Stan User Committee Announcement and Solicitation for members

All,

Below is the creation document for a Stan User Committee. We are seeking volunteers interested in joining us. Details on what the committee is focused on and how we plan on operating are below.

Proposal to SGB for Stan User Committee

July 1, 2020, Revised July 20, 2020, Final revision August 16, 2020, SGB approved August 24, 2020

Dear SGB,

As requested we have formalized our proposal for a Stan User Committee in this letter and request approval by the SGB. The Stan User Committee exists to collect, prioritize and communicate current and future user level needs to the SGB and overall Stan community. Additionally the User Committee will develop user specific materials for pedagogy like MOOCs, certifications and getting started guides.

The committee addresses the entirety of the Stan user experience and exists to make it easier for users to learn, use and flourish in the Stan ecosystem. The committee scope is core Stan and the supporting projects which includes but not limited to interfaces (RStan, PyStan, CmdStan*), upstream/downstream applications (RStudio, ShinyStan…) as well as pedagogy.

The committee may raise funds, suggest allocation of resources to the SGB and will publish recommendations.

The committee will operate informally with votes and minutes publicly available. Any committee member can call for a more formal process driven by Roberts Rules of Order as done previously with the SGB. We will elect a presiding officer and secretary. The SGB has ultimate authority over committee actions.

The committee will be populated by volunteers solicited from public posts in discourse and individual outreach. The committee will seek members who come from different perspectives, use cases and industries and avoid concentration in areas. The committee will start with up to 9 members appointed by the SGB and the membership reviewed annually by the SGB. Members will renominate themselves annually to indicate that they wish to remain on the committee. If new candidate members and existing members exceed committee limits then the SGB will either expand the committee or choose members for the next year without an incumbency advantage.

Expected committee goals are:

  1. A wiki page with desired user products/features (including future enhancements to functionality that would increase the user base) for public consultation. This is not a binding roadmap but a document for consultation by those with the desire, skills and funding to implement the ideas in the wiki.

  2. Identification of user needs that help with learning Stan and modelling successfully with Stan.

  3. Identify how Stan can best serve science/engineering/other users via courses, certifications and other programs/materials.

  4. Identify fundraising opportunities for Stan and execute on them. Users are a natural funding source for the committee to consider. The committee will not commit to deliverables in exchange for funding without SGB approval.

  5. Identify and pursue resources that benefit the Stan ecosystem that need not be monetary.

  6. Track and report current Stan ecosystem usage and the potential to increase Stan usage.

  7. The committee will report monthly to the SGB and larger community via google docs and discourse posts.

  8. Attention to overall usability of Stan ecosystem. This covers installers, documentation, teaching materials, certifications and so on.

  9. Be aware of different user kinds and make explicit how their needs differ.

  • Cloud users–docker containers for easy deployment
  • First time learners–web based interfaces and support
  • Various OS users
  • Domains like pharma (PK-PD models/Torsten), polling (MRP), etc…

Best

Abbas Aaidi, Facebook

Breck Baldwin, Columbia University

Eren Elci, Bayer

Simon Maskell, University of Liverpool

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I toss an arbitrary deadline of Sept 11, 2020 for interested people. Email fbb2116@columbia.edu to indicate interest.

thanks
Breck

That seems really soon unless you plan to do a bunch of outreach before then. Most of our users probably don’t check the forum often enough for you to get a wide enough range of people interested in this in that little time. That said, if you’re advertising this through other channels too, then maybe that deadline is fine.

3 Likes

I’m a little confused how this works - do you get selected by the SGB or do the current folks who are making the proposal hand pick people to work with them? Did the SGB solicit you to form a committee or are you proposing to the SGB that you want to form a committee?

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Yeah that wording is a bit confusing. I think neither, it’s just anyone who wants to volunteer.

The latter. This is initiated by the people who wanted to form a committee.

Ah right, thanks Jonah! Is it limited by 9 folks? I’m a bit confused by the following:

Edited to tag @breckbaldwin, could you clarify?

The SGB controls the committee membership, I am soliciting candidates. At some point the SGB will approve the members. If more than 9 they will have to edit.

We can add a week, so Sept 18 deadline.

thanks

Breck

I think that was just a somewhat arbitrary number. To be honest I thought we’d have trouble even getting that many, but if there’s a lot of interest then that number can certainly be reconsidered or we can have multiple committees.

