[Foundation-l] Remembering the People (was Fundraiser update)

Ray Saintonge saintonge at telus.net
Sat Jan 10 08:56:18 UTC 2009

Erik Moeller wrote:
> 2009/1/8 Marc Riddell:
>> * A person at the Foundation level who has true, sensitive inter-personal as
>> well a inter-group skills, and who would keep a close eye on the Project
>> looking for impasses when they arise. The person would need to be objective
>> and lobby-resistant ;-). This would be the person of absolute last resort in
>> settling community-confounding problems.
> Aside from section 230 concerns, my primary concern about the
> appointment of any single person to such a role would be scalability
> across languages and projects. I continue to believe that the idea,
> proposed I think by GerardM, to have a Meta-ArbCom as an institution
> of last resort for dispute resolution could be very helpful, and
> easier to get off the ground than any kind of general council.

Perhaps in the earliest days Jimbo performed that role, but even viewing 
all of his actions in the best possible light still leaves the 
insurmountable scalability problem.  It is hard to imagine any other 
Solomon scalably capable of fulfilling the theological side of the 
god-king function.

The difficulty with ArbCom in this context is that it remains by nature 
a quasi-judicial process.  Those who come before it on either side of a 
dispute do so with pre-established positions, often based on legalistic 
interpretations of literal rules.  When an issue is caught up in such an 
adversarial maelstrom it is far more difficult to arrive at a 
collaborative solution.  If we further treat ArbCom decisions as de 
facto precedents, resolution of the problems themselves, apart from the 
personalities involved, becomes even more difficult.

My own vision of a volunteer council absolutely did not include a 
Meta-ArbCom.  That would almost certainly have doomed it to 
ineffectiveness. My belief here is based on the principle of the 
separation of judicial and legislative functions.  Putting this in terms 
of the scientific method: it conflates legislative theorizing with 
judicial hypothesis testing. 

Impossibility notwithstanding, Marc does draw attention to a serious 

>> *This is more of a cultural issue: I would like to see the more established
>> members of the community be more open to criticism and dissent from within
>> the community.
> To me, this is synonymous with openness to systemic change in general.
> Wikipedia[n]s tend to become resilient against systemic change as
> policies and practices become established and entrenched. To some
> extent this is necessary to serve the mission of the project. In other
> cases it's debatable: e.g., is a predominantly deletionist community
> "better" or "worse" to serve the mission of the project than a
> predominantly inclusionist one?
> I think a fundamental inhibition against change is that people don't
> know how to achieve it: the lack of clarity in decision making
> processes is almost a usability issue. This is especially true for
> contentious large scale decisions. I wonder if WMF should officially
> "bless" certain decision-making processes, or if that would prevent
> innovation and experimentation.
> Another method to achieve greater openness to change would be to
> specifically empower a group of people to conduct time-limited trials
> (technical trials, policy trials, etc.), on the basis of broader
> community suggestions. These would then be evaluated, with the final
> decision returned to the community as a whole. This would address the
> problem that any change that's highly debatable can never be tried out
> due to lack of consensus.
As the one who first drew attention to the unfortunate phrase "23-member 
organization" I don't want Marc to be the one taking all the flak for 
this. I appreciate that the person who used the phrase is willing to 
consider Marc's points seriously, and are refraining from increasing the 
voltage in a Milgram experiment as some others are wont to do.

The underlying difficulties are indeed with the decision making process, 
the perpetual deletion/inclusion debate being only one flash-point 
within that larger system.  We have a significant number of editors who 
participate actively and regularly on rules development.  They spend a 
great deal of time on such tasks, supported by a number of like-minded 
individuals who readily arrive at a consensus.  Often there is little or 
no opposition to these developments, because the largest part of the 
community either does not take time to follow keep up with these 
developments, or may not be capable of analyzing the deeper implications 
of these changes.  Individuals who must budget their time available for 
contributions would much rather spend that valuable time working on 
articles related to their personal interests, and not on endlessly 
fruitless debates about the minutiæ of rules.  Unless they are directly 
affected  by the debate of the moment they won't say anything.  There 
are no doubt comments that I made here six years ago that anticipated 
this state of things.

I have also consistently had serious reservations about the WMF stepping 
in to rescue us from ourselves.  That could set a precedent. Your fear 
that WMF blessings might hinder innovation and experimentation is well 
placed.  In some cases such blessings may be the only solution that 
works. Wisdom may require a recursive mechanism where even the blessing 
may be changed by following its own rules.

That we don't know how to achieve change is painfully close to the 
truth. There is the trite statement that Wikipedia is not a democracy, 
but much of what happens is not at all consistent with that statement 
either.  That statement is nevertheless used by some to win arguments; 
often equating voting with democracy and concluding that voting is 
evil.  Of course voting is evil, but only a narrow outlook upon 
democracy will make it equivalent to voting.
The suggestion about trials strikes me as a bit gadgety, though there 
are no doubt specific problems where that would be the preferred way to 
go, and always a safeguard for community approbation.

Philosophically, we need to reflect the paradigm shift of the 
interconnectivity of modern communication in the way we make decisions.  
To some extent the change is already beginning in areas of open source 
and access, but we have a lot further to go before we can unlearn our 
old habits about how decisions are made.

Yes, I would support some WMF intervention, but I would also like to see 
some seriously intense sessions at Wikimania that address matters of 
collaborative decision making.  This would involve more than a one-hour 
lecture plus Q&A classroom presentation.  It could cover a full day, and 
should probably be led by someone who knows what he is doing,  As many 
potential decision makers as possible should be encouraged to attend, 
and getting them there could be a major criterion for allocating 
scholarships to attend Wikimania.

I feel very strongly about the importance of resolving our decision 
making difficulties, and we can't do it by keeping our thinking in a box.


More information about the foundation-l mailing list