Wikipedia:Consensus

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Consensus refers to the primary way decisions are made on Wikipedia, and it is accepted as the best method to achieve our goals. Consensus on Wikipedia does not mean unanimity (which, although an ideal result, is not always achievable); nor is it the result of a vote. Decision-making involves an effort to incorporate all editors' legitimate concerns, while respecting Wikipedia's policies and guidelines.

This policy describes how consensus is understood on Wikipedia, how to determine whether it has been achieved (and how to proceed if it has not), and describes exceptions to the principle that all decisions are made by consensus.

Achieving consensus

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Editors usually reach consensus as a natural product of editing. After someone makes a change or addition to a page, others who read it can choose either to leave the page as it is or to change it. When editors do not reach agreement by editing, discussion on the associated talk pages continues the process toward consensus.

A consensus decision takes into account all of the proper concerns raised. Ideally, it arrives with an absence of objections, but often we must settle for as wide an agreement as can be reached. When there is no wide agreement, consensus-building involves adapting the proposal to bring in dissenters without losing those who accepted the initial proposal.

Reaching consensus through editing

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Image of a process flowchart. The start symbol is labeled "Previous consensus" with an arrow pointing to "Make an edit", then to "Wait", then to a decision symbol labeled "Was the article edited further?". From this first decision, "No" points to an end symbol labeled "New Consensus". "Yes" points to another  decision symbol labeled "Do you agree with the change?". From this second decision, "Agree" points to the "New Consensus" end symbol. "Disagree" points to "Seek a compromise", then "Implement", then back to the previously mentioned "Make an edit", thus making a loop.
A simplified diagram of how consensus is reached. When an edit is made, other editors may either accept it, change it, or revert it. Seek a compromise means "attempt to find a generally acceptable solution", either through continued editing or through discussion.

Consensus is a normal and usually implicit and invisible process across Wikipedia. Any edit that is not disputed or reverted by another editor can be assumed to have consensus. Should that edit later be revised by another editor without dispute, it can be assumed that a new consensus has been reached. In this way, the encyclopedia is gradually added to and improved over time. An edit which is not clearly an improvement may often be improved by rewording. If rewording does not salvage the edit, then it should be reverted.

All edits should be explained (unless the reason for them is obvious) – either by clear edit summaries indicating the reason why the change was made, or by discussion on the article talk page. Substantive, informative edit summaries indicate what issues need to be addressed in subsequent efforts to reach consensus. Repeated reversions are contrary to Wikipedia policy under WP:Edit warring, except for specific policy-based material (such as WP:BLP exceptions) and for reversions of vandalism. Frequently a minor change in wording can end arguments.

Reaching consensus through discussion

When agreement cannot be reached through editing alone, the consensus-forming process becomes more explicit: editors open a section on the talk page and try to work out the dispute through discussion. Here editors try to persuade others, using reasons based in policy, sources, and common sense; they can also suggest alternative solutions or compromises that may satisfy all concerns. The result might be an agreement that does not satisfy anyone completely, but that all recognize as a reasonable solution. Consensus is an ongoing process on Wikipedia; it is often better to accept a less-than-perfect compromise – with the understanding that the page is gradually improving – than to try to fight to implement a particular preferred version immediately. The quality of articles with combative editors is, as a rule, far lower than that of articles where editors take a longer view.

When editors have a particularly difficult time reaching a consensus, several processes are available for consensus-building (third opinions, requests for comment), and even more extreme processes that will take authoritative steps to end the dispute (administrator intervention, formal mediation, and arbitration). Keep in mind, however, that administrators are primarily concerned with policy and editor behavior and will not decide content issues authoritatively. They may block editors for behaviors that interfere with the consensus process (such as edit-warring, abuse of multiple accounts, or a lack of civility). They may also make decisions about whether edits are or are not allowable under policy, but will not usually go beyond such actions.

Consensus-building

Further information: Wikipedia:Dispute resolution

Editors who maintain a neutral, detached, and civil attitude can usually reach consensus on an article through the process described above. They may still occasionally find themselves at an impasse, either because they cannot find rational grounds to settle a dispute or because one or both sides of the discussion become emotionally or ideologically invested in winning an argument. What follows are suggestions for resolving intractable disputes, along with descriptions of several formal and informal processes that may help.

Consensus-building in talk pages

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Be bold, but not rash. In most cases, the first thing to try is an edit to the article, and sometimes making such an edit will resolve a dispute. Use clear edit summaries that explain the purpose of the edit. If the edit is reverted, try making a compromise edit that addresses the other editors' concerns. Edit summaries are useful, but do not try to discuss disputes across multiple edit summaries; that is generally viewed as edit warring and may incur sanctions. If an edit is reverted and further edits seem likely to meet the same fate, create a new section on the article's talk page to discuss the issue.

