ArbCom update

A chat with the elected Arbitrators

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This week The Wikipedia Signpost conducted interviews with each of the newly elected Arbitrators. Of the 11 elected, all responded except Filiocht, who is currently on a break, and Jdforrester. The answers provide the thoughts of each of the new and returning members.

This also concludes our special series on the election; all of the newly elected Arbitrators (with the exception of Filiocht) have begun work with over 20 currently accepted requests for arbitration.

1. How do you feel about getting the opportunity to serve on the ArbCom?

Charles Matthews (CM): Gratified with the degree of support I had. Settling into the ArbCom is another matter; any case accepted is a responsibility.
Dmcdevit (D): I'm honored to have been chosen, and excited to help out. And of course, a bit apprehensive after all the warnings and condolences I got, but we shall see...
Fred Bauder (FB): I take the role seriously. We are apparently destined to become a major human institution and our decisions should be made with a awareness that "The whole World is watching."
Jayjg (J): A bit overwhelmed; it's a lot of work, and getting even busier. But honoured as well.
Sam Korn (SK): I am delighted that the community felt sufficient trust in me. It is very gratifying and confirms my belief that I have done good things while I have been here. This is especially so since I believe I am the youngest Arbitrator (past and present). On the other hand, I am a little alarmed at the workload!
SimonP (SP): A mix of delighted and daunted.
Mackensen (MC): I'm honored that the community granted me that opportunity and I hope that I won't let them down. I said right after the election that I was in a state of shock and it still seems a little unreal.
Mindspillage (MS): Well, partly "oh, no, not again"... ;-) Hm. Both honored and overwhelmed that so many people expressed their support and worried about doing it, as it's a bit of a nerve-wracking job.
Morven (MO): It would be fair to say I was thoroughly shocked that I got so much support. I never expected that; hoped for it, of course. I'm still feels a little unreal.

2. What do you think of the election? Do you think they were conducted properly? What could have been improved, in your opinion?

CM: I was downbeat about it when the initial questions were posted. I disliked some of the lines of questioning, particularly the interrogations about personal beliefs, and that probably showed. There was a rush of last-minute candidacies, which did little good and less harm. Once the voting started it seemed quite orderly, and not such a bad system.
D: It wasn't perfect. There are the problems with voting in general, that a blatantly unhelpful or unfounded vote is worth the same as a well-reasoned one, that it encourages trolls to go play at others' expense. But I think it worked overall, and I wasn't that worried about it. There were a number of good candidates running, so most methods would have had a favorable result, even without me :).
FB: I was pleased with it. I was quite liberal in supporting candidates, which I felt free to do as I could vote as many times as I wanted. This included the chance to support users who had a statement I liked or thought might make a good arbitrator despite having no chance at being elected or selected.
J: It seemed conducted reasonably well. I think the purpose of the question page could have been better clarified; too many of the questions were simply thinly disguised attacks (or, in some cases, completely undisguised attacks). As well, the "winning" criteria might have been more explicit; was it simply percentage, or was it total Support votes, or Support-Oppose votes? Different measures gave radically different rankings.
SK: To my surprise (and gratification) they were conducted for the most part very well. I had my concerns about the procedure before it started, but the only significant problems came with trolling on the questions pages. I am grateful to the elections organisers for their effort. As to a possible improvement, it was annoying and disruptive to have over sixty candidates, the vast majority of whom had no chance of election. I hope a future election will exclude these somehow.
SP: I had great concerns about the election, as I don't think RFA works all that well. For the most part, however, it worked quite well and kudos are due its organizers.
MC: I expected the worst and was pleasantly surprised. I think enforcing the rule against diatribes on the voting pages helped matters. In the future, the suffrage rules ought to be decided further in advance.
MS: I was initially quite skeptical of the idea of open elections, and I'm still not thrilled with it (I refrained from voting, as a candidate), but it did turn out better than I thought it would, despite a few unfortunate incidents. Difficult to propose an alternate system; all have their tradeoffs.
MO: The elections went better than I feared. While it would have been nice if we'd all known how they were going to work a bit more ahead of time, there was surprisingly little chaos. While I had my worries about open, RFA-style voting, the advantage of it is that the results are clear for all to see - verifiable.

