Essay on Decision making and Community consensus on Wikibooks
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General decisions and global policies on Wikibooks can only be decided by the community in a specific and recognized way that is by "Community consensus", this requires only that no state of objection is expressed, it supports abstention and may include comments by users that may even chose not to express their agreement or disagreement with a specific proposal that is put forward for community discussion and approval, with some punctual exception that are illustrated below.
This method of making decisions and the right of equal participation are the political basis of the Wikibooks project.
Community consensus is an integral part and the core of the decision process on Wikibooks as stated in the Wikibooks:Decision making guideline (there is an unstable version still to be finalized, feel free to participate) and defined there.
Community consensus or "the expression of the community will" is open to any Wikibook's user (Wikibookian) and even unregistered users, except blocked users (due to the nature of the effect of the block action, not by stated policy/guideline). There are also subjects that the Wikibooks:Decision making states as being outside of a consensus decision making process, they are expressly defined as part (but not all) of the Low impact decisions section of the policy.
Community consensus is by default the way any decision is made on the Wikibooks project and is what Wikibookias should expect on any non regulated process of decision-making any other way to pass decisions is a direct violation of the Wikibooks:Decision making policy. We should be careful to note that a provision is given to be bold, but any action taken on that exception should be reverted if anyone raises objections.
The problem with the word consensus has been discussed several times before on Wikibooks. The good aspect of Wikibooks not being a democracy is that it it would turn Wikibooks into a project dominated by the active and powerful, being them an active minority or a voting majority since participation is voluntary, and only a fraction of all registered users are active at a given time, due to this facts, the best procedure for closing decisions should be based on the quality of arguments resulting in no active opposition. In any case what is important to understand is that the decision process should not consist only in applying a voting (or a substitute) mechanism. In reality, voting even if needed to establish positions, is one of the least significant parts of the process of consensus, the task of finding a common ground is, that can only be obtained by making everyone work together in good faith to achieve a desirable outcome for the group (see Wikibooks:Assume good faith). There are many ways consensus decision-making may be applied it can even have different guidelines and frameworks (see Wikipedia article on Consensus relating to decision-making), due to historical reasons and from the text of the approved policy that defines it, the Consensus decision-making on Wikibooks is a process that not only seeks the agreement of most participants, but also try to resolve or mitigate the objections of the minority to achieve the most agreeable decision by compromise, even if the policy text gives an escape route that can cause confusion and is at times contradictory, the process has (as I will demonstrate) reasons to be strictly followed and restarted if consensus cannot be reached.
Any deviation or objection that prevents the reaching of consensus can only have two outcomes, a block or a breaking of the consensus process that will result in majority rule voting (the first can be resolved with dialog and is fostered by the Wikibook project, the last should be highly contested as it results in an illegitimate decision on the eyes of the community, unless the core rules are changed or state an exception that in itself was agreed by consensus that the opposition can be dismissed if the majority doesn't feel the opposing point as well defined or argued for, this view has somewhat redefined consensus on Wikibooks and the pure form has been re-branded "strict" consensus, not to be confused with unanimous consent).
There are many ways to run a decision-making process and consensus has his faults. It may be a very time consuming process but the goal is near Utopian, in the end all parties will be satisfied or at least appeased. I note also the consensus and unanimity aren't contradictory (they aren't the same), there can be unanimity under a consensual decision. Consensus does not mean 100% expressed or implied agreement on a specific point, but an acceptance to decision without open objections (a 0% expression of opposition to the decision), a vote by majority is defined from a 51% to 99% expression of agreement to a decision and supports active objections up to 1% to the result, more important no compromise is needed to bypass any opposition below 51% to pass (50% is a tie) in the end consensus is inclusive, majority is exclusive to participants.
- It takes too long...
Consensus can get delayed and be attacked as a way to reach decisions. Since the process will always be slower that any alternative, for instance in a vote for majority, opposing positions are generally discarded. In a process for consensus time has to be used to discuss minority positions, in fact slow speed in the process demonstrates the will to reach a compromise.
If the objective is to clear thing out and let contradictory views on a subject to reach unanimity or to permit compromise in consensus, attacks or exclusion of participants claiming time constrains should be addressed by proposing that a consensus on a resolution is of utmost importance even if there are disagreements, most reasonable persons would agree to abstain if shown that continued objection will result in a greater loss to all.
