Wikipedia:Method for consensus building

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This is a recommendation of a consensus building method for Wikipedia talk pages and other discussions. Participants should observe from their experience what changes are needed. The intent is to adhere to keeping it simple and avoid instruction creep as much as possible.

Wikipedia typically uses consensus to make group decisions. Left to their own devices, discussions often don't end well. Wikipedia's decline in participation has been the subject of a Wall Street Journal front-page article. Dissatisfaction with unproductive discussions has been cited as a major problem for participants. A WikiMedia Strategy task force also considered ideas for improving consensus-building processes. And that decline has still continued for years.

This consensus-building method encourages results that include all the editors' stated positions. Importantly, it also mitigates the ability to filibuster or obstruct a discussion. It does that by requiring editors to state their positions up front, and obligating editors who object to a proposal to make a better proposal that includes all sides. An editor who does not make an effort to meet those obligations is more visible in having not made an effort to include others' views, and may be excluded from the discussion if necessary to reach a conclusion. It makes it easier to show who is acting in good faith.

Even with that said, we're all human. So it can't possibly be perfect. We're looking for an improvement good enough to make Wikipedia more fun, or at least not setting up valuable volunteers to drive each other away, while retaining its basic principle of large scale consensus-based decision making. Remember the saying, Perfect is the enemy of done. So let's find what it takes to achieve these needed improvements in consensus building!

The consensus-building method[edit]

Flowchart of basic consensus decision-making process.

In general, these steps follow the basic recommended consensus decision-making process.

Discussions start as usual[edit]

If the matter can be resolved through simple direct discussion, then this consensus-building method does not get involved.

Editor posts a position[edit]

See position message box below

Consensus building can be useful in issues where people take sides. In order to begin this consensus building method, an editor posts a message box with their position. The message box links to the procedure document.

Others post positions[edit]

Each editor is encouraged to post their position, or agree with an already-posted one.

Though it's acceptable to respond in opposition to a position, it's better to first post one's own position. That makes sure it's among the positions other editors are requested to include in a resolution. In some cases, posting an alternative position may be all the response that's necessary.

Discussion continues[edit]

Once positions are known, editors may discuss them. The goal is to find a solution everyone can live with.

Editor posts a proposed resolution[edit]

See proposed resolution message box below

Any editor may make a proposed resolution which they believe will satisfy all the parties involved. Each editor participating in the discussion will respond (with traditional bolded wording or a provided template) indicating strong support, support, weak support, neutral (can live with it), weak oppose, oppose, strong oppose.

After a proposed resolution has been posted, any new positions are considered late. Late positions are not valid until that editor posts a counterproposal.

Others make counterproposals[edit]

Editors indicating opposition to a proposed resolution are obligated to make a counterproposal which they believe will satisfy the participants. The counterproposal is made with the same proposed resolution message box. Though it may refer to a previous proposal and only specify changes.

"Spoilers" may be excluded[edit]

A central point to this method is to channel or mitigate effects of "spoilers", editors who might never compromise in a discussion. It gives them a productive direction and an expectation to compromise. Editors who do not participate in a good-faith effort to move the discussion forward are considered "spoilers" and may be excluded from the result, if necessary to achieve a result. Examples of spoiling behavior include not posting/supporting any position, posting opposition without making/supporting counterproposals, or posting proposals which make no attempt to include the posted positions of other editors. This part of the process is intended to be different.

Consensus is reached[edit]

See consensus message box below

A proposed resolution in which all the responses are at least "neutral" is deemed to have achieved consensus. Everyone has in effect said they can at least live with it. The definition of "all" is responses after 72 hours or by all the editors who have posted or responded to positions in the discussion.

Consensus is not reached[edit]

See no-consensus message boxes below

If all the proposals fail and there are no new counterproposals, the discussion is considered to be in deadlock and without consensus. Any editor who posted or responded to a position may propose that it is in a state of deadlock, and an action to take. However, alternative proposed resolutions may also continue to be posted.

An editor proposing that consensus has not been reached must in the same statement propose an action to take. The same reaction templates are used in response to these proposals.

  • Postpone the decision because a resolution still appears possible. Perhaps some time is needed for research. Maybe a break is needed for a day so heads can cool down.
  • Accept a resolution which has an existing 3/4 majority supporting it.
  • Accept a resolution which has an existing majority supporting it, and include a minority opinion. The minority opinion may be some text or a link to a user essay. For anyone who wants to make a statement, this gives them all the room they want.
  • Select a neutral third party to refer the question for a binding decision.
  • Abandon the issue as deadlocked. (This should be avoided. But reality dictates it has to be included here.)

Templates[edit]

There are templates which can assist with presenting each step of the process, and linking back to the process for newcomers. All the template names are prefixed with "CB" for consensus building.

