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

Edward Leafe ed at leafe.com
Mon Oct 3 16:46:41 UTC 2016

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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