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[openstack-dev] [elections][tc]Thoughts on the TC election process

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So the period of self-nominations for the Technical Committee seats has ended, and the voting has begun. I've been a very close observer of this process for several cycles, and I have some ideas I'd like to share. Full disclosure: I am a current candidate for the TC, and have been a candidate several times in the past, all of which were unsuccessful.

When deciding to run, candidates write a long, thoughtful essay on their reasons for wanting to serve on the TC, and those essays are typically the last you hear from them until the election. It has been rare for anyone to ask follow-up questions, or to challenge the candidates to explain their positions more definitively. I have spoken with many people at the Summits, which always closely followed the TC election (warning: unscientific samples ahead!), and what their selection process mostly boils down to is: they pick the names they are most familiar with. Many people don't read those long candidacy posts, and nearly all couldn't remember a single point that any of the candidates had put forth.

We are fortunate in that all of the candidates are exceptionally well-qualified, and those elected have put in excellent service while on the TC. But one thing I'm afraid of is that we tend to get into a situation where groupthink [0] is very likely. There are many excellent candidates running in every election, but it is rare for someone who hasn't been a PTL of a large project, and thus very visible, has been selected. Is this really the best approach?

I wrote a blog post about implicit bias [1], and in that post used the example of blind auditions for musical orchestras radically changing the selection results. Before the introduction of blind auditions, men overwhelmingly comprised orchestras, but once the people judging the auditions had no clue as to whether the musician was male or female, women began to be selected much more in proportion to their numbers in the audition pools. So I'd like to propose something for the next election: have candidates self-nominate as in the past, but instead of writing a big candidacy letter, just state their interest in serving. After the nominations close, the election officials will assign each candidate a non-identifying label, such as a random number, and those officials will be the only ones who know which candidate is associated with which number. The nomination period can be much, much shorter, and then followed by a week of campaigning (the part that's really missing in the current process). Candidates will post their thoughts and positions, and respond to questions from people, and this is how the voters will know who best represents what they want to see in their TC.

The current candidacy essay would now be posted in the campaign period, rather than at the time of nomination, and should exclude the sort of biographical information that is currently the most important piece for many people. Keeping anonymity will be difficult, and will preclude the use of email for posting positions and responses, since email identifies the sender. So perhaps candidates could forward their posts to the election officials, who will post them for the candidates, identifying them by number only. The voting form will only list the candidate numbers, so the end result will be people casting votes for the candidates whose platform most matches what they want to see in the TC, and who have best answered any questions raised by others.

My feeling is that the result would be very different than the current process. My question, then, is whether that would be a good thing? It would require more work from the candidates and especially the election officials, so we should make sure that the goal is worth it. Do we want everyone to have an equal chance to serve on the TC, or should those who have earned name recognition by their excellent work in other parts of OpenStack continue to have an advantage?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink
[1] http://blog.leafe.com/bias/

-- Ed Leafe


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asked Oct 3, 2016 in openstack-dev by Ed_Leafe (11,720 points)   1 3 6
retagged Jan 26, 2017 by admin

50 Responses

0 votes

On Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 9:46 AM, Edward Leafe ed@leafe.com wrote:

After the nominations close, the election officials will assign each
candidate a non-identifying label, such as a random number, and those
officials will be the only ones who know which candidate is associated with
which number.

I'm really uneasy about this suggestion. Especially when it comes to
re-election, for the purposes of accountability I think it's really
important that voters be able to identify the candidates. For some people
there's a difference in what they say and what they end up doing when left
calling shots from the bubble for too long.

As far as the other stuff... idk if familiarity == bias. I'm sure lots of
occasions people vote for people they know because they trust them; but I
don't think that's bias? I think a more common problem is when people vote
for a name they recognize without really knowing that person or what
they're about. Or perhaps just as bad - not voting because they realize
they have on context to consider these candidates beyond name familiarity
and an (optional) email.

