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Lifeguarding as an analogy
I'd like to use an analogy which is relevant to me personally to talk about integrity within Wikimedia projects, particularly as it relates to administrators and bureaucrats. As you might be able to tell from my username, I am a lifeguard. To start off with, I'd like to do a quick overview of how certification of lifeguards works in Canada to lay the framework for discussing the common thread of integrity.
In Canada, lifeguards are certified by the Lifesaving Society. After taking a course from a certified instructor, candidates must pass a practical exam - the person who runs this exam is an examiner. Examiners are experienced and talented instructors who are given special training, apprentice with experienced examiners and then apply for certification. If the examiner candidate has shown the ability and integrity to perform the duties required, then they're certified. Simply completing the training course and apprenticeship is not enough. Examiners are expected to apply the standards fairly, and equally to all candidates.
Often, a facility will have an examiner on staff who will run courses, and certify the lifeguards working at that facility. This seemingly raises concerns about impartiality - surely there will be pressure to certify staff; to give them an easy ride? Well, yes and no. The pressure may exist, but the whole point of the training, apprenticeship and approval process is that you'll end up with examiners who value their own integrity more highly than pushing through candidates who shouldn't pass. Likewise in officiating Lifesaving Sport. While an Official or Judge may work with the people on a given team, they're expected to be impartial in spite of that fact.
While there are (occasionally) problems with impartiality, they're few and far-between; the system does a very good job of weeding out those who can't be trusted to set aside whatever biases they might otherwise have. Furthermore, examiners who are found not to have the integrity required are sometimes de-certified.
What do lifeguarding and Wikimedia projects have in common?
I want to suggest that this conception of integrity is common to both - that is, administrators (and particularly bureaucrats!) must be expected to act with just the sort of integrity that I described. Whether it's closing a VFD or giving a user admin tools, sysops and bureaucrats must be careful to apply community consensus - regardless of their own opinions and biases.
My own position
As an examiner in several award streams (including lifeguarding), I have "real-life" experience with this kind of situation. I've had numerous classes where I've had issues of attitude, maturity etc. with candidates... but if they can meet the standards, they pass. No matter how big a dick they are.
I've had classes I've taught where all the candidates were co-workers and friends. But I've failed those same people if they can't meet the standards. It's more important to me to have integrity than it is to not have people pissed off at me. It's more important to me to have integrity than is to hold a grudge.
Applying the lesson within Wikimedia projects
There are a few cases I'd like to examine, to clarify how this lesson should be applied. In short, users must have integrity in four critical areas; namely, VFD; community bans and arbitration; RFA; and content disputes. This is not to say that the lesson can't be applied elsewhere; on the contrary! This should be so constant that any infraction should be like nails on a blackboard. N.B.: nothing in this section is intended to refer to me, nor to any other real person. For example, I have yet to find a single post on my talk page which I would call a "petty concern."
- Votes for Deletion
- This is one area where I think we've done well in the past.
- Imagine there's some module or book up for deletion. People !vote on whether to delete or not. My !vote is "delete", but most !vote "keep." When closing the discussion, there's no room for your own opinion - it's been expressed already, perhaps discussed at great length. Beyond that, it matters not; gauge the consensus or lack thereof, including your own comments, but giving them no special weight.
- Community bans and blocks
- This is not an area which Wikibooks has much experience with. In the past, there have been incidents requiring community intervention, but as a close-knit community (much smaller than Wikipedia, for example), we simply don't have this kind of problem. As a hypothetical, however, let's examine a case where an ad hoc binding arbitration has taken place, with one of the administrators as the arbiter.
- Binding arbitration is stressful for all involved; doubly so in a small community like this. The accused seems to be behaving in a manner that is hostile and belligerent. Because of this, the community call for a permanent ban. Despite feelings that the community is not assuming good faith, it's your job to simply apply the consensus, of one exists. In this case, although you feel the community is being hasty and there are legitimate options yet to be explored, you must simply exercise the community's will - ban the user. It's not your place to tell the community what to think, nor to overrule them.
- Requests for Adminship
- WB:RFA might be seen by some outsiders as rather like a cabal; despite the obvious deficiencies in the theory, there is a grain of truth to that assessment. That is, active contributors are likely to !vote on these discussions, and administrators tend to be active. This means our active editors tend to be admins, and our admins tend to be active editors. This is simply the nature of the Wikibooks beast. That's not a cabal. That's not a bug; it's a feature.
- Imagine a mildly belligerent user has requested adminship. In the past, I've had contact with them - primarily respond to the user's demands for help which is easily found in the Help: pages. Nevertheless, they're a solid contributor of content. Since I have a bad taste in my mouth from the last time they demanded that I create a template for them, I !vote "oppose." After community input, it falls to me as a bureaucrat to close the debate, and give the rights or not. Fortunately(?) for the user requesting adminship, they only bothered me with their petty demands, and several community members supported their request. Here it is important that I set aside my own opinions and gauge consensus (or lack thereof) with impartiality; grant the rights, regardless of my own opinion on the matter (it's already been expressed, and consensus won out).
- Content disputes
- As an administrator, it sometimes falls to us to "police" content disputes. At Wikibooks, this is rare, but other wikis have recurring problems, often involving large numbers of editors bickering over part of a single page. While it's sometimes easy to determine when blocking and/or page protection are required, it sometimes isn't. But setting aside that issue (since it doesn't deal with integrity except tangentially), it may also fall to admins to determine whether consensus exists for a certain change. Regardless of your own opinion on the subject, your function in this case is to gauge consensus - nothing more. Although it could be seen as a conflict of interest to express your views, then gauge consensus, under this model of integrity, there's no issue. You voice your opinion, but set it aside when making any decision.
The current state of affairs
This conception of integrity is, of course, an ideal. Nonetheless, it's one I feel all Wikibookians (and indeed, all Wikimedians) should strive for. Particularly when we look at issues of privacy (CUs and Oversight) and cross-wiki rights and right-management (Stewards), integrity becomes an issue which can be difficult to gauge, due to the nature of the rights exercised. With Checkusers, for example, only other CUs can see your actions; the same is true of those with Oversight permissions. Stewards have CU access, and their user rights logs are effectively hidden from many Wikimedians (I wonder how many are aware of Meta's existence, or that all user rights changes by stewards are publicly logged?).
At Wikibooks, we've had relatively smooth sailing during my time here. That has not always been the case, and I'm sure will not always be the case. Specifically for that reason, integrity becomes an issue of function. If the community can't trust those with extra rights to have this conception of integrity, then the community cannot (and will not) function properly. If we ever come to that point, we'll know we've done something horribly, horribly wrong.
It's my hope that this essay will clarify my own position on some issues, and act as an expression of my own integrity for all to see.