Standards/W3C Charter Development and Review

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W3C Charter Development and Review

At the W3C (as at other standards bodies), working groups have charters that describe the scope of what they're allowed to work on, the deliverables that they are expected to produce, how the working group makes decisions, and other aspects of how it operates. Charters state a duration, after which they much be extended (typically for short periods of time) or renewed.

The process of developing a working group charter when a new working group is being created varies between groups, and is often somewhat opaque. It generally begins with a proposal either from the W3C team ("team" is the name used for people employed by the W3C) or from a W3C member company or companies. (Sometimes it may result from a workshop W3C holds... which in turn may have been held because of a proposal of the team or of members.)

When an existing working group is renewed, the drafting of the new charter is typically done largely within the group, so that the members of the group have a chance to discuss and revise the proposed new charter.

At some point in this process, the charter is brought to the Advisory Committee, which consists of one representative for each W3C member company. (Mozilla's current representative is David Baron.) Initially, the Advisory Committee is informed that a new charter is under development, and asked to send comments. Then, at a later point, the charter is put up for a formal review of the advisory committee, whose goal is to reach consensus within the AC. At this point, the charter is also sent to the public-new-work mailing list for public comment as well.

In this formal review process, each member company has the chance to request changes to the charter; the changes are generally all made by the W3C team and the working group is chartered without further review by the Advisory Committee (though AC members have the chance to object if they don't like the changes). The comments by members are either member-confidential (viewable by employees of members and by the W3C team, under confidence) or team-confidential (viewable only by the team).

Mozilla typically discusses charter reviews on the dev-platform mailing list. This is unusual; most members do not have this discussion in public. In most cases, however, the charter draft isn't public (rather than member-confidential) until the draft is posted for formal AC review (and posted to public-new-work); thus this is normally when the charter gets posted to dev-platform.

What we should say in charter reviews

In general, by the time a charter reaches formal review, some Mozilla folks have often had a chance to comment on it in member-confidential (AC list) or public (working group list) forums. Additionally, when a charter is in formal review, there's a bit of hesitance to make changes, since each additional change makes the reviewing that others have done during that formal review less valid, and increases the chance that another round of review will be needed. Thus, as it becomes later in the charter review process, it becomes less appropriate to suggest unimportant changes that might invalidate reviews done by others (for example, improvements to wording).

That said, we should definitely speak up in two cases. First, if we support a charter, we should say so: signaling our support to the W3C team and to other members is important. Second, if we want something to be changed that we do believe to be important, we should say so.

Things to look for in charters

Some things to look for in charters:

  • scope vs. deliverables
  • whether the group operates in public (it should)
  • whether decisions are made synchronously (in meetings) or asynchronously (on mailing lists): which is best depends on context