I think a campaign period, and especially some effort [1] to have
candidates verbalize their viewpoints on topics that matter to the
constituency could go a long way towards giving people some more context
beyond "i think this name looks familiar; I don't really recognize this
name"

-Clay

1.
http://lists.openstack.org/pipermail/openstack-dev/2016-October/104953.html
<- "role of the TC and your priorities"; seems like a reasonable thing for
someone to be able to answer about folks they're putting in the top six
slots in the voting card!


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by Clay_Gerrard (5,800 points)   1 2 2
0 votes

On 03/10/2016 17:49, Edward Leafe wrote:
So the period of self-nominations for the Technical Committee seats has ended, and the voting has begun. I've been a very close observer of this process for several cycles, and I have some ideas I'd like to share. Full disclosure: I am a current candidate for the TC, and have been a candidate several times in the past, all of which were unsuccessful.

When deciding to run, candidates write a long, thoughtful essay on their reasons for wanting to serve on the TC, and those essays are typically the last you hear from them until the election. It has been rare for anyone to ask follow-up questions, or to challenge the candidates to explain their positions more definitively. I have spoken with many people at the Summits, which always closely followed the TC election (warning: unscientific samples ahead!), and what their selection process mostly boils down to is: they pick the names they are most familiar with. Many people don't read those long candidacy posts, and nearly all couldn't remember a single point that any of the candidates had put forth.

We are fortunate in that all of the candidates are exceptionally well-qualified, and those elected have put in excellent service while on the TC. But one thing I'm afraid of is that we tend to get into a situation where groupthink [0] is very likely. There are many excellent candidates running in every election, but it is rare for someone who hasn't been a PTL of a large project, and thus very visible, has been selected. Is this really the best approach?

I wrote a blog post about implicit bias [1], and in that post used the example of blind auditions for musical orchestras radically changing the selection results. Before the introduction of blind auditions, men overwhelmingly comprised orchestras, but once the people judging the auditions had no clue as to whether the musician was male or female, women began to be selected much more in proportion to their numbers in the audition pools. So I'd like to propose something for the next election: have candidates self-nominate as in the past, but instead of writing a big candidacy letter, just state their interest in serving. After the nominations close, the election officials will assign each candidate a non-identifying label, such as a random number, and those officials will be the only ones who know which candidate is associated with which number. The nomination period can be much, much shorter, and then followed by a week of campaigning (the part that's really missing in the current pro
cess). Candidates will post their thoughts and positions, and respond to questions from people, and this is how the voters will know who best represents what they want to see in their TC.

On the topic of implicit bias - I am open to correction on this, but I
do not think we have had a TC member who was not heavily involved in
either Cross Project teams, or one of the projects that spun out of
Nova in the early years.

Now, is this bias, or a side effect of people on smaller projects not
necessarily having dedicated upstream time.

Is this something we are worried about (or should be worried about)?

The current candidacy essay would now be posted in the campaign period, rather than at the time of nomination, and should exclude the sort of biographical information that is currently the most important piece for many people. Keeping anonymity will be difficult, and will preclude the use of email for posting positions and responses, since email identifies the sender. So perhaps candidates could forward their posts to the election officials, who will post them for the candidates, identifying them by number only. The voting form will only list the candidate numbers, so the end result will be people casting votes for the candidates whose platform most matches what they want to see in the TC, and who have best answered any questions raised by others.

My feeling is that the result would be very different than the current process. My question, then, is whether that would be a good thing? It would require more work from the candidates and especially the election officials, so we should make sure that the goal is worth it. Do we want everyone to have an equal chance to serve on the TC, or should those who have earned name recognition by their excellent work in other parts of OpenStack continue to have an advantage?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink
[1] http://blog.leafe.com/bias/

-- Ed Leafe


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by graham.hayes_at_hpe. (6,780 points)   1 2 2
0 votes

Excerpts from Clay Gerrard's message of 2016-10-03 10:18:43 -0700:

On Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 9:46 AM, Edward Leafe ed@leafe.com wrote:

After the nominations close, the election officials will assign each
candidate a non-identifying label, such as a random number, and those
officials will be the only ones who know which candidate is associated with
which number.

