Multiple Chairs

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At the 2014 TPAC Chairing breakfast (Member-only), the W3C Chairs asked that the Team provide some guidance on how co-chairs should divide responsibilities. There are an increased percentage of Groups that have at least two Chairs; some have three or four - and there are no guidelines on how to split the work.

Responsibilities of chairs

Before describing how to manage a Group with multiple Chairs it is recommended that one read the Guide that summarizes Chair responsibilities. Evidently there is a wide range of responsibilities and these responsibilities are of different types. Types include:

  • technical (e.g. how their work relates to Web Architecture)
  • liaison (e.g. relationship with other groups)
  • social (e.g. assessing consensus and brokering consensus)
  • project management (e.g. establishing and maintaining schedule)
  • administrative (e.g. convening meetings)
  • networking (e.g. finding the right invited experts and editors)
  • communications (inside and outside W3C)
  • experience (understanding how W3C works)
  • ability to be neutral
  • a sizable time commitment

Reasons for multiple Chairs

Earlier in W3C's history, the scope of W3C's activity was such that it was frequently the case that a single Chair could manage these diverse responsibilities. Increasingly it is hard to find a single person to Chair for a variety of factors including:

  • The diversity of skills required are often not found in a single individual
  • The complexity of the platform has increased. Technical expertise is required not only in the topic of the WG, but also in horizontal review areas
  • As the Web grows in impact, the diversity of liaisons is increasing
  • As the web development community globalizes, it is necessary to cover multiple "stakeholder networks" with multiple Chairs.
  • Supergroups with very large specs or a large number of specs require a time commitment that may exceed what is available from a single individual.
  • Chairs might want a back-up if they anticipate periods of unavailability.
  • Sounding Board for agendas, decisions
  • Chairs from different organizations provide balance and help "chair neutrality"

Division of responsibility between Chairs

There is no "one size fits all" way to characterize how responsibility should be divided between Chairs. There are too many variables. Dividing Chair responsibilities has a great deal to do with the individual abilities and time availability of the specific Chairs, and that varies considerably. Some examples of how responsibility is divided include:

  • One chair might focus on project management, schedule, and organization; while another focuses on resolving technical issues.
  • One chair might focus internally to group management, and another chair might focus on liaison with other W3C groups and external groups.
  • One chair might focus on technical architecture, and another might network with the implementation community
  • A group might have multiple task forces or multiple documents and the chairs divide the workload in that way.
  • Especially in groups that interact with vertical industries (e.g. telecommunications, publishing, entertainment) multiple chairs might be needed to engage with stakeholders in different geographic regions.
  • For controversial groups where different stakeholders have widely different approaches, multiple Chairs can ensure balance among the participants
  • There might be a truly excellent, but junior person who can be mentored as a new Chair by an experienced Chair.

Best practices

In response to the question raised above at the TPAC breakfast, this wiki will be used to collect ideas on how to manage Groups with multiple Chairs; starting with some input from the Team.

Before the Group is chartered

Given the diversity of reasons for multiple Chairs, the Team recommends that prior to starting a Group, the co-Chairs, Team Contact(s), and in some cases the Domain Lead should jointly discuss both formal, process related responsibilities, as well as any additional informal responsibilities the Chairs want to take on. They should arrive at clear decisions as to which responsibilities are handled by each Chair; or which responsibilities are to be handled in a shared fashion. In some cases Chairs might request Group feedback, document these decisions, and/or place them on the Group Homepage.

[NM] The Charter should, as far as possible, describe how the division of responsibilities is allocated to the Chairs, allowing for flexibility during the Charter period.

During the Charter period

Over time, changes are needed. Sometimes the interests or time commitments of the Chairs change. Some items might not have been clearly assigned initially. The progress of the Group also could create new assignments (e.g. new documents, new task forces, difficulties in moving some documents forward). Accordingly it is recommended that the co-Chairs and Team Contacts should meet at least every six months to re-validate or update the division of labor. Particularly, if there is a F2F meeting of the group, it is wise for this reassessment to take place at least six weeks prior to the F2F meeting to ensure a high quality meeting.

[NM] Any changes to the division of responsibilities between the Chairs should be communicated to the Group membership, staff contact and domain lead.