Once upon a time, all sites had a single FAQ page. There was even a badge available for reading it. Other than the first section, which defined the scope, the content applied to all sites. It defined our shared values as a network on a single page. (I miss those days.)
There were also a handful of other helpful pages such as the Markdown help, lists of privileges and badges, and so on. Three years ago (about the same time I was hired), we began transitioning from this hodgepodge of URLs to a single, integrated help center. I didn't get it at the time, but I've found it is handy to have everything organized in one place rather than scattered around haphazardly.
In addition, it also allowed us to customize bits of the help center for specific needs of different sites. For instance, we can add a page for mathematical notation on sites that have MathJax enabled. Since moderators already had edit privileges on the top section of the FAQ, the on-topic page, which replaced that section, could also be moderator editable. Under the hood, there's even a templating system for picking up site-specific variables, such as the reputation needed for editing, so we can push out a single page that works for all sites. Employees can override help pages on specific sites if needed and we can add new pages as we roll out new features.
The help center was designed to complement Meta. Instead of a place where everyone can register their opinion, the help center provides a fixed anchor. It describes how the system works without (often) prescribing specific behavior. As a fixed point, it shouldn't be changed often. And when changes do happen, they should be definitive. For instance, the be nice page was the result of extensive community feedback. Allowing moderators, even well-meaning moderators, to change that policy would be a step backward for the community.
Now if there are specific changes you'd like to make, we can certainly discuss those publicly on meta. Many of the help articles were written with Stack Overflow in mind and it's likely they don't work perfectly for other sites. This is a fixable problem. But we can't shortcut the process of community discussion to solve it.
From the comments:
On Programmers Meta, look at [faq] and [faq-proposed]. You can do that on all of the Meta sites. Those should be off Meta in the Help Center, especially if they are faq. Maybe some should be incorporated into other pages (dealing with non-English content, the syntax highlighter) and others should be new pages (related sites, where to go for more subjective discussions, community-specific policies about research for questions and citations/back-it-up in answers). I'm seeing these types of questions repeated on the Metas of sites I frequent, so it would be nice to get them off Meta.
This reminded me of why I answered this meta question in the first place. In the moderator-only Teacher's Lounge, the problem of repeated meta questions was raised and I noted that Make network-wide FAQ posts available on per-site metas is something I've been thinking about. This question was suggested as an alternative. Since this angle was not explicitly mentioned in the question, I guess I forgot about it.
Let's set aside the problem that making the help center editable on each individual site will increase repetition rather than decrease it, I think there are two fundamental assumptions that need to be made:
Help center article will increase the odds that regular users will see the policies.
The stated goal of putting them in the help center is to get them off of meta. So does the help center get more visits than meta? Not on Programmers. Last week, Programmers' got over 2,000 page views and the help center got 782. A good deal of that can probably be attributed to the Community Bulletin and the rest to the more dynamic nature of meta. There are things we might be able to do to make meta FAQs more visible, but just putting them into the help center isn't going to be enough on its own.
Moderators are tasked with maintaining site policies.
When we send beta users invitations to become pro temp moderators, we include language about how moderators provide leadership to a site. This a bit of useful fiction. Or rather, it describes the situation on many small sites without going into detail about how the role of "moderator" and "leader" diverge as sites grow. Setting policy just isn't in the job description. Instead, policy should be crafted and maintained by the community and that means meta.
Perhaps the most common complaint we get about moderators is that they are arbitrary dictators. Of course, this isn't true. Moderators clean up sites in service of the community. It's pretty handy to be able to point to a relevant meta question asked, answered, and edited by non-moderators to make that point. FAQs belong on meta where they can be answered and edited by anyone, not locked into the help center.
That got more philosophical than I intended. At the risk of protesting too much, I'm going to finish with a technical concern: merge conflicts. Currently, we see a microcosm of the problem with international sites. Whenever we push a change to the help center we need to notify the CMs responsible for Stack Overflow in Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. If the changes are substantial, we need to craft 4 translations manually. Now spread the problem across (potentially) 150+ sites. If it becomes common to rewrite "How to ask?", what should we do when we correct a typo in the master branch? There are plenty of potential solutions, but status quo doesn't have that problem:
- Anyone can suggest a change to the help center on meta.
- The community considers the request and hones it.
- Moderators (or really anyone who knows how to contact us) asks a CM to look at the proposed change.
- Community managers evaluate the change and push it as appropriate.
At the very least, I'd like to try this out before working on a more heavyweight solution.