I'm really uneasy about this suggestion. Especially when it comes to
re-election, for the purposes of accountability I think it's really
important that voters be able to identify the candidates. For some people
there's a difference in what they say and what they end up doing when left
calling shots from the bubble for too long.

As far as the other stuff... idk if familiarity == bias. I'm sure lots of
occasions people vote for people they know because they trust them; but I
don't think that's bias? I think a more common problem is when people vote
for a name they recognize without really knowing that person or what
they're about. Or perhaps just as bad - not voting because they realize
they have on context to consider these candidates beyond name familiarity
and an (optional) email.

I think a campaign period, and especially some effort [1] to have
candidates verbalize their viewpoints on topics that matter to the
constituency could go a long way towards giving people some more context
beyond "i think this name looks familiar; I don't really recognize this
name"

I agree, on both counts.

When I vote, I consider the positions a candidate takes, the ideas
they propose, and -- equally importantly -- their track record of
actually getting things done. Hiding the candidate's identity makes
it impossible to evaluate that track record and have a sense of
whether they're likely to make any real progress on their ideas.

In the past we experimented with a few formal questions being posed
to all candidates. I appreciate the fact that Gordon took the
initiative and started a less formal thread on his own this time.
I hope that everyone feels able to do the same, whether they have
questions for specific candidates or for the entire slate.

I don't want to speak for everyone else, but my self-nomination
email is only intended as a snapshot or summary of my thoughts on
a few issues that I see as important. If I didn't mention a topic,
it's not necessarily due to lack of interest. I'll be happy to
respond to questions here on the list.

Doug


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by Doug_Hellmann (87,520 points)   3 4 9
0 votes

Excerpts from Hayes, Graham's message of 2016-10-03 17:35:44 +0000:

On 03/10/2016 17:49, Edward Leafe wrote:

So the period of self-nominations for the Technical Committee seats has ended, and the voting has begun. I've been a very close observer of this process for several cycles, and I have some ideas I'd like to share. Full disclosure: I am a current candidate for the TC, and have been a candidate several times in the past, all of which were unsuccessful.

When deciding to run, candidates write a long, thoughtful essay on their reasons for wanting to serve on the TC, and those essays are typically the last you hear from them until the election. It has been rare for anyone to ask follow-up questions, or to challenge the candidates to explain their positions more definitively. I have spoken with many people at the Summits, which always closely followed the TC election (warning: unscientific samples ahead!), and what their selection process mostly boils down to is: they pick the names they are most familiar with. Many people don't read those long candidacy posts, and nearly all couldn't remember a single point that any of the candidates had put forth.

We are fortunate in that all of the candidates are exceptionally well-qualified, and those elected have put in excellent service while on the TC. But one thing I'm afraid of is that we tend to get into a situation where groupthink [0] is very likely. There are many excellent candidates running in every election, but it is rare for someone who hasn't been a PTL of a large project, and thus very visible, has been selected. Is this really the best approach?

I wrote a blog post about implicit bias [1], and in that post used
the example of blind auditions for musical orchestras radically
changing the selection results. Before the introduction of blind
auditions, men overwhelmingly comprised orchestras, but once the people
judging the auditions had no clue as to whether the musician was male
or female, women began to be selected much more in proportion to their
numbers in the audition pools. So I'd like to propose something for the
next election: have candidates self-nominate as in the past, but
instead of writing a big candidacy letter, just state their interest in
serving. After the nominations close, the election officials will
assign each candidate a non-identifying label, such as a random number,
and those officials will be the only ones who know which candidate is
associated with which number. The nomination period can be much, much
shorter, and then followed by a week of campaigning (the part that's
really missing in the current pro
cess). Candidates will post their thoughts and positions, and respond to questions from people, and this is how the voters will know who best represents what they want to see in their TC.

