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The problem

We got some strange process for rule changes established on ruSO.

Standard way to change something on SE is:

  1. Someone asks a question on meta, describing a problem (in free form, no restrictions).
  2. Possible solutions are posted as answers.
  3. If top/best solution implies rules change, then up to CM to review and apply those changes (or reject them).

For some reason, CM that supervises ruSO forced a bit more complicated process:

  1. Someone asks a question on meta, describing a problem (in free form, no restrictions).
  2. Possible solutions are posted as answers, voted, etc.
  3. Someone (not necessary the original question author) creates a new question on meta, in specific form
  4. All solution discussed in original post are posted again as answers.
  5. The second post is used to vote for solutions (again), for some unspecified period of time. Then is up to CM to review and apply those changes (or reject them).

Is seems that we got stuck with that workflow.

Questions are never posted second time just for re-voting. Those regulations was published as some "how to create an initiative question". Most of the users have no idea that they should follow some kind of "initiative question" regulations, or will be totally ignored by CM otherwise.

We have only one Russian-speaking CM, and all site requests are actually redirected to him). That CM stated that he has no idea what happens on ruSO meta.

I did that "question-discussion-question-vote-CM" quest twice. Both times it took several months to complete it. No chance that regular meta user will ever complete it.

Recent example

We have a discussion on "homework" questions (yes, we still have that as a off-topic close reason. Consensus is "do not use that specific close reason", so we need the close reason removed. Nope, "you have to follow The Process, ask the same question again, post the same answers again, but this time for voting only".

Ok, asked site mods do implement the same change.

Apparently, there is network level process to change off-topic close reasons. Any moderator can edit close reasons, approval is required by at least two other mods. It is clearly stated that mods can (and even should) change off-topic close reasons based on community feedback on meta.

Discuss it with your community
moderators can deactivate reasons at any time
Monitor the use of your off-topic reasons

And what happens when ruSO moderator actually getting a consensus to "delete homework reason based on community feedback"? Yep, that CM jumps in and states that is not up to moderators to make a decision. He states that he is totally not aware on what happens on meta, however, he also states that only he can decide on that. Even more, is it not up to moderators to decide on any changes made on site:

It is not up to mods to decide. They were elected to do some other stuff. No one ever allowed them (granted them the right) to make a decisions.
(Original: Решение модераторы не принимают. Модераторы выбираются совсем для другого. Им никто свой голос никогда не передавал.)

Obvious exception for "The Process" are changes pushed by CM. Example - the same "homework" deletion reason was added by CM based on a chat discussion with several users, with no voting and other bureaucracy stuff.

Consequences

We have no community-initiated changes applied since March 2018. We lost a lot of active community members in 2018 when that Process with single person bottleneck was officially declared (mostly for "no democracy here" reasons).

How common is approach for other sites? Is it normal for non-top SE sites (SO/SU) to have that specific formal change process? I never seen that "nope, no changes because the question not following our untold regulations, ask it again, and this time try to follow The Process" anywhere except ruSO.

Long term consequences

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Just to make it clear: Those regulations are not just "a set of recommendations", as CM states in the answer below. They are rules, and those rules are actually enforced by CM.

For historical reasons - we had our site joined to network with existing content and an active user base. Before the join that site was owned and supported by that specific CM. He was the one to make a final decision and implement it. When the site was joined SE, local community assumed that rules are the same. So when CM published "regulations" - community had no idea those regulations are optional. It was accepted as

Company representative declared that company will review all community decisions and either accept them or reject them

Kind of "fine, Stack Exchange declared we have no democracy here, but it is up to company to decide".

Is it something that specific CM enforces for ruSO site only? If yes - can we please change that back to normal?

TLDR:

Stack Overflow (in Russian) site has an extremely bureaucratic change process established by a specific CM that prevents any changes to be implemented. Site Meta is not monitored by that CM. All mod-to CM team requests are redirected to the same CM. We got a decision bottleneck, almost no changes since March 2018.

Any idea how to fix that?

