Though I’ve written about this before, I continue to be amazed that there does not seem to be a single, unambiguous, and logically complete description of what will happen at the OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) in Geneva at the end of February. This is by no means a reflection on the convenor Alex Brown. Rather, for an organization like the ISO which is known globally for its standards relating to processes around quality, this situation is surprising, to say the least. That it needs reform is obvious, at least to me.
With this entry I’m going to start doing a series of pieces that I hope will help refine what we know and don’t know. I’ll state some things that I believe are true, on the advice of experts, and ask questions so that folks like Alex can answer and correct me. I’ll get more focused on the various subprocesses as we go, so this initial entry will be quite general. I will correct the pieces as we proceed.
If you are a member of a national standards body and have questions, feel free to add comments in this and other entries and I try to get them answered.
- Only those countries who voted in the September 2 ballot will be allowed to send delegations to attend the BRM in Geneva. By “attend,” I mean participate in the BRM meeting in the room that has been allocated for it. That room only holds between 120 and 130 people, so if all 87 countries who voted plan to attend, there will be some interesting problems of who gets to go. Other people may go and hang out in Geneva (bring your ice skates), but the official participating delegations will be limited. From what I’ve heard, many countries are planning to attend, but they will not have any guidance until December on how many can participate in the meeting itself.
- Delegations need to decide now how they will reach decisions in Geneva. It is very possible for delegations to deadlock on the resolution of comments at the meeting itself. The head of the delegation will be key, but accountability, transparency, and fairness will be paramount.
- Delegations need to decide now how they will pay for the costs of traveling to the meeting. Rest assured that this will be tightly scrutinized. That is, I expect the international community will demand a full accounting of who paid for what and exactly what the relationship is to the delegate. We wouldn’t want any accusations of an international standard being bought, would we? Remember, one of the main principles of openness is transparency.
- While at the BRM meeting, a delegation can very much care about the resolution of comments that they did not submit. That is, if you submitted 100 comments but you realize that the other 900 or so are important to you, you can hold out for a good resolution to all of them. Do not be convinced by anyone that you are limited in any way to worrying only about the comments that you yourself submitted.
- Consensus is supposed to be used in reaching agreements, but where this cannot be reached, a majority vote of the P members participating will be used as the voting procedure. I expect that all votes will be made publicly available. Thus the voting behavior of P members will be scrutinized especially in light of recent failures of JTC1 ballots.
- The matter of the success of OOXML will not be finalized in Geneva. I expect many national standards bodies will want to return home and debate the issues within the larger committees. They have 30 days to petition ISO and change their September 2 vote. This is also true for countries that do not attend the Geneva meeting. The Geneva meeting will only decide on what is essentially a new document: the original specification plus the proposed changes. If Microsoft proposes a resolution, make sure you get a guarantee that they will implement it.
- This is critical: in no situation should it be an allowable resolution for Microsoft or ECMA to say “we’ll fix that in a future version of the specification.” Either it gets resolved at the BRM or it doesn’t. Future promises mean nothing and are no guarantee of change. If it is not resolved and you care about it, it constitutes failure if only a promise of correction is offered.
What do you want to know about the BRM?