How to non-dictatorially generate a FAQ

Saari at Saari at
Sat Feb 22 03:57:36 PST 1997

>This list-owner isn't going to get very involved.
>I propose that someone volunteers to write the first version of the FAQ.
>Until then, we have nothing to vote about. 
>Is there anyone prepared to be the faq-owner (responsible for posting it
>to this list on a regular basis)?  If not, then all the procedure in the
>world isn't going to do a bit of good.  If there is more than one, then we
>have something to vote about.

There are 3 topics here:
1) The "secretarial role" - a person to gather, organize and post versions of
2) The question of content - who and how is decided what goes into the FAQ.
3) How we vote, e.g. to "approve" a given version of FAQ.

Please allow me to briefly discuss each, seeking a sensible conclusion.

1) "The Secretary".  This is purely a trivial administrative task, requiring
essentially no "judgement" except perhaps minor formatting decisions.  I will
happily perform this task, or would also happily defer to anyone else willing
to do it.  The only job requirement should be "no actual decisions, merely
administrative".  (We could choose to combine #1 role with #2 role, but
conceptually let's keep them separate for discussion purposes.)

2) The meat of the matter - WHO DECIDES what should be the content of the
FAQ.  I wish this to be done democratically instead of autocratically, i.e. I
want the person doing #1 to have no more or less say than any other member.
 Rob is suggesting otherwise, which is his right of course.  This is the
conventional approach, i.e. "Appoint someone to be responsible (and fire them
if they mess up too much)".  I believe a purely-democratic solution is both
possible, and superior.

3) "We can vote when we need to."  This is the interesting meta-issue.  Rob
says we can "vote" to approve or disapprove somebody's first draft of a FAQ,
but there is still a completely-open issue of what constitutes a "passing
score".  Suppose a vote is called which gets 6 "Support", 3 "Oppose", 2
"Decline" and 3 "No response".   So, did it pass?  WHO KNOWS?

Perhaps it got a majority, perhaps not (depending on your specific definition
of an implemention of "majority").  But some members might feel that
"consensus" is a better standard for us to use, in which case it clearly
failed.  Or if we had a 2:1 support/oppose passing threshold then it would
pass.  If we had a 3:1 or higher passing threshold then it would fail.

Without a clearly-articulated "passing criteria" we will never be able to
democratically decide anything (meaning all decisions will be done by the
"FAQ person in charge" - yukk).

So if Rob declines to "declare" anything, then the logical next step would be
for us AS A GROUP to vote to choose a "passing threshold".  (Perhaps
"majority rule", perhaps a quorum requirement, perhaps "consensus", perhaps
something else.)  Sounds good, but how can we approve a decision criteria, if
we don't have a decision criteria to use for THAT question?

I call this conundrum "the bootstrap problem", and it is INCREDIBLY NASTY.
 (A related sub-piece of the conundrum is "Who can vote?"  How can we
possibly vote on THIS question without some initial assumptions...?)

After some experimentation (and much soul-searching), I have reluctantly
concluded that the ONLY real solution to The Bootstrap Problem involves
*some* (3 or so) initial dictatorial decisions to get the ball rolling.  Rob
(our list-owner) is the only person in such a position to do so.  Otherwise
we are likely to thrash endlessly.

If anyone can suggest a more graceful way to bootstrap into a voting system
here I'd love to hear it.  I've racked my brains but failed to find one.

To summarize:

1) I will happily collect and collate group input for a FAQ.

2) I prefer the content to be generated by a group process.  If Rob prefers
otherwise, I'll autocratically come up with a very simple starting sample and
then ask for a vote.  Either way, we need to confront #3 soon.

3) I *think* we need something dictatorial from Rob in order to then conduct
a meaningful vote on ANYTHING.  But perhaps there is another way - I just
don't see it.

Mike S

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