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DebConf travel sponsorship (was: Re: [Debconf-team] Budget status - travel sponsorship)

[ Background for -project readers:

  debconf-team was discussing travel sponsorship money this year, and
  how it was sent so late, and how extremely non-ideal that is,
  considering when it is given so late prices are so much higher that
  the money can't go as far. ]

On Sat, Jun 16, 2012 at 04:58:03PM -0500, Gunnar Wolf wrote:
> Moray Allan dijo [Sat, Jun 16, 2012 at 11:00:42AM +0100]:
> > (...)
> > Prices will often have gone up since the questions were asked, so
> > whatever we do at this stage will tend to help people who inflated their
> > initial answers more than those who tried to list a minimum price.  In a
> > future improved system this issue could be reduced by starting much
> > earlier (as previously discussed), but might it also be worth
> > implementing the system with some allowance for individuals to get
> > permission to increase the requirements (up to some percentage?) after
> > being granted sponsorship?
> As every year, I doubt we will ever¹ reach a perfect system for
> expressing who needs to be rated higher and when to communicate the
> decision. In order to plan with >3 months time sponsorship allocation,
> so that people can count on a ticket to stay at the level it was
> quoted, we need a funds acquisition logistics quite far from our
> current reach.
> While I recognize many people see a big failure point our way of
> handling travel sponsorship, I sincerely cannot imagine a realistic
> way to improve it much. Yes, we have done several improvements over
> the years, and I hope to keep making small steps for the better, but
> sorry - Answering in what I'd consider to be a nice timeframe is
> outside our possibilities.

It is hard to improve things.  The order we spend money is: venue
rental, accom, food, <a few other nice things>, travel.  If travel is
prioritized low, and we always are short of money, travel will keep
being last.

This year, even if we had know of the surplus months before, it would
have first been allocated to venue rental and accom, leaving none for
travel until a week ago, *still* (I think).  However, DebConf is
always in a panic in March (as we are getting ready), and seems to
always have a surplus in September (after DebConf) [debconf-surplus].
This is because we (our local teams!) keep finding cheaper options
last-minute ways to do things, or more direct local support.

We could decide to allocate travel early, before we knew we'd have a
surplus, and have confidence we'd eventually reduce costs.  However,
we are too conservative (=responsible) to want to risk having a
deficit.  Thus, the travel-last system remains.

But there is something we could do: "Summon Bigger Bank".  We would
basically want something to even out the year to year uncertainty, and
average out the travel sponsorship over years.  And we do have a
bigger bank: Debian.

Imagine a system where Debian would guarantee an amount of travel
sponsorship in March/April, it would be allocated to attendees early,
and people would immediately buy tickets when costs were actually low.
Also, people wouldn't have to game the system so much.  After DebConf,
we would have the surplus to give to Debian to pay the costs
[accounting-details].  In the event that DebConf did not have enough
surplus, Debian would assume those costs.  Debian has enough cash
reserves to fully absorb all of our travel sponsorship for any one
year, not that I'd expect it to ever come to that [debian-money].  In
the event that DebConf can only partially pay travel sponsorship, it
gets absorbed by Debian (the bigger bank) and recouped in future
years, or from past surpluses.

Naturally, it's not as simple as it sounds above.  Past DebConf
surpluses, the expected DebConf budget, Debian budget, all interact
very intricately.  Debian would want careful advice from DebConf to
not overspend.  DebConf would want advice as to Debian's situation.
DebConf would still consider that travel money as part of its budget.

This actually goes right along with (and inspired by) an idea Moray
has had, having some sort of standing Debian committee to allocate
travel money to people, for example, for sprints.  Since Debian is
guaranteeing the money, it would make sense for a Debian committee to
be able to decide the allocations.  (Also, in general, DebConf would
welcome any help like this in general).

Of course, there would be a lot of implementation details to work out.
I've watched four DebConf budgets now, and I think this would be
workable.  Historical travel costs are:
 dc9  - 27 kUSD
 dc10 - 23 kUSD
 dc11 - 40 kUSD
 dc12 - 18 kUSD
which is much less than Debian's reserves, even subtracting a year's
worth of new hardware according to the plan.

So, there's a better plan than the current travel sponsorship system
[travel-system].  Fiscally speaking, it could work.  I know Debian and
DebConf can work together to share their expertise in the related
areas to make sure to avoid major disasters.  We just need people to
stand up and say "if DebConf is part of Debian, then Debian should be
part of DebConf".

If people are interested, I can research more details and present a
better report on the practicality of this scheme, and of course, to
help make it so next year.

- Richard

[debconf-surplus] For readers of -project, here's what this means:
Sponsors slowly pledge money over the spring, and we usually are in a
panic about "oh no, we have no money to afford anything".  But as time
goes on, things get together.  We get a few more sponsors.  We find
local supporters who will sponsor things locally, or negotiate better
discounts, or find cheaper venues.  A major source of extra money is
when many people don't reconfirm, or don't show up, saving us a lot on
accommodation costs.  Thus, we always seem to have much more of a
surplus than we were expecting, which is what makes the plan above
more reasonable than it seems at first.

[accounting-details] Probably, DebConf would pay most of the people
itself.  The exact flow of money doesn't matter as long as it is all
properly accounted for.  Which we can do.  Or at least, I will do.

[debian-money] Yes, Debian recently embarked on an expensive hardware
replacement plan, and can't go spending things left and right.  It is
just a matter of priorities.

[travel-system] I'm not going into details about all the ways the
current travel system has problems.  Hopefully others can chime in if
people have questions.  Also, there are fundamental questions about
how to do the actual allocations, which would remain regardless.
Maybe new blood can kick-start a discussion on it.  There are notes
and references to notes from a BOF at the very bottom of that page,
under "References".  In the DC10 Travel Sponsorship BOF thread,
Pablo mentions something similar.

| Richard Darst  -  rkd@          -  boltzmann: up 1065 days, 3:15
|            http://rkd.zgib.net  -  pgp 0xBD356740
| "Ye shall know the truth and -- the truth shall make you free"

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