- then long term blocks are disruptive...
Disruptive behavior can be observed in regards to the use of consensus, but if participants are really willing to compromise and work for a greater objective than to just abuse of the block power they have, rewards can be greater than the problems, you will get a less accommodating participation and raise interest to the core issues, diversity can be a strength, if the time is granted for everyone to express their views, more information is shared, and better solutions can be found.
A user that is only blocking a decision without being open to compromise can only exist because he is not really willing to participate in the greater good of the overall project, with time he will tire and lose his arguments. If his position is not justifiable or can not be acted upon in the progress of the decision process, it becomes clear that he intents a permanent block, only by power of argumentation and by how the process is run, how fair it is, can the block be bypassed ("the good of the many outweighing the good of a few").
- but then... but if...
In no way a decision blocking user should have his opinion dismissed without the others voters stating at least justifiable reasons to do so based on the facts that would press the closing of the decision-making process, solutions should always be found before excluding a user from the process, for instance votes on sub-sections of the proposal, elaborating for instance a guiding rule that after a given timeframe of block the majority would have his way, a specific ratio of votes in favor/against, exclusion of the objecting and in favor users from a number future discussions, etc...
As should be clear the changing of the decision-making process on Wikibooks should be objected to, as it will have a very high degree of impact on users that have joined the project under a different set of rules and expectations, this second to the license used on the Wikibooks project, should be heavily protected and any changes to this policy or the decision-making process will have to be reached by consensus, it is up to you (Wikibookian) to protect your rights and the community expectations.
- people are pressing me... ...for information... ...to change position...
Any decision process is a political processes (even monarchies and dictatorships) involve some sort of negotiation as it attempts to establish common ground, to change view points and influence others, any of this actions will require a good level of mutual understanding. People are not pressuring, they are attempting to be understood and understand each-others positions.
To formulate an opinion everyone requires a reason, an augmentation that they can understand. Only then can they chose among alternatives.
In a process where ones view is a minority there are tree routes:
- Establish that the minority view has grater value and gather support for it.
- Attempt to reach a compromise at middle ground.
- Concede to a move to non-opposition.
Stating that one is being pressed is a evasion, since in our project no-one has any power over the other, the value is on the arguments. It does in fact demonstrate that others are willing to address your position, the alternative would be to ignore it or a permanent block on the discussion.
Rough consensus and other redefinitions
Recently we are witnessing the increasingly utilization of words not due to the positive value of the idea or concept a word represents but only because of the varnish or implication it can provide to the context it is used in, this is a result of increasing levels o marketing, publicity and public relations campaigns we now face everyday, appearance is everything. Take for example the use of consensus in this new world of sharing, equality and participation, words are used not to express facts but to sweeten or to soften otherwise more hash or compromising phrases, that was mostly known as twisting the words in the past and now is more to be politically correct or to give a spin on the subject, for example take the flowing "some areas are becoming consensual among most writers" (is a contradiction of terms, I can only see this as an attempt to be obtuse since it transmits an idea of general agreement, and impart a wrong conclusion, an exact variation but not so pleasant would be "some writes are starting to agree in some areas", but this will give emphasis to the split that exists).
Recently (in terms of the time the word is used), IETF coined the term "rough consensus", it is an erosion of the word to permit a politically correct way to impart the "sense of the group" on the "dominant view", the terms is yet to be adopted into general use, the results of this type of erosion gives place to the appearance to sub/supra definitions like "genuine consensus" or "strict consensus" as a way to show a difference to the various interpretations, basically there is only a form of consensus that can exist and function from discussions from 1 to 1 to other more complex implementations (a French philosopher postulated that a limit exist, he stipulated that to be the size of a city's population, but with technology and the evolution of city sizes things have indeed changed, so who can say until it is tried), any attempt to give a level to the word can't work as the meaning is absolute, participation of all on a common accepted solution, restrictions or instructions on how we make that happen are "not included", it originally was meant to be used by people with good intentions.
Take for example a very common phrase, "consensual sex" can it survive the substitution for a decision by rough consensus? I think not, since the result to bypassing the objection would be disastrous to the objector. By eroding the use of the word the final objective is only to keep the appearance of consensus but in reality another process is used. Since sole justification by numbers is not relevant (not even on the Wikibooks context, as it should be the process that guides even user to user discussions), ultimately this kind of solution should be avoided.
