The idea of a "Social Committee" came up during a private discussion.
With about 1,000 active developers the Debian project has grown to a size
where a lot of problems are expected to happen. As an international
project, Debian people originate from different countries and have
different social backgrounds which may contribute to some problems.
Josip Rodin proposed
to establish a "Social Committee" within the Debian project, a term Andreas
Tille coined. Such a committee would try to resolve or mitigate conflicts
between various members of the Debian project which are not of a technical
matter. For the latter, the "Technical Committee" has developed the Debian
According to Josip, the mere existence of such a committee would already
indicate a major change in the thinking of Debian developers. In fact,
many developers have evolved into strong personalities. It's good to have
self-confident people maintain important packages and infrastructure, but
it is not always helpful when dealing with different opinions or even
Social conflicts could emerge when two developers get in dispute over a bug
report or a discussion and don't seem to accept the other person's opinion.
On mailing lists, a participant could demonstrate difficult behavior when
communicating with other people. This could be a situation where mitigation
is required. When teams
inside the Debian project cause non-technical problems with other groups,
with the general developer body, the "Social Committee" could be called for
Josip outlined how such a committee could work. First, it would have to agree
on its own charter, similar to other groups within the Debian project.
Once established, the committee would become active only upon request by
other developers or mailing list participants, just like the Technical Committee.
The social committee would delegate certain tasks such as monitoring mailing lists and teams
inside the project. The developers acting as delegates would have a bit
more authority to talk about problems than the average member of the groups
they're sent to. However, they may need to earn this authority or respect
first, by monitoring the discussions and ensuring that all problems are
addressed and no complaints go unresolved.
Manoj Srivastava, leader of the Technical Committee, questioned
this proposal, however. He noted that all social problems are very much
subjective. Participants come from a variety of cultures and may recognize
interaction with others differently. Often they come with different norms
and metrics which could make solving conflicts difficult for a neutral third party.
In response, Lars Wirzenius, countered
with the suggestion to develop social and cultural norms for the entire
project first, based on what all developers could agree to. After all,
members of the Debian project all agree on certain aspects, which could be
summarized, just like the project's technical policy.
Currently, it is not clear which powers such a committee could use to
enforce a social policy, due to the nature of the Debian project. Its
members are volunteers and not employees on a company's payroll. Hence,
adding pressure to people could become an interesting exercise.
While the "Social Committee" will become active only upon special request,
it can also only exercise selective enforcement which might be interpreted
as unfair. The same behavior by other people on the same mailing list may
If there is something resembling a discussion culture in the Debian project, it's most probably a very tough one. Some list participants usually put on
armored pants when discussing controversial issues on the lists. Debian
people are known for raising their voices loudly. This is not limited to
Debian developers, though. However, it's surely a detail that drives away
interested people when they accidentally find themselves in the middle of a
It happens every now and then that discussions on mailing lists end up as
flame wars of one sort or another. One side pretends to know what another
participant thinks and their words get interpreted in a way that was not
intended. This is often followed by smearing and more smearing, soon
the entire discussion becomes totally useless and only eats up bandwidth
and disk space.
Because of this behavior, a "Social Committee" or at least a mildly enforced charter for Debian lists is due. For several years the Debian
conduct has asked participants not to use foul language and not to flame.
However, the number of discussions that have been turned
into flame wars has rather increased recently.
The code of conduct
for the Ubuntu community covers the behavior of its members in any
forum, mailing list, wiki, web site, IRC channel, install-fest, public
meeting or private correspondence. The Ubuntu Community Council will
arbitrate in any dispute over the conduct of a member of the
community. The number of flame wars in this community demonstrates
at least that it is possible to limit them to a minimum.
Several responses in the discussion on the "Social Committee" for the
Debian project indicate a strong interest in this, and a desire
to improve the climate. However, some developers are skeptical both
on the establishment of such a committee and its potential exercise of
power. In the meantime Gustavo Franco
to build an ombudsman team that will improve several social issues.
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