Sunday, April 27, 2008

Governance Reform for Wikipedia?

This image is a captured version of Wikimedia logo mosaic. In its history you may see other versions captured daily. Note that the original mosaic contains some animations, so this is not exactly how it looked/looks like.WMF logo as a mosaic of images
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Previously, I wrote about a Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) wide Wikicouncil. That idea continues to spark discussion (whether I think it's a good idea or not is another matter :) ) ... it has been the subject of discussion by the WMF board, but it appears that the idea is shelved, at least for now.

There is another initiative brewing, perhaps somewhat more grass roots, to foster "governance reform" on the English Wikipedia. The proposal and the talk page make interesting reading.

The argument put forth by proponents is that there has been a failure to get many proposals for reform enacted using the existing (consensus based) processes, and very few reform proposals imposed by fiat either, and that therefore a new process is needed.

Wikimedia Foundation wikis tend to operate using policy that is "descriptive", that is, policy lags behind practice and is written to describe how things are actually done, and as practice changes, policy changes to follow it, or lags practice. By contrast, "prescriptive" policy is written to describe how things ought to be done, and it is changed to force a change in actual practice, that is, policy leads practice.

If this proposal were adopted it would be a major change away from descriptive policy, and, some argue, away from the "wiki way".

Given the number of abortive attempts to change BLP policy that there have been lately, and the frustration I and others have expressed, this proposal has a certain attraction. Heck, it's a siren song... to think that if this were passed, 50 (or however many) reasonable people would now be able to change policy to be as I think it should be, regardless of "consensus" not being for the change. (we have seen things get 65% support and then be declared as dead, lacking consensus)

But there's the rub... who's to say that the 50 (or however many) people selected to be on this thing will be "reasonable", "thoughtful", "bold", etc? If the process used to select them is anything like the Request for Adminship process of late, it's just as likely that they will be popular, non controversial people who have never annoyed anyone or taken a stand on anything... and how do we know if they've never taken a stand what their stand will be on matters going forward? We won't know.

So I don't see this as a good idea, even if we wanted to change away from the wiki way of descriptive policy.

What do you think? Do you think the English Wikipedia has a problem with getting policy to change? If so, do you think the way to solve it is to change to prescriptive policy? And if so, do you think this governance reform is the way to achieve that?

I'd like to know! Tell me! Put your comments in on the talk page as well!

1 comment:

MessedRocker said...

Part of the goal of the RFC bot system is to make people more aware of the discussions occurring across Wikipedia. I feel like this system deserves an extreme expansion.