Friday, June 27, 2008

RFA Review boycott

With respect toward the good intentions of RFA review efforts, this boycott expresses principled opposition to mistaken priorities. Far too much talk goes into requests for administratorship itself and far too little effort goes into identifying and preparing worthy Wikipedians to become good sysops.

The numbers speak for themselves:

* Fewer than 400 edits ever to Wikipedia talk:Editor review, which has been active since May 3, 2006.
* Fewer than 400 edits ever to Wikipedia talk:Admin coaching, which has been active since February 10, 2006.
* Over 25,000 edits to Wikipedia talk:Requests for adminship since April 15, 2005. That's also 5000 edits from March 10, 2008 to June 26, 2008.
* 63 pages in Category:Wikipedians on Editor review/Backlog.
* 39 unfulfilled requests at Wikipedia:Admin_coaching/Requests_for_Coaching.
* 1137 pages in Category:Wikipedia_administrator_hopefuls.

Our current body of administrators is largely comprised of people who figured out what they needed to know by the seat of their pants: this is an extremely self-selecting group. Most of the people who would be suitable and motivated administrators need training. They need serious preparation in the processes, responsibilities, and pitfalls of administratorship.

We should direct our efforts toward the following:

* Establish best practices for admin coaching
* Create a coaching manual
* Make coaching a priority responsibility of administratorship

Good preparation is not about instructing people how to game RFA. It's about determining whether an editor has an outlook and temperament shared by good administrators; it's about seeing that they want it for the right reasons; it means ensuring they have enough field experience before they ask for the tools; it means cautioning them about the exponential rise in trolling they'll encounter once they get sysopped. Good training means familiarizing people with the work administrators do. In particular it means identifying and preparing people to help out in understaffed areas.

The author of this statement has been coaching Wikipedians for adminship for a year and a half. By preparing people to assume the responsibilities of administrators, every single one of the author's coachees was successful at RFA.

RFA reform has been endless talk with virtually no tangible results. It is time for this madness to stop. We need better training.

To sign, please visit this page.


Evan said...

I was going to participate in the RfA Review myself until Durova pointed out that there have been endless efforts at reforming RfA for years that have been completely ineffectual. For some reason, there is a lot of passion associated with RfAs. People seem to lose their minds over this "nonvote". I have seen people threaten others over RfA votes. I have seen people justify taking vengeance against others for how they voted 6 months ago, or a year or two ago on an RfA (or RfB). This is absolutely insane.

I think that the common perception that training for adminship should be frowned upon is just crazy. Do we think that training people to be surgeons is inappropriate? To be lawyers? To be schoolteachers? Of course, some people can function reasonably well with no training, but training definitely helps widen the pool of potentially successful candidates. Training adds a lot of value. And we not only need more admins, but more admins who know what they are doing.

llywrch said...

I wonder if many people respond with hostility over failed RfAs is that being an Admin is one of the few ways to prove, undeniably, that one is part of the Wikipedia community. Many want to belong, but few actually do in a meaningful way.

Although the oft-repeated saying is that being an Admin is not supposed to be anything important, in this case that saying is clearly wrong.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post Durova. And for filll's thoughtful response. I had planned to run for Rfa and then watched a couple very experienced and capable article builders get raked over the coals (though they ultimately passed), while others who do little more than vandal fighting fly through. I decided the Rfa process was flawed for these and other reasons and didn't want to have anything to do with it. I had noticed the admin coaching option, but to me this looked like (and I think is, in some cases), as you said, finding a way to game Rfa. Besides, I’m just arrogant enough to have thought I didn’t need any stinking coaching. But though I've learned everything I know about Wikipedia by trial and error (and some real world editing experience), and for the most part do a good job (my complaint to edit ratio is pretty low, anyway), I can now see that of course coaching would be a good idea. In the real world, one comes to a new job with all kinds of experience, but after applying for and getting a more responsible position, you aren't simply thrown in and told to swim. It's rare that someone hands you the keys and a manual, says, "Good luck!," and runs off. But I have seen it happen, and believe me, it is not the model of a successful business and is no way to retain good staff. They tend to get stressed out, overwhelmed and quit. Though the collaborative model of Wikipedia is unlike the real world in many ways, thank goodness, it makes sense that we step back and occasionally compare our model to what works in the real world. Though the organic, fairly egalitarian and ever-evolving process of Wikipedia is preferable to some hierarchal business model, it makes sense that (I can’t believe I’m saying this) we add some layers of bureaucracy, at least as far as training editors to be admins goes.


