A broad discussion of Wikipedia's dispute resolution system began last week, after a renewed suggestion to consider a method for arbitrating article content issues. The performance of the mediation process, and ideas for reactivating it, also came under scrutiny.
The initiative for this dialogue came from members of the Arbitration Committee. After some discussion on their private mailing list, arbitrator Raul654 drafted an analysis of the situation and requested comment from the community. He proposed the creation of a "Content Committee" that could issue rulings in disputes over article content, questions that the Arbitration Committee has so far generally avoided deciding.
Part of the rationale for this idea was that already some arbitration cases ultimately boil down to content disputes, as the worst troublemakers are now being dealt with more efficiently. The proposal would theoretically be a delegation of the Arbitration Committee's power, as the arbitration policy says the arbitrators may hear any dispute "at their discretion." However, the policy also includes a guideline that they "will primarily investigate interpersonal disputes", and arbitrator The Epopt indicated that he would not agree to consider content-based disputes.
As formulated, the proposal would make the Content Committee subordinate to the Arbitration Committee, which would serve as a court of appeal. In situations where two people or groups were debating over two versions of an article and unable to reach a compromise, the Content Committee would have the authority to issue binding decisions in the matter. Meanwhile, cases involving user conduct would still go directly to arbitration.
The resulting debate included reactions to this proposal, a number of suggested alternatives, and general commentary about the dispute resolution process. Several people offered variations on the original idea, such as having the Content Committee limited to reviewing the adequacy of sources for disputed assertions, or focused on policies such as no original research and verifiability.
Not everyone was certain that these limited proposals would do enough to solve the problem. Meelar said, "If you ask me, consensus on talk pages is capable of handling most matters of factual accuracy; it's other types of disputes that present the largest challenge to the current system of dispute resolution." Meanwhile, Tony Sidaway questioned whether there was even a problem amenable to this type of solution, arguing that "Wikipedia cannot write stable articles on subjects about which there is significant disagreement that cannot be expressed in a manner neutral enough to satisfy all major parties."
Mgm suggested reviving the Mediation Committee as an alternative, as the mediation process has struggled to be effective. The committee has not been visibly active in processing requests for mediation for over a month, and recently lost its chair as Jwrosenzweig is taking a hiatus from Wikipedia. In an effort to address the situation, Mgm has nominated himself as a new mediator and indicated that he would be willing to take over as chair.
In response to this proposal, Raul654 argued that the mediation system was a failure, and that this was due to fundamental flaws in the process rather than the mediators being overworked. However, others expressed sympathy for the ideals of mediation, although they remained unsure of the best way to correct its weaknesses. Additional ideas were floated including a major expansion of the Mediation Committee and making mediation mandatory.
For the time being, the general debate is limited to proposals and discussion. No voting is taking place, although Mgm and several earlier candidates have open nominations being considered on the Mediation Committee page.