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Network Working Group T. Hardie Request for Comments: 3929 Qualcomm, Inc. Category: Experimental October 2004

               Alternative Decision Making Processes
            for Consensus-Blocked Decisions in the IETF

Status of this Memo

 This memo defines an Experimental Protocol for the Internet
 community.  It does not specify an Internet standard of any kind.
 Discussion and suggestions for improvement are requested.
 Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

 Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004).


 This document proposes an experimental set of alternative decision-
 making processes for use in IETF working groups.  There are a small
 number of cases in IETF working groups in which the group has come to
 consensus that a particular decision must be made but cannot agree on
 the decision itself.  This document describes alternative mechanisms
 for reaching a decision in those cases.  This is not meant to provide
 an exhaustive list, but to provide a known set of tools that can be
 used when needed.

1. Introduction

 Dave Clark's much-quoted credo for the IETF describes "rough
 consensus and running code" as the key criteria for decision making
 in the IETF.  Aside from a pleasing alliteration, these two
 touchstones provide a concise summary of the ideals that guide the
 IETF's decision making.  The first implies an open process in which
 any technical opinion will be heard and any participant's concerns
 addressed; the second implies a recognition that any decision must be
 grounded in solid engineering and the known characteristics of the
 network and its uses.  The aim of the IETF is to make the best
 possible engineering choices and protocol standards for the Internet
 as a whole, and these two principles guide it in making its choices
 and standards.
 In a small number of cases, working groups within the IETF cannot
 reach consensus on a technical decision that must be made in order to
 ensure that an interoperable mechanism or set of standards is

Hardie Experimental [Page 1] RFC 3929 Consensus-Blocked Decisions in the IETF October 2004

 available in some sphere.  In most of these cases, there are two or
 more competing proposals at approximately the same level of technical
 maturity, deployment, and specification.  In some cases, working
 groups can achieve consensus to advance multiple proposals and either
 to revisit the question with experience or to build the required
 mechanisms to handle multiple options for the life of the protocol.
 In other cases, however, a working group decides that it must advance
 a single proposal.
 Choosing among proposals can be difficult especially when each is
 optimized for slightly different use cases, as this implies that the
 working group's best choice depends on the participants' views of
 likely future use.  Further problems arise when different proposals
 assign costs in implementation, deployment, or use to different
 groups, as it is a normal human reaction to seek to prevent one's own
 ox from being gored.
 This document proposes a set of experimental mechanisms for use in
 such cases.  To gauge the results of the use of these mechanisms, the
 Last Call issued to the IETF community should note such a mechanism
 is being used and which proposal among the set was chosen.  If and
 when the community becomes satisfied that one or more of these
 methods is useful, it should be documented in a BCP.
 In no way should this experiment or any future BCP for this small
 number of cases take precedence over the IETF's normal mode of

2. Rough Consensus as a baseline approach

 The Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado
 outlines the pros and cons of consensus as follows:
    The advantage of consensus processes is that the resulting
    decision is one that meets the interests of all the parties and
    that everyone can support.  The disadvantage is that developing
    such a decision can be a very slow process, involving many people
    over a long period of time.  There is also a relatively high
    probability of failure.  If a quick decision is needed, the
    consensus approach may not work.  Consensus rule processes also
    tend to favor those that oppose change and want to preserve the
    status quo.  All these people have to do is refuse to support any
    consensus compromises and they will win (at least as long as they
    can delay change) [CONFLICT].

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 Using "rough consensus" as a guideline limits some of the
 disadvantages of consensus processes by ensuring that individuals or
 small factions cannot easily block a decision that otherwise has
 general support.  The touchstone of "running code" can also limit the
 disadvantages of consensus processes by requiring that statements
 opposing particular proposals be technically grounded.
 These limitations do not change the core mechanisms of consensus-
 building, however, and the IETF process continues to require
 individual participants both to use their best engineering judgment
 to select among proposals and to balance their own interests with
 those of the Internet as a whole.  Active participation and a
 willingness to compromise, possibly on key points, are needed.
 Historically, this has worked because a large majority of
 participants have recognized that the Internet's growth and
 enhancement are more important overall than any specific short-term
 In other words, "rough consensus" is sufficient in most cases in the
 IETF to ensure not only that individuals or small groups are heard
 when they raise technical objections, but also that they cannot block
 progress when general agreement has been reached.  This document does
 not suggest changing the usual mechanisms for achieving progress; it
 proposes mechanisms for use when a working group has consensus that
 it must make a decision but cannot make that decision by the usual

3. Conditions for use

 In general, working groups should consider using alternate decision-
 making processes when it is clear both that a choice must be made and
 that the choice cannot be made with continued discussion, refinement
 of specifications, and implementation experience.  A guideline for
 determining whether these conditions have been met is included below.

