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Re: Judging consensus at in-person meetings

Sean Whitton:
> [moving to -project; please drop CCs on follow-ups]
> Hello Ximin,
> Thank you for writing this.
> On Mon, Aug 21 2017, Ximin Luo wrote:
>> I don't think using the opportunity of in-person meetings to judge
>> consensus is such a great thing. This has been a common theme recently
>> cropping up in FOSS environments, pushed by certain groups and
>> justified by the observations that "only strong opinions are visible
>> [in email threads]". Much of the time, these groups overlap greatly
>> with people that are used to doing things in a physical setting,
>> including making decisions by judging crowd consensus.
>> Debian is primarily an online organisation as Bill says, these are its
>> roots, this is how it became so big, and this is where the vast
>> majority of productive work is done. I think discrediting all of that
>> simply because "some people are loud on mailing lists" is really
>> short-sighted and distorted. [...]
> Russ didn't discredit "all of that" -- he just pointed out that
> /sometimes/, online discussions can obscure a consensus that is quite
> obvious in person.
>> Personally, and I'm sure many people are similar, I prefer to have
>> long technical discussions like this in writing via email, and not
>> face-to-face. I'm a very slow thinker, I don't make very good
>> decisions in the fast-paced context of a normal physical
>> conversation. If I sometimes seem like I do, it's usually only because
>> I've thought about the problem beforehand and have my main points
>> decided.
>> Physical discussions encourage non-technical interactions - if you can
>> pick the right words and presentation, you can make a crowd empathise
>> with you for largely non-technical reasons. I don't think this is a
>> good thing, we should recognise that this happens and not allow it to
>> take over Debian's decision making processes.
>> Online technical discussions are safer against these sorts of
>> effects. [...]
> Right, I agree that these effects could do a lot of damage to Debian.
> In this case, the discussion /did/ occur online, in the bug.  Only two
> things happened offline:
> - some brainstorming of the patch I initially proposed
> - the judgement that consensus existed
> The first one of these is not itself part of the decision-making
> process; my posting of the patch to the bug is.

Thanks for the response. I agree and don't mean to imply that the discussion around adding reproducibility to Policy was polluted by these effects. I was for the proposed amendment wording etc.

I was more responding to a more general pattern that I notice, of mentioning this idea of "consensus at physical meetings" as one way in which to justify something. For example Russ also mentioned "very difficult to judge consensus over email because only the strong opinions are visible". This was in response to Adrian's comments criticising certain parts of the text.

The way that this is worded implies (a) that "strong opinions" is a bad thing, and (b) that this is an accurate description of email discussions. I neither believe (a), nor I do think Adrian was expressing a "strong opinion" - i.e. (b) is not always an accurate description of email discussions.

I'm also not bothered whether Russ really thought that Adrian was doing that, people are welcome to their own opinions. However his comments could be read that way by others, especially given similar stuff in other contexts that I've seen. So I just wanted to voice the fact that I *didn't* think Adrian was doing that. Although I disagreed with the content of what he was saying, I thought the manner in which he approached the thread was perfectly OK and I don't think it was appropriate to use "consensus" as a stick, at that point of the discussion.

> The second was based on offline interactions, but it was a judgement of
> a consensus that existed /before/ DebConf.  It wasn't that anyone used
> non-technical interactions to /create/ the consensus.
>> Indeed in this thread there were lots of good points brought up
>> criticising the wording of this policy, that nobody thought about
>> during physical discussions at DebConf (which I didn't participate in
>> for these reasons).
> I agree that online discussion was best for bringing out all these
> points.  But bringing out those points was not about judging consensus.

Which is one further reason why it felt weird to me to appeal to "consensus" at that stage of the discussion, and to write all this stuff about strong opinions hiding the consensus.

The points being made were technical ones about exact wording and definitions. I guess the "Oppose" subject line might have seemed a bit forceful, but I think that was reading too much into it. I myself just read it as a firm but well-meaning reminder that clear definitions are an important thing because it's package maintainers who have to do the actual work in practise in trying to make Policy into reality.


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