that would distinguish between the pools. It is possible to debate whether to have multiple pools, as distinct from debating whether the number should be two or whether the offered criteria for the second pool compose an acceptable set. Readers are encouraged to separately consider the broader recommendations versus the details that make the recommendations concrete. Equally, some recommendations lack complete detail. The details matter, of course, but first there must be agreement about the approach. The details should be developed after that.

Readers are encouraged to offer alternatives and garner support for them, should they consider specific recommendations problematic.

2. Nomcom Management

There are informative specifications for the selection of Nomcom participants, for Nomcom's primary deliverables and for its major deadlines. [RFC3777] [RFC5078]. The documents provide little detail about Nomcom internal operations, and each Nomcom is both free and required to make many decisions about the details of the way it will operate, in terms of meetings, interviews, nominee analysis, decision-making methods and candidate selection criteria. Much of this flexibility is useful, to allow each Nomcom to determine the operating style that best suits the current year's Nomcom participants, as well as the current year's priorities that should guide its selections. However the fact that each Nomcom starts from what is essentially a clean operational slate makes its initial organizing efforts rather daunting.

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. Although a Nomcom has the considerable benefit of on-going participation by the previous Nomcom's chair, there is no organized documentation to help Nomcom's benefit from the long history of Nomcom's useful or problematic self-management choices, although Nomcom Chair reports may contain some examples of guidance.

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. This is exacerbated when that participant carries additional power, such as being the liaison of a confirming body. However the general concern about dominating discussion applies for all participants.

3. Nomcom Member Knowledge

Anyone who merely attends a few recent IETF meetings is allowed to volunteer for Nomcom. This rule has the considerable benefit of being highly inclusive, but it does not guarantee that a volunteer has any meaningful, direct experience in the IETF's technical or leadership processes. That is, the criteria and the selection process for members make it quite easy to have a Nomcom in which no voting members have ever written RFCs, participated in formal reviews of drafts, chaired working groups, or served on the IESG, IAB or IAOC/Trust. In fact given the proportion of IETF participants that have low levels of IETF process experience, the statistical probabilities over time make it virtually inevitable.

The issue is a matter of insights and skills, not of motivations. Direct participation does not guarantee an understanding of what is needed to make the IETF work successfully, but it makes it more likely.

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. Job descriptions exist for the positions that are to be filled, and the descriptions are generally viewed as being useful. However they cannot provide insight into practical aspects of performing the jobs they describe, nor problems with the way those jobs are done. In addition, the jobs being filled are for leadership and oversight activities, yet Nomcom members often only have experience as individual contributors. So the nature of leadership skills also is not within their direct experience.

A special comment should be made about filling the IAOC/IETF Trust position. The IAOC and IETF Trust perform the administrative and legal work of the IETF. The work, and the members doing it, tend not to be in the spotlight of the IETF and very few IETF participants have much understanding of the required knowledge or activities. Hence, even very active IETF participants are likely to have little insight into the details of that position. That makes it extremely difficult to evaluate nominees. The most recent Nomcom pursued a series of tutorials with IAOC/Trust, in an effort to improve Nomcom's ability to assess candidates. The tutorials were extremely helpful.

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. That is, the methodology makes it possible to have a Nomcom whose voting members have no meaningful expertise about the IETF's operation. Repeated application of this sampling rule means that the "possible" is certain to eventually occur.

A Nomcom whose voting members lack sufficient expertise about IETF management issues is overly dependent on its advisers and liaisons. Such a dependence is a matter of strategic weakness that requires making changes to the criteria and procedures for selecting at least some Nomcom members to guarantee a basic level of expertise among voting members.

Based on this requirement, here is a specific proposal...

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. Sensitive information about nominees and discussions needs to be kept internal to the Nomcom.

Nominees, nominee's companies, the IAB, the IESG and others typically know more about the internal workings of each current Nomcom than they should. Examples abound. To cite one: with no prior discussion of the topic by a Nomcom member with a particular nominee, that nominee thanked the member for a comment the member made during the previous day's internal Nomcom discussion about the nominee!

Leaks such as this are corrosive to the process. They mean that participants must assume all of their comments will be reported to others. This causes them to limit their comments, depriving Nomcom of valuable information about nominees.

