Forum .LRN Q&A: Response to Request for Comment: dotLRN Technology Governance

Ben wrote:

There is, however, still a sizeable difference of philosophy: in Al's proposal, the executive board has power to replace a gatekeeper or TAB member at any time. But the executive board answers to whom? Adding layers on top of the TAB doesn't magically create accountability because the top of the chain is still "topless" as Don puts it. It only alienates the technologists from any decision-making power.

I don't see how technologists are alienated. You have a technologist who is the gatekeeper. You have an entire board of technologists who oversee the gatekeeper. OK, so the people at the very top are not all technologists (although you neglect to consider the overwhelming likelihood that there will be technologists on the executive board as well). So, because technologists don't absolutely run the show, they are alienated? And non-technologists are not alienated under your plan, in which they have no place at all?

Ben, I wasn't just trying to be conciliatory; I was trying to test to see whether we, in fact, have common ground. I see now that we don't. You say that you want users to be full participants, but you reject any plan that doesn't put technologists--and just a few technologists at that--at the top of the power pyramid all by themselves. It's all or nothing. As I said in my initial post, this narrow technocracy will kill dotLRN.

Now, there is a piece of the governance proposal that is missing from both plans, by the way. It is the bottom-up accountability. I had privately suggested a Mozilla-style system where dotLRN packages are owned by individual programmers in the community--not companies, not company CEO's, but the individuals who actually maintain the code. These people would be the gatekeepers. They would issue regular, public progress reports, just as the Mozilla owners do. They would respond to package enhancement requests and bug fix requests in public, just as the Mozilla owners do. And if they don't do a good job, the community could request that the TAB replaces them, just as the Mozilla governing body does.

I argued, and still argue, that such an accountability structure is actually more urgent than a governance structure and would lay a foundation of communication and trust that would enable a true governance structure to grow. Al responded very positively the idea when I presented it to him, but the idea apparently met with resistance elsewhere. Since I wasn't party to those conversations, I hesitate to characterise them. Suffice it to say that this proposal wasn't quashed out of any action on MIT's part. So I ask now: How does the community feel about such an accountability plan? How would it affect your feelings about governance?