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Per my previous question, it seems like the beta phase of sites is continuing much longer than previously. Currently, pro-temp moderators are nominated when a site is only a few weeks old, when the site is still very new and unshaped. They continue until they are unable to moderate, or the site graduates to a full site. The problem that I'm seeing is that there are now sites that have been in beta for over a year, which is a time period sufficient that many changes can be made in a persons life, that the community has started to take ownership already, and as a whole, seems to be ready to start taking at least some ownership.

So, the question is, should we allow elections for beta sites that have crossed over some considerable amount of time, perhaps 6 months or something around that mark?

6

The problem that I'm seeing is that there are now sites that have been in beta for over a year, which is a time period sufficient that many changes can be made in a persons life, that the community has started to take ownership already, and as a whole, seems to be ready to start taking at least some ownership.

Why not just appoint new moderators if something has changed so that the original person is unable or unwilling to continue serving?

Jeff has said before that we don't want to hold moderator elections unless we can be reasonably certain that they'll be successful—meaning plenty of nominees, plenty of voters, etc. If all of those things are in place, then the site is probably ready to graduate out of beta, and then moderator elections can/will be held as scheduled.

You note that the community seems to be ready to take some ownership, but don't forget that community members with the necessary privileges can already share in the work of improving their site. Many features are available to them, such as the /review tab, the ability to edit questions and answers, moderator flags, and the Meta site. You don't have to be a moderator to make a difference!

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    I don't follow. How is appointing new moderators by fiat any better than asking for nominations, even if they are relatively few? – ire_and_curses Aug 17 '11 at 15:40
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    @ire_and_curses: See the middle paragraph. We don't want to hold elections until we're reasonably sure that they'll be successful. Appointing moderators doesn't require community votes so a poor (or no) turnout is not a problem. – Cody Gray Aug 17 '11 at 15:41
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    @CodyGray How is no turnout for a self nominating position not a problem? If no one wants the job, you have a problem election or appointing. – James Jenkins Jun 9 '17 at 17:12
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I noticed two new thoughtful answers to this question and, by coincidence, the community team discussed this very issue yesterday. I'm not writing on behalf of the team, but rather summarizing my thoughts after our discussion.

Initially the idea was that a beta site would graduate (or be folded) after 90 days or so. In that scenario, appointing moderators pro tempore was not a particularly consequential task. If a CM happened to make a bad choice, the mistake could be corrected a few months later by an election. These days, that first moderator appointment can be of great consequence as "temporary" moderators might serve for years. Appointed moderators are almost always winners in the first election after graduation because there's a powerful incumbent effect.

Meanwhile, finding qualified and willing moderators for sites that have long been in beta turns out to be an ongoing task for the community team. I think we do a pretty good job, but it's a heavy responsibility. I'd much prefer each site's community pick their leadership than me. That said, it's very uncomfortable to think about running elections on sites with few eligible voters. Even assuming we require moderators to be reelected upon graduation, a moderator might serve for years. The more nominees and voters we have, the more likely an election will result a well-qualified moderator team.

Yearly, as-needed moderator elections

One idea that some of us on the community team considered is holding regularly scheduled elections. After the first election, incumbent moderators would have the option to continue in the position without facing reelection. But if one or more moderators decide to step down, we'd run an election to replace them. Meanwhile, if the moderator team needs extra help, we could run an election to add a member to the team. (Also, both situations could be handled at the same time.) If there is neither a need for an additional nor a replacement moderator, the election wouldn't be run.

It might not be immediately clear how this will help with the "too few people having too great an influence" problem. It turns out the most common reason we replace moderators is that they stop moderating. There are all sorts of reasons people become inactive: new job, new family responsibility, sickness, lost interest in the site/topic, and just life in general. When that happens today, we need to reach out to figure out whether a new moderator is needed. If we ran yearly elections, moderators who are no longer interested or able to do the job will just not reup and thereby trigger a replacement election.

Elections are not (yet) automated

Unfortunately, running an election is somewhat time consuming. On the front end:

  1. A CM contacts the moderator team to find out who might be stepping down and how many slots the election could be. (This would be automated by surveying the moderator team a month or so before the scheduled election.)

  2. Grace Note prepares a meta post asking for questions to be asked of nominees a week or so before the start of the election.

  3. Grace Note published the nominee questionnaire at the start of the election with the most upvoted questions.

  4. When people nominate themselves, the community team watches for joke nominations and nominees who are ineligible. We also watch for heated comments on nomination statements.

  5. When the nomination phase ends, we make sure there's at least one more nominee than available slots. (If there are too few nominees, we extend the nomination period.)