In determining consensus, consider the quality of the arguments, the history of how they came about, the objections of those who disagree, and existing policies and guidelines. The quality of an argument is more important than whether it represents a minority or a majority view. The arguments "I just don't like it" and "I just like it" usually carry no weight whatsoever.

Limit article talk page discussions to discussion of sources, article focus, and policy. If an edit is challenged, or is likely to be challenged, editors should use talk pages is to explain why an addition, change, or removal improves the article, and hence the encyclopedia. Consensus can be assumed if no editors object to a change. Editors who ignore talk page discussions yet continue to edit in or revert disputed material, or who stonewall discussions, may be guilty of disruptive editing and incur sanctions. Consensus can't always be assumed simply because editors stop responding to talk page discussions in which they have already participated.

The goal of a consensus-building discussion is to resolve disputes in a way that reflects Wikipedia's goals and policies while angering as few contributors as possible. Contributors with good social skills and good negotiation skills are more likely to be successful than those who are less than civil to others.

Consensus-building by soliciting outside opinions

When talk page discussions fail – generally because two editors (or two groups of editors) simply cannot see eye to eye on an issue – Wikipedia has several established processes to attract outside editors to offer opinions. This is often useful to break simple, good-faith deadlocks, because uninvolved editors can bring in fresh perspectives, and can help involved editors see middle ground that they cannot see for themselves. The main resources for this are as follows:

Third opinions
3O is reserved for cases where exactly two editors are in dispute. A neutral third party will give non-binding advice on the dispute.
Noticeboards
Most policy and guideline pages, and many Wikipedia projects, have noticeboards for interested editors. Posting neutrally worded notice of the dispute on applicable noticeboards will make the dispute more visible to other editors who may have worthwhile opinions.
Dispute Resolution Noticeboard
For disputes involving more than two parties, mediators or clerks help the parties come to consensus by suggesting analysis, critiques, compromises, or mediation.
Requests for comment
Placement of a formal neutrally worded notice on the article talk page inviting others to participate which is transcluded onto RfC noticeboards.
Village pump
Neutrally worded notification of a dispute here also may bring in additional editors who may help.

Many of these discussions will involve polls of one sort or another; but as consensus is determined by the quality of arguments (not by a simple counted majority), polls should be regarded as structured discussions rather than voting. Responses indicating individual explanations of positions using Wikipedia policies and guidelines are given the highest weight.

Administrative or community intervention

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In some cases, disputes are personal or ideological rather than mere disagreements about content, and these may require the intervention of administrators or the community as a whole. Sysops will not rule on content, but may intervene to enforce policy (such as WP:BLP) or to impose sanctions on editors who are disrupting the consensus process. Sometimes merely asking for an administrator's attention on a talk page will suffice; as a rule, sysops have large numbers of pages watchlisted, and there is a likelihood that someone will see it and respond. However, there are established resources for working with intransigent editors, as follows:

Noticeboards
As noted previously, policy pages generally have noticeboards, and many administrators watch them.
Administrators' incident noticeboard and general Administrators' noticeboard
These are noticeboards for administrators. They are high-volume noticeboards and should be used sparingly. Use AN for issues that need eyes but may not need immediate action; use ANI for more pressing issues. Do not use either except at need.
Requests for arbitration
The final step for intractable disputes. The Arbitration Committee may rule on almost any aspect of a dispute other than on a content dispute, and has broad powers in its decisions.

Consensus-building pitfalls and errors

The following are common mistakes made by editors when trying to build consensus:

  • Off-wiki discussions. Discussions on other websites, web forums, IRC, by e-mail, or otherwise off the project are generally discouraged, and are not taken into account when determining consensus "on-wiki". In some cases, such off-wiki communication may generate suspicion and mistrust. Most Wikipedia-related discussions should be held on Wikipedia where they can be viewed by all participants.
  • Canvassing, sock puppetry, and meat puppetry. Any effort to gather participants to a community discussion that has the effect of biasing that discussion is unacceptable. While it is fine – even encouraged – to invite people into a discussion to obtain new insights and arguments, it is not acceptable to invite only people favorable to a particular point of view, or to invite people in a way that will prejudice their opinions on the matter. Using an alternative persona ("sock puppet", or "sock") to influence consensus is absolutely forbidden. Neutral, informative messages to Wikipedia noticeboards, WikiProjects, or editors are permitted; but actions that could reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to "stuff the ballot box" or otherwise compromise the consensus-building process are considered disruptive editing.
  • Tendentious editing. The continuous, aggressive pursuit of an editorial goal is considered disruptive, and should be avoided. Editors should listen, respond, and cooperate to build a better article. Editors who refuse to allow any consensus except the one they insist on, and who filibuster indefinitely to attain that goal, risk damaging the consensus process.
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  • Forum shopping, admin shopping, and spin-doctoring. Raising essentially the same issue on multiple noticeboards, or to multiple administrators, is unhelpful to finding and achieving consensus. It doesn't help develop consensus to try different forums in the hope of finding one where you get the answer you want. (This is also known as "asking the other parent".) Queries placed on noticeboards should be phrased as neutrally as possible, in order to get uninvolved and neutral additional opinions. Where multiple issues do exist, then the raising of the individual issues on the correct noticeboards may be reasonable, but in that case it is normally best to give links to show where else you have raised the question.