  • 2
    If I'm pessimistic I would say your process trumps what is used on other sites: Some of your requests got honored. That might be a better score then a lot of meta-sites hoped for. I don't understand the second re-post step either. Do they expect the voting to be more clear/balanced then is the case with the answers posted in the first round? – rene Oct 29 '19 at 16:51
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    @rene, CM explicitely declared that voting does NOT matter. Only the reasoning. And actually I do not understand who does take a final desicion. – Qwertiy Oct 29 '19 at 17:07
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    @rene yes, the idea behind 2-nd round was to separate discussion from decision and get clear voting, at least that was the original idea. The real problem is that even with "one question" shortcut that specific CM clearly states that he will not consider the solution (answer) to be implemented if the problem description (question) does not follow some non-public regulations only that CM have in mind. Just "no, the question does not comply, so no matter what posted as answers". – PashaPash Oct 29 '19 at 17:09
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    Also, related: meta.stackexchange.com/a/185097/260198. Any moderator can add a new off-topic reason, and an unlimited number of reasons can be added. Probable, the same for deletion. – Suvitruf - Andrei Apanasik Oct 29 '19 at 18:57
  • Sounds like that site is not fitting SE and better be separated again, like it used to be before. This way everyone should be happy. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Oct 30 '19 at 11:36
  • @Shadow SE bought hashcode (which became ruSO). It's impossible to separate on this stage, I think. – Suvitruf - Andrei Apanasik Oct 30 '19 at 12:21
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    @SuvitrufsaysReinstateMonica that's too bad because from the little I see, the site just doesn't fit. The users can't accept their CM, the CM does not follow basic SE procedures or worse, making their own procedures unique to that site, etc. Since SE appears to be helpless as a company to enforce anything, they'll all just be stuck with each other and everyone lose. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Oct 30 '19 at 12:44
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    @Shadow or maybe we just need another CM. Who knows. – Suvitruf - Andrei Apanasik Oct 30 '19 at 13:05
  • @Suvitruf well that won't happen, doubt SE have even tiny bit of time/money to spend now on anything. :/ – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Oct 30 '19 at 13:07
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    @Shadow I know. And that's a problem =/ – Suvitruf - Andrei Apanasik Oct 30 '19 at 13:11
  • I mean... this site isn't a democracy. that an idea or request has a high (or low) amount of votes doesn't necessarily dicatate whether or not it will be pushed forward or supported by the company. – user400654 Oct 31 '19 at 15:33
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    @KevinB in ruSO case it does mean that a single person decides on every change done. That including ontopic / offtopic changes, close reasons, help page wordings, comments autodeletion, even on usage of English to Russian borrowed words. – PashaPash Oct 31 '19 at 15:53
28

Theory of Moderation:

  1. Give people as much agency as you can. The people closest to the issues tend to be the ones that are best suited to make the best decisions.

And we (moderators) even have option to disable close reasons ourselves. I don't even understand: why do we have to wait CM at all. Should we?

