W3C : about being an Advisory Board Member

One of the important moment for W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium is TPAC. This is the week where all W3C members and W3C tech contributors all meet. Dozens of Working Group have their face to face meeting, and in parallel the Advisory Committee (AC) meets. AC is a room full of delegate (one per W3C member), meaning any company or university or startup having paid their W3C membership. This year, the big party was scheduled in Sapporo (Japan) and more then 550 people registered, more then last year where the location was the crowded Silicon Valley. Thus, a lots of people, a lots of amazing topics and discussions.

I have been participating there with several hats, as a tech person, as an advisory board member of w3c, as an AC rep, as a chair of a technical group, and finally as a general citizen of the web. I wanted to share with you all the goodness that came out of this crazy week. This post is the first on several, reporting about my experience, focusing on the Advisory Board aspects.

What is it to be an Advisory Board member ? The role of the AB is to give guidance to W3C management for W3C directions. That 2 years mandate is obtained thanks  to election by W3C members. Basically, you campaign, and you are elected. The AB is made of 9 elected person, a chair, Jeff Jaffe CEO of W3C, and two magic supports (Coralie and Ralph). The team is playing well, with a lots of exchanges, different profiles and conflicting interests – which, I believe, guarantees that most interests will be preserved… W3C members and AB can continuously talk, but there are 2 occasions where the W3C members can formally express if they are happy or not, at TPAC and at a spring meeting, for a 2 days general assembly.

What are be the immediate tasks of the Advisory Board ? The AB had to treat a large number of topic which covers process management (which includes specification lifecycle but also governance rules), strategy of different W3C domains, priorities of the consortium, development of new activties or working methods and solving any question/problem raised by the membership … And here is the team to handle that !

How to achieve that as an Advisory Board member ? After one year of exercising such mandate, it came to me that it is a difficult balance between taking initiative on behalf of W3C members versus spending time listening and gathering feedback…This week in TPAC, the dialog with the W3C membership was very quiet. Few interactions during the official meeting. Discussing in the corridor with a lot of members and my AB mates, it appeared to me some principles that we should always have in mind in order to be maintain basics of democracy in such organization.

  • Create real dialog with members – allowing them to influence the general assembly agenda and opening mic sessions
  • Clarify the pieces of discord and put them on the table, it will make sure all arguments pro and cons will be heard. When you have in the same room the media and ad industry and the EFF, there is some chances that you hear completely opposite vision of a single situation and thus can make your mind…
  • Leave some space uncontrolled, where all technical and strategic outcome are driven by few, not under the pressure to represent all opinion, but allowing to get straw man proposals (aka, the W3C Technical Architecture Group, lead by Tim Berners Lee, plays that role today),
  • Clarify priorities of the consortium, by vote, by any means, to make sure that you do not address all requests, but only the important ones,
  • Roll out pragmatic plan, with a unique champion to question and congratulate, adapted to your resources – and fine tune as you walk,
  • Listen to the silence and act when it is too loud (relooping…)

What is next for the AB ? In addition to the business as usual, I believe that W3C is facing some interesting challenges that I am committed to support:

  • modern tooling (aka including github and modern edition methods in working groups),
  • caring about the chairs and editors community
  • improve visibility of W3C activities to the public (thanks to the magic of Web APIs)
  • clarifying strategic plans (accessibility, security, HtML5 next, …),
  • kicking off a new group dedicated to discuss potential policy in W3C (like, taking position on topics where technology and society overlap).

Definitely only interesting and great challenges ! Will keep the web informed as long as the things progress !

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