After the election ends:

  1. I use OpaVote to determine the winner(s).

  2. I post an announcement on meta with the results and thank any moderators who are stepping down.

  3. I do the actual steps to install and remove moderators.

Just about all of this could be automated. But it isn't exactly the most pressing issue for me since my steps take maybe half an hour a week. I'm not sure how much longer Grace Note's steps take or if I'm missing any steps. In any case, we couldn't keep up if all 166 sites were to have elections. So I'm going to take some time today and next week to write up a specification for automating elections. Without that piece, we can't really consider running elections on beta sites.

  • I hope you'll also give some thought to gathering community feedback as I described in this post. In particular, that could help moderators self-evaluate, which might prompt some to step down since they know you can easily replace them. – Monica Cellio Apr 9 '17 at 2:46
  • I wonder whether the questionnaire is helpful or (slightly) detrimental for a beta-site election. On the one hand, more information is good. On the other, they're work to administer and might be daunting to the people you'd want to step up. Maybe the nomination post, chat room, and encouragement to the community to ask any questions they like on meta are enough? – Monica Cellio Apr 9 '17 at 2:49
  • There's another technical limitation in place as well - there are a number of assumptions about elections only occurring on graduated sites... mostly around badges that are awarded for moderator tenure (but possibly in other places?). That'll need to be rethought if we were to go ahead with elections on beta sites. – Adam Lear Apr 13 '17 at 17:25
  • @AdamLear Constable badge on Pets says "Served as a pro-tem moderator for at least 1 year or through site graduation" I would not expect elections sooner then one year on non-graduated sites. If you get the diamond at public beta, you should have the Constable badge at Beta elections. – James Jenkins Apr 13 '17 at 17:47
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    @JamesJenkins It's not just that. The other badge (uh.. Sheriff?) makes assumptions about the site state in its SQL query, if I recall correctly. (It's also possible to be appointed a pro tem at any point in that year, but that's no different from how things work now, since a site could graduate at any time, really.) This isn't unsolvable, but more a reminder for Jon to run things by the devs before the community team makes the decision to start running elections on beta sites. :) – Adam Lear Apr 13 '17 at 17:49
  • @AdamLear: I've been thinking way to do this is in stages: make sure election automation works, start doing yearly elections on graduated sites, run elections on long-running betas, etc. The badge problem is one I had thought of, but I bet there are other problems lurking. I'm also not sure if we should make the Constable badge a "moderator during beta" or "appointed moderator" thing. I can see the argument both ways. – Jon Ericson Apr 13 '17 at 18:29
  • Would that mean that moderators were no longer for life, if there were annual elections on graduated sites? (Not that I want to speculate or anything, but that seems a natural concequence) – Journeyman Geek Apr 13 '17 at 23:40
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    @JourneymanGeek: Not necessarily. If a moderator continues to opt in, they can continue to serve. The main difference is that folks will need to do something to continue serving instead of serving until either we check with an absentee moderator or they resign. – Jon Ericson Apr 14 '17 at 0:45
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A large part of why a site has not graduated is they need a higher level of participation. Coincidentally, the criteria for holding an election is also achieving a high level of participation. So the two events (graduation and election) track together rather tightly.

Having said that, we keep in constant communication with moderators. If a moderator feels they need a break, we can (and have) appointed additional moderators to help with the workload.

Part of the beta cycle is to allow time for the community to take complete control of the site; To become self governing. Elections can and do go badly when the site is not ready. While that self-governance is still taking shape, it simply is not advisable to hold a half-baked election cycle.

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This is a five year old question, with 5 year old answers. At the time those answers made good sense. I wonder if they still do.

With the changes and clarifications in the difference between success and graduation beta sites are living longer then they did 5 years ago. They are successful with well defined scope but just have not graduated.

Voting is an important part of community engagement. By denying moderator elections to sites that are successful with well defined scopes and strong communities, we are disenfranchising the community.

There are beta sites all along the continuum some are definitely not ready for community moderator elections, but others very well may be.

I propose that around the 3 year in beta anniversary, the community asks itself if it is ready for moderator elections. If not, the community voted for the status quo. If they do want elections, they hold them. In either case we are giving each community the opportunity to make the decision.

15

I, too, have noticed this issue on some sites. Moderators are chosen early in beta and, two or three years down the line, the team is unchanged, most of the community wasn't even around then, and some of the people whose straw-poll votes were factored into SE's decisions are long gone. Sometimes everybody's happy and the team should just keep doing what they're doing. Other times, community members feel disappointed that this was all decided in week 3 and others will never get a chance because ObscureTopic.SE just isn't going to graduate this decade. Even though the moderators are doing good jobs (well, as a moderator on a long-running beta, I like to think so :-) ), to community members it can be disappointing even when there's nothing actually wrong. (I've written elsewhere about cases where the moderation team might need some changes.)