3. What would you say to those who supported you? Opposed you?

CM: Many thanks for the kind words which were said. Apart from a few grudges, I had some opposition on 'tone'. To those who held the way I express myself against me - look, I don't do bland, I do forthright.
D: Well, thanks to both for taking the time to consider me, and I hope I can live up to your expectations.
FB: I am thankful for the appreciation for my efforts expressed by supporters and will take seriously the criticisms expressed by those who opposed me.
J: I would simply thank those who supported me, and let both supporters and opposers know that I will faithfully carry out my mandate.
SK: To those who supported me, thank you, I'll do my best not to disappoint. To those who opposed, thank you as well. Your opinions were useful, and I also got some good laughs from the rationales (the one saying transparency was more important than justice was priceless).
SP: I obviously owe a great deal of thanks to the large number of Wikipedians who supported me. For those who opposed me, my goal is to prove them wrong by being an excellent arbitrator.
MC: In both cases, that I'm not taking it personally.
MS: To those who supported, thank you for your confidence in me; to all, I'll try not to let you down; please let me know if I screw up.
MO: That in both cases I hope I exceed expectations.

4. What do you think of the other Wikipedians who were appointed along with you?

CM: Filiocht is the one I know best - we worked together on The Cantos, a proof-of-concept project for 'Wikipedia can do the humanities'. It looks like solid, bright, committed Wikipedians all the way down, to me.
D: I had no disappointments, all were fine choices. In my week as an aarbitrator, I've been impressed and pleased by all the work I've seen them doing.
FB: With one exception I supported all of them for the role and I'm not sure that one won't make a fine arbitrator. Right now I am just observing their behavior and comments. Our new crew is rather untried. After a few hard, and perhaps contested cases I'll have a much more informed opinion. I may not candidly share all aspects of that opinion with the community. We need to maintain good relationships between us, not form permanent factions based on disputes on how to handle a particular matter.
J: They all look like good candidates for the Committee.
SK: The ones that I know are all exemplary Wikipedians and wonderful people. I hope to get to know those whom I haven't previously known very well.
SP: They are without exception an excellent group of people.
MC: They're good folks with the best interests of the encyclopedia at heart.
MS: All of them are people I have a good deal of respect for (and I'm not just saying that because you're going to print it publicly, either)!
MO: They are a great bunch of hard-working, committed Wikipedians that I respect very strongly. I doubt we'll all agree all the time, but that's not the point - we all have Wikipedia's best interests at heart and will try and do the best for the project.

5. What do you think of Jimbo's decision to re-appoint three Arbitrators (JamesF., Jayjg, and Fred Bauder)? Do you support this?

CM: Yeah. I've talked to James at meet-ups, Fred is the guy who keeps the ArbCom going forward when it would otherwise stall. Jayjg I know only from the wiki-en mailing list, but it already seems we agree on a few ArbCom technical things.
D: I think it's a very good idea to have a larger Arbitration Committee, and this was a good way of doing it. The experienced arbitrators are helping to move things along, and these are some of the most active.
FB: The appointed members have done good work. His appointment is based on that. I would say we need some continuity and experience.
J: Well, naturally I'm biased, but it seemed reasonable to me. The Arbitration Committee has, as far as I know, always had appointed members on it, and Jimbo stated that the conditions for eligibility this time were simply getting over 50% of the vote. All 3 of us are experienced Arbitrators who have proven ourselves, and we all had significant support no matter how you measure it: for example, if you measure by "Support-Oppose", then Fred came in 4th, I came in 7th, and James came in 9th. If you measure by Support votes alone, then Fred came in 3rd, and I came in 4th.
SK: I think it is very important to have a good number of experience Arbitrators on the Committee. The selection procedure is to be commended for allowing this to happen.
SP: I do think this is a good idea. Incumbent arbitrators have an inherent disadvantage when facing reelection as their job ensures that they regularly penalize other users, and these same users then come back and vote against them. Some avenue has to be created to overcome this handicap, and while direct appointment may not be the best solution it is an adequate one for the present.
MC: Their experience thus far has been invaluable. In that regard, I support Jimbo's decision whole-heartedly. Too much turnover on the committee would create chaos.
MS: Yes, I do; all of them have done good work in the past and I'm glad to see them continue. (Also, having more "old hands" around is really helpful when so much of the committee is new.)
MO: Arbcom needed more bodies, given the dropout rate in the past and the fact that some peoples' lives inevitably get busy. All three have proven themselves good Arbitrators, willing to work hard at the task, and they all got good approval ratings from the community. Speaking selfishly, I'm glad that it means we have eight experienced Arbitrators on the committee so us newbies don't have to come up to speed on ALL the old cases all at once. It also helps keep continuity, which is a good thing in my opinion.

