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The Stack Exchange Moderator Questionnaire is a routine part of the election process. It's a way for the community to gauge the candidates' fitness for the job; for voters to read a bit into who people are, their role on the site, and the value they can bring to their community.

These questions aren't usually very hard. Here are some sample questions that commonly appear across the network:

  1. As a moderator, your votes are binding - close, delete, tag synonyms, etc. How will this change how you usually VTC/VTD?

  2. How much time do you think that you will be able to spend actively moderating every day? What is your usual activity pattern over the week?

  3. With the diamond attached to everything you've said in the past, do you think you have represented the ideals of this community? And will you continue to do so in the future as you are held to a slightly higher/different standard?

  4. etc. etc.

These questions are pulled in part from a short Stack template, and in part from community generation. But truthfully, these questions are painfully easy, and communities tend not to ask questions of substance. Most people we would seriously consider for the job already know how to do basic site cleanup actions properly. Once we vaguely know someone is viable for the role, all we're checking off with these questions is: can a moderator speak the correct words? does a moderator vaguely know a policy? And that's not useful information.

What we really need are hard questions: ones that show us the substance of our community leaders' character. What I'm proposing is a fundamental alteration to the way we go about asking our candidates questions, and the way we select people who are eligible for the role.

I'd really like to see more difficult questions asked of the people we expect to lead us. Some examples:

  1. A user of a minoritized group tells you that a certain behavior is harmful for them, but it's not a behavior you've ever thought of as harmful in the past. How do you approach the situation, and how would you have that conversation?

  2. When a user exhibits behavior symptomatic of bigotry, even if that behavior is subtle, to what extent do you place faith in the correctional process' ability to mitigate their behavior (mod messages, suspensions, etc.)? Do you believe you have the ability to help guide them out of that situation? And, what role do you see yourself playing in that conversation?

  3. A user you normally think of as calm and collected is angry and causing disruption to the site. You're originally unsure why, but when you look into what happened, it seems like someone else's actions have upset them for reasons you think are understandable. However, the person who caused harm is quiet now, and doesn't appear to be causing further damage at the moment. How do you handle the situation? Who do you talk to, and what do you say?

  4. Do you believe your role is to bring civility, peace, or justice to disputes on your site? Do you believe these aims can ever come in conflict, and if so, how would you resolve the discrepancy between them?

  5. What is a memorable moment in which you let down someone who looks up to you? How did you make amends, and how did you give the situation closure?

In essence, I'd like to see the default template provided for moderator questionnaires ask questions that reveal more about the character of the people we are voting on -- not just their ability to use the site tools. They don't all need to be these kinds of questions, and whether these are default/filler I'm leaving open for now. I'm of the personal opinion that there should be a healthy mix of default and filler hard-questions, and classic mod-role questions.

These specific questions are just me spitballing ideas, and I'm totally open to other ones, or more thoughts on the topic.

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    I agree with the sentiments here. The current questions are focused on the janitorial role of moderators and not necessarily the community building aspects of the role. Moderators should be able to address both parts of the role in a manner that satisfies the community, so both types of questions need to be on the questionnaire. – Thomas Owens Oct 6 '19 at 23:30
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    These are good, so many of the questionnaires reveal so little. – curiousdannii Oct 6 '19 at 23:33
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    FWIW, I have in the past proposed questions in these things based on scenarios or issues that I know the moderators on a site have faced or will be facing. These are hard. But they're hard precisely because there's no way to answer them with a pat response: the folks on the site will immediately know what I'm referring to and any attempt to hand-wave ("I will consult with my team and decide appropriately") will be scoffed at. By the same token, I suspect you perceive the standard questions as easy because they've been answered so many times: you already know the "correct" answers. – Shog9 Oct 6 '19 at 23:35
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    Certainly an idea worth considering, but your questions are pointed towards specific answers that are "desirable". Leading questions are problematic. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Oct 6 '19 at 23:36
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    @Shog9 That's a trickier situation, I think. Referring to real events that have happened is always going to stir up old feelings. One line of defense against that is to make the questions more boilerplate -- "we're not putting these on here because of you, they're on the list, see?" But that's also fair, about the classic questions. – user206222 Oct 6 '19 at 23:37
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    Also, issues can be more complex: "what if a member of one minority finds some behaviour harmful, while a member of another minority is harmed by the absence of said behaviour?" "How do you decide when something crosses the 'be nice' line, and when it might not be very polite but it just isn't bad enough that it should be censured?" "If there's an argument over a sensitive subject, how do you balance civility against the strong emotions the argument elicits?" "How do you account for people coming from different cultures and different mother tongues?" – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Oct 6 '19 at 23:37
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    @Galastel I'd welcome this as an answer! When I said I was spitballing, I meant it -- my first cut is certainly not going to be the best way. It's a discussion -- I'm intending to hold a dialogue, not present a finished proposal. – user206222 Oct 6 '19 at 23:38
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    BTW: you didn't include them, but there are two mandatory questions in every election: those were based on actual events at one time, and ended up being asked so frequently in the old moderator town halls that they got captured for this purpose. I would recommend a similar approach for identifying new topics that might be common across many sites. – Shog9 Oct 6 '19 at 23:41
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    The moderator has to walk a fine line: maintain and foster civility even in disagreements, but not act as a censor. Give space for opinions they might themselves disagree with, but make sure no user is made to feel unwelcome. In particular, they must be careful with what they themselves say, because they wield more power: I can argue a point with another user that I might be less comfortable arguing with a moderator. I guess I'd gear questions towards that line. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Oct 6 '19 at 23:42
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    @Galastel There are certain ideas that are not permitted to be made on Stack Exchange. The people who make those arguments will feel unwelcome when their statements are removed, and there's not really much of a way to make them feel welcome, even if those removals are performed with empathy in our hearts. So I'm not sure that reply fully captures what's going on, at its core. – user206222 Oct 6 '19 at 23:47
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    @Galastel Those kinds of cases may be worth a site-specific question, since grey areas tend to appear pertinent to specific subject matter. I don't know of any way to ask about a case like that in a way that's generically applicable, but I absolutely welcome that input if you have ideas. – user206222 Oct 6 '19 at 23:53
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    Yes, we can ask such questions as part of the electorate, but I wouldn't mind a couple of those questions being added to the standard questionnaire. (Maybe (1 or 3) and (4 or 5)?) – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 7 '19 at 0:12
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    @Aza That is correct and I've opined about this fact in the past. Much of the community across the network is global, and certain subjects have a much more socially conservative user base then you would think. Even SO (which, programming is a traditionally liberal field) probably is much more socially conservative then we think. I think asking this question on for instance a religion SE site would be an own goal as it would just allow people to soapbox the issue. – Magisch Oct 7 '19 at 8:33
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    @Aza no, of course not. But I think other issues need to be adressed before you can start doing that, and one of the points will have to be a clarified CoC. No need to give an additional opportunity to people to select candidates based on their beliefs when these contradict with the CoC. I think the actual solution here must be clearer requirements. – Magisch Oct 7 '19 at 8:47
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    In a way, it shouldn't be a question whether you take the concerns of a user about harmful behavior seriously - that should just be a clearly communicated requirement for moderators, not a question. – Magisch Oct 7 '19 at 8:48

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