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    That does seem strange for close reasons, at least. We have custom close reasons on two of the sites I moderate and we never needed CM involvement to change them. We simply get a community consensus and then a mod can change them directly. – terdon Oct 29 '19 at 18:52
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    @terdon I'm trying to think of a tool offered to Moderators by the SE platform, which we're expected by policy to not use without prior authorization from staff, and I'm drawing a blank. Are there any such tools? Of course, there are things we're not supposed to do without due consideration, and tools that automatically inform staff of their use, but I think we're pretty much expected to use the tools we have access to. – Isaac Moses Oct 29 '19 at 19:09
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    @IsaacMoses I certainly think so, yes. Not much point in giving us a UI if were not supposed to use it. – terdon Oct 29 '19 at 19:14
  • Pedantic nitpick, @terdon, but the change needs to be approved by another moderator (at least, it needed to, that might have changed), so a mod cannot change them directly ;) – Daniel Fischer Oct 29 '19 at 19:48
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    @DanielFischer we have moderators consensus on this issue. – Suvitruf - Andrei Apanasik Oct 29 '19 at 19:52
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    @SuvitrufsaysReinstateMonica Yes, and thus there'll be no problem getting the approval. I was just in the mood for a little bit of annoying pedantry. – Daniel Fischer Oct 29 '19 at 19:56
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    @DanielFischer yes, you need at least two mods, you just don't need a CM. – terdon Oct 29 '19 at 19:56
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    @DanielFischer we do have meta consensus and moderator consensus. And then that CM jumps in the chat and declares mod have no permissions to decide on that. And that he will personally review the close reason change: "It is not up to mods to decide. They were elected to do some other stuff. No one ever allowed them to make a decisions". – PashaPash Oct 29 '19 at 19:58
  • @terdon apparently, you do need a CM because a CM directly told us in public chat that mods were never allowed to do such a decisions. Apparently, that is the same CM that mentioned in question. – PashaPash Oct 29 '19 at 20:00
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    @PashaPash Generally, the community is supposed to make decisions about such things, and the mods are supposed to implement what the community decides. Given that the methods we have for determining the sense of the community are messy, mods have the implied responsibility of interpreting the will of the community for this purpose and deciding the on at least some of the implementation details. From a quick scan of GTranslate of some of the chat messages you link to, it sounds like a CM may be reserving the role of interpreting the will of the community for himself, which is atypical. – Isaac Moses Oct 29 '19 at 20:05
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    @IsaacMoses yes, that is exactly what we have on ruSO. A single person reserved rights to decide for entire community. All complains made to CM team is redirected to the same person. All decisions are subject to veto by that CM (even if is clearly declared otherwise on meta SE). We even got a moderator banned by CM for "CM does not listen to anyone" comment left for one of those decision overrides. At the same time CM rarely reads the meta messages, so sites are kind of locked in with no changes allowed. – PashaPash Oct 29 '19 at 20:24
  • @IsaacMoses, implement what the community decides — here is a problem: who is the community? A fraction of a percent of all >1 rep users? As CM correctly noticed one day, the overwhelming majority does not participate in meta and chat, just in Q&A. – Arhadthedev Oct 31 '19 at 13:52
  • @Arhad-the-dev so...Do all discussions on Meta pointless? – Suvitruf - Andrei Apanasik Oct 31 '19 at 13:57
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    @SuvitrufsaysReinstateMonica, so all signs show that the second definition is assumed by the administration, including the CM in question. – Arhadthedev Oct 31 '19 at 14:30
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    @Arhad-the-dev, anyone can participate on meta. If somebody doesn't, that means he doesn't care. Adn if he doesn't care, why do we need to do something with that? If you skip elections in the country, will anybody say "hey, there are peple who skipped elections, let's just drop the results"? Also note, that in case of elections you need to wait 4 or 5 years to participate, but in case of meta you can come at any time. A month, a week, or even a day - as soon as you saw somthing that you dislike. – Qwertiy Oct 31 '19 at 15:37
5

The Story

Let us complement the story a bit.

The story below is how I recall it, I might miss something. So, please add nuances in the comments to make it really full, if you have anything to add, especially with links.

The story starts from 2009

Stack Overflow in Russian has an interesting history, which began in 2009, when the first version of the community was launched. Over the next five years, we have been creating a Russian-speaking developer community from scratch on an open source engine. In 2015, the community migrated to the Stack Exchange platform.

In the first five years, we discovered many interesting findings. For example, we identified the best practices for translating the user interface, and found heuristics for moderating the site. As I remember, the first closing reasons were migrated with the community, as well as were the practices for selecting new ones.

Dispute about phrases in closing reasons in 2015

On the old engine, the closing reasons were set by the site administrator, there were a limited number of them. I don’t remember any friction in five years. In the new engine, to the contrast, it became possible for users add new reasons themselves. So, by the end of 2015, there had been a number of conflicts about what texts we should use: different users wanted to see different phrases, and there was no formal way to choose the best.

As an answer to the tension in the community, a guide was proposed for suggesting a change in a closing reason or adding a new one: Why do we close questions?. Please take a look at it. I think it is quite good. In fact, this is The Process that is referred to in this question. Actually, the process itself is described at the very end of the question and boils down to a few recommendations:

The closing reasons can and should be changed. When proposing changes, please make sure that a new closing reason or the rephrased version:

  • Solves problems assigned to this tool
  • Contains a clear description of the mistakes made by the asker
  • Contains a set of specific steps, by following which, the question will satisfy the rules of the community
  • Contains a call to action - to edit the question

Please note that the closing reason will be applied to the family of questions but read in the context of one, that is, it should be written in general terms, on the one hand, but contain specific recommendations on the other.