Lise Broer said...

What I'm asking for isn't mandatory bureaucracy but voluntary training: if you want to brazen RFA alone then by all means do.

What we need to do is improve our voluntary training so it's useful and relevant and meaningful. Right now, an editor who wants good coaching has to be really diligent about finding it. What we have is an understaffed patchwork of coaches of varying philosophies and skills, significant numbers of whom give lousy advice.

For example, people who come to me as their second coach often report that their first coach advised them to pad their main space edit count by breaking up big edits into more smaller edits. That's useless useless advice except to game RFA. What I tell people to do instead is to write at least one good article. Taking a stub to GA is valuable experience that will serve them well as administrators in ways that aren't obvious beforehand, and it demonstrates serious commitment to building the encyclopedia. If they want extra edits, add pages to their watchlists and revert vandalism or join recent changes patrol. Those things will increase their mainspace count while doing the project actual good, and dealing with vandalism relates to administrative responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, "bureaucracy" isn't quite the right word, but I was struggling with how to state that. But yes the beauty of Wikipedia is that as long as you don't run afoul of the core policies, nothing is mandatory, yet one can choose to take part in more formalized processes or go it alone with equal success.

So training should not be mandatory, of course, but it seems that by improving the training process to the point that it is eagerly sought out by those whose main interest is improving the encyclopedia (vs. the type who pad their edit counts), who subsequently pass Rfa with flying colors, it will become a sort of "offer you can't refuse", with the result that the overall quality and volume of admins, and subsequently of the project, will improve. Build a better mousetrap and all that...

Unknown said...


I looked briefly at admin coaching, but there's little indication what one's supposed to do. I'm not sure I feel particularly qualified to do it, for instance, nor would I actually know what to do if I volunteered my time.

Similar to editor review and admin coaching not producing feedback, the article writing feedback channels don't produce feedback, only GAC and FAC do. I don't know why, but it's probably the same.

Lise Broer said...

Very good observation. This is why it's important to develop best practices and a coaching manual.

So far the community has been throwing people into coaching without any preparation as coaches.

As anyone who's done real world teaching, instruction, or coaching knows--it takes a different set of skills to teach something than it takes to do the thing yourself. And with the exception of a few individuals who are naturally gifted at instruction, most people who know the basic skills need a toolset in order to coach effectively.

Sage said...

Durova, have you seen this?

Lise Broer said...

Very interesting link, thank you. With today's arbitration developments it might be a little while before I look into this. Much obliged for the link.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying this!

Anonymous said...

Durova, this is a great post -- really highlights the problem in a way that's easy to grasp. I will try to find a way to contribute to admin coaching.

However, I can't get excited about the idea of a boycott. Your blog readers, from what I've seen, are some of the best Wikipedians there are -- in terms of temperament, as well as the quality of their edits. Removing these people from RFA discussions will only have the effect of "dumbing down" the RFA's that take place during the boycott (however long that is.) Which seems unfair to whatever nominees there are, and bad for the encyclopedia if good nominees end up getting rejected.

So for myself, I'll try to get involved with admin coaching, but I'll also keep my eye on RFAs in the meantime, and would encourage others to do so as well. After all, sometimes a calm voice in an RFA is exactly what it takes to keep a discussion from degenerating into an irrelevant argument.