This committee doesn’t have any particular authority, it’s just people interested in Stan and who want to spend some time fundraising, collecting information, brainstorming, and making recommendations. We can have multiple committees that serve that purpose focusing on different things if there’s enough interest. Right now this is the only one that’s made a proposal but the @SGB is happy to consider other proposals from anyone interested in volunteering!

Have you had anyone volunteer yet? I’m concerned that just having this post here on the forums isn’t going to reach a wide enough range of users. There are a lot of people that would probably make great members who don’t use the forums actively.

One person has reached out I am totally happy to reach out and invite people. Please email me with suggestions of people we can draft to fbb2116@columbia.edu

This should have a broad public solicitation via twitter, email lists, and the website. Or, you know, not exist. There’s no point having a user community if the users aren’t on board.

@jonah Did the SGB express interest in such a committee? The scope is quite large and to me all sounds like responsibilities of the SGB itself. I’m not clear of its utility, especially given the rapid time frame and narrow elicitation of volunteers.

Thanks!

Jonah:

You can also feel free to post something on the blog, either on your own or on behalf of the Stan Governing Body.

I agree.

No this was unsolicited. I agree the scope is large, but to be honest when we get people who approach us willing to volunteer their time for free we don’t want to discourage them unless we think it will be harmful to the Stan project. I don’t see that being a risk here since this committee doesn’t have the authority to make decisions for anyone else, just to make recommendations and we don’t have enough people actively volunteering their time to start turning people away before we give them a chance to accomplish something.

This isn’t perfect but I’d rather try it out than get bogged down trying to do it perfectly and accomplish nothing (in my experience that happens a lot around here).

Yeah I agree about the rapid time frame and narrow elicitation of volunteers.

I definitely think this needs to be advertised beyond people who actively read the forums. @breckbaldwin Can you make sure to advertise in other places? A blog post would be good and if you have a tweet you want tweeted let us know and we can do that.

A few more comments:

I completely agree with the point you’re making but this part

comes across to me as a bit snarky. I may be misinterpreting, in which case I’m sorry and feel free to ignore this, but there’s no need for the attitude and no benefit to communicating this way on the forums. We have people who want to volunteer their time and if you don’t like the way they are advertising the opportunity I recommend saying something like this:

Again if I imputed snark that wasn’t there I’m sorry (it’s easy to misread things online), and either way I still love you Dan! I just want to make sure that everyone makes an effort to be kind here no matter what.

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I also wanted to follow up on this point, which I think is a reasonable concern. Basically, from my perspective, and I think I can speak for the rest of the @SGB based on our discussions, the people who want to form this committee don’t need anyone’s permission. If they want to raise money and give it to Stan with no strings attached, or ask around and find out what features people want in Stan and let us know, or research how Stan in being used in different areas and let us know, then I don’t see why they need anyone’s permission so long as they don’t have the authority to make binding decisions for anyone else working on Stan. So when they approached us we made a few recommendations but mostly we felt our job was to make sure that there was no language implying any sort of authority over anyone else or over any funds.

There is indeed a lot of overlap between what this committee wants to do and what the SGB already does, but that’s fine. We’ll still keep doing those things and if this committee results in any additional benefits in those areas then that’s great. It won’t take anyone from SGB away from any of those things.

So, in summary, any group of people is free to organize themselves and make recommendations to the SGB and the SGB can choose whether or not to act on those recommendations. This group that proposed this committee went the extra step of explicitly seeking our permission, so we made sure that they weren’t attempting to assert control over anything and that there was nothing in the proposal that was obviously harmful, and otherwise we were just happy to get volunteers. If anyone else wants to volunteer to organize a group to do the same or different things then we’d love to have them too!

Anyway, I hope that provides a bit of clarity and context. I can see how maybe that wasn’t quite clear from the way this was presented.

I don’t have the keys to Andrew’s blog and it seems weird to advertise to a general audience but that is up to Andrew. A goal of the user’s committee should probably be figuring out how to communicate with our users. But if someone wants to blog about it feel free–we really want users. We can also keep the committee open, the deadline is more to just help us have a starting point from the provisional committee.

Ad for twitter. I don’t have the credentials: "The Stan User’s committee is looking for members. More information at https://discourse.mc-stan.org/t/stan-user-committee-announcement-and-solicitation-for-members/17812."

thanks

Breck

Just tweeted:

Well that wasn’t what I was trying for. I was trying to point out that it possibly shouldn’t exist. But seeing as you asked, I will give a much more direct and complete idea of what I was thinking.