As you can see, the steps are quite reasonable and simple. At the same time, they reduced wars greatly.

Let us do X!

Another interesting case occurred in the end of 2017. The essence of the problem was that until that moment, the community has been more or less a single “swan”: in case of a problem, we discussed it on Meta, detailed, justified, and made decisions based on the best ideas. Usually, the best ideas got a lot of upvotes.

Suddenly, both a crab and a pike appeared - users who wanted to see the site according to their personal understanding of it. “What gets the implementation? - It seems like most upvoted answers. Well, let's play the game!”

Q: Let us do X!
A1: Yes, let us do.
A2: No, let us do not.

We have faced a tendency when users were asking questions containing only a call, like “Let's do X” and two answers “Yes, let us!” “No, don't!” That was it. In other words, the questions were biased themselves, they did not contain any explanation of why we had to change something at all, there was not a single hint in the answers why “yes” is better than “no”. When the users received some upvotes on “yes”, they pinged me and demanded “the community decision” be implemented.

After weighing the pros and cons, a set of recommendations for new initiatives were proposed. They come down to the following:

  • Do no harm. The initiative should improve the site without breaking the current ecosystem.
  • Start with a description of the problem that you want to solve with the initiative.
  • "Do not change" option has priority. Arguments should be made to show that a system with the change will become better than it is now.
  • Minimum changes at a time. Do not start many initiatives at the same time.
  • Add the tag to the initiative so that the decision is really made by the community.
  • Recommended structure: add in the question only a description of the problem, everything else should be in an answer to make the question unbiased.

History means a lot

A community is like a piece of marble on which we, the users, carve a pattern together. Although all communities are of the same marble and users have in hands the same hammers and chisels, the pattern will almost never be the same. Communities have different processes, because they have encountered different problems over their histories.

Current case

“Consensus is "do not use that specific close reason"

The case is kind of correlated with the story above. The question on MSOru says:

What needs to be done with questions like “I need to solve a homework and I haven’t done anything”?

The most upvoted answer says:

Do nothing. These may be normal questions.

In your answer you say:

We need to downvote such questions.

Another answer says that we need to close such questions.

I might be wrong, but as I can see, neither in the question nor in the answers there is a discussion “Let's remove or change the closing reason related to homework”. Even in your answer there is not even a hint of doing that. If you hadn’t written that it was a question about the closing reason, I would not have guessed. I am sure, as many other users.

The process was proposed to prevent such misunderstandings: ask a question in an unambiguous form, discuss with the whole community, change the site settings accordingly.

Bottleneck

It seems to me that in such questions there is no bottleneck in any form because usually community managers just proposing ways of doing something to avoid future possible troubles or do it in a way that reduce drama. For example, in our case, as a community manager, I am not interested in any specific set of closing reasons. I do not participate in the decision-making process on the closing reasons, only ask you to discuss the issue with the entire community in an explicit form:

  1. Community recognises and understands the problem and how it is going to be solved.
  2. Community leaves an artifact by which future users will be able to understand why the current users have made this decision.

Otherwise, when a new user appears who sees in another meta question a clear call for adding another closing reason, chaos will occur.

In other words, in this case, if it might be said in this way, having a team after a football match a community manager is not in the position of deciding how much and what each player should drink, they are in the position of giving everyone a cup and ensure that each player has a chance to drink what they want not harming others.