By taking look at Special:Statistics (read counter is turned off) we should also take into consideration the number of users vs the number of voters there is no direct representation, sock puppets (in many guises) do exist, by using consensus we are escaping the "tyranny of the majority", how we proceed to escape the will of the minority is by strength of arguments as we already have the strength in numbers.
No one or even any group can claim to know the understanding or will of the community, as an example administrators can't call themselves representatives of that will or views.
Dodging the "vote" option
When not expressly required by policy, polling (voting) on a subject should be avoided, using it is accepting that consensus has failed...
- Polling discourages consensus
- Polling encourages false dichotomy
- Polling encourages group-think
- Polling isn't fair, either
The clear propose of asking for votes on a subject is to create a divide, build and establish a power position, majority versus minority opinion and ultimately is an attempt force an issue even if that was not the intention the result would be the creation of another barrier to the freedom of expressing divergent opinions. The best option is to clarify were you stand and what you propose and ask for objection, non constructive support will be as bad as objecting without any valid reason.
The contradiction: only one allowable voice per person, not one voice per username
Wikibooks has some technical limitations not only because of the Wikimedia software but due to other technical factors that are outside of the Wikibooks community and Wikimedia Foundation control...
The Abilene paradox
The Abilene paradox (Wikipedia article on the Abilene paradox on consensus decision) deserves a special mention on this essay, due to the specificity of the Wikibooks project, its objectives and the expectations that Wikibookians have more than other project's users (i.e., Wikipedia).
a Wikibookian personal judgment shouldn't be the base for the application of the rules on Wikibooks, decisions must be consistent and shared by all and this is impossible on that a basic level, it should be the last way we implement and enforce policies and if contested open to reevaluation.
- Best practices to employ on a discussion
- Remove obstacles so you can be understood
- Be prepared, research, by pointing to old posts, archives, articles or web sites or even guidelines or policies you advance and reinforce your view point without restating what can be obvious to same and unknown to others, try to find inconsistencies that give credit to you challenge. You must remember that users may not share your knowledge or the history behind the problem.
- Try to be exact and complete on the point or proposal you advance
- If you fail to state your point correctly, other users may disagree with you due to misinterpretation.
- Give options, don't be intransigent
- If you provide several solution to a given problem, you will be showing you openness to compromise even if you state the weaknesses of that options, this will make it easier for others to reach a common ground with you.
- Give a direction to the discussion
- Avoid that participation on the discussion goes in directions beyond the intended scope, even if positive ideas are advanced stay on the topic, it is common to get news ideas from a discussion but you shouldn't try to cover all issues at once, propose that another discussion should be started on that topic (don't kill ideas without proposing to address them), this is even more important if you were not the one generating them.
- Do no make assumptions, ask
- Try to avoid assuming you can read the minds of the participants, even worse state what you think others feel on the subject, this can get you in a lot of trouble and extend the discussion further, just ask and get a statement you can point to.
- Build consensus, don't split the discussion between "us" and "them"
- Try to get what participants agree and disagree without creating groups, if groups form, getting to a common ground is harder because a group tend to support its members even beyond logic, try to get the accepted points about the topic and build bridges on what people don't agree with.
- State who you are
- Make your intentions clear, most people don't know each other and is pretty common to have users that never interacted before on a discussion, do not try to validate your points by intentionally hide information (if found out the value of your opinion will be affected), do not expect other to recognize you as a more important participant on the decission (even if you think you know more about the subject), who you are in not as important as what you write on the discussion.
- Do not be picky
- Don't attack participants on spelling or harass others because they disagree with you, ask them to validate their points don't overanalyze every statement or word, you must take things into context and people are prone to commit errors. In doubt ask but you must give some consideration to the questions you make, in doubt try to research the subject.
- Be consistent
- If you change your mind you should point it out, if you committed an error correct it as soon as you detect it and admit to it, remember that people if informed will also validate your opinion based on previous discussions or actions you took, what you write and do is the best introduction you can bring with you to a new discussion and to be understood, if you go from 8 to 80 and back again without any visible reason it will make it difficult for people to take you seriously.
