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Update – February 13th, 2024

Thank you to everyone who provided feedback and expressed their interest in joining the working group. The selection has been made, and those individuals have been invited. The chat room for the group is in gallery mode and can be seen here. Some changes were made to the tentative schedule as well to make it a bit more practical; you can see those reflected in the schedule towards the bottom of this post. Once an agreed-upon plan has been reached, we will share that with the community in a new update.


TL/DR

We are revisiting moderator elections with the community to discuss what they think needs to be improved. You can fill out this form to indicate your interest; those selected will be invited to join the working group on February 13th, 2024. Both moderators and non-moderators are welcome to sign up.

We have been running moderator elections the same way for quite some time; we see a number of things that we think could be improved for both the community and how community managers handle moderator elections. With that in mind, it’s time to take a step back and review the election process so that we can update it where it needs updating. One thing we would like to make abundantly transparent about this initiative is that we are not trying to sell you on a specific outcome. We want to make meaningful updates to the election process, but we want to do it with you.

How it currently works for Community Managers

Suffice it to say our existing process is in need of some automation, but our current election process generally looks like this:

  • A mod team reaches out to Community Managers about needing an election. Alternatively, we may reach out due to resignations.
  • CMs then discuss with mods workload, how many they need, and the urgency. (Ideally we would also discuss things like the mod teams goals: do they want to do more welcoming, or more education, for instance?)
  • CMs weigh the need against existing election needs and find a time to slot in an election.
  • CMs schedule the election and assign a CM to oversee it.
  • CMs create the election page
  • Depending on the election type, an announcement post is created.
  • Question collection begins. CMs have to push a button to generate this post, but for pro-tem, we skip it. CMs need to keep an eye on these posts to monitor submitted questions because it's common for shenanigans to occur here.
  • The Nomination Phase. An automation triggers an announcement of the election. Only eight questions can be submitted by the community. If there are more than that, CMs must decide which ones don’t make the cut. Once a questionnaire has been decided upon, we have to push some buttons to generate it and create the chat room for the election. This phase is pretty manual. We have to be on the lookout for shenanigans again and handle those accordingly. Please note that when shenanigans are identified, other CMs are brought into the process to discuss what, if anything, should be done about said shenanigans. A sole CM never handles it without some assistance.
  • If there are not enough (or any) nominations, CMs will sometimes reach out to Mods to see if they are willing to speak with good candidates to join. If there are an insufficient number of candidates, the election will be extended by one week.
  • If it's a pro-tem election and the nomination phase ends, those individuals are appointed.
  • If there are sufficient nominations, then the voting phase begins. This is an automated phase, so it does not require CM input.
  • At the end of the voting phase, a CM will push some buttons that calculate the votes, announce the winners, hand out diamonds, and send a welcome email. CMs will then welcome the mods into the various mod spaces.

Why are we doing this?

First, I want to share why we want to make some changes now and some things we, as a community management team, hope to get out of this.

As you know, the network has one hundred and eighty-two sites. Not every site needs an election on an annual basis; sometimes, a site only needs one, and sometimes, a site needs more than one annually. Other times, it might not need one for a couple of years. The seventy-two elections we ran over the last two years kept us pretty busy, and due to our current system, we would have a hard time doing too many more than that if the need arose without taking away from our other responsibilities. Moderator elections are a crucial part of the network, but they take up quite a bit of CM time. Specifically, CMs must do things at specific times to move elections along. This, among other manual actions that CMs must take, makes election handling very time-consuming. We believe that time would be better put towards work on other projects needing our attention. In addition, we want to give our communities more autonomy and control in dictating their site moderation needs rather than relying on the CM team to judge when moderators and elections are needed.

Something we would like to explore more with the community is transitioning away from CMs scheduling elections. This means the above-mentioned process is too reactive to site needs. We want to consider methods of empowering communities' autonomy to have more say when an election happens without needing to wait for CMs to find time to run them. We have done some cursory research on how other platforms handle their moderation elections and found some appealing practices on Wikipedia. We would love to explore in partnership with the community whether we can design elections that allow users to self-appoint at any time and then have their communities determine at that point to embark on an election process. We realize this is a significant departure from the current status quo and thus would love the community input in determining if some variation of this could be incorporated into our next iteration of moderator elections.

Those are the two most important pieces we are looking for, and of course, we have some additional questions we are interested in answering, such as the following:

  • Do we need different election types (“regular” vs. “pro-tem”)? Or can we unify it into one election procedure? A quick explainer for those who might not recall. A “regularly” elected moderator is one who ran in a competitive election for a non-beta/”graduated” site, and was made moderator at its conclusion. A “pro-tem” moderator is one who was either elected in a competitive election on a beta site, or appointed in a non-competitive election on a site that hasn’t had a successful “graduation” election (either because it is still a beta site, or because it is not a beta site but hasn’t had a successful “graduation” election).
  • Do our current candidate requirements make sense? Or do those need revisiting? Should they differ by site or can they stay uniform, network-wide?
  • Participation in moderator elections is declining. Can we reverse that by changing how elections are run?
  • Instead of CMs running elections, would it make more sense to create a new role to facilitate them on individual sites?

