Community roles and governance

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This article discusses how community health might be improved through new community roles and governance.

Quantitative data suggests increased conflict among Wikipedians, as well as a drop in administrator activity. The loss of administrators will make it more difficult to manage community conflict, and administrator burnout may even be a symptom of community conflict. The quantitative evidence of increased conflict is confirmed by several comments from different volunteers.

New administrative roles are necessary to manage conflict, and could help provide additional support for good volunteers. Executive Director Sue Gardner also mentioned other non-administrative roles that could support community health. This includes mentors who can teach new users, as well as voluntary positions that can assess and support the Wikimedia foundation's strategic objectives (quality, technological improvement, community growth, etc.). Another notable suggestion is the creation of a "senior editor" status, so that people with a record of good contributions and fair dealing can be easily spotted in a conflict. This would have an added benefit of rewarding good contributors, and encouraging them to continue participating.

Facts

Data indicates increasing conflict, and decreasing administrator support

  • Activity at dispute resolution pages has steadily risen over the past few years, suggesting increased conflict among volunteers.
  • The number of administrators has been falling since early 2007.
    • Losing more administrators may make it difficult to monitor and resolve conflicts.
    • This may also suggest that administrator burnout is actually a symptom of the increased conflict.
After a surge in active administrators in early 2007, the number of administrators has been in steady decline. By late 2009, the number of administrators is below the 2007 level.
Activity has risen drastically at major dispute resolution pages. (Administrator's Noticeboard/Incidents, Wikiquette Alerts, and Arbitration Committee)

Conflict can be a good thing

MeatBall:HealthyConflict says it all (follow the links!).

Anecdotal evidence of increasing conflict

The following statements come from volunteers. The individual experiences should be taken with a grain of salt. But it is hard to dismiss the overall trend, where editors are concerned about increased hostility and conflict.

  1. From an anonymous editor:
    • It was because of the actions of a troll that I left and I'm sure many other editors leave for similar reasons. I'm a professional scientist and engineer who has worked in both academia and industry and I'm more than happy to add my knowledge and experience. I also except that others can come and edit my work but I do find it extremely frustrating to spend time and effort research a subject and get good sources to have a person come along with the deliberate intention destroying things. I had a problem with one such troll. I went to arbitration which didn't solve anything as the editors involved in arbitration had very little idea of the subject and sided with the troll. I gave up with wikipedia after that but the troll went on to cause trouble on a number of other places on wikipedia and it eventually it took two years for him to get banded permanently. As a result I've decided to come back but I'm still having problems with one editor from that time. I would like a system to deal with trolls that works better. I would like to suggest that groups of pages come under the care of a team of experts who can decide on disputes and block obvious trolls from those pages.
  2. From a post by JovanCormac:
    • Wikipedia is quite big on policing: They police copyright violations, "irrelevant" articles, changes by new users... The one thing that matters most for the community however, the behavior of users, is left largely unchecked. There are unbelievable idiots and people who don't care about new users' feelings at all, especially among experienced editors and even administrators (even more extreme on the German Wikipedia). Stop accepting such behavior as if it was god-given. Having a page titled "Don't bite newbies" simply doesn't suffice.
  3. From another anonymous editor:
    • Some people are just jerks. Wikipedia is not psychotherapy: We can't expect the project to cure bad behaviour. I think some aspects of Wikipedia do tend to bring out the worst in people, so you're right that changing the environment can help, but there still needs to be a mechanism to deal with people who are unable to control their own behaviour. The success of that mechanism, at least on English Wikipedia, is largely determined by how many friends the person has on the projects. Many friends and you are untouchable, few friends and you are cannon fodder. It's only workable because the worst jerks usually have few friends. If fails when the reverse is true. The whole process favours people who invest a lot of time in socializing and politics rather than editing the encyclopedia.
  4. From Sue Gardner:
    • An influx of new people is known to often result in: 1) overwork and stress among experienced community members, 2) a call for new structures and policies, particularly to help arbitrate, mediate and settle controversies, 3) the community being externally viewed as cranky and hostile, 4) sometimes, a displacement of the original purpose of the community (meaning, it starts to focus on its own survival rather than whatever brought it together in the first place).
  5. From a post by Piotrus:
    • a reasonable hypothesis for a decline in editors is that it the decline is a result of editors burning out and leaving due to negative reinforcement (unfriendly editing atmosphere stemming from personal attacks, harassment, battlegrounds). In other words: we edit Wikipedia because it if fun and otherwise personally rewarding (as proven by numerous studies of editor's motivations). When others make it stresfull to edit it, we leave.

Current community roles

  • Administrators
  • Bureaucrats
  • Arbitrators
  • Mediators
  • Self-categorization

Proposals

New administrative roles

Summary: Create new administrative roles to provide checks on administrator conduct, and help manage community problems

Senior editors

Summary: Designate "senior" editors who have a record of good judgment, reasonableness, understanding of policy, and being constructive.

Special status for experts

Summary: create a new status for 'experts' in a field, and verify their status. Give them additional privileges/responsibilities.

Community protection roles

Summary: Create a stronger support role to mentor new users, and help good editors through tough times.

Decentralization of power

Summary: Remove privileges from administrators, or give new privileges to other users.

Centralization of power

Other discussions / brainstorms