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    Do you have any discussions on your meta about how your process compares to the rest of the network's approach? – user1306322 Oct 30 '19 at 10:46
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    That is exactly the case I'm talking about. We had a discussion on "homework" on meta, we got a consensus that those questions should not be closed. That implies that "homework" should not be listed as default close reason. We got moderator consensus on that. And the only reason we cannot implement that change (stop closing those questions) is we did not have “Let's remove or change the closing reason related to homework” stated directly in question. – PashaPash Oct 30 '19 at 10:48
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    @PashaPash Could you please tell me how a community consensus can be reached if there has not been a discussion about an issue? It's clear for you but not for others. What would you say if another thing is clear for another user but not for you and they implement it against your thoughts without any clarification? – Nicolas Chabanovsky Oct 30 '19 at 10:50
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    @NicolasChabanovsky We have a direct community decision "do not close such questions". Adding or removing close reasons are just a way to implement that decision. Same as changing the help text to no longer deny homework. We should do changes based on community decisions for a problem. "We have an off topic close reason for the question that are now considered ontopic" - is not a "problem". That are just site settings inconsistency with community decision. Inconsistency should be fixed, not voted on. – PashaPash Oct 30 '19 at 10:57
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    @NicolasChabanovsky you are proposing to vote for each implementation step. Separate voting for help. Separate voting for close reason. What will happen if we will vote to change help section on ontopic but keep an offtopic reason (there will be a separate vote for that, right)? Should we somehow punish users, who using standard close reason because they are breaking the community decision on "do not close"? Tell them "we decided to do not close that question, meta link" each time we see someone used standard reason. Because, you know, close reasons should be votes separately, CM told us SO. – PashaPash Oct 30 '19 at 11:03
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    @NicolasChabanovsky also, sorry, but "I do not participate in the decision-making process on the closing reason" sounds totally false to me. Yes, you do. We have a community consent, we have mod consent, and the only person who prevented that change to happen is you. That is participation. Mod telling me "We have a consensus, but if I will implement that change, I will be demodded" is a direct result of your participation. – PashaPash Oct 30 '19 at 11:09
  • @PashaPash The question says exactly "Here is a question. I think in this case we cannot use the homework closing reason. What should I do?". Could you please clarify where the connection between "Let us remove the homework closing reason" and "The homework closing reason does not apply here, what should I do"? – Nicolas Chabanovsky Oct 30 '19 at 11:45
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    @NicolasChabanovsky not even close to "exactly". Exact translation of the question is "What should we do with 'need to solve a exercise, did not tried to solve it myself' kind of questions?". – PashaPash Oct 30 '19 at 12:22
  • @PashaPash And then, when one opens a question it says "What should I do with those questions? It seems to me that the homework closing reason does not apply here." =) – Nicolas Chabanovsky Oct 30 '19 at 12:30
  • I am not at all familiar with the history of the particular community-mod-CM dynamic at ruSO, but I am familiar with the sort of problem with messiness that you describe in determining the will of the community. Overall, I quite like your structured approach and am considering pitching it (with some changes in details) to my community. If we do implement it, it'll be written, vetted, implemented, and enforced by the community, including its mods. The only way CMs would end up involved is if someone in the community felt something was going wrong and not being addressed. ... – Isaac Moses Oct 30 '19 at 13:49
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    ... What looks unusual to me here (and again, I don't know the history) is the strong involvement of the CM in legislating and then enforcing the process, and also in having two explicit roles called out in the process itself (per my GTranslate understanding of it) - adding the featured tag, and vetoing. It might help resolve the problems described in @PashaPash's question here if the community was trusted more (as most SE communities are) to implement and enforce its own processes, and call out to CMs in case of exception. – Isaac Moses Oct 30 '19 at 13:52
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    @IsaacMoses please don't. That process implies that CM makes a final decision on every rule change. And Mods are not involved in decision process at all (except filing regulation structured questions on meta to push some changes). Please keep accepting community feedback in any form, not only regulated. That is not some kid of theory. I'm a resigned mod of ruSO. Qwertiy ("I do not understand who does take a final desicion.") and Suvitruf ("I will be demodded for that") are current moderators. Please do not push your community towards bureaucratic stagnation. – PashaPash Oct 30 '19 at 14:05
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    @IsaacMoses Vetoing came as a direct requirement from CM. The real question is - if you, as a moderator, can just change a process on you site - why ruSO mods cannot do the same? Why that "you are under direct CM control" applies only to some sites? Are we kind of special? – PashaPash Oct 30 '19 at 14:13
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    @NicolasChabanovsky Adding special meta tags and filtering for nonsense are both roles that moderators are technically capable of and are entrusted with handling under all but exceptional cases, in my experience. – Isaac Moses Oct 30 '19 at 14:13
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    @IsaacMoses, note that we lost our top 1 user (with more than 2 times larger rating then 2nd at that moment) after and because of these changes (take a look at text in profile description on ruSO site - it differs from others). – Qwertiy Oct 30 '19 at 14:52

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