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This public document was enacted on 6 December 2017, following approval by W3C Management and the W3C Advisory Board, and came into effect on 13 December 2017.

Processing of Formal Objections

There are various places in the W3C Process where individuals might raise a Formal Objection to the Director of the W3C. Today, there are limited guidelines about how these issues should be addressed. This document outlines Best Practices for complex cases that the Director delegates to another individual.

Part of the reason that there are no written guidelines is because the W3C Director is expected to employ a strong sense of fairness to resolve issues in a way that is in the best interests of the Web. This requires expert human judgment, making it difficult to require that the Director process Formal Objections in any particular manner. At times, however, the Director might find it advantageous to delegate the processing of a Formal Objection, so it is sensible to establish a set of guidelines and best practices for that case.

As a general rule, not all Formal Objections are equally far reaching. Simple Formal Objections might be raised on a matter of proposed new policy or on Charter proposals. Other Objections might be strong and comprehensive disagreements with a consensus reached by a Working Group. It is not always easy to tell which Objections fall into which category - for example a simple Objection from EFF on the inclusion of content protection in the HTML Charter rightly took extensive discussion and analysis. This is a judgement call made by the Director.

This document sets out best practices for delegates to use in addressing complex Formal Objections. For simple objections it is not necessary to have an overly formal process. This is irrespective of whether it involves a small fix or even if (after attempting to find consensus), the Director or delegate reach a conclusion overruling the objector.

When a delegate makes a Director's decision in complex cases, to ensure fairness to all and the best solution for the Web, it is useful to be more formal and comprehensive. Below are best practices to use in the case of a delegate handling such an Objection.

Delegate selection

In all cases, the Director will select a delegate who is neutral and fair to all sides in the dispute, and is also perceived as such. This delegate must provide special effort to ensure they fully comprehend the point-of-view of those that they decide against. Consequently, some of the language below emphasizes the sensitivity to the objector since in most cases the objector is fighting an uphill battle to get a majority point-of-view re-visited.

Best Practices

The Best Practices are arranged in categories.

1. Thoroughness

This includes:

Understanding all sides of the argument.
The delegate must be fully comfortable they understand all sides of the argument. In particular, the delegate should not proceed with making decisions before hearing and understanding the objections (whether or not they agree with them). This would include a decision tree which explains the key issues between the points of view.
Consultation.
The delegate should recognize that they have at their disposal any stakeholder who could reasonably inform the issue. This includes Working Groups, Chairs, Members, Team, and the general public. On technical issues the TAG might be particularly useful.
Best efforts to resolve via consensus.
The delegate should search for potential consensus positions. When that is not possible, at least the delegate is in a position to clearly articulate the rationale for the decision.
Analysis of all arguments raised.
Although the decision should be clear, well explained, and unambiguous, the decision should nonetheless acknowledge good points raised by the party that is not favored in the ruling, but explain why they are not decisive.

2. Fairness

This includes:

Transparency.
The delegate should inform all parties that the processing has been delegated to the delegate. In this same spirit, when the Decision is released it should indicate to whom the Director delegated the objection.
Adequate access.
The delegate should offer all parties the opportunity to elaborate on their point of view. For example, although the objection is already available in written form, the delegate should at least offer an opportunity to the objector to have a phone conversation. All parties should be invited to key meetings where the delegate tries to assemble the various viewpoints.
Primary authorship.
The delegate should be the primary author of the Director's decision.

3. Director review

For complex cases, the Director's decision should be reviewed by the Director before it goes out. For simple cases, W3M (acting under Director's delegation) might conclude that is not necessary.

4. Communications

All parties should be generally apprised of the pace of the analysis, and through discussions be up to speed on the delegate's thinking. As a result, when the Director's decision is issued, there would not be surprises for any of the parties. Communicating continuously does not impose any constraint on the delegate in making the decision, but it serves multiple useful purposes. First, it allows the parties to gradually socialize in their organization what the decision is. Second, if there is anything that the delegate misses in early analysis, it allows additional opportunities to hear about it.


Questions? Jeff Jaffe, W3C CEO - <jeff@w3.org>
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