2014-04-21 21:08 GMT+02:00 Stephen Gallagher <sgallagh@redhat.com>:
The short version of the consensus-based voting is that all decisions
require that all participants can live with the result and that every
 member of the voting population (in our case, the nine sitting
members  of the WG) can block it.

So, first of all: a consensus, when it can be achieved, is a great thing, and looking for it a little harder can often lead to finding better solutions. We should be looking for consensus, and have either rules or customs that encourage it. However, I don't think precisely this is it.
If a blocking vote occurs, this changes the dynamics of the
discussion. In traditional majority votes, the result is usually that
two "sides" emerge, each trying to swing a sufficient number of the
other WG members to their point of view.

I think that effect is good: it motivates everyone to look just that little more for good arguments for a position, or to refine the discussion to be more precise

The issue is not with having two sides before a decision, but with having them after a decision. We need all of the group, including the dissenters, to accept the decision and stand behind it in the future together. And that is where the proposed framing (not the mechanism, the mechanism is basically unchanged), IMHO, doesn't work—at least for "technical" decision-making bodies; it might be different for the Board.

Framing as a clear +1/-1 vote explicitly acknowledges, and encourages each person voicing their opinion: if an opinion isn't voiced then it can't be voted on; and one may need somewhat of a thick skin to voice a very minority opinion, it can be dealt with quickly and there's no long-term stigma: it's simply "this curious proposal has been voted on and has quickly and decisively lost". Even though it is loosing and feels like losing, it's explicit and, shall we say, "honest".

It seems to me that framing as a consensus-seeking +1/0 voice tends to silence minority/dissenting opinions: once a minority opinion is voiced, the voting body needs to resolve it, and the decision is delayed by trying to resolve it.  (The "blocking vote" nuclear option is pretty much out of the picture—well, or it is used frequently and then the voting body is completely parallyzed.)  At that point, if there is a strong majority opinion, it's no longer a only technical disagreement, it's also a process disagreement: "There's 8 of us clearly agreeing that this is the right thing to do, and now we'll spend a month trying to persuade this crazy person to stop wasting our time.".  Therefore, there would be implied, but not explicit pressure for the minority to "conform"—and the voting record adds insult to injury, basically saying "these people supported the proposal, and these people also supported... passing of the proposal".  Not only it is loosing and feels like losing, it's all being swept under the carpet and the minority can feel "cheated" out of their disagreement, actually poisoning the relationships consensus-seeking was supposed to strengthen.

In addition to the final record hiding the disagreement, the overall incentives do as well: with the pressure on the minority dissenters to conform, they are encouraged to not even voice it ("this is not all that important, if I object now we'll spend a month trying to find something better and then I'll stand aside anyway"), and it could even happen that there is a majority that doesn't like the proposal but won't say anything!  Compared to a straight vote, this would add an element of "randomness" to each decision, where the perception of how the group probably feels about the issue would affect what opinions are said out loud.

Now, in a sense this is all speculation about framing the facts and dynamics; and while I think these effects would happen, I don't really think they would be very strong (i.e. "poisoning the relationships" would be a slight annoyance but would still make it possible for us to meet in a single room).  Technically, the underlying voting system would go through some renaming but would be essentially unchanged:

Voting in CentOS requires at least three +1 votes and zero -1 votes
for any motion to pass, and with at least 72 hours given for
non-present members to express their dissent.[2]

Looking only at the voting mechanism:
there's only one real change, decreasing the quorum: in a situation where there are 3 people supporting a proposal, 5 people against a proposal but not willing to resign over it, and no other alternative being proposed, the proposal passes.  That seems really unhealthy (... well, and strange, because those 5 people could bring a counterproposal of "do nothing").

So, keeping the quorum of 5 would make much more sense to me, and so would keeping the current naming/framing of the votes (even if actually adopting the "reservations need to be resolved" approach).

But, overall, I'd favor a much weaker mechanism for encouraging consensus-building: I do think it should be easy and painless (both for the author and the group) to propose and refuse a clearly minority opinion. Perhaps something like:
i.e. giving a "cooling off" period to look for a consensus, allow quick decision making when there is a consensus, and motivating everyone to put proposals on the mailing list instead of only bringing them to the meeting (which has nothing to do with consensus, but would save time during meetings).