Last night someone sent me a copy of a document delivered by the CEOs of ISO and IEC earlier that day to the ISO Technical Management Board (TMB). That documents summarizes the four appeals filed in relation to the adoption of DIS 29500 (OOXML), and provides a response to each claimed basis for appeal. Those appeals, you will recall, were registered by the National Bodies of South Africa, India, Venezuela and Brazil, not all of which have became publicly available. Under the Directives, the next step in the Appeals process is for the TMB to vote on each appeal, with each member being entitled to vote yes, no or abstain on one or the other of the following resolutions, in each case as to each appeal separately:
a) Not to process the appeal further
b) To process one or more of the appeals, which would require setting up of a conciliation panel
If more than one appeal is approved for further consideration, the CEOs recommend that a single panel be formed to address them (I've previously described the ongoing process in greater detail here). The TMB's are asked to vote by August 4.
The recommendation of the CEOs is as follows:
The processing of the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 project has been conducted in conformity with the ISO/IEC JTC 1 Directives, with decisions determined by the votes expressed by the relevant ISO and IEC national bodies under their own responsibility, and consequently, for the reasons mentioned above, the appeals should not be process further.
Those who have been disappointed by how the Fast Track process was conducted will also be disappointed by the reasoning they will find in the document, which can be effectively be summarized as follows:
1. All judgments made during the course of the process were appropriately made under the Directives
2. The fact that the BRM voted on all proposed resolutions in some fashion satisfies the Directives
3. The fact that a sufficient percentage of National Bodies (NBs) ultimately voted to approve DIS 29500 ratifies the process and any flaws in that process
4. Many objections, regardless of their merits, are irrelevant to the appeals process
Pamela Jones at Groklaw has also received a copy of the document, which she has posted here. Her commentary can be found here, and as you would expect, like me, she is neither happy nor surprised with the recommendation. That document includes the original appeals, as well as additional materials, including letters from each appellant stating the specific remedies they request. These letters were submitted in response to a letter from ISO/IEC noting that on review the appeals were deemed to be light in that department and inviting the appellants to offer further requests.
As has been consistent from the beginning of the Fast Track process, there will be two well-considered responses to this document (and various more emotional ones). They are as follows:
- The first response, which I would expect from Alex Brown and Rick Jeliffe, among others, will be that like the process or not, the Directives were properly followed, and therefore there is no basis for the appeals. This is, after all, a long standing system that has processed thousands of standards over the years and has a set of rules, including rules for appeal, that have stood the test of time. Therefore, the right approach is to follow the rules and let the chips fall where they may, and then use this as an opportunity to see whether those rules should be changed in the future. Under this argument, the next step is that the TMB should evaluate the CEO responses, and then vote based upon whether they agree with the findings of fact and the applications of the rules are
- The second response, from people like myself, PJ, and Bob Sutor, among many others, is that the process was so flawed from the outset, and so influenced by vendor pressure at the conclusion, that simply following the rules is inadequate to the events that have been witnessed, resulting in (among other outcomes) a loss of credibility for ISO/IEC, the publishing of a poor quality standard, and the endorsement of some very bad decisions along the way by those within ISO/IEC that were entrusted with those decisions.
Which is the right response? The legal part of my mind acknowledges the first point of view, and therefore my expectation is that this response will likely be the one that the TMB follows (although not knowing the composition of that committee, I don’t have an educated opinion on the subject).
The other part of me, however, would like to think that at some point along the way someone would stand up and say the following:
1. The process has been consistently marked by extremely bad judgments from beginning to end, including admitting such a large specification to a process for which it was clearly ill-suited.
2. Scheduling a one-week BRM for processing of over 1200 comments was clearly inconsistent with normal standards of quality control.
3. Those attending the BRM were told that their job was purely technical, and that their job was to do the best that they could using the time available. Their ultimate approval of most of the substantive comments through "group voting" (as it was phrased in the document) was then held up as being ratification of the quality of the standard, especially given that they had been offered the opportunity to vote earlier in the week that their task was impossible. Given that the c. 120 people offered this option had just traveled from around the world to Geneva, this result was not surprising.
4. The Directives give very wide latitude for judgments to be made by a small number of people, whose judgments are not subject to appeal.
5. The continuing lack of release of a definitive version of DIS 29500 – now admitted to be because it is not of sufficient quality to merit review even by the NBs – would seem to undercut the rationality of a process that requires final votes to be locked in, and appeals opportunities to expire, before NBs can even see what they have voted to approve. The document calls this fact "irrelevant," while acknowledging that the Directives calling for release of that document have not been followed – yet another example of a judgment upon which reasonable people could certainly disagree.
A final source of frustration is that despite the fact that one basis for appeal under the Directives is a negative impact to the reputation of ISO/IEC, the document makes almost no response at all to the comments made in this regard. Whether one concludes that ISO and IEC have justifiably or unjustifiably suffered such an impact, I think that it would be hard to conclude that a substantial hit has not been taken.
In my view, ISO/IEC would be wise to acknowledge that fact, and take more intelligent actions to address it. Acting in the open (i.e., publicly releasing documents like this) and acknowledging that those that must live with the results of what ISO/IEC decides are entitled to better answers than they have received to date would be a great place to start.
Ultimately, what really matters is whether the process is changed to work better in the future. Perhaps holding those who make the decisions more accountable for what they decide might be as important to consider as improving the rules themselves, especially where the rules make their decisions virtually immune from being challenged.
At the end of the day, even winning an appeal is cold comfort after the time has been wasted by countless people around the world, the marketplace has been confused, and the reputation has been tarnished.
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