[rfc-i] "Executive-level management": What is the purpose of the RSE?

Olaf Kolkman olaf at NLnetLabs.nl
Fri Jan 7 07:38:02 PST 2011

On Jan 5, 2011, at 4:42 PM, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

> To me, then, we need to make a stark choice: do we want the RFC Series
> to be organized and managed in a conventional way?  If so, then I
> think I broadly agree with Dave Crocker's message from today: the
> proposal before us is to align responsibility and authority with one
> another, and while it may not be perfect it is a workable approach
> (but one that appears to have some pretty serious side-effects on
> things like BCP 101).  If not, then I think the problem with the
> current proposal is that it answers the wrong question, presumably
> because the wrong question was asked in the first place.  If we
> redescribed the RFC Series Editor as a facilitator of consensus or an
> important advisor to other bodies or something like that, then I
> imagine the advice for how to make the job more appealing to someone
> who could do that would be different than the advice Glenn has
> produced.


I appreciate your careful analysis and presenting the conclusion as a stark choice. That is extremely helpful. (Thanks!)

Your question lead to an off-list discussion with Andrei Robachevsky who made the following point (I am paraphrasing): There needs to be a clear demarcation between policy setting by the community and the implementation of Editorial processes and procedures.  The community provides strategic guidance through policies, built through a consensus-based process and once that policy has been set it will need to be executed in a command and control style. An oversight function is responsible for compliance and performance of this execution.

In discussing that I realized that the model as being proposed convolutes those responsibilities somewhat and that makes it hard to apply labels. I think you can identify 3 classes of activities:

3) Strategic development

This is where the RSE takes up the responsibility of identifying long term challenges and creates the agendas for policy development. This is a role that is rooted in a broad community and involves understanding the needs of the various streams (and how they might have conflicting needs), the evolution of the community and how to adapt to that evolution (e.g. less native English speakers and the impact on the series). It assumes a good in-depth understanding of our community but also an understanding how publications might evolve.

That role could be labeled as "Series Architect"

2) Policy development

This is where the RSE takes on a role to guide a community to consensus on specific issues following a specific policy development model (which is not explicit at all currently). 

In this role an RSE acts more as a working group chair who assesses the consensus and presents that consensus to the IAB for validation. In the model the IAB is represented through the RAOC, but that I believe is a detail.

This is a role that I could call 'policy development officer'.

3) Organization and management in a conventional way. The list of tasks consists of (among others, I am not claiming completes):

- Set targets, construct budgets, manage priorities
- Perform outreach and PR
- Maintain consistency (on an implementation level)
- Manage organizational information flow
- Problem escalation

All the classic managerial hand-work for which you need alignment of responsibility and authority and that one could label 'executive management'.

The current model lumps all of those responsibilities in the one RSE role. It may be that the stark choices is whether we want that. 



Olaf M. Kolkman                        NLnet Labs
                                       Science Park 140, 
http://www.nlnetlabs.nl/               1098 XG Amsterdam

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