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PEP 8013 -- The External Council Governance Model

PEP:8013
Title:The External Council Governance Model
Author:Steve Dower <steve.dower at python.org>
Status:Rejected
Type:Informational
Created:2018-09-14

Abstract

This PEP proposes a new model of Python governance based on a Council of Auditors (CoA) tasked with making final decisions for the language. It differs from PEP 8010 by specifically not proposing a central singular leader, and from PEP 8011 by disallowing core committers from being council members. It describes the size and role of the council, how the initial group of council members will be chosen, any term limits of the council members, and how successors will be elected.

It also spends significant time discussing the intended behaviour of this model. By design, many processes are not specified here but are left to the people involved. In order to select people who will make the best decisions, it is important for those involved to understand the expectations of the CoA but it is equally important to allow the CoA the freedom to adjust process requirements for varying circumstances. This only works when process is unspecified, but all participants have similar expectations.

This PEP does not name the members of the CoA. Should this model be adopted, it will be codified in PEP 13 along with the names of all officeholders described in this PEP.

PEP Rejection

PEP 8013 was rejected by a core developer vote described in PEP 8001 on Monday, December 17, 2018.

PEP 8016 and the governance model it describes were chosen instead.

The Importance of the Grey Area

In any actual decision-making process, there is going to be grey area. This includes unexpected scenarios, and cases where there is no "correct" answer.

Many process plans attempt to minimise grey area by defining processes clearly enough that no flexibility is required.

This proposal deliberately goes the other way. The aim is to provide a robust framework for choosing the best people to handle unexpected situations, without defining how those people should handle those situations.

Examples are provided of "good" responses to some situations as an illustration. The hope is that the "best" people are the best because they would live up to those examples. The process that is proposed has been designed to minimise the damage that may be caused when those people turn out not to be the best.

Grey area is guaranteed to exist. This proposal deliberately embraces and works within that, rather than attempting to prevent it.

Model Overview

Key people and their functions

The Council of Auditors (CoA) is a council of varying size, typically two to four people, who are elected for the duration of a Python release. One member of the CoA is considered the President, who has some minor points of authority over the other members.

The CoA has responsibility for reviewing controversial decisions in the form of PEPs written by members of the core development team. The CoA may choose to accept a PEP exactly as presented, or may request clarification or changes. These changes may be of any form and for any reason. This flexibility is intentional, and allows the process to change over time as different members are elected to the CoA. See the later sections of this document for examples of the kinds of requests that are expected.

The CoA only pronounces on PEPs submitted to python-committers. There is no expectation that the CoA follows or participates on any other mailing lists. (Note that this implies that only core developers may submit PEPs. Non-core developers may write and discuss proposals on other mailing lists, but without a core developer willing to support the proposal by requesting pronouncement, it cannot proceed to acceptance. This is essentially the same as the current system, but is made explicit here to ensure that members of the CoA are not expected to deal with proposals that are not supported by at least one core developer.)

The CoA may not delegate authority to individuals who have not been elected by the core developer team. (One relevant case here is that this changes the implementation of the existing BDFL-Delegate system, though without necessarily changing the spirit of that system. See the later sections, particularly example scenario four, for more discussion on this point.)

The Release Manager (RM) is also permitted the same ability to request changes on any PEPs that specify the release they are responsible for. After feature freeze, the RM retains this responsibility for their release, while the CoA rotates and begins to focus on the subsequent release. This is no different from the current process. The process for selection of a RM is not changed in this proposal.

Core developers are responsible for electing members of the CoA, and have the ability to call a "vote of no confidence" against a member of the CoA. The details of these votes are discussed in a later section.

Where discussions between core developers and members of the CoA appear to be ongoing but unfruitful, the President may step in to overrule either party. Where the discussion involves the President, it should be handled using a vote of no confidence.

Members of the CoA may choose to resign at any point. If at least two members of the CoA remain, they may request a new election to refill the group. If only one member remains, the election is triggered automatically. (The scenario when the President resigns is described in a later section.)

