Wikipedia:Consensus defined

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Consensus. One of the most widely used terms on Wikipedia, and one of its bedrock principles. Astonishingly for such a basic procedural policy of the encyclopedia, by which all decisions are guided, nobody knows its true definition, for the simple reason that there have been no attempts to identify what consensus actually is. The lack of such a definition means that the use of consensus to determine whether a specific action should be performed is nearly worthless. The word can mean so many things that it can often be used - and abused - in order for an entity on Wikipedia to meet its ends.

For these reasons, the definition of consensus on this encyclopedia should be codified as a policy. It is obvious that consensus should not be changed to a simple majority or a given percentage of individuals in support of a particular action. Rather, a subsection should be inserted under the "Determining consensus" section of WP:CONS to include this definition. The text shall be as follows:

The definition of consensus[edit]

There are several factors which the presiding administrator should consider when determining if consensus should be reached. The first of these criteria should be to check if there has been a vigorous debate on the subject wherein a large range of points of view have been presented, ranging from absolute support to absolute negation, and where a large number of editors have participated in the debate and provided their opinion. The exception to this shall apply in cases of unanimity or near-unanimity.

Once it is certain that the community has analyzed the issue in depth and at length, the second criterion should be to check if a large percentage of persons involved in the discussion are in support of or in opposition to the idea. Mere voting should not count in this factor - all involved in the discussion should state their views on the subject in some degree of detail, or at least reference another's argument as their own reasoning for holding their views.

Finally, the presiding administrator should consider whether the idea is supported by a sufficiently wide margin that the following conditions would be met:

  • The decision would not be quickly reversible due to outcry over the margin by which it gained consensus.
  • The decision would not be reversible due to general dislike of the idea itself.
  • The reputation of anyone on Wikipedia (including the presiding administrator) would not suffer due to the above two points.

The presiding administrator should consider the magnitude, nature, scope, and consequentiality of the idea, and only in light of these factors should the decision be made as to whether the idea has met the above criteria, and, by extension, consensus. After determining whether there is consensus either in support of or in opposition to the idea, the presiding administrator should write the reason for their decision in the discussion. This reason must include why the criteria for consensus listed above were met or not, and any additional notes as to the reason for the decision.

What consensus is not[edit]

Consensus is often confused for the attainment of a specific percentage of votes in support of something. As Wikipedia is not a democracy, it is not based on votes, but on consensus as defined above. Therefore, consensus constitutes not an inflexible number, but a range of criteria and factors which can mold to every one of the discussions on Wikipedia. Neither does consensus mean unanimity, and while unanimity or something near it would be an ideal result, one must remember that this is merely a subset, not the whole, of consensus.

In determining whether consensus has been reached, administrators should not consider their own views about the idea, merely if all viewpoints have been examined through the vigorous debate criterion listed above. Administrators should use their judgement to determine only to determine consensus according to the above criteria, and not allow their own views to interfere with this evaluation.

Applicability[edit]

In general discussion forums on Wikipedia, such as the Village Pumps and Articles for Deletion discussions, this definition of consensus shall be considered a policy. For individual WikiProjects and discussions on pages in their scope, this definition shall function as a guideline, and additions may be made that are most pertinent to the needs of the individual WikiProject.

This policy may not be applied retroactively to discussions archived as of the insertion of this section into the policy on consensus, but may be applied to ideas that are still in discussion and for which a determination for consensus has not yet been made.

In the case of edits to articles, or for the mere posting of an idea in a discussion, for which no reason for controversy exists, silence is consent. However, for more important or disputable matters, the process for obtaining consensus must be followed.

Rebuttal[edit]

There are various criticisms for this idea, including:

  • There is no hard-and-fast definition for consensus
  • This is nothing but instruction creep

To respond to the first argument, this is not even a hard-and-fast definition for consensus. It is merely a system for determining if consensus has been met, which does not exist. This system can mold itself to a broad spectrum of discussions and topics thereof, and yet it ensures that the process for ensuring consensus is not deliberately or unintentionally botched by administrators.

The second argument, of instruction creep, does not hold. There is an enormous transparency issue with the determination of consensus. Without any set procedures for determining what consensus is, persons who propose ideas will not know how to reach consensus for their ideas. By establishing a clear set of guidelines, proposers of ideas may attempt to nurture what constitutes consensus for their given idea. This is a good thing, as proposers of legitimate ideas, previously in the dark as to what consensus is, will be able to more effectively ensure that their ideas are accepted by the encyclopedia. Hence, there is no instruction creep; the goal here is to make Wikipedia more dynamic than its current, sclerotic state in which only the most incremental improvements are made.