Monday, November 30, 2009

Arbitration voting guide

People have been asking for recommendations on this year's Arbitration Committee candidates.  So here's a rundown of principles and useful links.

The Arbitration Committee's core function is to weigh evidence against policies in conduct disputes.  The Committee is also a final venue for community sanctions appeals and they do a few other things which privacy issues require keeping offsite, such as ensuring that checkusers and oversighters are trustworthy.

It's equally important to remember what the Arbitration Committee is not: its mandate does not include content disputes.  In 2003-2004 ArbCom was created in tandem with the Mediation Committee and the specific mandate of content resolution was designated to MedCom.  The Arbitration Committee does not write Wikipedia's policies or guidelines.  It is not a governance body.

Arbitrators have to solve Wikipedia's toughest disputes.  These include several long running conflicts which involve a dozen or more editors and have lasted for years: ethnic, nationalist, and religious disputes, as well as several others.  The level of interaction within those disputes sinks so low that in some of them serious offsite harassment occurs.

A good candidate for arbitrator should come to the position with formal dispute resolution experience, so they're aware firsthand of the problems that happen in dispute resolution.  There are six types of formal dispute resolution at Wikipedia:
Half of those processes have designated volunteers:
Other relevant processes include oversight and checkuser:
Script-generated measurements of a candidate's contributions can undervalue the people who are active in these areas.  Mediation, clerking, and checkuser all require careful attention so the people who do them spend a lot of time reading and evaluating.  This yields a high percentage of Wikipedia namespace edits and, often, a relatively low edit count.  So when checking out a candidate, look to see what they actually do.

An ideal arbitrator is someone who puts doing the right thing ahead of politics.  Good arbitrators make hard decisions.  When mud is being thrown they wash it off, even if they're pressured to apply adhesive.  Good arbitrators don't twist logic into knots to avoid offending someone who has political connections.  As a result, the best candidates for arbitrator usually have made a few people unhappy.

"Drama" is a word that gets tossed around too carelessly.  The important thing is to see whether a candidate who has been in a controversial area has been making it better or making it worse.  One useful approach is to survey a candidate's actions during several controversies where most of the circumstances are different but some of the same names appear.  If the candidate invokes opposite principles while consistently supporting the same people, that's a big red flag.

Another consideration is content experience.  Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and it's good to have arbitrators who understand that firsthand.  Yet it's possible to take the content emphasis too far.  Featured articles are the palaces of Wikipedia; arbitration occurs in its slums.  It certainly is worthwhile for arbitrators to have contributed featured content, but once a person has done it a couple of times, they get the point.  A person who has written twenty featured articles but not done much else could be a babe in the woods when they get to arbitration.  Or worse, they might try to expand the Committee's mandate into content where it doesn't belong.  Balance of power is a good thing.  Let's elect a Committee that keeps it that way.

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