A closer look: the calls for reform of the ArbCom
Note: Due to the changes announced regarding the election procedure (see previous story), this week the Wikipedia Signpost will examine the many proposed reforms for the ArbCom.
Ever since the beginnings of the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee, there have been calls for reform and many proposed changes not only to the ArbCom, but to the entire dispute resolution process. Along with the criticism of the committee, various proposals and reforms have been suggested since the ArbCom began operation.
One of these proposals involves creating a lower branch in the "judicial system" — in other words, have a body under the ArbCom that would screen cases, with the ArbCom hearing all appeals. Various names for this lower body have been suggested, the most recent being "magistrates". Proponents of this change argue that this would significantly lower the workload and stress for the ArbCom, as the lower body would resolve trivial disputes and rule on some matters that would not be appealed. In addition, supporters argue that the magistrates could be more easily replaced, as they would not occupy a seat as important as that on the ArbCom.
However, critics contend that having a lower-tier would indubitably introduce bias and unregularity into the dispute resolution system. They claim that nothing prevents disputants from appealing every case to the ArbCom; as a result, not only would the ArbCom have an increased workload from having to review the lower court's ruling, but the process would be extended out ever further.
A recent proposal by Michael Snow builds on those ideas. However, Snow proposes that magistrates would be appointed by Jimbo Wales, while the Arbitrators would be elected by the community. Because magistrates could be appointed at any time, the number of people serving in the lower-tier "court" could be expanded according to the needs of the community at the current time. However, Geni commented, "To be honest, this looks like an attempt to force a role for Jimbo into an area where he isn't really needed."
Another proposed reform requires increasing the number of Arbitrators. The theory behind this proposal is that the larger the ArbCom, the less work each individual member has to do. In addition, proponents say that this would effectively lower burnout and also make resignations and departures less likely to significantly affect the current operations of the ArbCom. Critics, though, say that an enlarged pool of Arbitrators will do nothing but increase bureaucracy, red tape, and inefficiency, while all Arbitrators will still have to review the same amount of material.
Enlarging the number of Arbitrators is also included in proposals that would change how cases are assigned. Supporters of these changes say that all the Arbitrators should be ranked in a queue. When an Arbitrator goes on break or becomes inactive, s/he goes to the back of the queue. The most active ArbCom members (i.e., those at the beginning of the queue) would take on the next case. Arbitrators would be able to move themselves to the back of the queue at any time. This would lower the workload of each individual Arbitrator, and also lower burnout, supporters say. The different ArbComs that hear each case, though, open the system up for inconsistency, critics counter.
Yet another proposal also involves an enlarged ArbCom, but with a structure more similar to the two-tiered proposal involving magistrates and arbitrators. This proposal lets the ArbCom be divided into several pools randomly; one pool would initially hear a case. If the disputants wished to appeal, then the case would be heard by the full ArbCom. Though supporters maintain that this change would also reduce workload and lower burnout, the random assignment of a case to one pool also introduces inconsistencies in the system, critics say.
Finally, one radical proposal involves a theoretically limitless number of Arbitrators. Instead of having elections or appointments for a set number of Arbitrators, Quadell proposed having Requests for Adminship-like votes for Arbitrators, and each person succeeding would serve on the ArbCom. Critics, though, argue that this change would make ArbCom too much of a "popularity contest", and that there may be too large a pool of Arbitrators to effectively accomplish anything.
Despite the majority of calls for reform centering on the ArbCom, there have also been proposals for involving the rest of the dispute resolution process. Changes have been suggested to involve the Mediation Committee (MedCom), Association of Member Advocates (AMA), and the Requests for Comment (RfC) avenues more heavily in dispute resolution. In fact, some have suggested simply emphasizing the MedCom as more of a lower-tier body, but without binding powers. In addition, calls have been made to the AMA to provide more effective advocates that would help streamline the process and thus reduce the workload for the ArbCom. In addition, the idea of having separate branches for content-related disputes and conduct-related disputes has also been proposed.
Throughout ArbCom's existence, there have been many calls for reform. As Wikipedia approaches the December 2005 elections, additional proposals to make the system more effective will undoubtably be presented.