On the topic of implicit bias - I am open to correction on this, but I
do not think we have had a TC member who was not heavily involved in
either Cross Project teams, or one of the projects that spun out of
Nova in the early years.

Now, is this bias, or a side effect of people on smaller projects not
necessarily having dedicated upstream time.

Is this something we are worried about (or should be worried about)?

That's a good question. Leadership sustainability one of the reasons
I hope that the new PTG structure, with separate days for cross-project
meetings, will result in more folks with more time for cross-project
work that will give them the sort of perspective, and interest, to
make them good TC members.

Doug


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by Doug_Hellmann (87,520 points)   3 4 9
0 votes

Excerpts from Edward Leafe's message of 2016-10-03 11:46:41 -0500:

So the period of self-nominations for the Technical Committee seats has ended, and the voting has begun. I've been a very close observer of this process for several cycles, and I have some ideas I'd like to share. Full disclosure: I am a current candidate for the TC, and have been a candidate several times in the past, all of which were unsuccessful.

When deciding to run, candidates write a long, thoughtful essay on their reasons for wanting to serve on the TC, and those essays are typically the last you hear from them until the election. It has been rare for anyone to ask follow-up questions, or to challenge the candidates to explain their positions more definitively. I have spoken with many people at the Summits, which always closely followed the TC election (warning: unscientific samples ahead!), and what their selection process mostly boils down to is: they pick the names they are most familiar with. Many people don't read those long candidacy posts, and nearly all couldn't remember a single point that any of the candidates had put forth.

We are fortunate in that all of the candidates are exceptionally well-qualified, and those elected have put in excellent service while on the TC. But one thing I'm afraid of is that we tend to get into a situation where groupthink [0] is very likely. There are many excellent candidates running in every election, but it is rare for someone who hasn't been a PTL of a large project, and thus very visible, has been selected. Is this really the best approach?

I think you're right, that groupthink is very likely. In so much as, I am
more likely to select people from my own closer peer group who thinks like
me, because I agree with their general way of working and thinking, and
thus, the TC will end up thinking like the largest, most moderate group
of people in OpenStack.

I wrote a blog post about implicit bias [1], and in that post used the example of blind auditions for musical orchestras radically changing the selection results. Before the introduction of blind auditions, men overwhelmingly comprised orchestras, but once the people judging the auditions had no clue as to whether the musician was male or female, women began to be selected much more in proportion to their numbers in the audition pools. So I'd like to propose something for the next election: have candidates self-nominate as in the past, but instead of writing a big candidacy letter, just state their interest in serving. After the nominations close, the election officials will assign each candidate a non-identifying label, such as a random number, and those officials will be the only ones who know which candidate is associated with which number. The nomination period can be much, much shorter, and then followed by a week of campaigning (the part that's really missing in the cur
rent process). Candidates will post their thoughts and positions, and respond to questions from people, and this is how the voters will know who best represents what they want to see in their TC.

The current candidacy essay would now be posted in the campaign period, rather than at the time of nomination, and should exclude the sort of biographical information that is currently the most important piece for many people. Keeping anonymity will be difficult, and will preclude the use of email for posting positions and responses, since email identifies the sender. So perhaps candidates could forward their posts to the election officials, who will post them for the candidates, identifying them by number only. The voting form will only list the candidate numbers, so the end result will be people casting votes for the candidates whose platform most matches what they want to see in the TC, and who have best answered any questions raised by others.

Character is a massive factor in choosing representatives. The position
essay is just a small reflection to introduce one self to those who
do not know them. But really, I'm going to weigh Josh Harlow's value
as a TC member against Jeremy Stanley's value as a TC member based on
the various conversations we've had at summits, on the ML, and on IRC,
far more heavily than I can using a quick position essay.

