OOXML Purdah 
2007-08-11, 11:49
Countries around the world are deciding on their vote on OOXML in the five-month letter ballot, which closes on 2 September.

BSI House, Gunnersbury, London

The UK, too, is deciding — or more precisely the British Standards Institute (BSI) is deciding on behalf of the UK. However, unlike some countries the decision-making process here takes place behind closed doors in accord with the rules of BS 0, the standard which governs standards-making in the UK. This states:

Committee members shall not disclose committee proceedings/documents to any body, [...], without the committee’s express authorization.

Committee membership is also confidential (though BSI will make known which organisations are represented on committees)

The names of individual representatives shall not be made public by BSI so that individuals serving on committees are not exposed to lobbying or media attention.

I can see this causing raised eyebrows in some quarters. IBM's Bob Sutor, for example has called for everybody to learn from the current process that future standards should be ‘created in better, more open, more transparent ways’. Yet looking around the world I see no correspondence between the openness of decision-making, and quality of decision making. Openness, like choice, is one of the most over-sold concepts of our age and there are good reasons for some things to remain closed. Jury deliberations are a prime example – and perhaps some of the same considerations apply, in a lesser way, to the processes of standards formation.

There have been allegations from some of the sillier partisan commentators that the UK has had its standards processes abused while considering OOXML. But I have seen absolutely no evidence of this; if anything the opposite has been true — because of the publicity around OOXML everybody involved has been ultra-sure to stick exactly to the rules. So while strong opinions, of all shades, have been strongly expressed I do not believe there has been any undue influence exerted. As a small example of the caution used, Microsoft recently distributed two lavishly produced volumes of support for OOXML to BSI committee members, yet because the comment period had been closed for several weeks their contents simply could not be taken into account.

Microsoft's lavish publications

BRM Convenorship

I have been appointed by the SC 34 secretariat as the convenor of the up-coming Ballot Resolution Meeting on OOXML (should it happen). As with UK standardisation I am sure the key to success will be an ultra-conscientious application of the rules. I have made the JTC 1 Directives my constant companion and am working with SC 34 colleagues to make sure my understanding of them is complete.

I have received commiserations from several people on this appointment, and am assured it will be a very stressful experience. However, right now, I am glad to be relieved of the responsibility of having, or expressing, a technical opinion on OOXML, and am looking forward to being a neutral administrator of the standards process ...
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