3.1. There is a clear decision to be reached

 There must be a clear statement of the decision to be reached.  This
 may be in the working group's charter, in requirements documents, or
 in other documents developed by the working group.  Prior to any
 invocation of an alternate decision making process, the Chair(s)
 should confirm with the working group that there is general agreement
 on the decision to be reached.  This should include a specific
 consensus call on whether the working group can advance multiple
 proposals or must select a single proposal for the work item.

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3.2. Proposals are available in Draft form

 Proposed solutions must be available as Internet-Drafts and must be
 sufficiently specified so that the Chair(s) believe they could be
 published as an IETF specification, possibly with further refinement.
 If the Chair indicates that a proposed solution is insufficiently
 specified, concrete problems must be identified, and a reasonable
 amount of time provided to resolve those problems must be provided.
 Note that if one of the proposed solutions is "do nothing", an
 explicit Draft to that effect must be available; it may, however, be
 produced when the group invokes an alternate decision-making process.

3.3. The working group has discussed the issue without reaching

 Consensus-building requires significant amounts of discussion, and
 there is no general rule for indicating how much discussion a
 technical issue requires before a group should reach consensus.  If
 there is any question about whether the discussion has been
 sufficient, the working group chair(s) should always err on the side
 of allowing discussion to continue.  Before using an alternate
 decision making process, the working group chair(s) should also make
 an explicit call for consensus, summarizing the technical issues and
 the choice to be made.  If new technical points are made during the
 call for consensus, discussion should continue.  If no new points are
 raised, but the group cannot come to consensus, the working group may
 consider using an alternate decision making process.  Under no
 circumstances is the working group required to use an alternate
 decision-making process.

3.4. There is an explicit working group last call to use an alternate

 In item 3.3 above, it is noted that the Chair(s) should make an
 explicit call for consensus on the technical issues and should
 proceed only after that call has yielded no forward progress.  A
 different Last Call on whether to use an alternate decision-making
 method is required, with a stated period for comments by working
 group members.  This is to indicate that the decision to use an
 alternate method should be taken at least as seriously as the
 decision to advance a document on the standards track.  It also
 provides a clear signal that this is a last moment for participants
 to reconsider their positions.  The decision to use an alternate
 decision making process requires the rough consensus of the working
 group, as determined by the Chair(s).  The choice of which process to
 use may be made in the Last Call or may be the subject of separate
 discussions within the working group.  If the group comes to

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 consensus that an alternative method is required but does not come to
 consensus on the method to use, an external review team (c.f. section
 4.1, below) will be formed.
 In discussions regarding this document, several points have been
 raised about the viability of any mechanism that requires consensus
 to use an alternative to consensus-based decision making.  Some
 individuals have pointed out that groups having trouble achieving
 consensus on a technical matter may have similar problems achieving
 consensus on a procedural matter.  Others have been concerned that
 this will be used as an attempt to end-run around rough consensus.
 These are valid concerns, and they point both to the need to retain
 rough consensus as the baseline mechanism and the need to exercise
 caution when using these alternate methods.  More importantly though,
 they highlight the nature  of these alternatives.  They are primarily
 mechanisms that allow people to recognize the need for compromise in
 a new way, by backing away from entrenched technical positions and by
 putting the technical choice in the hands of the broader community.
 They highlight that the choice for each participant is now between
 achieving a result and failure.
 There is a fundamental tension between the IETF community's desire to
 get the best decision for a particular technical problem and its
 desire to get a decision that has community buy-in in the form of
 rough consensus.  These mechanisms cannot resolve that fundamental
 tension.  They may, however, provide a way forward in some situations
 that might otherwise end in a deadlock or stagnation.