Of course, I read the essays of those who I don't know more carefully, and
I often go searching through my ML archives to see if we've interacted on
threads in the past. Still, I'm very unlikely to rank somebody higher than
a personal acquaintance unless I don't have many personal acquaintances
that I agree with that are nominated.

So I get where you're going, but I don't think that can be "the
election". In addition to not allowing me to judge peoples' character,
it also introduces a massive fraud incentive. If you are a candidate,
and you write a paper that is equal to all others, you can gain votes just
by secretly telling your friends which one is yours, and their implicit
bias will 1) make many think this is morally ok, because they know you're
a good candidate, and 2) make them more likely to vote for you.

So, while I don't like that it's a popularity contest, that is the very
nature of democracy, and as far as I know, nobody has come up with a
better system of representative government.

One way to counter the problems associated with the popularity contest
is to have some appointed members. We can admonish the TC to appoint a
nominee who did not win the most votes, but who is more likely to break
a groupthink cycle. This would only work if people paid attention to TC
voting records, which AFAIK, nobody really does.


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by Clint_Byrum (40,940 points)   4 5 9
0 votes

On Oct 3, 2016, at 12:18 PM, Clay Gerrard clay.gerrard@gmail.com wrote:

After the nominations close, the election officials will assign each candidate a non-identifying label, such as a random number, and those officials will be the only ones who know which candidate is associated with which number.

I'm really uneasy about this suggestion. Especially when it comes to re-election, for the purposes of accountability I think it's really important that voters be able to identify the candidates. For some people there's a difference in what they say and what they end up doing when left calling shots from the bubble for too long.

This was a concern of mine, too, but IMO there haven't been too many cases where a TC member has said they would support X and then fail to do so. They might not prevail, being one of 13, but when that issue came up they were almost always consistent with what they said.

As far as the other stuff... idk if familiarity == bias. I'm sure lots of occasions people vote for people they know because they trust them; but I don't think that's bias? I think a more common problem is when people vote for a name they recognize without really knowing that person or what they're about. Or perhaps just as bad - not voting because they realize they have on context to consider these candidates beyond name familiarity and an (optional) email.

I think that with so many candidates for so few seats, most people simply don't have the time or the interest to look very deeply into things. I know that that shows up in the voting. Take the election from a year ago: there were 619 votes cast for 19 candidates. Out of these:
- 35 ballots only voted for one candidate
- 102 ballots voted for three or fewer
- 175 didn't even bother to vote for 6
- only 159 bothered to rank all the candidates

So I think that there is evidence that unless you are already well-known, most people aren't going to take the time to dig deeper. Maybe anonymous campaigns aren't the answer, but they certainly would help in this regard.

I think a campaign period, and especially some effort [1] to have candidates verbalize their viewpoints on topics that matter to the constituency could go a long way towards giving people some more context beyond "i think this name looks familiar; I don't really recognize this name"

Agreed 100%! It was made worse this year because the nominations closed on a Saturday, and with the late rush of people declaring their candidacy, gave no time at all for any sort of campaign discussions before voting began. There really needs to be a decent period of time allowed for people to get answers to whatever questions they may have.

-- Ed Leafe


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by Ed_Leafe (11,720 points)   1 3 6
0 votes

On 03/10/2016 1:18 PM, Clay Gerrard wrote:
I think a more common problem is when people vote for a name they
recognize without really knowing that person or what they're about. Or
perhaps just as bad - not voting because they realize they have on
context to consider these candidates beyond name familiarity and an
(optional) email

fully agree with this. this is how i've voted in the past (and to an
extent, this time as well.). that said, i think it's good to get to know
the candidates a bit more beyond the initial, often heavily vetted,
self-nominations. i don't know if this will change anything but
hopefully it stops the downward trend we have for TC election turnout.

cheers,
--
gord

ps. i apologise to the people running who i do know for not telling them
ahead of time i was going to ask random questions. equal playing field :P


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by gordon_chung (19,300 points)   2 3 8
0 votes

On Oct 3, 2016, at 12:51 PM, Doug Hellmann doug@doughellmann.com wrote:

When I vote, I consider the positions a candidate takes, the ideas
they propose, and -- equally importantly -- their track record of
actually getting things done. Hiding the candidate's identity makes
it impossible to evaluate that track record and have a sense of
whether they're likely to make any real progress on their ideas.

