Wikipedia:Competence is required
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Wikipedia is a big place, with many editors, all with their own opinions on how to do things. It seems surprising that we'd be able to work together functionally, but somehow this is what usually happens.
One of our core social guidelines that facilitates this is "assume good faith". This is good advice, because it reminds us that when we disagree, everyone involved is (usually) trying to do what they really think is best. Sure, we get people who intentionally damage the project as well, but they're usually quite easy to deal with. They can be blocked from editing, as needed, with little fuss and generally no controversy.
Where we very often see big controversies, though, is with editors who are disruptive while trying to help. This is where we sometimes see a harmful side effect of our (generally quite useful) notion of assuming good faith. Many editors have focused so much on this that they have come to believe that good faith is all that is required to be a useful contributor. Sadly, this is not the case at all. Competence is required as well.
Clearly, every editor is incompetent for some subjects, so it is important to know or discover your limitations.
Versus good faith
Assuming that people are trying to help is trivial but if someone is unable to help, or is sometimes helpful but sometimes causes major disruption, this is a bad thing that must not be allowed to continue. The proverbial bull in a china shop might have good intentions, but he's clearly bad for business. We must always value the project as a whole more than we value the contributions of any individual editor.
So, the next time someone posts on a noticeboard saying "Editor Example is causing problems—here's the diffs to demonstrate this," or "Disruptive editor Example is asking for an unblock," think twice before just saying "Assume good faith." The person making the complaint is probably already assuming good faith, and they're talking about a lack of competence, not a lack of good faith. Both are required to edit usefully. If an editor has already demonstrated incompetence which causes disruption, no amount of good faith fixes this problem.
Some common types
The best good will is unavailing if basic understanding of the facts, their mainstream interpretation and the cultural context is lacking.
Some people just can't function well in this particular collaborative environment. We can't change Wikipedia to suit them, so if they're unable to change themselves, they'll need to be shown the door.
Some behavioral issues and some personality traits may be correlated with the inability to participate in a collaborative environment. However, Wikipedia editors are assessed by the community solely on the basis of their contributions and actions within Wikipedia. Blocking an editor who has demonstrated that they cannot participate in Wikipedia is not discrimination on the basis of disability, even if that disability contributes to the failure to participate.
Some people's personal opinions are so strongly held that they get in the way of editing neutrally or collaboratively. If this continues to be disruptive and a user is unable to step away from topics where they have strong biases, a topic ban is generally appropriate. Try this first before going for a site ban, because some people can make valuable contributions in places other than their pet topic. For some reason, it is very difficult to see your own biased editing, though it is easy to see others' biased editing.
If someone can't use English well, and can't discuss things with other editors very well, consider trying to get them to edit a Wikipedia in their own language. Those other-language Wikipedias need help from editors, too.
Some folks just can't act with the degree of maturity required to edit effectively. This may simply be because they are too young; because Wikipedia is free to edit, there is no restriction on age, and while some young people make good editors, everyone matures at different ages. If you think somebody's talking like a preteen, it might be because they are. Encourage them to come back in a few years.
Editing beyond your means
Some people aren't able to grasp the subtleties of how Wikipedia works. They may still be able to do some easy jobs, but they'll probably run into trouble if they try biting off too much. Encourage them to keep to the simple things, or suggest a break if they're getting frustrated about edits getting reverted.
Lack of technical expertise
Technical knowledge is not usually a problem at all, as long as they don't delve into areas that require it. Not everyone needs the same skill set—and as long as people operate only where they're capable, it's not a problem.
Some people get so upset over a past dispute that they look at everything through a lens of "So-and-so is a bad editor and is out to get me." Taken to extremes, this easily becomes quite disruptive. An enforced parole of "don't interact with this other editor" may be something to try in these cases.
Most of us were pretty incompetent when we started. We might not have understood wikicode, we might not have signed our posts, or we may not have fully appreciated exactly what sources are reliable. The great thing about this situation is that it's easily fixable. Help the newbies understand what we do here, and soon they'll be making themselves useful.
What "Competence is required" does not mean
- It does not mean "come down hard like a ton of bricks on someone as soon as they make a mistake". Wikipedia most certainly has a learning curve. We should cut editors (particularly newbies) some slack, and help them understand how to edit competently. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the wiki process.
- It does not mean perfection is required. Articles can be improved in small steps, rather than being made perfect in one fell swoop. Small improvements are our bread and butter.
- It does not mean we should ignore people and not try to help them improve.
- It does not mean we can label people as incompetent. For example, we do not say "You are incompetent because you don't know anything about the subject of this article."
- It does not mean that Wikipedia's civility policy does not apply when talking to incompetent people. Rude and uncivil comments can discourage the motivation of the targeted editor, raising their psychological barrier against recognizing their own mistakes or seeking to improve their skills.
- Finally, it does not mean we will give any good-faith editor an infinite number of opportunities to make themselves useful. If, after an appropriate amount of time and coaching, someone still isn't competent, don't make a heroic effort to defend them. Cut them loose, and turn your mentoring efforts to a better candidate.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter much whether someone's disruption is due to mischief or incompetence. Don't spend much time trying to figure this out, because many of our trolls do their trolling by feigning incompetence. There's no point trying to distinguish between fake or real incompetence—disruption is disruption, and needs to be prevented. Give editors a few chances, and some good advice, certainly—but if these things don't lead to reasonably competent editing within a reasonable timeframe, it's best to wash your hands of the situation. Not every person belongs at Wikipedia, because some people are not sufficiently competent.
... is often criticized for being uncivil. The most sensible defense to such criticism is that the primary purpose of this essay is not to present it to competence-lacking people so that they know they are incompetent. After all, the whole point is that they are either incapable of recognizing their own incompetence when pointed out to them, or are incapable of changing their behavior. Rather, it is to inform discussion amongst other editors of how to deal with competence issues. So if WP:COMPETENCE applies to an editor, it is usually not appropriate to tell them so.
- Dunning–Kruger effect, the tendency for incompetent people to be unaware of their incompetence—and for highly skilled people to believe that people capable of their achievements are more numerous than they really are
- Wikipedia:Randy in Boise, a class of incompetent editors
- Reasonable person
- Wikipedia:Wikipedia is not therapy
- Wikipedia:Give 'em enough rope
- Wikipedia:Encourage the newcomers
- Wikipedia:Levels of competence