Non-Goals

These are the things we are deliberately not addressing at this stage. This initiative is specifically intended to look at what we can do to improve the election process; some of the things listed below are items we plan to look at later this year or at other points in the future. We acknowledge that these are important things, but are not a part of our focus at the moment.

  • Candidate Score: We know that this is a piece of elections that needs updating, but we would like to have a separate conversation about this later.
  • Absentee moderator handling: This process is something we know needs updating, and we hope to do it at some point later this year, we will include the community when we address it.
  • Moderator on-boarding: We want to look at this in much more depth later, but to do it justice, it will be handled as its own project.
  • Failed Election handling: You may have seen posts on sites that have experienced a failed election. This process could also use some fine-tuning. However, it will be addressed separately in the future.

Next Steps

In the coming weeks, we plan to form a working group of community members to discuss and formalize a new process for handling moderator elections. Once the group has developed a sustainable plan within the bounds of the dev resources we have available for this, we will present it to Meta and test it on a few volunteer sites before rolling it out network-wide for more testing.

If you are interested in participating in the working group, please let us know by filling out the Google Form here. Please fill that out by February 12th, 2024, to be considered. Both moderators and non-moderators are welcome to sign up. The working group will have a chat room that will be in gallery mode so that anyone interested can follow the conversation. We will also have a private team instance to discuss the changes the group would like to see. Those who are invited to participate in the working group will be notified on or about February 13th, 2024.

Please see the schedule below for when we hope to move to each phase of this process. We understand that anyone who wishes to participate will be doing so on a volunteer basis, so these dates are tentative, and we are happy to adjust as needed.

Date Phase
February 13th, 2024 Working group kickoff
March 18th, 2024 Share election proposal with Meta
March 18th - March 31st, 2024 Iterate on feedback if necessary
~April 4th, 2024 Request for volunteer sites to test new process
~April 30th, 2024 New election testing & feedback with volunteer sites
Mid to late May MSE update & next steps

We are up for rethinking the whole process and making improvements where possible. Please let us know if you have additional questions or ideas we didn’t address or have concerns about what we have laid out here. This post is an appropriate place to leave feedback or ideas on what you would like to see change, even if you don't plan to join the working group.

We will be considering feedback until February 13th, 2024, when the working group begins its work.

