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Special report

Will the new RfA reform come to the rescue of administrators?

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By Oltrepier
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Administrators play an important role in helping preserve Wikipedia's ecosystem every day, since their advanced rights allow them to perform several different special actions, such as blocking and unblocking registered or IP users from editing, protect or delete pages (and vice versa), edit fully protected pages, and have the final say in various kinds of discussions.

However, admins have become an increasingly endangered species throughout the years — according to the official stats, the number of active administrators[a] has been in sharp decline ever since 2008, to the point it shrank below 2005 levels in October 2023 and has kept hitting new record lows in recent weeks. Adding insult to injury, last year a study shared on The Signpost by user WereSpielChequers revealed that the admin pool reflected an ever-growing Wikigeneration gap, since the vast majority of active admins at that point had started editing between 2003 and 2006.

The same demographic decline is reflected in the list of successful requests for adminship, which has also been dropping steadily since 2008, recording its worst ever outcome in 2021 (with only seven successful RfAs) and currently standing at just four promotions over the course of this year. RfAs are the community-driven process through which new admins are elected, but many editors agree that this system has glaring flaws that contributed to the admin pool's reduction, for example, by alienating many aspiring candidates. Among them, there's user theleekycauldron, who said in her bio:

As it currently stands, the process is hostile to candidates, hostile to participants, and fairly inefficient in its use of participant time and energy. There are lots of things we can do about that – and there are many, many reforms that I find myself in favor of – but we do actually have to be willing to try new things and work together towards a solution.

As proved by the very existence of a dedicated Signpost series, several attempts to overhaul the RfA process have been made throughout the years, namely in 2013, 2015 and 2021, but usually ended up bringing marginal changes. Back in March, though, theleekycauldron and other users – including the likes of HouseBlaster, Isaacl, SchroCat, and Soni – decided to open and coordinate a new review in the hope of finding fresh ideas to improve RfA as a whole, either on a temporary or an enduring basis. A total amount of 32 proposals, plus add-ons, were submitted during Phase I; ten of these main/side proposals have now advanced to Phase II, where they will be subject to further workshopping or follow-up.

Here’s a recap of all the proposals that proved to be successful:

Together with Proposal 17 (Have named Admins/crats to monitor infractions, initiated by SchroCat) and Proposal 24 (Provide better mentoring for becoming an admin and the RfA process, initiated by SportingFlyer), these proposals are currently being refined as part of Phase II discussions.

Upon being contacted by The Signpost to share her thoughts on the outcome of Phase I, theleekycauldron stated that the support for new proposals was "incredible", writing:

[We have reached] community consensus for admin elections and admin recall – and culturally, I think we're seeing the zeitgeist renew the mandate of admins and 'crats to actually do something about RfA in a meaningful way. The 2015 and 2021 reviews both walked away from their initial proposal phases basically empty-handed – not this time. I think really positive changes are going to come, and they're happening without much of a fight.

She also felt confident about how Phase II discussions might turn out, while adding that:

The community needs to stay vigilant to make sure that we actually deliver on the promises we made ourselves in Phase I. If the moderates willing to try something go away, we're gonna get bogged down in implementation questions and wind up with "consensus in abstract, no consensus in practice". This happened to admin recall once before, and I'm looking to not repeat that mistake. We're in open discussion right now, and that'll inform how we move to the concrete final questions before these proposals roll out.

Finally, she said she feels "cautiously optimistic" about the likelihood of revitalizing the active admin pool, even partially, through a reformed RfA process:

What I am sure of is that we're walking away with an RfA that I hope will be more civil and more encouraging. If we need to start cranking up numbers – say, by lowering the admin elections threshold when we get to that phase II discussion – I'm game.

As for theleekycauldron's comments, while predicting the tangible impact this reform will have on the RfA process and the active admin pool as a whole still feels like a long shot at the moment, the early signs look promising enough.

And we might not even have to whisper it quietly this time...

Footnotes

  1. ^ Only the accounts who have made 30 or more edits in the last two months before Rick Bot's update count towards the criteria
  2. ^ This category includes accounts that have existed for at least 30 days and have made at least 500 edits
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