We need to reverse this tendency towards sloppiness. We need to make clear that confidentiality is important and is expected to be respected. Nomcom members need the understanding, incentives and tools to preserve this confidentiality.

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. This last concern is discussed in Section 2.

5.1 Liaison Influence

Liaisons to Nomcom serve multiple roles. In addition to the usual job of "representing the views of their respective organizations" and providing information to Nomcom, liaisons are tasked by [RFC 3777], Section 4 #7 with a process oversight function for the IETF in general and for their respective groups. Since Nomcom fills positions in three of the groups that provide liaisons, these groups' liaisons face inherent conflicts of interest. It can be difficult to provide neutral oversight and maintain confidentiality to a group which is judging the body that the liaison is representing. Still, the need for oversight reasonably extends to include at least a sampling of interviewing. Further, there might be specific concern about a specific interviewer, prompting a need to observe their interviewing behavior.

For example, the mere presence of some people who hold special positions of authority (and therefore power) is sometimes problematic in an interview. Interviewees making comments about one of these groups have reported concern when a liaison from that group is present, and are known to have avoided certain issues, for fear of jeopardizing their working relationship with that group. Indeed, liaisons have been known to report back to their groups the internal discussions of a Nomcom.

Balancing these conflicting needs and concerns is challenging. The concern for oversight has sometimes led to the extreme of having liaisons participate as fully active Nomcom members, including participating in every interview! The problem with suggesting that they participate in only some is that this gives an appearance of balance, but does not address the problem, for those interviews in which a liaison is present.

Some obvious and reasonable choices appear not to be workable. For example, one thought is to limit interview presence to liaisons who are not part of a direct IETF leadership team. At best this reduces to only the ISOC Liaison. However that would rely on the interviewee's understanding the distinct difference in roles for that liaison, and most will not. Further, it can reasonably be argued that a representative from the group that supplies the IETF with much of its funding should be counted as having significant (and potentially intimidating) power.

5.2 Politicking

The current reality is that politicking during the Nomcom process does take place, sometimes quite aggressively. It is one thing for a nominee to make invididual and personal requests for support. It quite a different thing to have an organized campaign by a business associate, such as an employer. As an example, one company sought to recruit the employees of its business partners who participate in the IETF to register positive comments on the Nomcom wiki.

The IETF Nomcom process needs protection against these sorts of attempts at manipulation. The IETF needs to make clear statements about the behaviors that are acceptable, and those that are not, among anyone involved directly or indirectly in the IETF process.

6. Acknowledgements

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.

7. Security Considerations

This document has no security implications, except for the viability of the IETF's Nomcom process.

8. Informative References

[Nomcom2009]Barnes, M., “Nomcom Chair's Report: 2009-2010”, I-D draft-barnes-Nomcom-report-2009, February 2010.
[RFC3777]Galvin, J., “IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and Recall Committees”, RFC 3777, June 2004, <informative>.
[RFC3777bis]Galvin, J., “Operation of the Nominating and Recall”, I-D draft-galvin-rfc3777bis-00 (expired), March 2009.
[RFC3797]Eastlake, D., “Publicly Verifiable Nomcom Random Selection”, RFC 2777, June 2004.
[RFC5078]Dawkins, S., “IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and Recall Process. Revision of the Nominating and Recall Committees Timeline”, RFC 5078, October 2007.
[RFC5680]Dawkins, S., Ed., “The Nominating Committee Process: Open Disclosure of Willing Nominees”, BCP 10, RFC 5680, October 2009.

Authors' Addresses

D. Crocker (editor) Brandenburg InternetWorking675 Spruce Dr.Sunnyvale, USAPhone: +1.408.246.8253EMail: URI:
Scott BrimEMail:
Joel HalpernEricssonP. O. Box 6049Leesburg, VA USAPhone: +1.703.371.3043EMail:
Bert WijnenEMail:
Barry LeibaInternet Messaging TechnologyEMail: URI:
Mary BarnesEMail:

A. Draft IETF Nomcom Independence and Confidentiality Policy

I am participating in the Internet Engineering Task Force's (IETF) nominations process. Working with the independent IETF Nominations Committee (Nomcom) often includes access to information that is confidential. Preservation of the Nomcom's independence and confidentiality are necessary to the integrity of that process.

In light of this I understand that:

I acknowledge that I have read and understand this Policy statement.