The intended balance of power is that the core developers will elect members of the CoA who reflect the direction and have the trust of the development team, and also have the ability to remove members who do not honour commitments made prior to election.

Regular decision process

Regular decisions continue to be made as at present.

For the sake of clarity, controversial decisions require a PEP, and any decisions requiring a PEP are considered as controversial.

The CoA may be asked to advise on whether a decision would be better made using the controversial decision process, or individual members of the CoA may volunteer such a suggestion, but the core development team is not bound by this advice.

Controversial decision process

Controversial decisions are always written up as PEPs, following the existing process. The approver (formerly "BDFL-Delegate") is always the CoA, and can no longer be delegated. Note that this does not prevent the CoA from deciding to nominate a core developer to assess the proposal and provide the CoA with a recommendation, which is essentially the same as the current delegation process.

The CoA will pronounce on PEPs submitted to python-committers with a request for pronouncement. Any member of the CoA, or the current RM, may request changes to a PEP for any reason, provided they include some indication of what additional work is required to meet their expectations. See later sections for examples of expected reasons.

When all members of the CoA and the RM indicate that they have no concerns with a PEP, it is formally accepted. When one or more members of the CoA fail to respond in a reasonable time, the President of the CoA may choose to interpret that as implied approval. Failure of the President to respond should be handled using a vote of no confidence.

Election terms

Members of the CoA are elected for the duration of a release. The members are elected prior to feature freeze for the previous release, and hold their position until feature freeze for their release.

Members may seek re-election as many times as they like. There are no term limits. It is up to the core developers to prevent re-election of the CoA members where there is consensus that the individual should not serve again.

Election voting process

The election process for each member of the CoA proceeds as follows:

  • a nomination email is sent to python-committers
  • a seconding email is sent
  • the nominee is temporarily added to python-committers for the purpose of introducing themselves and presenting their position
  • voting opens two weeks prior to the scheduled feature freeze of the previous release
  • votes are contributed by modifying a document in a private github repository
  • each core developer may add +1 votes for as many candidates as they like
  • after seven days, voting closes
  • the nominee with the most votes is elected as President of the CoA
  • the next three nominees with the most votes and also at least 50% the number of votes received by the President are elected as the other members of the CoA
  • where ties need to be resolved, the RM may apply one extra vote for their preferred candidates
  • accepted nominees remain on python-committers; others are removed

No-confidence voting process

A vote of no confidence proceeds as follows:

  • a vote of no confidence email is sent to python-committers, naming the affected member of the CoA, justifying the nomination, and optionally listing accepted PEPs that the nominator believes should be reverted
  • a seconding email is sent within seven days
  • the nominated member of the CoA is allowed seven days to respond, after which the nominator or the seconder may withdraw
  • if no nominator or seconder is available, no further action is taken
  • voting opens immediately
  • each core developer may add a +1 vote (remove the the CoA member) or a -1 vote (keep the the CoA member) by modifying a document in a private github repository
  • after seven days, voting closes
  • if +1 votes exceed -1 votes, the the CoA member is removed from python-committers and any nominated PEPs are reverted
  • if requested by the remaining members of the CoA, or if only one member of the CoA remains, a new election to replace the removed member may be held following the usual process.
  • in the case of removing the President of the CoA, the candidate who originally received the second-most votes becomes President

Examples of intended behaviour

This section describes some examples of the kind of interactions that we hope to see between the CoA and the core developers. None of these are binding descriptions, but are intended to achieve some consensus on the types of processes we expect. The CoA candidates may campaign on the basis of whatever process they prefer, and core developers should allocate votes on this basis.

Scenario 1 - The Case of the Vague PEP

Often in the past, initial proposals have lacked sufficient detail to be implementable by anyone other than the proposer. To avoid this, the CoA should read proposals "fresh" when submitted, and without inferring or using any implied context. Then, when an aspect of a PEP is not clear, the CoA can reject the proposal and request clarifications.