I've been thinking that, starting around the 2-year mark, we should give a beta community the opportunity to rotate one moderator per year if there have been no other mod changes in that year. (If somebody stepped down and was replaced, or the team was expanded, there's already been a change.) If the community wants a change (determination of this TBD), the moderator team and SE would decide whether to expand the team or replace somebody. If they decide to replace, the moderator team would decide among themselves who should step down.1 SE would choose another moderator, ideally by making a nomination post like they do for the initial group. The whole point is community participation, after all, but the decision remains SE's as with any other beta-mod appointment.

Limiting this to one change per year ensures continuity while bringing in new perspective and energy (and community engagement leading up to that appointment).

This would be an option, not a requirement; if the community is happy (measurement of happiness TBD), then don't change anything. If the community wants a change, do this. Ask again a year later. Either way, I hope moderators who are stepping down won't feel bad about it; they knew that beta moderation isn't forever, they can come back later, and they'll be senior, experienced users who can help the site to continue to grow.

1 On the teams I've been part of, this conversation would not be drama-prone; beta mods know going in that appointments aren't forever and are meant to be for a couple years, and they could choose to "draw straws" if they don't want to have a deeper discussion. SE can modify this process on a case-by-case basis if a particular site seems prone to explode over this somehow.

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    the moderator team would decide among themselves who should step down sounds like a good way of setting bad blood and generating drama, especially in cases where there isn't an obvious choice of who should step down (e.g. due to inactivity). – Martin Tournoij Apr 8 '17 at 22:06
  • @Carpetsmoker I've moderated three beta sites, and on all three the team has good working relationships. From what I see in the moderators' shared chat room, I think that's the norm rather than the exception. (Pro-tem moderators, being appointed rather than elected, can be removed by SE if there's a problem.) I think if a CM had come to any of my beta sites and said "we need to make room for some new blood", we would have had a productive conversation and somebody would have stepped out. – Monica Cellio Apr 9 '17 at 2:42
  • On the other hand, I've seen long-term beta mods harm sites but not badly enough for SE to remove them; having a way to force a conversation every now and then would be good. (That's really the point of the post I linked to. I'd still like to see, and receive, community feedback on beta moderators.) – Monica Cellio Apr 9 '17 at 2:43
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    Oh, I agree that some beta sites could use a "shake-up" in the mod team, for exactly the reason you describe. But what if none of the mods want to leave, or what if there's one "under-performing" mod who doesn't agree with that? I suspect that at least in some of the cases this will result in a lot of drama and, in the end, feelings of resentment. I also think that even "under-performing" mods deserve recognition for volunteering for a job that's not always fun; ... – Martin Tournoij Apr 10 '17 at 12:46
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    ... and just "ousting" them in some sort of reality game show style sounds like what we call "stench for thanks" in Dutch. I'm pretty sure we can come up with a better system to solve this problem. – Martin Tournoij Apr 10 '17 at 12:46
  • @Carpetsmoker I'm certainly not looking to create drama. When you sign up to be a beta mod you know it's temporary; on one of my sites it was barely more than a year. Probably nobody expects to be signing up for a 4-5 year job at the start, but some communities are slow to grow and that's ok. This isn't meant to be adversarial; the first step (and one that I know happens even without what we're talking about here) is conversation with a CM and the mods to check in and see how people are feeling. If everyone adamantly wants to stay, it'd be up to SE to figure out what to do next. – Monica Cellio Apr 10 '17 at 16:34
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    I understand you're not looking to create drama, but I suspect that your proposal will create it nonetheless :-) There's a huge difference between "you're a temporary mod and then we'll run elections for all mod positions", and "you're a temporary mod and you can be ousted at any point in time because we want to shake things up". No matter how you wrap it, some people are gonna take that personal (they shouldn't, but they will). – Martin Tournoij Apr 10 '17 at 17:05
5

should we allow elections for beta sites that have crossed over some considerable amount of time, perhaps 6 months or something around that mark?

Elections are tied to beta specifically because there is no point in holding moderator elections for a site that is still in its formative stage.

While it would be nice if every site was well defined after a set period of time, we have to recognize that each site is unique, and the community that forms around it will decide, ultimately, what it will be.

The beta time is set aside for those changes to occur, in addition to the normal questions of viability.

Pro-tem moderators know their terms are limited. They don't know how long they'll serve, but they understand that they are only in place until the site becomes stable enough to be released from beta.

Elected moderators, however, currently have unlimited terms.

Electing a moderator prior to release from beta leaves us with a problem in that the moderator may have a different idea for what the site should be than what the community has chosen after their election. Pro-tem moderators wield a significant amount of power in forming that community, which is why they are carefully chosen by Stack Exchange. Once the community is put in power of selecting its own moderators, though, it is expected that they will choose the moderators that will continue to enforce the community's mandate as to what the site is.

During beta, the community is not complete.

Therefore, moderator elections are not held until after beta release.

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