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On the brink of change – RfA reforms appear imminent

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By Mhawk10

Major changes to Requests for adminship (RfA) appear imminent after community members discussed proposals to modify the current process. Editors have been working on the 2021 Requests for adminship review process since August 29. During previous phases editors identified issues with the existing process and brainstormed solutions. The fruits of their labor are almost ready to harvest as the feedback period on formal proposals to modify RfA processes closes on November 30. Among the potential changes: changes to a default RfA question, changes to the admin toolkit, additional boards for scrutinizing the use of administrator tools, and formal administrator elections using SecurePoll.

Big changes proposed

Several large changes to adminship have been proposed and subjected to significant community discussion. These changes affect both the process by which editors can become an administrator and the tools entrusted to administrators by default.

Potential direct changes to administrator-making process

Significant discussion took part on the potential for administrators to be selected by an election process as an alternate route to adminship. The full proposal, written largely by Worm That Turned, describes the process as follows:

Candidates would sign up by a certain date, then would have a shorter period of 3 days for discussion and questions. There should be discussion only in this period, no bolded !votes. At the end of the period, candidates can progress to the next period, secret ballot (through SecurePoll) for a full week. Voter suffrage would initially match Arbcom elections. Candidates who achieve 70% Support would pass and become administrators.

— Admin Elections Proposal

The proposal foresees elections will take place every six months.

Many editors supported the proposal, arguing that it would reduce the amount of scrutiny that editors would expect to individually see and would thereby encourage additional competent editors to pursue adminship. Dreamy Jazz argued that "[b]y bundling everyone together it reduces the amount of spotlight that an editor will feel going through an RfA. ...Also by providing a system where editors can only simply vote for or against anonymously this means that there is likely to be less permanent to see negative scrutiny for a candidate who ends up failing."

Other editors opposed the proposal, arguing that this would fail to achieve the desired goals of allowing competent prospective administrators to succeed in their attempts to become an administrator. Cryptic, whose comments were frequently referenced throughout the discussion, wrote:

There was a large drop in average support when arbcom elections moved from open to closed voting. (I want to say it was something around 15 or 20 points, but I'm too lazy to go look.) I'll grant that there's people who refuse to run an RFA because of the atmosphere who'd likely pass in the 90% range. I can think of two offhand. But I'd lay odds that there are far more that would pass a traditional RFA, get universal support in the public discussion period where people are accountable for what they say, and not even break 50% in the safely-anonymous voting. Being able to name and shame people who oppose for poor reasons is a feature, not a bug.

— Cryptic, 20:49, 31 October 2021 (UTC)

Some editors in support of the proposal indicated that they partly agreed with Cryptic's comments. "To an extent I agree with Cryptic below," S Marshall wrote, "but I think our current system is collapsing so badly that we need to do something that really changes it, and this is, in my view, the only sufficiently radical proposal on the table."

Just over sixty percent of around ninety participants indicated support for the proposal as of 23:59 GMT on November 25, leaving it unclear what the final outcome of this proposal will be.

Not all proposals have been nearly as contentious, however. A suggestion to change standard question 1 to "Why are you interested in becoming an administrator?" has gained sweeping support, with over fifty-five editors in support of the change and no editors indicating opposition as of the 23:59 GMT on November 25. This would replace the existing standard question 1, which currently reads "What administrative work do you intend to take part in?".

Proposed page for reviewing inappropriate administrator actions draws support

A proposal made by Joe Roe seeks to create a new noticeboard in order to review administrative actions. The proposed noticeboard, titled "Administrative action review" by Joe Roe, would have the scope to review "action, or set of related actions, requiring an advanced permission and not already covered by an existing process". Discussions on the noticeboard would be able to either endorse an administrative action or fail to endorse it; in the latter case, the proposal states that actions taken could be reversed by any editor or administrator. While participation in discussions would be open to all users, only administrators would be allowed to close discussions on the page, according to the written proposal.

Joe Roe, quoting current arbitration committee candidate Worm That Turned, states that the intent of the noticeboard is "to create a middle ground between AN/I and arbitration, 'where any admin decision can be reviewed, keeping it low drama and away from ANI, but equally reducing the high stakes atmosphere'". Other editors, such as MER-C, wrote that this would be helpful in reviewing actions by non-admin new page patrollers, stating that "this may be a way to catch infiltrating spammers."

Not all editors, however, have supported the proposal. Guerillero, another arbitration committee candidate, compared the proposal to the defunct Wikiquette assistance and Requests for comment/User conduct processes, which Guerillero says "died for a good reason". Dennis Brown argued that this proposal would exacerbate existing problems, writing that the noticeboard would be a "[d]rama fest full of everyone who feels they've been wrong[ed]... this is what Arb is for, and filing an Arb case is trivial if there is any misuse."

Autopatrolled no more?

The status of administrators as being autopatrolled by default is up in the air after Taking Out The Trash proposed removing the status from the default administrative toolkit. The editor explained that doing so would reduce the necessity for administrators to demonstrate exceptional competence in the area of content creation, thereby allowing users with sufficient back-end experience to be more likely to survive RfA. "If admins did not become autopatrolled by default," the editor wrote, "it would open the door to having admin candidates that are exclusively or almost exclusively technical or countervandalism or some other non-content focus." Administrators would still be able to assign themselves the autopatrolled right under the proposal.