That's a very good point, and one I wrestled with. I tried to balance that with the desire to see an influx of new ideas; I guess this balance is where we differ.

In the past we experimented with a few formal questions being posed
to all candidates. I appreciate the fact that Gordon took the
initiative and started a less formal thread on his own this time.
I hope that everyone feels able to do the same, whether they have
questions for specific candidates or for the entire slate.

I agree, and wish that the discussion Gordon started could have happened before people started voting.

-- Ed Leafe


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by Ed_Leafe (11,720 points)   1 3 6
0 votes

On Oct 3, 2016, at 1:39 PM, Clint Byrum clint@fewbar.com wrote:

Of course, I read the essays of those who I don't know more carefully, and
I often go searching through my ML archives to see if we've interacted on
threads in the past. Still, I'm very unlikely to rank somebody higher than
a personal acquaintance unless I don't have many personal acquaintances
that I agree with that are nominated.

I understand, and would be less than honest if I stated that I never do the same thing. I'm questioning, though, whether that's a good thing, or part of our tribal nature as humans.

So I get where you're going, but I don't think that can be "the
election". In addition to not allowing me to judge peoples' character,
it also introduces a massive fraud incentive. If you are a candidate,
and you write a paper that is equal to all others, you can gain votes just
by secretly telling your friends which one is yours, and their implicit
bias will 1) make many think this is morally ok, because they know you're
a good candidate, and 2) make them more likely to vote for you.

I suppose that's a possible downside, although I don't know that anyone who would do that would have enough people they could call "friends" to get them elected. I know that such a tactic would certainly backfire if someone tried to get me to vote for them.

One way to counter the problems associated with the popularity contest
is to have some appointed members. We can admonish the TC to appoint a
nominee who did not win the most votes, but who is more likely to break
a groupthink cycle. This would only work if people paid attention to TC
voting records, which AFAIK, nobody really does.

Heh, let's change the bylaws so that the top 4 (or 5 in the next cycle) vote-getters win, and the other two seats are chosen by lottery from the bottom 5 vote getters! That's sure to liven things up!

(kidding, of course!)

-- Ed Leafe


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by Ed_Leafe (11,720 points)   1 3 6
0 votes

On 2016-10-03 16:15:01 -0500 (-0500), Edward Leafe wrote:
[...]
So I think that there is evidence that unless you are already
well-known, most people aren't going to take the time to dig
deeper. Maybe anonymous campaigns aren't the answer, but they
certainly would help in this regard.
[...]

Becoming well-known, at least within our technical community, tends
to be a mark of connectedness with the TC electorate (generally
through some manner of contribution whether that's serving in other
elected positions or working on cross-project efforts or simply
making excellent observations and suggestions on our mailing lists).
People who are relatively unknown in the community will, on the
whole, lack a breadth of experience outside their niche
cross-sections of OpenStack and so have trouble establishing
credibility with their constituency.

As for the anonymity idea, I rely far more on actions and positions
I've seen from candidates over their years of interactions with me
and the rest of the community. If I were forced to rely solely on
pseudonymous (what you described is not actually anonymous since
there would be a unique ID assigned) position statements, I would
mostly just end up attempting to map them to the candidates I knew
were running based on the opinions I know them to hold.
--
Jeremy Stanley


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responded Oct 3, 2016 by Jeremy_Stanley (56,700 points)   3 5 7
...