4. Alternate Methods

 In setting up an alternate method, care must be taken that the
 process by which the decision is reached remains open and focused on
 the best technical choice for the Internet as a whole.  The steps set
 out below provide a straw proposal for four such mechanisms.  These
 systems are relatively heavyweight, partially to highlight the
 gravity of invoking these methods and partially to ensure that the
 IETF community as a whole is alerted to and kept informed of the
 process.  Note that alternate procedures have been used in the past;
 see [RFC3127] for a description of that used in the decision between
 two competing candidate protocols for Authentication, Authorization,
 and Accounting.  By setting out these proposals, this document does
 not intend to limit working group choice but intends to provide a set
 of well-defined processes that obviate the need for reinvention in
 most cases.

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4.1. Alternate Method One: External Review Team Formation

 The working group notifies the IETF community that it intends to form
 an external review team by making a public announcement on the IETF-
 announce mailing list.  That announcement should include a summary of
 the issue to be decided and a list of the Internet-Drafts containing
 the alternate proposals.  It should also include the name and
 location of an archived mailing list for the external review team's

4.1.1. External Review Team Membership

 External review teams have five members who must meet the same
 eligibility requirements as those set out for a voting member of the
 NomCom [RFC3777].  Explicitly excluded from participation in external
 review teams are all those who have contributed to the relevant
 working group mailing list within the previous twelve months, the
 IESG, the IAB, and the members of an active NomCom.
 Volunteers to serve on the review team send their names to the IETF
 executive director.  Should more than five volunteer, five are
 selected according to the process outlined in [RFC3797].  Note that
 the same rules on affiliation apply here as to the NomCom, to reduce
 the burden on any one organization and to remove any implication of
 "packing" the review team.
 Participants in the working group may actively solicit others to
 volunteer to serve on the review team but, as noted above, they may
 not serve themselves if they have commented on the list within the
 previous twelve months.

4.1.2. External Review Team Deliberation

 The external review team is alloted one month for deliberations.  Any
 member of the team may extend this allotment by two weeks by
 notifying the relevant working group Chair(s) that the extension will
 be required.
 The team commits to reading the summary provided during the IETF
 announcement and all of the relevant Internet-Drafts.  Members may
 also read the archived mailing list of the working group and may
 solicit clarifications from the document authors, the working group
 chairs, or any other technical experts they choose.  All such
 solicitations and all deliberations among the review team of the
 proposals should take place on the archived mailing list mentioned in
 the IETF announcement.  The team members may, of course, have one-
 on-one discussions with relevant individuals by phone, email, or in
 person, but group deliberations should be on the archived list.

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4.1.3. Decision Statements

 Each member of the external review team writes a short decision
 statement, limited to one page.  That decision statement contains a
 list of the proposals in preference order.  It may also contain a
 summary of the review team member's analysis of the problem and
 proposed solutions, but this is not required.  These decision
 statements are sent to the archived mailing list, the relevant
 working group chair(s), and the IESG.

4.1.4. Decision Statement Processing

 The decision statements will be tallied according to "instant-runoff
 voting" rules, also known as "preference voting" rules [VOTE].

4.2. Alternate Method Two: Mixed Review Team

 This mechanism allows the working group to designate a review team
 that involves those outside the working group and those who have been
 involved in the process within the working group.  Although it may
 appear that having a single representative of each proposal will have
 a null effect on the outcome, this is unlikely, except when there is
 a binary choice, because of the rules for decision-statement
 processing (c.f. 4.1.4.).  As in 4.1, the working group notifies the
 IETF community that it intends to form a mixed review team by making
 a public announcement on the IETF-announce mailing list.  That
 announcement should include a summary of the issue to be decided and
 a list of the Internet-Drafts containing the alternate proposals.  It
 should also include the name and location of an archived mailing list
 for the external review team's deliberations.

4.2.1. Mixed Review Team Membership

 Mixed review teams are composed of one designated representative of
 each of the proposals, typically the Internet-Draft's principal
 author, and six external members.  Five of the external members are
 selected per 4.1.1. above.  The sixth is designated by the IESG as a
 chair of the group.  Though the primary role of the chair is to
 ensure that the process is followed, she or he may vote and engage in
 the deliberations.

4.2.2. Mixed Review Team Deliberation

 The review team is alloted one month for its deliberations, and any
 member of the team may extend that allotment by two weeks by
 notifying the review team Chair this the extension will be required.

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 The review team commits to reading the summary provided during the
 IETF announcement and all of the relevant Internet-Drafts.  Members
 may also read the archived mailing list of the working group, and of
 any other technical experts as they see fit.  All such solicitations
 and all deliberations among the review team of the proposals should
 take place on the archived mailing list mentioned in the IETF

4.2.3. Decision Statements

 As in 4.1.3, above.