Editors in support argued that the autopatrolled right is different from many other rights in the administrator toolkit. Editors can become sufficiently experienced to be an administrator, supporters say, without being fit to be granted the autopatrolled criteria. Jackattack1597 wrote that "many admins would not otherwise meet the autopatrolled criteria, and there have been issues with admins having autopatrolled in the past".

Editors in opposition to this change disagreed that this solution was proper. Some, such as Hut 8.5, argued that editors who could not be trusted with the autopatrolled tools were not competent enough to become administrators. "The autopatrolled right means that your creations don't need to be reviewed by NP patrollers, who are largely interested in filtering out articles which obviously need to be deleted and applying obvious maintenance tags (unreferenced, uncategorised etc). A candidate who genuinely can't manage that shouldn't be an admin," the editor wrote.

Not all proposed changes embraced with open arms

Not all proposals were welcomed by editors with open arms. Several, such as a proposal for a unique role that would allow vetted editors to apply semi-protection to pages, were closed as failed under the snowball clause. Other proposals that drew substantial community opposition have been allowed to continue discussion.

Opt-in binding recall proposal for RfA candidates draws low support

The perennial proposal for administrators to be subject to a binding recall drew low levels of community support, with around 60% of those who submitted a !vote as of the time of writing indicating opposition to the proposal. The details of the proposal are as follows:

  • Bureaucrats will decide on a way for them to be contacted privately e.g. by a centralised email.
  • A candidate who wants to be open to recall may contact them in advance of their RfA, laying out their recall criteria.
  • The bureaucrats decide among themselves whether the criteria are objective and enforceable.
  • If they privately approve the criteria, the candidate can start an RfA with these criteria as public, unchangeable and binding if the RfA passes.
  • When recall criteria are met, any user can notify the bureaucrats at Wikipedia:Bureaucrats' noticeboard with evidence that the criteria are met; any bureaucrat can verify this and remove admin rights.
  • If a user has adminship removed by recall, they may only regain adminship through the standard process for non-admins.

Those in opposition to the proposal noted that bureaucrats have already publicly stated that they will not take on the role of enforcing the results of recall discussions and that the process could become a bludgeoning tool against potential RfA candidates. "Pressure to commit to recall criteria would be very unhealthy for RFA," GeneralizationsAreBad wrote. Rschen7754 expressed similar concerns, writing that "[t]his could result in de facto bullying: 'Oppose unless you agree to XYZ'."

Those in support of the proposal argue that it would bring about significant change. Bilorv, the proposer, wrote that "the right path forward is a mandate for binding recall criteria, which would be groundbreaking. The fundamental issue we have that needs a formal RfC is that no recall criteria are enforced by crats, so candidates who want to set them can only pledge to follow them, and voters who want to support them are forced to either trust the candidate to act sensibly in a situation where they are unfit for adminship, or oppose because the criteria are not enforceable."

Opt-out RfA conscription proposal draws scrutiny

A proposal to draft experienced editors who do not opt-out into running for RfA drew significant pushback. Supporters argued that the proposal, which would have opened a subset of editors with over ten thousand edits and no blocks over the past five years to the potential of being randomly selected to go through an RfA, would result in more candidates going through an RfA.

Some supporters argued that this was necessary to combat wiki-cultural barriers to gaining good admins. "I see a culture that states that potential admins should not want to be admins," wrote Ifnord, "if volitional adminship is deemed so negative, what alternative is there than conscription?"

Opponents, however, thought that conscription was not the proper way to address issues with RfA. "Users have the right not to be admins, as absurd as this comment would be in any other context," Trainsandotherthings wrote, while Espresso Addict stated that "[i]t's important that admins are true volunteers, not draftees who didn't manage to say no firmly enough."

Discussion on proposals ending soon

Community discussion regarding proposals to reform RfA began on October 31 and lasts until November 30, according to the 2021 RfA review hub page. Following the end of this discussion period, proposals will be evaluated for consensus, with proposals that achieve consensus slated for implementation. "[H]opefully," the 2021 RfA review hub page says, implementation will "be fast and not require any further phases."

For those who have not yet commented on the proposals, time is quickly running out to have their voices heard. The period to formally discuss the proposals ends on November 30, with the outcome of many proposals looking unclear at the moment. In the meantime, participants in these discussions lie in wait to see what proposed changes will take effect and lie in hope that whatever changes are made will be enough to help fix what many participants have described as a broken RfA process.

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Missing "y" in "stated that the will not take on the role of enforcing the results"? Apokrif (talk) 20:40, 29 November 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Readers are welcome to fix typos ☆ Bri (talk) 21:16, 29 November 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Given that this proposal does nothing to correct the essential problem of adminship, unearned tenure, this will almost certainly make things worse rather than better. Qwirkle (talk) 23:38, 5 December 2021 (UTC)[reply]


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