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Dispute resolution and decisions

From Strategic Planning

This article examines how community health can be improved through new dispute resolution and decision making processes.

Quantitative data suggests increased conflict among Wikipedians. This evidence of increased conflicts has been echoed by experts, and confirmed by comments from several volunteers. There is also a consensus that policy has been difficult to change, and could naturally evolve if there were better mechanisms for building consensus and resolving disputes.

Several proposals have looked at improved consensus-building processes, including representative mediation and binding mediation. But other proposals have looked at creating new groups who would have enhanced decision-making authority. There are also more controversial proposals that would take power away from editors who are obstructive or unreasonable, or divide the project so that disputes between factions would not need to take place at all.


Data indicates increasing conflict

  • Activity at dispute resolution pages has steadily risen over the past few years, suggesting increased conflict among volunteers.
Activity has risen drastically at major dispute resolution pages. (Administrator's Noticeboard/Incidents, Wikiquette Alerts, and Arbitration Committee)

Expert opinion on conflicts

  1. From Sue Gardner:
    • Today, people get burned out. They get tired of hostility and endless debates. Working on Wikipedia is hard, and it does not offer many rewards.
  2. From Jose Felipe Ortega Soto:
    • The problem is that new people coming does not share the same spirit of veteran admins (e.g. assume good faith, obviate all rules if it is in favor of improving the project, search for consensus and leave aside personal disputes, etc.). They put more difficulties to open new articles, edit the articles under "their own control", and debate with other people.
  3. From Misiek Piskorski
    • Editors who have left Wikipedia described the environment is “too hostile”

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 (2009-11-23):
    • 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 took two years for him to get banned 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 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 is fun and otherwise personally rewarding (as proven by numerous studies of editor's motivations). When others make it stressful to edit it, we leave.

Decision-making is a root problem

If there is a relationship between policy and community health, it is best addressed by the community and not by a small task force. Improved decision making and dispute resolution processes will enable the community to simplify and change policy to suit its needs.

Community proposals

Arbitrators and moderators

Decision processes

Behavioral standards

Content standards

Divide certain projects