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Re: Revitalising COMCIFS

Hi all,

I agree with Herbert’s friend’s opinion that adding process and bureaucracy will have a negative impact on productivity. In my view, 
fancy standards processes are wonderful for managing large groups or well-supported and highly motivated individuals.  In contrast, 
I believe that such approaches do little but impede the efforts of smaller groups of volunteers with only limited free cycles to 
bring to a project.

While the dynamics of MM dictionary development may not be representative of the overall COMCIFS development effort, we have had 
success working with standing committees of developers and key stakeholders in particular domain areas. wwPDB team members try to 
facilitate discussion and generally reduce the friction of moving innovation in science, technology, methodology into dictionary 
semantics that works and plays well with the rest of the MM data ecosystem.  This work is conducted in regular virtual meetings and 
with the help of common software development collaboration channels available on GitHub.  Discussions typically center around 
evaluating if prototype dictionary extensions and the viability of implementing these within the most widely used software tools and 
packages.  Our focus is always on trying to achieve a standard data representation coupled with a consensus implementation that can 
move new data into the repository.

In our experience, the success of any dictionary development effort centrally depends on getting the key stakeholders together in 
regular face-to-face or now virtual meetings.  As I am sure, you appreciate, nailing down semantics in almost any domain is always 
more complicated than initially anticipated, and discussions often evolve to an unanticipated outcome.  Such discussions are 
tedious, and in my view, inefficiently conducted in protracted e-mail exchanges.  Getting a virtual consensus on a trial set of 
semantics in periodic zoom meetings, followed by some intervening time to develop and test prototype implementations, is the process 
that we currently find successful in the MM space.

Best -


On 8/13/21 4:56 AM, Herbert J. Bernstein via comcifs wrote:
> Dear Colleagues,
>    James is right about the need for change, and I support his suggestions.  In
> addition, I would suggest taking a look at the RFC process as described in
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Request_for_Comments <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Request_for_Comments>
> which has been very successful in achieving some remarkable results over many
> decades,
> the ISO standardization process
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Organization_for_Standardization 
> <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Organization_for_Standardization>
> which has also produced many important results, but also some serious mistakes,
> and the IEEE Standards Association process
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_Standards_Association <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_Standards_Association>
> which fits somewhere between the two others in success of its efforts.
>    I have a friend who insists that it is a terrible mistake for an organization to become
> "process driven", and he is, of course, right.  What should drive our activities should
> be the effectiveness of the results we achieve, but well defined, strong processes
> used as a tool, not as an end in themselves, can be very helpful in achieving those
> results.
>    I look forward to this discussion.
>    Regards,
>      Herbert
> On Fri, Aug 13, 2021 at 1:51 AM James H via comcifs <comcifs@iucr.org <mailto:comcifs@iucr.org>> wrote:
>     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
>     <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,
>     James.
>     ==========================================================================
>     # 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
>     contribution.
>     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
>     (https://www.ivoa.net/documents/DocStd/20170517/REC-DocStd-2.0-20170517.pdf
>     <https://www.ivoa.net/documents/DocStd/20170517/REC-DocStd-2.0-20170517.pdf>).
>     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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John Westbrook
RCSB, Protein Data Bank
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Institute for Quantitative Biomedicine at Rutgers
174 Frelinghuysen Rd
Piscataway, NJ 08854-8087
e-mail: john.westbrook@rcsb.org
Ph: (848) 445-4290 Fax: (732) 445-4320

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