The recent firing of a beloved moderator has created a crisis. Moderators are leaving. Users are up in arms. Much energy is expended in reading/writing/commenting on meta posts. More critically for them, Stack Overflow (as a company) is getting hammered by negative comments and feelings.
SO has published a followup apology and their turnaround plan. It goes a long way to address the actions I had proposed below, except for one critical part. See here for my response.
A crisis needs a turnaround plan. Here is a modest proposal for actions Stack Overflow (as a company) could take to manage the crisis. We should, as a community, help shape the action plan which will get all of us out of this current sorry state of affairs so we can focus again on what we love best: asking and answering content questions.
I welcome comments, additions and alternative proposals as answers, and if helpful, will do my best to update this post to reflect the feedback.
1. Acknowledge the crisis
The first update apology was not well received. It was judged by many to be tone-deaf and not to acknowledge the harm the community is feeling. The next update needs to acknowledge the facts, mistakes and feelings of Monica and the community. George Stocker's proposal is a great start.
Since crisis management starts from senior leadership, it would be a good time for SO's new CEO to step in and publish this apology. This is not about throwing Sara Chipps under the bus but about showing that the highest levels of SO understand the issues and care about solving them.
2. Express regret
It is enough to spend an hour reading the multiple resignation posts to understand the hurt from many of the volunteers who spend countless hours contributing to the network sites. It is also clear Monica was personally hurt, her external reputation damaged by a clumsy press interview and she mentioned in comments spending countless hours not sleeping over the issue.
SO needs to officially ask for forgiveness for the hurt created. It was likely unintended but is real nevertheless and needs acknowledgement and atonement.
3. Take action not to repeat these mistakes
A set of actions should be announced and speedily carried out, at a minimum
- retracting libelous public statements that were made in the press if the internal review confirms they do not match the reality
- publishing for discussion and quickly implementing a process to remove a moderator (why not start from the existing process?)
- publishing for discussion and quickly implementing a process to reinstate a moderator (and could start from Isaac Moses's proposal)
- running "Monica's case" through the new moderator reinstatement process and being as transparent as possible, even if in a sanitized way to protect individual privacy
- publishing the proposed new Code of Conduct for feedback and comments before implementation
More broadly, the recent crisis is one of a number that recently occurred (e.g., content licensing policy, the IPS HNQ saga). The underlying and fundamental issues behind this series of mistakes need to be understood and addressed. This will likely imply changes in syndicating proposals ahead of time, behavior changes from some SO employees and possibly some personnel changes. This review should be announced now, carried out quickly and its results announced transparently.
4. Prove that real change has occurred
In the end, "the proof is in the pudding". Regaining trust between SO and its users is possible but will require behavior changes. Time will tell how successful this will be.
I believe that most people are inherently good and well-intentioned, and that people and organizations can recognize mistakes and change. Try and focus comments and answers on the crisis turnaround plan, not on whether SO is interested to change.