6. After a week on the job, what are your initial thoughts?

CM: Help. (There is a backlog of cases, to which we opt in rather than out.) Like they say, the first task is to get control of your in-tray. There is an impossible amount of reading-into-the-job to do, so I've looked round for things where I can contribute.
D: Hm, the work doesn't seem to go away.
FB: It's interesting to see arbitrating personalities emerging.
J: Most of the new members seem to be enthusiatic and are contributing well; in particular, they have provided new thinking on a number of cases, which is welcome. The backlog seems to be slowly clearing.
SK: Bloody hell, there's a lot of work!
SP: I still don't really know what I'm doing. I've been WP:BOLD and jumped into a few cases already, but I think it will take some time before I am fully grounded in the procedures and conventions of the ArbCom.
MO: That there's a lot of procedure to get used to. I'm handling it by mostly jumping in and seeing what works.

7. What do you think are the strengths of the ArbCom? Weaknesses?

CM: Strengths: most people recognise that it is needed, and that its decisions deserve respect. Plus Jimbo's support for getting to the issues that really affect the project. Weaknesses: still finding its way, burns out people with huge numbers of diffs.
D: The main strength is that it's the final and enforceable step of dispute resolution. It can make up the best and creative remedies, or ban outright, whatever needs to be done can be. The weaknesses include the time it takes to get done, the fact that many of the remedies require active monitoring by admins (which sometimes doesn't happen), and the fact that we're human.
FB: Most of our disputes are over how to do things in the most common sense way. That goal, doing what serves Wikipedia's needs and purposes, is a strength. Meandering off into collateral issues, which I may do myself from time to time, is a temptation which weakens our efforts.
SK: The main strength is that it normally gives the right decision. The main weakness is its tendency to be drawn out with open-and-shut cases taking far longer than necessary.
SP: For the most part I feel the ArbCom has worked fairly well, especially considering the difficult task it is tasked to perform. Speed has always been a weakness, as is the mess that evidence pages usually become.
MO: The biggest historical weakness has been speed of decision-making, especially on cases of serious disruption.

8. # If you could change anything, what would you change? Why?

CM: Hah - a little early to say. When people are told '500 words', don't allow them 850. Get WP:RFAR reformatted somehow. Better navigation of the pages for any one case. These kinds of things are what you notice in the first 48 hours.
D: Hunger, poverty, war... Oh, about arbcom you mean? I'm still getting used to it really, but I promise to let you know in the future.
FB: I would change our procedures to require arbitrators "sign up" for those cases they intend to work on. And calculate votes from that total rather than from the whole committee. Although we do not know who at this point, a certain number of the arbitrators always turn out to be more or less not involved. This results in a lot of begging them to look at cases and vote. Much better if unless they signaled participation they were just not considered involved
J: I would have a process that automatically put arbitrators on the inactive list if they hadn't contributed in a reasonable period of time (say, a month), and would automatically remove them from the Committee if they were inactive for a similar period of time. This would help ensure that all members are active and contributing, and help keep cases moving through the pipeline.
SK: I would prefer to have more time to understand the process before I make any such judgments.
SP: Human nature, so we could dispense with the ArbCom and all write an encyclopedia in harmony.
MS: Hm. I'm happy to see the committee expanded a bit; there were plenty of qualified people running and I'm glad to see we'll get a wider range of opinions. I'd like to see the earlier stages of dispute resolution (particularly RfC) worked on some so we don't see as many cases; it's hard to give proper attention to over 20 at once.
MO: We need to explore better dispute resolution at the pre-arbcom stages. When things get so bad the arbcom get involved, peoples' positions are entrenched and bridges have been burned.