Position message box[edit]

Use {{CB-position|title|text}} to post a position you support. In effect, this declares what "side" you are on in a consensus-building discussion. Everyone needs to first declare a position before their participation in the discussion can carry any weight. The title should be a short summary that others can use to refer to this position in discussion. Some tips:

  • Do not include your user name as part of the title - let people who oppose it talk about the subject without talking about you! Every little bit helps to keep discussion civil.
  • You should sign the text portion using ~~~~ as with any talk page commentary.
  • Do not edit a position after others have agreed with it. Post a new position instead.
  • If you agree or at least can live with a posted position, post a response below it with Support or Neutral.
  • If you disagree with a position, first check if anyone else has posted a position that you agree with. If not, rather than posting a simple Oppose, post your own position with a separate use of the {{CB-position}} template. (An Oppose response alone is not valid without a counterproposal.) Be sure your position is posted before responding to others' - then they'll know where you stand.
  • Other responses not clearly stating or responding to a position of Support, Neutral, Oppose may be ignored in considering whether consensus is reached.

Example: {{CB-position|It's always a sunny day|It just depends what altitude you have to go to see it. ~~~~}} generates the following message box.

Proposed resolution message box[edit]

Use {{CB-proposal|title|text}} to post a proposal to resolve the discussion which takes into account all the sides, as best the editor can estimate. More proposed resolutions may be posted in response.

A proposed resolution is still alive as long as the responses are all at least neutral, indicating an editor who can live with that proposal. Editors who post responses in opposition are obligated to post or agree with another proposal which seeks a better resolution for all the parties involved. If no new proposal results after a posted opposition, that opposition may be excluded if necessary to reach a resolution.

Example: {{CB-proposal|Include both suggestions|Include the suggested points by Gandalf and Saruman to cover both points of view. Ikluft (talk) 07:50, 13 March 2010 (UTC)}} generates the following message box.

Consensus message box[edit]

Use {{CB-consensus|title|reason}} to declare an earlier proposal by title as having reached consensus. In order to be valid, the declaration must include a reason why consensus has been achieved.

A proposed resolution is considered to have reached consensus when all the responses are neutral or supporting, meaning everyone can live with it.

One purpose of this consensus-building method is to have an orderly process to take power away from "spoilers" and make it possible to reach consensus. If necessary in order to achieve a resolution, the following measures may be taken in order to achieve consensus.

  • An editor who does not post or support any position may be excluded from the results.
  • An editor who posts opposition to a proposal without posting or supporting a counterproposal may be excluded.

However, excluding someone cannot be done silently. They must have been reminded of their obligation to make or support an alternate proposal. Each editor excluded must be listed with a reason in the "reason" field of the {{CB-consensus|title|reason}} message box.

For example, {{CB-consensus|Include both suggestions|opposition from Saruman was excluded for failure to make a counterproposal; all other responses are neutral or better ~~~~}} will produce the following message box:

No-consensus message boxes[edit]

If a discussion gets to the point that proposals and counterproposals have failed, an editor may make one of several proposals to handle the non-consensus situation. These are considered equal to a proposals. So it is acceptable to continue to make counterproposals. Each can only succeed by getting responses of neutral or better. However, it is not acceptable (and not considered a good-faith effort to reach consensus) to initiate a no-consensus proposal when other proposals are active.

As an example, for a proposal that has a supermajority support (greater than 3/4), one might use the {{CB-supermajority}} message box to propose that it be accepted. This in effect puts the minority editor(s) in a position to choose between accepting the result, silently allowing it to be accepted or posting opposition. However, if the minority chooses to post opposition, they are obligated to make a counterproposal. One choice would be to use {{CB-proposal}} if they can come up with a better proposal that everyone can live with. Or the minority could use {{CB-majority}} if they can live with the majority result on the condition of being allowed to write a minority statement. An uncooperative approach might be to try a counterproposal of using {{CB-deadlock}} - but that is not a good faith response to a proposal with supermajority support, and therefore likely to get unsupportive responses.

Postponement[edit]

Usage: {{CB-postpone|reason}}

Example: {{CB-postpone|Let's take a week to study the issue ~~~~}}

Result:

Accept supermajority proposal[edit]

Usage: {{CB-supermajority|title|reason}}

Example: {{CB-supermajority|It quacks so categorize it as a duck|9 out of 10 support the proposal ~~~~}}

Result:

Accept majority proposal, include minority statement[edit]

Usage: {{CB-majority|title|reason}}

Example: {{CB-majority|Merge "My hovercraft is full of eels" into "Famous Monty Python quotes"|include statement from supporters on the talk page ~~~~}}

Result:

Refer to neutral 3rd party[edit]

Usage: {{CB-refer|party|reason}}

Example: {{CB-refer|WikiProject Impossible|This is perfect for them! ~~~~}}

Result:

Deadlock[edit]

Usage: {{CB-deadlock|reason}}

Example: {{CB-deadlock|The Klingon and the Wookie can't agree on anything ~~~~}}

Result:

See also[edit]

External links[edit]