Any proposal must be stated on Wikibooks, public knowledge to Wikibokians and should stand for at least 7 days to give a chance to get input from users, no timelimit should be assumed if not stated on the text (and validated as urgent) of the same proposal or as a clear part of the discussion to all participants.
Types of discussions
There are many types of discussions going around on Wikibooks at the same time, it hard to try to participate in all, so you must select what are the points that can and need to be defended, if you can't get involved a simple word of support to a person that is defending a similar point can do a lot of good, most people tend to forget that all pages are publicly accessible and referenced.
Discussions can vary in numbers of participations and on the importance of the discussion, one thing to avoid is having discussions of specific points on the wrong forum, if that happens don't forget to point it out to participants and make a post on the best location informing of what his happening this will serve as a reference to future discussions and prevent rehashing some points by using references. (Wikibookians are selective on what pages they monitor using the Watchlist page, see also the Help:Tracking changes for more resources).
Most common discussion occur between single users on the various talk pages, on the staff lounge (or sub modules) and on specific policy/guidelines or (draft) talk pages, books with a significant participation of contributors also may have active debates (but it is not very common) there are policies that request participation on the decision process from all Wikibookinas as a way to have an better understanding of the community will on specific subjects, examples are:
- Examples (may not be a complete list)
- Wikibooks:Featured books/Nominations
- to make decision regarding books which are considered among the best of what has been written in an effort to raise standards
- Wikibooks:Votes for deletion
- to make decision regarding pages/books/modules marked with for deletion.
- Wikibooks:Requests for adminship
- to make decision regarding granting administrator status to Wikibookians.
- What distinguishes guidelines from policies ?
Guidelines are things that people should do, policies are things that people must do. Guidelines are not enforcible, but that isn't expressly written anywhere, if we take in consideration Template:Enforced it makes more clear as does Template:guideline, that is the intention expressed on the voting for the proposals at least so far...
People can break guidelines if they have good reasons to but bad behavior is not a valid justification to ignore a guideline (just because you can it doesn't mean you do), by breaking a guideline you could be almost certain that someone will object to the action, if you must be clear on why you did it.
Should doesn't give enforcible power to punish or revert actions or impose the fallowing of the text in general terms it is merely a guide, if we take the text of Wikibooks:Policies and guidelines it only defines policies as enforcible it even states them as essential (no similar regard is given to guidelines) in Enforcing policies, I think we also do this for historical purposes I never saw no one defend that guidelines should be enforced or that they have, if a guideline has the need to be it is voted as a policy.
Wikibooks:Policies and guidelines also state:
- Must This word, or the terms "required" or "shall", mean that the definition is an absolute requirement of the policy or guideline.
(this gives the community the authority to enforce)
- Should This word, or the adjective "recommended", mean that there may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances to ignore a particular guideline, but the full implications must be understood and carefully weighed before choosing a different course.
(this gives the burden of the evaluation to the one that is performing action against what is stated, the user is even given the power to ignore it and is asked to perform a good assessment of his action, and any one in the community are asked to consider any violations in light of the results being positive or not)
All consider the a state of good intention from the operator.
Policies and Guidelines have been under discussion since at least February 2005 and no stated challenge was given to this interpretation and the concept has popped up on discussion along the way, so, this is commonly accepted distinction we use.
A guideline by definition is a guide that has the intention to express or indicate a course of action or guidance to appropriate behavior or a common base of interpretation, it is only targeted to the user seeking information on how to proceed (in the case of Wikibooks this information is first agreed upon by Wikibookians as valid). If a guideline has the need to be enforcible it is proposed as policy or is turned into one.
Guidelines shall not be summarily dismissed or be considered irrelevant, intentionally breaking a guideline should constitute a show of bad faith and an attempt to stress the community. If a guideline is broken even if unintentionally it entitles any Wikibookians to act as to correct the issue (even if the same that originated the transgression) to initiate a community decision process to establish the validity of the action, the best location to do this is the relevant guideline talk page, and should require at least an opposition or supporting position by another Wikibookian, to give validation to the process, so to prevent unilateral redefinition of the guideline text or abuse of the same.
A policy is a rule or regulation set by Wikibookians to be enforced by all, it gives indeed power of action to all in its defense.