I just found this wonderfully written description, by Joseph Reagle, of the value of both pragmatic and principled approaches to group work.

Often there are debates about the means used towards common ends: are we better served by being pragmatic or principled? I think both are useful positions. For example, some individuals might choose to be uncompromising, to stand far out on the edge of the lever. In their singular position they don’t weigh much, but their extremity does increase the torque by reminding us of the principle at stake. Others might devote themselves to the process and institutions of consensus. The fulcrum itself is unwieldy and difficult to move, but if one can shift it, that too can have a profound effect on the ultimate balance.

I’ve always felt this. I’ve experienced a couple of occasions in my standards work, where a principle needed to be relaxed in order for concensus to be reached so that the work could make any progress. I’m happy to disregard principles when (and only when) I feel that the value of getting something done, however flawed, is higher than the value contributed by that principle. But, that’s quite often not the case. My stance against the current “SOA” approach to Web services, which rejects pretty much all the important principles that made the Web such a success, is an example of that.


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