Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Requests for arbitration

Currently there are two requests for arbitration at English Wikipedia.  This post pertains to both of them, and also to that process generally. When contemplating opening a request for arbitration there are really three questions that need to be asked:
  • Is this an urgent problem that cannot be resolved by anything else?
  • Is this a non-urgent problem that cannot be resolved by anything else?
  • Is it clear to uninvolved people that it cannot resolved by anything else?

The times to request arbitration are where the first condition has been met, or else when both of the other conditions have been met.  One big cause of strife and drama happens when the third condition hasn't been satisfied.

This is a good metric for determining when other formal dispute resolution is appropriate.  Non-arbitration dispute resolution serves two purposes:

  • To resolve a dispute.
  • To provide a fair (if slim) chance at resolving a dispute, while demonstrating to uninvolved people that the appropriate attempts have been made.

It's important to remember what constitutes dispute resolution.  Administrative noticeboards are not dispute resolution.  Other than arbitration, formal dispute resolution comes in six flavors.

A while ago the dispute resolution navigation box used to list these clearly.  It no longer does, which may explain why requests for arbitration have been getting filed recently that cite nothing other than article talk discussions.  Those filings get rejected but waste everyone's time.  On other occasions, people try to list administrative board threads as if they were prior dispute resolution.  

It's a requirement when filing an arbitration to list prior steps at dispute resolution.  It's been my longstanding opinion that non-formal dispute resolution should be removed from that list on any request for arbitration.  The one exception is when the arbitration enforcement board has failed repeatedly, which indicates that a prior arbitration decision was unsuccessful.

If a situation is not urgent, usually two or three attempts at formal dispute resolution should be tried before filing a request for arbitration.  That's enough to demonstrate good faith efforts to resolve the problem.  

A key mistake that many editors make is to fail to open enough formal dispute resolution because they don't think it would work.  They might be right about that, but there's no way for the larger community to see that until it's tried.  

A lot of difficult RFAR discussions occur when the filer is technically right, but hasn't taken enough formal steps to demonstrate that to the community at large. Even if the case opens it could place all of its named parties at the center of a storm for one to three months afterward.  Usually it's better to open another formal dispute resolution process--even if it's mostly to clear the air and make the eventual arbitration more straightforward.  Optimism is worthwhile too with other dispute resolution; pleasant surprises have been known to happen.

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