Since the proposal is rejected, it must be modified and resubmitted in order to be reviewed again. The CoA will determine how much guidance to provide when rejecting the PEP, as that will affect how many times it will likely be resubmitted (and hence affect the CoA's own workload). This ensures that the final PEP text stands alone with all required information.

Scenario 2 - The Case of the Endless Discussion

From time to time, a discussion between Python contributors may seem to be no longer providing value. For example, when a large number of emails are repeating points that have already been dealt with, or are actively hostile towards others, there is no point continuing the "discussion".

When such a discussion is occurring on python-committers as part of a request for pronouncement, a member of the CoA should simply declare the thread over by rejecting the proposal. In most known cases, discussion of this sort indicates that not all concerns have been sufficiently addressed in the proposal and the author may need to enhance some sections.

Alternatively, and in the absence of any rejection from the other members of the CoA, the President may declare the thread over by accepting the proposal. Ideally this would occur after directly confirming with the rest of the CoA and the RM that there are no concerns among them.

When such a discussion is occurring on another list, members of the CoA should be viewed as respected voices similar to other core developers (particularly those core developers who are the named experts for the subject area). While none have specific authority to end a thread, preemptively stating an intent to block a proposal is a useful way to defuse potentially useless discussions. Members of the CoA who voluntarily follow discussions other than on python-committers are allowed to suggest the proposer withdraw, but can only actually approve or reject a proposal that is formally submitted for pronouncement.

Scenario 3 - The Case of the Unconsidered Users

Some proposals in the past may be written up and submitted for pronouncement without considering the impact on particular groups of users. For example, a proposal that affects the dependencies required to use Python on various machines may have an adverse impact on some users, even if many are unaffected due to the dependencies being typically available by default.

Where a proposal does not appear to consider all users, the CoA might choose to use their judgement and past experience to determine that more users are affected by the change than described in the PEP, and request that the PEP also address these users. They should identify the group of users clearly enough that the proposer is able to also identify these users, and either clarify how they were addressed, or made amendments to the PEP to explicitly address them. (Note that this does not involve evaluating the usefulness of the feature to various user groups, but simply whether the PEP indicates that the usefulness of the feature has been evaluated.)

Where a proposal appears to have used flawed logic or incorrect data to come to a certain conclusion, the CoA might choose to use other sources of information (such as the prior discussion or a submission from other core developers) to request reconsideration of certain points. The proposer does not necessarily need to use the exact information obtained by the CoA to update their proposal, provided that whatever amendments they make are satisfactory to the CoA. For example, a PEP may indicate that 30% of users would be affected, while the CoA may argue that 70% of users are affected. A successful amendment may include a different but more reliable percentage, or may be rewritten to no longer depend on the number of affected users.

Scenario 4 - The Case of the Delegated Decision

Some proposals may require review and approval from a specialist in the area. Historically, these would have been handled by appointing a BDFL-Delegate to make the final decision on the proposal. However, in this model, the CoA may not delegate the final decision making process. When the CoA believes that a subject matter expert should decide on a particular proposal, the CoA may nominate one or more individuals (or accept their self-nomination) to a similar position to a BDFL Delegate. The terms of these expert's role may be set as the CoA sees fit, though the CoA always retains the final approval.

As a concrete example, assume a proposal is being discussed about a new language feature. Proponents claim that it will make the language easier for new developers to learn. Even before an official proposal is made, the CoA may indicate that they will not accept the proposal unless person X approves, since person X has a long history teaching Python and their judgement is trusted. (Note that person X need not be a core developer.)

Having been given this role, person X is able to drive the discussion and quickly focus it on viable alternatives. Eventually, person X chooses the alternative they are most satisfied with and indicates to the CoA that they approve. The proposal is submitted as usual, and the CoA reviews and accepts it, factoring in person X's opinion.

Source: https://github.com/python/peps/blob/master/pep-8013.rst