[TDWG] Proposals for a new TDWG Constitution and Standards Development Process

Blum, Stan sblum at calacademy.org
Wed Aug 16 17:03:19 CEST 2006

TDWG members:

I am pleased to announce the availability of two documents for your review
and consideration for adoption as this year's annual meeting:  

1) a revised TDWG Constitution


and 2) a revised set of TDWG By-Laws (Standards Development Process)


Both documents were developed by the Process subgroup and are the result of
many hours of deliberation.  The new Process, in particular, is a critical
element in improving TDWG's social infrastructure for biodiversity
information sharing.

If you have any questions or comments about these proposal please: 1) email
me directly, or 2) join the Process subgroup's mailing list
(tdwg-process at lists.tdwg.org) and post your question there, or 3) join the
TDWG wiki (http://wiki.tdwg.org) and post your question there.  

The TDWG Executive Committee will announce the specific voting procedures in
the coming weeks before the meeting. 

What follows below are explanations of how the proposed Constitution differs
from the earlier Constitution, and how the revised process differs from the
existing process. 

First, wherever we (the Process subgroup and primary officers) had NOT
reached a consensus, we have reverted (substantially) to the existing
Constitution.  The most significant cases in this category were: the
retention of "Regional Secretaries" as officers (with a slight modification
of responsibilities), and the retention of only two co-opted Executive
Committee members (to be selected by the elected committee members).  

Second, we have added provisions to make it explicit that the Executive
Committee has the power to appoint other individuals or groups to do specific
work.  Through this general provision, the Executive Committee will have the
ability to approve interest and task group charters, as well as appoint web
masters, standards editors, or fill any other roles as needed.

Third, we have removed the By-laws from the Constitution.  It was not clear
earlier whether the by-laws were part of the constitution, or just presented
there for convenience.  In the new draft, the rules for establishing and
changing the by-laws is covered, but the by-laws will be a separate document.

Fourth, language has been edited throughout to remove ambiguity, establish
consistency, improve readability, and remove unnecessary words.  

The list below highlights the changes that are new and I hope acceptable
based on our discussions over the last year, including a meeting in Madrid in
early June.
Article 1:  we have rephrased the purpose as follows:  "...to establish
international collaboration among the creators, managers and users of
biodiversity information..."  I think this is more precise as well as more
inclusive than "biological database projects" or "biological information
repositories".  We used the term biodiversity rather than biological because
that term accurately circumscribes our special niche.
Article 1.c:  We have removed the reference to the newsletter as a kind of
Article 5 (Executive Committee): changed the formatting to a list; added item
d. to the list of responsibilities/powers as follows: "d. may appoint an
individual or group of individuals to perform specific work or an ongoing
function for TDWG;" Under item "j.", I removed the qualifier "electronically"
from the phrase.  I don't think it's necessary to say how (what technologies
should be used) the membership should be kept informed.
Article 6 (Officers).  We changed the name from Chairman to Chair.  That's
generally done in the US now to remove gender bias.  (Chairperson is also
used, but I think it's more awkward.)  Also removed "to him" from "enacts
such functions as are assigned >to him< by the Executive Committee."
We restored the Regional Secretaries as members of the Executive Committee
because we hadn't reached a consensus about how to replace them.  The
Executive Committee will have greater power and therefore greater
responsibility to represent the interests of the membership under the new
Process.  That means they will have a representative, "steering
committee"-type of role in more decisions, and that alone is justification
for keeping broad representation on the Executive.  We talked a lot in Madrid
and over email about people not having specific roles, but given this greater
emphasis on the steering function, one does not have to be doing work for
TDWG (e.g., as an editor or secretary) to represent a constituency on the
Executive.  There is also a clear sensitivity to concentrating too much power
in the three primary Executive Officers.
So the composition of the executive will remain unchanged, except that we
have removed mention of the newsletter and standards editors.  These can be
appointed by the Executive, they just won't be on the Executive.
Finally, I have fleshed out the language of Article 10 (Voting), such that we
now have broad consensus as an explicit goal, and the Executive is given the
operational responsibility of determining when we have a case where a
consensus cannot be reached, but a decision must be taken (i.e., a preferable
alternative cannot be devised).  


The TDWG Process for Standards Development is also known as the TDWG By-Laws.
The previous by-laws were only a couple paragraphs long; while this version
is three and half pages.  The proposed process differs in several important
ways from the existing one.  

The new process calls for interest groups to provide a forum for general
discussions in an area, and task groups (created within interest groups) to
do specific work.  Both interest groups and task groups are required to have
published charters, which describe the group's purpose and operation.
Interest groups and task groups are also required to submit (and publish)
annual reports to ensure that progress is made and results are communicated
to the membership.

The review process itself also differs from the current one in that it calls
for the Executive Committee to appoint a review manager, who will first seek
independent expert reviews (much like we would do with a scientific paper),
and then issue a public request for comment.  The Executive Committee is
empowered to judge the results of these reviews and may either advance the
standard along the track or return the draft to the task group for revision.
The members do not need to vote on a standard (they just need to comment). 


Stanley D. Blum
Convener, Process Subgroup

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