At a very surface level, this is a community-focused initiative that didn’t have a plan for reaching the community (or a reasonable timeline for doing it), so it probably isn’t ready for primetime.

Other than sounding a great deal like a committee that is doing exactly what the SGB is doing (it is almost exactly a list of things that were the initial motivation for forming the SGB), it is also a proposal that is far too large to be meaningfully executed by a small group of people with no power or community buy in. I cannot see how this will lead to anything other than frustration or how it will lead to positive outcomes. (As Jonah and Breck know, we have some experience with ad hoc subcommittees that don’t really lead anywhere.)

Moreover, things like this

are just alarming. How is that in any way preferable to the SGB running the process? And that’s a huge issue, how can any of these points be effectively executed (without annoying users / potential funders etc) without the committee having any decision making power.

The strategy that the SGB has taken so far off building “Stan in …” communities has shown much more success and has a clearer and better motivated argument towards community building. Some parts of this proposal (mostly point 1. but bits of the other points) could be recast into this framework and structured around user community events (virtual meetups / talks, Stancon etc).

The proposal is like a Frankenstein of a number of things the first SGB tried and failed at, and I doubt lumping them together into one committee will improve the odds of success the second time around. Maybe it should exist as a number of smaller groups. But a user-focused group should focus on user issues and community building and not try to be a shadow SGB.

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Thanks, sorry for reading too much into it!

I don’t think anyone said it was. This isn’t instead of the SGB. If it comes across that way then we need to change how this is being framed.

I think “users” here means institutional users, I don’t think anyone is planning on emailing every Stan user and asking for $10. I don’t see how the committee needs decision making power to ask people to donate to Stan, or to talk to people in different fields and find out what they like and don’t like about Stan. I assume/hope that people involved in Stan are already doing these things on their own because they care (the SGB is doing them too of course). Even before I was on the SGB I was always doing those things.

Yeah I like that strategy too! I’m really happy with where we’re headed with that. But, again, in this particular case this “committee” isn’t an SGB invention or strategy, unless by strategy you mean us not getting in the way of people who want to volunteer.

I really think you have good points about the organization of the committee and I really appreciate that you decided to share them, but like I said in one of my previous posts, anyone is free to organize themselves and make recommendations to the SGB. If you have a better idea for how to do this then I encourage you to organize it or recommend that someone else organize it or recommend to the SGB that we organize it. That would be great.

Remember, this is something people volunteered to do on their own, not something organized by the SGB (whether something similar should be organized by the SGB itself is a different issue). I don’t think it’s our job to police what well meaning volunteers are doing unless it creates problems. If this creates problems we’ll address it. If not, then it doesn’t hurt anything and might help.

Yeah but you’re comparing what some volunteers want to do with ad hoc subcommittees last year’s SGB tried to organize (again, the SGB didn’t organize this one and if it doesn’t lead anywhere then what’s the harm? It’s not taking resources away from the SGB other than my time spent writing this). We don’t need to get into it too much here, but the problem with last year’s SGB wasn’t primarily the idea of having subcommittees. We just had a StanCon subcommittee organize a great virtual conference this year, so subcommittees can obviously succeed! I think the subcommittees didn’t work as well last year primarily because the SGB members had difficulties collaborating with each other. That hasn’t been a problem this year.

I am all for people volunteering time for things they are passionate about. That said, to request money on the behalf of Stan, the committee is implicitly acting in Stan’s name to request money, which means they reflect Stan (even if you didn’t ask them to make the committee giving it permission to act in Stan’s name is essentially the same). It’s problematic because they’re acting on Stan’s behalf to request money without guidelines and restrictions imposed over them to ensure they act in accordance with the values of the organization.

More broadly because this committee hasn’t had any restrictions place on it, and doesn’t have any formal guidelines, it’s entirely possible that they will task themselves to complete

without ANY requirement for diversity, inclusion or equality of their committee or transparency for how it’s formed. It’s very difficult for me as I spend my time to shepherd a code of conduct through a transparent and fair process that other aspects that act in the Stan community haven’t been required to work to meet EDI goals as well. I’m not saying that the organizers are actively seeking this, in fact they note aiming for diversity but I don’t see a concrete plan for this, which should be a requirement.

Honestly @jonah if the SGB wants to help volunteers volunteer they need to create roles, advertise them openly and select candidates transparently. Otherwise I think this committee needs to be VERY clear that they do not act on behalf of the Stan community and are an independent group.

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