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Revitalising COMCIFS

  • To: "Discussion list of the IUCr Committee for the Maintenance of the CIFStandard (COMCIFS)" <comcifs@iucr.org>
  • Subject: Revitalising COMCIFS
  • From: James H <jamesrhester@gmail.com>
  • Date: Fri, 13 Aug 2021 15:50:45 +1000
Dear COMCIFS members,

I believe it is time to assess how we do things on COMCIFS, and to take some incremental steps towards streamlining our activities and broadening our base of dictionary contributors. To that end I've created a discussion document which you can read at https://github.com/COMCIFS/comcifs.github.io/blob/master/draft/CIF_processes_discussion.md.  That document is also appended to this email.

Please discuss. In the absence of substantial objections, I will take this as broad agreement with the document and proceed on that basis.

all the best,

# Revitalising COMCIFS: Discussion

DRAFT 2021-08-13

See "Next Step" at the end for suggested next actions.

# Introduction

After a decade as COMCIFS chair I have (finally, some might say)
perceived a couple of related issues:

1. Most of the work is falling on a few people, which is unsustainable
and leads to too narrow a focus

2. Dictionary development is not keeping pace with the science

This discussion document contains some ideas for a way forward which
I'd like you all to consider and to bring your combined experience of
committees and scientists on committees to bear.

# Current situation

Formally, COMCIFS is a subcommittee of the IUCr executive. While we
are relatively minor compared to the commissions, as a result we have
a great deal of flexibility in how we organise ourselves.

COMCIFS currently operates in a relatively informal fashion. Discussions
of policy are held on the official COMCIFS mailing list. Discussions
relating to the Core dictionary are held on the core-DMG mailing list.
Technical issues, including DDLm development, are discussed either on
the DDLm mailing list or within the Github repositories.

# Suggestions for improvement

## Suggestion 1: Document procedures and processes.

The informal way of doing things is essentially exclusionary to all
those "not in the club". In contrast, easy-to-find and clear
procedures allow new contributors to feel confident that they are
approaching a task correctly and thus lower the barriers to

Additionally, agreed and transparent procedures reduce the possibility
of mistakes or misunderstandings. I realise that I might be sounding
(perhaps frighteningly) bureaucratic to some of you, but my plan would
be to document no more than necessary to achieve the above goals. It
is likely that most procedures would be a single page, if that, and as
you will see below I'm suggesting that the quantity of procedures
depends very much on the interest of COMCIFS in having them.

## Suggestion 2: Technical Advisory Committee

This would be the group currently called "ddlm-group" which consults
on any changes to the foundational standards (DDLm and dREL). This
group would become responsible for the detail of implementing
procedures using Github, the IUCr website and so on.

The idea of this group is to remove the (mostly perceived) need for
COMCIFS members to be across the technical detail. Instead technical
questions/issues can be delegated to the TAC. Membership models for
the TAC can be discussed, there are many to choose from in the open
source world, e.g. Python.

## Suggestion 3: Formally involve the relevant IUCr commissions

IUCr commissions have no formal relationship to dictionaries that
cover their topics. However, it makes no sense that, for example, the
powder diffraction commission has no expected input or responsibility
for the powder dictionary.

The IUCr executive have recently encouraged us to formalise links with
commissions. This is important, as the IUCr executive are the ones who
have the ability to hold commissions accountable for their area of
expertise in the dictionaries.

## Suggestion 4: Lower barriers to participation

All interested parties should be able to join both COMCIFS and any
dictionary management lists that fall under our purview
automatically. If unproductive discussion due to too many voices
becomes a problem then we can revisit this.

## Suggestion 5: Better information dissemination

An informal newsletter covering recent developments helps all parts
of the community understand what is going on without having to visit
the various places in which things are happening.

# First steps

Creating and documenting processes takes time and energy. However,
before involving the commissions these processes need to be set up. So
process number 1 is the process for producing documents (sort of like
ddl.dic is the dictionary for dictionaries). I propose the following
outline for this "procedure number 1".

## Creating procedures: procedure number 1

The type of work that COMCIFS does is similar to the W3C and other
standards bodies. I suggest that the International Virtual Observatory
Alliance documentation standards are a good reference point
These are themselves based on the W3C documentation standards. Given
that our goals are considerably more modest than those sprawling
organisations, we can aim for considerable simplification.

The following three steps and documents should be tracked on a
website: either in the IUCr CIF area, or Github repository, or both.

### Step 1: Proposal

A short statement outlining the nature, scope and objectives of the
procedure is submitted to the COMCIFS mailing list, either directly or
via the COMCIFS secretary or chair. A draft document may be provided
but is not necessary.

### Step 2: Working group

If the procedure is seen as worthwhile by COMCIFS, a working group is
formed and tasked to produce a Working Draft.

### Step 3: Approved document

The Working draft is presented to COMCIFS for feedback and approval.
Once approved, the working draft becomes an approved document.

# Other required procedures

After agreeing on something like the above process, I suggest we need
to deal with the following as well:

- Procedure for COMCIFS approval
- Procedure for adding a dictionary definition
- Procedure for creating a new dictionary

# Next step

The "Creating a procedure" proposal is discussed by COMCIFS as per
Step 1 above. If COMCIFS agrees, a working group is formed to document
the process for creating new procedures, as per Step 2 above.
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