Proposal:Define metarules to set rules with fewer conflicts

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The status of this proposal is:
Request for Discussion / Sign-Ups

Strategic Priorities

This proposal is associated with the bolded strategic priorities below.


  1. Achieve continued growth in readership.
  2. Focus on quality content.
  3. Increase Participation.
  4. Stabilize and improve the infrastructure
  5. Encourage Innovation.


Analogy: Rules to avoid costly rules.
Misconception: Will stifle other policies (no): avoids contentious, costly rules.
Example: See below #Examples. Beware rules used to censor controversies.


If not English, in what language is this proposal submitted?:

Summary

Due to common, recurring problems with setting counter-productive rules, there needs to be "meta-guideline" (or a set of meta-rules) which provides advice about avoiding rules which could cause trouble. Rules about bias (or about controversies) are very likely to spawn conflicts as costly rules.

Perhaps call the activity: "setting meta-rules" as a common method to thwart creation of counter-productive rules, which, if created, could increase conflicts, frustration, or extra workload. Long-term results could be noted: when some rules were removed, then user conflicts were greatly reduced.

Suggestion

Define some quick procedure where meta-rules could be written to warn against creating counter-productive (or costly) rules, such as rules which typically increase user conflicts, frustration, or extra workload.

The important priorities are:

  • The typical effects of setting rules might create impacts beyond the imagination of general users.
  • Endless re-debates could be avoided, by omitting rules which would cause such debates.
  • Prior costly rules could be listed to help with future decisions.
  • Upper-level members would have some over-arching control, as to what level of petty, costly rules would be allowed.

However, beware the adage, "Everyone makes mistakes". So the advice stated by the meta-rules should always be subject to further analysis, and problems should be expected, rather than consider a future disappointment to be a total condemnation of the concept of setting meta-rules. Focus on avoiding costly rules, where avoidance could make a significant difference, and reduce user conflicts and hostility.

Motivation

Setting rules, often decided by complex debates via talk-pages, requires a lot of time. Also, many people do not consider the "what-could-go-wrong" aspect of rules they write. After months (or years) of working and analyzing policies or guidelines, it becomes apparent that costly rules could have been forseen and predicted, or prevented. Those costly rules (or counter-productive rules) should be prohibited as a general warning, and could be, when meta-rules are used to steer policy decisions.

Potential costs

Some extra effort would be needed to identify and generalize various costly rules. There are several concerns:

  • Some people will be reluctant to avoid well-known, pet rules.
  • Some other users might resent limitations in setting their rules.
  • Some users might obsess with trying to find incorrect meta-rules.
  • Some costly rules might be slow to prohibit, by over-analyzing the risks ("Paralysis of analysis").
  • It is important to consult rules experts, with current knowledge, who are also adept at seeing general problems about setting rules.

Examples

A policy expert, in a particular field, might discourage using, perhaps, 20 rules which typically cause problems. That advice could be used to update a list, for that subject area, to warn about those costly rules.

For setting practical policies, which actually produce better overall results, some expert "policy wonks" might be invited to help shape the design of policies and guidelines. This issue might involve studying books, written by such experts, rather than always have experts directly interacting to make decisions.

Some disappointments should be expected. For example, prohibiting some rules, in the early days of a project, might appear to be the best strategy, but problems might grow, later, requiring adding rules which were formerly considered too costly.

Detailed examples

The following are some examples of costly rules to avoid:

  • A meta-rule might prohibit setting rules against "content forks" (POV forks) to avoid numerous heated debates which claimed some valid articles were mere "POV forks" of another article. In an extreme case, an argument would reject having an article "George Harrison" as being a POV-fork of "The Beatles" because of less fame outside the group. In fact, each band member had considerable fame (as individual notability) after the group disbanded, but that might not be common knowledge to all debating the separate article. Consequently, by prohibiting any rules about "POV forks" then a separate article could be judged on its own merits. An article could be judged on the scope of significant text about the subject, rather than wild, intense debates claiming the separate article would be used to POV-soapbox the politics of one band member outside the group. In practice, on the English Wikipedia (enwiki), the policy "en:WP:Content_forking" has often been used in several, heated, hostile, vicious debates to claim an article is a POV-fork intended to advocate a biased, prejudiced view of some controversial aspect of a subject. (Evidence: search Google for "POV fork" and read enwiki discussions).
  • In general, avoid setting rules about bias which could be invoked to stop a major action (such as stopping the split of an article). The example of POV-fork rules, above, allows debates to stop creation of entire articles, regardless of any objective measure of the claimed, nefarious bias inside. The more general policy of en:WP:NPOV is not directly associated with stopping large-scale actions (such as banning article creations), so it is applied more evenly, with the focus on the neutral-tone of wording inside articles.
  • For greater generality, avoid setting rules about any controversy, where the rule could be used to stop a major action.
  • Specifically, for the English Wikipedia, the following could be indicated:
• Guideline en:WP:Content_forking would be prohibited, as defining costly rules that generate sensational arguments & long debates to kill articles about controversial subjects.
• Guideline en:WP:CANVASS would be prohibited, as defining costly rules that suppress collaboration between users, by trying to claim users unfairly contacted people they knew, rather than a broader group.
• Any guideline controlling email would be prohibited, as defining rules to control email outside of enwiki Wikipedia.

Other major detailed examples could be listed here.


See also

Community Discussion

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