9. What are your thoughts on the clerk's office? Do you support it? Why or why not?

CM: Well, it looks like it could be a really good idea: someone does the paper-shuffling offstage, so that the Arbitrators can tug their metaphorical beards and concentrate on dispensing wisdom. Most people would favour something to get cases through the system quicker, even of the 'heart sinks' type. We'll have to see how the innovation works out. It's not quite in the wiki way, in a sense.
D: There have always been people who decided to help arbcom out with certain cases, I know I did before. This won't be much different except, we have people that we aare sure we can trust, and that now maybe I can boss them around to the neglected cases, instead of hoping someone will show up. Also, since they are sanctioned, they can do the mostly mechanical janitorial work, like opening, closing, archiving, and processing cases/motions when the votes are in.
FB: I have always supported anyone presenting evidence and making proposals on the workshop page. This is only a slight extension. I have opposed any internal proposal that the work of our clerks would not be out in the open for folks to see and comment on. Opening and closing cases is just paperwork.
J: I'm quite concerned about it. If it were simply an administrative role, which opened and closed cases, tidied up various pages, nagged the Arbitrators, etc., then I'd be all for it. However, I am not keen on the "summarize the case" aspect of the role which it seems to have taken on (indeed, almost to the exclusion of all other aspects); it seems very much like an arbitrator role at that point.
SK: I think this is an excellent idea. Evidence pages have a habit of becoming a horrid mess, which makes our job that much harder. For to allay the fears of any who have concerns about those without community approval shaping Committee decisions, I shall never base my opinions solely upon that of a clerk, but shall use such an opinion as a good place to start reading a case.
SP: It seems like a useful idea, and anything to speed up the process is important. However, a great deal of power could be accrued by these clerks. I think having multiple clerks with multiple viewpoints, who can collaboratively process cases, would be a good idea. Similar to how we have multiple users work on each article to ensure its neutrality.
MC: It's a good idea given the amount of paperwork we handle. Any deliberating body has a support staff; it makes sense that we have one.
MS: I think the idea is worth a shot -- the mechanical work of opening and closing cases, and of doing notifications, is tedious stuff. As for the rest, it may be helpful, it may not; it's worth a try to see what the benefits and drawbacks are. The case summaries I'm not sure of; some of the evidence is all but unreadable, but necessary to slog through anyhow; however, I've seen people working independently do things on Workshop pages that made my job in that much easier and if this happens, then great. I'd rather wait until it's actually been working for a while before offering much of an opinion.
MO: I support it. Wikipedia is getting bigger, and the number of arbcom cases will inevitably increase. Help with the mechanical mechanisms of the Arbcom and in helping present evidence will improve the arbcom's efficiency, which I think we all agree needs to be better.

10. Do you plan on finishing your term? If you had to make a choice right now, when your term expires, would you run for re-election? Why or why not?

CM: I want to serve out my three years. WP in 2009 is going to be much closer to maturity. How we get there matters, and an ArbCom seat is, at the least, very informative about the worst that gives. Three years of ruling on edit wars is probably enough for anyone, but let's see what the future holds.
D: I plan on finishing it, yes, because I think that's what I signed up for. As for another term, well, I haven't decided what I'm having for dinner tonight.
FB: I will probably finish. Might run again. I feel I am contributing to a significant project.
J: Yes I plan to finish my term, and I have no idea if I'd run again. It's a lot of work, and it makes you the target of a fair amount of abuse.
SK: Yes, I do intend to finish my term. I don't know exactly what my plans are for 2007 yet (I may be extensively unable to contribute to WP), so I have no idea whether or not I'd stand again.
SP: I very much plan on finishing my term. I've been with Wikipedia for four years and expect to be fully involved for many more. Then again, I'm sure that the last group of arbitrators all expected to finish their terms and a surprising number did not.
MC: Barring unforseen developments, yes. I'll run for re-election if I think I still have something to offer.
MS: I do plan on finishing. But three years is an eternity in Wikipedia time (I haven't even been editing that long), and I've seen plenty of others burn out from this. I have no intentions of running for re-election; one term will be more than enough! (Oh, great, of course, now that I've said this, watch me pull a Marty Meehan. I swear I won't have anyone go back and edit this for me.)
MO: Right now, I plan to finish my term. RIGHT NOW I would say I would run for re-election, but that's a long, long way off.

11. If there's one thing you could say to the Wikipedia community, what would you say, and why? Is there anything else you would like to mention?

CM: Keep up the copy edits: we'll soon have 1000000 articles, and they need TLC. A big shout to all the closet intellectuals out there. You are not alone.
D: Hi! Thanks for the encyclopedia and everything.
FB: Please consider negotiation and mediation. Gotcha is a dirty game. Don't play it.
J: Let's work together to build a great encyclopedia! Why? Because that is our ultimate purpose here.
SK: Get back to work!
MC: Please take care in writing your requests for arbitration. Explain yourself concisely and provide relevant diffs. The easier it is for us to determine what's going on and why the faster we can arbitrate your case.
MS: Other than "please don't do anything that makes me have to read a case against you"?
No, really. Do the right thing, and use your best judgment. Policies exist to help us do that, not to use as a bludgeon, a straitjacket, or a game. Be nice to people (nicer than you may want to be, even). Assume good faith (which doesn't mean letting bad behavior go unchecked). Use the talk pages. Don't be a dick. Remember that it's possible you're wrong, especially if lots of reasonable people are telling you to consider your actions. If you start feeling like editing is a battle, go do something else; the wiki really won't fall apart.
In other words, please don't do anything that makes me have to read a case against you. (Why? Purely selfish, of course: so I can get back to writing articles and quit reading cases. I suppose there's that whole community project bit too. ;-))
MO: Remember the goals of the project, and remember that most people are trying to do the right thing in good faith.

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