Reaching a consensus

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Our wiki community determines virtually everything by consensus. No decisions are made by "majority rules" voting. Please remember that the end result of most articles will be the consensus view of all contributors to a specific page.

Why consensus occurs

Whenever you edit an article page, you impose your thoughts and views into it, but the next person who comes in after you also imposes theirs. Only that content in which all involved contributors can agree on ends up being left incorporated into the article. As a result, most pages will end up being fair, that is a view everyone can accept. In short, a consensus.

Consensus is not just a policy, it's a standard way of operating any wiki project. That's because anyone can edit pages, change what's already there, or write something completely new and different. Then someone else can come along and change it again, omit content, shuffle information around, or even change it all back to what it was to begin with, perhaps deleting the page entirely.

Our project doesn't use voting because, unlike consensus, it doesn't require contributors to present their arguments and carefully respond back to each others arguments. In short, it depresses the kind of careful analysis and discussion that ensures changes are made thoughtfully. Moreover, voting is complicated by the realities of the semi-anonymous online world; it is often not possible to ensure the one person, one vote model of majoritarian democracy.

How to build consensus

Consensus is most often built on an article's discussion page where significant changes can be proposed. First, scan the discussion page (and its archives) to make sure that your issue hasn't already been discussed (if it has, make sure that you understand the previous discussions so you can respond to them). Next, leave a message, either by starting a new thread or replying to an existing one to explain your proposed change (and your arguments for that change).

Consensus building can sometimes happen very quickly, as other contributors pour in their support for your new proposal. More often, though, consensus building is hard work. Often more difficult than resolving disagreements, which is simply a matter of finding someone else who's interested in the issue at all.

If no one responds to your message, the primary method for soliciting comments is by leaving a message on the user page(s) of people who have contributed to a particular article asking them their thoughts and to comment on your proposal.

Another way to solicit opinions is to simply dig in and having left your arguments on a discussion page, go ahead and implement your proposal. If anyone cares enough to undo your change, they will need to at least explain why. Don't exercise this option, however, if your proposed change seeks to overturn an existing consensus. If the change is truly controversial, make sure you have some support before going forward with it.

Be prepared to wait it out. Add the discussion thread to your watchlist and be prepared for the fact that no one will be interested in your proposed change for a long time. While a wiki project is constantly being edited and expanded upon, individual articles may at times languish in obscurity before growing in leaps and bounds over the space of a few days. While no one may be interested in your proposal at the present time, someone may come along who agrees and is enthusiastic about working on the proposal with you.

Contributing to a consensus building discussion

Anyone can contribute to consensus building discussions, but be sure to only address existing arguments. Having a strong opinion is fine, but simply voicing them is unhealthy for collaborating on any wiki project. When objecting to a proposed change, it is necessary to address any specific arguments given in favor of the change, and to explain why you think they're not sufficient to sway your opinion. This process of responding analytically to arguments you disagree with will help you understand the other side of the issue (and help those who disagree understand your side), and therefore will help all involved contributors work together in reaching a final resolution.

Please keep an open mind as new arguments are introduced. There's no shame, only wisdom, in being convinced by other discussion participants and changing your opinion. As consensus doesn't require unanimity, it's considered classy to state that you'll respect the consensus being built and stand aside if you find yourself alone in your position, even if you feel your position is correct. This helps build goodwill within our user community, and also builds respect for you and your associated user account.

Status Quo Bias

Overturning an existing consensus is very difficult to do. If hard work was put into establishing a consensus in the past, people will be reluctant to accommodate proposals that would undo that hard work. An established consensus will rarely be changed unless (a) new facts or compelling new arguments are introduced into the discussion, and (b) there are compelling advantages to do so. If the benefit of your proposal is marginal, but would undo a consensus that took a lot of work to accomplish, it's quite unlikely that others will support your proposal.

In cases where consensus becomes impossible; those involved have carefully responded to each others arguments, but remain in disagreement; we can stick to the status quo practice (if there's no status quo practice, a compromise solution may become necessary). This lends our wiki project a strong status quo bias. While sometimes frustrating when you really want to make a change, this bias is deliberate because it discourages other users from endlessly debating intractable issues, and encourages productive work of adding new information rather than bickering over new content.

Disagreements

Always remember that whatever you write can and will be changed by the next person who contributes. The more controversial or disagreeable your writing style is, the more likely it will be changed. You can't stop this from happening! If the views and opinions of various contributors to a page clash too much, things could easily escalate into an edit war. Radical or controversial changes should always be discussed first.

If you do decide to dig in and start making significant changes to an article, please remember to notate a reason for doing so. Use the "summary" box below the edit form, and, if you feel you're making changes someone else might oppose, also add an explanation on the article's associated discussion page.

Unless it's clearly vandalism, simply reverting someone else's changes will usually be unhelpful. If you disagree with the changes that have been made, try to find a happy medium between your position and other contributor's position; something both (or all) of you can agree on.