Determining consensus

Consensus is ascertained by the quality of the arguments given on the various sides of an issue, as viewed through the lens of Wikipedia policy.

Level of consensus

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Consensus among a limited group of editors, at one place and time, cannot override community consensus on a wider scale. For instance, unless they can convince the broader community that such action is right, participants in a WikiProject cannot decide that some generally accepted policy or guideline does not apply to articles within its scope. (See also Wikipedia:WikiProject Council/Guide#Advice pages.)

Wikipedia has a higher standard of participation and consensus for changes to policies and guidelines than to other types of pages. This is because they reflect established consensus, and their stability and consistency are important to the community. As a result, editors often propose substantive changes on the talk page first to permit discussion before implementing the change. Changes may be made without prior discussion, but they are subject to a high level of scrutiny. The community is more likely to accept edits to policy if they are made slowly and conservatively, with active efforts to seek out input and agreement from others.

No consensus

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Discussions sometimes result in no consensus to take or not take an action. What happens next depends on the context:

  • In deletion discussions, no consensus normally results in the article, page, image, or other content being kept.
  • In discussions of proposals to add, modify or remove material in articles, a lack of consensus commonly results in retaining the version of the article as it was prior to the proposal or bold edit. However, for contentious matters related to living people, a lack of consensus often results in the removal of the contentious matter, regardless of whether the proposal was to add, modify or remove it.
  • When actions by administrators are contested and the discussion results in no consensus either for the action or for reverting the action, the action is normally reverted.
  • In article title discussions, no consensus has two defaults: If an article title has been stable for a long time, then the long-standing article title is kept. If it has never been stable, or has been unstable for a long time, then it is moved to the title used by the first major contributor after the article ceased to be a stub.
  • In disputes over external links, disputed links are removed unless and until there is a consensus to include them.

Consensus can change

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Editors may propose a change to current consensus, especially to raise previously unconsidered arguments or circumstances. On the other hand, proposing to change a recent consensus can be disruptive.

Editors may propose a consensus change by discussion or editing. That said, in most cases, an editor who knows a proposed change will modify a matter resolved by past discussion should propose that change by discussion. Editors who revert a change proposed by an edit should generally avoid terse explanations (such as "against consensus") which provide little guidance to the proposing editor (or, if you do use such terse explanations, it is helpful to also include a link to the discussion where the consensus was formed).

Decisions not subject to consensus of editors

Certain policies and decisions made by the Wikimedia Foundation ("WMF"), its officers, and the Arbitration Committee of Wikipedia are outside the purview of editor consensus.

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  • The WMF has legal control over, and liability for, Wikipedia. Decisions, rulings, and acts of the WMF Board and its duly appointed designees take precedence over, and preempt, consensus. A consensus among editors that any such decision, ruling, or act violates Wikimedia Foundation policies may be communicated to the WMF in writing.
  • Office actions are not permitted to be reversed by editors except by prior explicit office permission.
  • The English Wikipedia Arbitration Committee may issue binding decisions, within its scope and responsibilities, that override consensus. The committee has a noticeboard, Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Amendment, for requests that such decisions be amended, and may amend such decisions at any time.
  • Some matters that may seem subject to the consensus of the community at the English-language Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org) are, in fact, in a separate domain. In particular, the community of MediaWiki software developers, including both paid Wikimedia Foundation staff and volunteers, and the activities of Wikimedia Commons, are largely separate entities, as are the many non-English Wikipedias. These independent, co-equal communities operate however they deem necessary or appropriate, such as adding, removing, or changing software features (see meta:Limits to configuration changes), or accepting or rejecting images, even if their actions are not endorsed by editors here. This does not constitute an exhaustive list as much as a reminder that the decisions taken under this project apply only to the workings of the self-governing community of English Wikipedia.

See also

Information pages and Wikipedia essays concerning consensus:

Articles concerning consensus:

Footnotes

Related information