4.2.4. Decision Statement Processing

 As in 4.1.4, above.

4.3. Alternate Method Three: Qualified Short-Straw Selection

 As in 4.1 and 4.2, the working group notifies the IETF community that
 it plans to use an alternate decision mechanism by making a public
 announcement on the IETF-announce mailing list.  That announcement
 should include a summary of the issue to be decided and a list of the
 Internet-Drafts containing the alternate proposals.
 In this method, a single working group participant is selected to
 make the decision.  Any individual who has contributed to the working
 group in the twelve months prior to the working group Last Call on
 the technical question (c.f. 3.3, above) may volunteer to serve as
 the decision maker.  Individuals may qualify as participants by
 having made a public statement on the working group mailing list, by
 serving as an author for an Internet-Draft under consideration by the
 working group, or by making a minuted comment in a public meeting of
 the working group.  The Chair(s) may not volunteer. Each qualified
 volunteer sends her or his name to the working group chair and the
 IETF Executive Director within three weeks of the announcement sent
 to the IETF-announce mailing list.  The IETF Executive Director then
 uses the selection procedures described in [RFC3797] to select a
 single volunteer from the list.  That volunteer decides the issue by
 naming the Internet-Draft containing the selected proposal in an
 email to the relevant working group chair, the working mailing list,
 and the IESG.

4.4. Alternate Method Four: Random Assignment

 Among the small number of cases for which consensus is not an
 appropriate method of decision-making are an even smaller number for
 which the decision involves no technical points at all and a need to
 select among options randomly.  The IDN working group, as an example,

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 needed to designate a specific DNS prefix.  As the decision involved
 early access to a scarce resource, a random selection was required.
 In such cases, a working group may ask IANA to make a random
 assignment from among a set of clearly delineated values.  Under such
 circumstances, IANA will be guided by [RFC3797] in its selection
 procedures.  Under extraordinary circumstances, the working group
 may, with the approval of the IESG, ask IANA to select among a pool
 of Internet-Drafts in this way.

5. Appeals

 The technical decisions made by these processes may be appealed
 according to the same rules as any other working group decision, with
 the explicit caveat that the working group's consensus to use an
 alternate method stands in for the working group's consensus on the
 technical issue.

6. Security Considerations

 The risk in moving to a system such as this is that it shifts the
 basis of decision making within the IETF.  In providing these
 mechanisms, it is hoped that certain decisions that may be
 intractable under consensus rules may be reached under the rules set
 out here.  The risk, of course, is that forcing the evaluation to
 occur under these rules may allow individuals to game the system.

7. IANA Considerations

 Section 4.3 may require the IANA to make random selections among a
 known set of alternates.

8. References

8.1. Normative References

 [RFC3797]  Eastlake, D., "Publicly Verifiable Nomination Committee
            (NomCom) Random Selection", RFC 3797, June 2004.
 [RFC3777]  Galvin, J., Ed. "IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and
            Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and Recall
            Committees", BCP 10, RFC 3777, June 2004.

8.2. Informative References

 [RFC3127]  Mitton, D., StJohns, M., Barkley, S., Nelson, D., Patil,
            B., Stevens, M., and B. Wolff, "Authentication,
            Authorization, and Accounting: Protocol Evaluation", RFC
            3127, June 2001.

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 [VOTE]     Center for Democracy and Voting. "Frequently Asked
            Questions about IRV",
 [CONFLICT] International Online Training Program on Intractable
            Conflict,"Consensus Rule Processes", Conflict Research
            Consortium, University of Colorado, USA.

10. Acknowledgements

 The author would like to acknowledge the contributions and
 challenging exchanges of those who reviewed this document, among them
 John Klensin, Dave Crocker, Pete Resnick, Spencer Dawkins, Scott
 Bradner, Joel Halpern, Avri Dora, Melinda Shore, Harald Alvestrand,
 Alex Simonelis, Keith Moore, Brian Carpenter, and Alex Rousskov.

11. Author's Address

 Ted Hardie
 Qualcomm, Inc.
 675 Campbell Technology Parkway
 Suite 200
 Campbell, CA U.S.A.

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 contained in BCP 78, and except as set forth therein, the authors
 retain all their rights.
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