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    Seems a tiny bit problematic for something as influential as moderator elections to be left up to a private self-selected group of users behind closed doors.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 30 at 16:38
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    @KevinB Chat will be available for anyone to read, and the proposal they come up with will go before the community to provide feedback on. You have to avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen situation to get this done in a reasonable amount of time.
    – SpencerG StaffMod
    Jan 30 at 17:11
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    "the proposal they come up with will go before the community to provide feedback on" Before dev time is allocated? or will it be like past iterations of this where community feedback is welcomed only after it is live and in action and/or mostly set in stone.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 30 at 17:22
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    @KevinB When we test our new format, it will require CMs to do the whole thing manually. From there, we will collect feedback to adjust where we need to make adjustments. Devs won't start working on anything till after we have tested it out and are comfortable with doing something like a beta test network-wide to make sure it works at scale.
    – SpencerG StaffMod
    Jan 30 at 17:28
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    Related discussion about the nomination/voting cadence: meta.stackexchange.com/q/234118/273494 meta.stackexchange.com/q/370962/273494
    – ColleenV
    Jan 30 at 18:24
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    ELL has had some elections that caused discussions about the process. If I find time, I'll summarize but it might be best to just read. Yeah, some of this was ugly and would be nice to forget, but if the process was a little more robust, I think some of it could've been avoided. ell.meta.stackexchange.com/q/5763/9161 ell.meta.stackexchange.com/q/5577/9161 ell.meta.stackexchange.com/q/5571/9161
    – ColleenV
    Jan 30 at 21:34
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    And I agree with Catija's answer that it's kind of tone-deaf to make this all about how hard it is for CM's to manage elections right after the company lays of people from the CM team. While I have tons of sympathy for the individual CMs stuck with way more work than is humanly possible to do, I have very little good will for the company that let this situation fester. The broken election process is hard on communities, not just CMs. It's driven 4 active, valuable contributors away from ELL permanently that I know of, and probably more.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31 at 12:27
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    Pulling out candidate score from the goals is not a good idea imo. If we want to automate the election process, providing automated, good metrics for how fit someone is to become a moderator is extremely relevant. That's the candidate score. Things like reducing the Q&A process become more feasible if we have a better candidate score.
    – Erik A
    Jan 31 at 13:16
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    @SpencerG I get that. My point is that your order of operations is suboptimal: addressing the process is easier if you have a good meaningful candidate score. If the candidate score is not meaningful, people are more reliant on other sources information, such as the Q&A part. Addressing the candidate score first will likely make changing the processes easier (or less prone to uninformed voting), while changing the process first will probably do nothing for the candidate score.
    – Erik A
    Jan 31 at 14:24
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    I don't want to sound harsh because writing up these posts is hard, but the entire section under "Why are we doing this" is all about CM difficulties. I appreciate the overview of the process, but my issue was with the complete lack of mention on how the process is a problem for the communities, other than we don't get enough CM attention. There's a slight nod to there not being enough candidates, but that's also is a problem for CMs. It just sounds like the only reason y'all want to fix it is because it's a problem for the company, even though I know that's not what you intended.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31 at 14:26
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    And I agree with some of the other comments about limiting the scope before any discussion has happened. Yes, limiting the scope is absolutely necessary, but drawing a box and saying we aren't going to talk about these parts of the process in any solution is unnecessarily restricting the scope. Candidate scores, for example, are an important part of the current process. What if the best solution for a new process completely removes candidate scores and replaces them with something else? Why can't that be in scope?
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31 at 14:29
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    Nothing personal, @SpencerG - I appreciated working with you and your support after the layoffs but I'm concerned that a project like this is continuing to be pushed forward and even asking why election participation is so low instead of the CMs actually working to heal things and make it so that people want to be part of the community again. I'm pretty sure that you could build the best in class election system and redefine moderation but I don't think building and redesigning those things will lead to more engagement. Just because SO budgeted for this doesn't make it the best investment.
    – Catija
    Jan 31 at 15:20
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    Not to harp on the point, but I feel like maybe I didn't explain it clearly... You've limited the solutions people will think of because you've prematurely limited the scope. This tells me that these changes are going to be tactical and not strategic and I think that will make the whole thing a waste of time. It sounds like the company is standing up a community group to give them the green light to write some scripts to offload work from the CM team, not fundamentally re-align the election process to better serve communities.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31 at 16:29
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    Tried and true... "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!". But seriously, the moderator election process has gone quite smoothly for at least the past 7-8 years. Nominations work well, though it was always curious how the lower rep folks got there, but if they were willing and competent, insane rep shouldn't be a barrier. The vote and order your candidates method has also worked well. Just take care not to make a good system worse in attempt to make it better. Linux is littered with desktops that failed to learn that lesson. Feb 1 at 6:29
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    @DavidC.Rankin That is a great callout. To be clear, though, we don't intend to overhaul the whole thing just because. We wanted to check and see what changes could be made since we have resources to do more automation on our end, plus some to address community needs here. So, it's a completely acceptable outcome to make minimal or no changes at all. Other than automating things better on the CM end.
    – SpencerG StaffMod
    Feb 1 at 14:25

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+50

I'm trying to tread a difficult line here where I don't want to undercut what y'all are doing but I also want to ensure that the concerns are fairly laid out. You simultaneously say "we are not trying to sell you on a specific outcome" but then call out a very CM-centric PoV of the problem, outline very specific solutions you'd "love to explore", and mandate specific aspects of elections that are out of scope.

I understand that big changes need community buy-in, so it's important to emphasize how bad things are now and, since y'all are most impacted by the amount of CM work required, it's easy to focus on that aspect of the problem... but in spending so much real estate in the question on explaining how much work it is for y'all, you're distracting from some important concerns that make this more than just "let's reduce election load on CMs so they can work on other stuff".

Some history about recent-ish changes to elections

Elections have been largely unchanged since I've been on SE. What changes have occurred have been primarily focused on the CM process of managing how beta site moderators are selected and when (or if) their tenure ends. While some of these changes were intentionally and deliberately discussed, some of them have (somewhat) silently changed due to the honest reality that CMs couldn't keep up with the work.

In the time I've been around, the following major moderator/election-related discussions or announcements have been shared by staff on MSE:

  • Summer 2018 - Experimenting with Pro Tempore elections - Jon Ericson kicked off a test on Parenting to move away from the CM-appointed pro-tempore moderator process to use the existing election UI instead. This became the default process shortly after, with the simplified, non-competitive pro-tem election becoming standard for beta sites.
  • August 2019 - Congratulations to our 29 oldest beta sites - They're now no longer beta! - At this point, the policy of running elections when sites leave beta started to shift. While it was the intention to continue this policy, the volume of 29 elections, coupled with some community upheaval, the abrupt loss of 3/7 CMs, and a global pandemic, things started slipping, CMs had to start prioritizing which sites needed elections rather than running full elections by default.
  • July 2020 - The new moderator agreement is now live for moderators to accept across the network - the moderator agreement is expanded far beyond the scope it originally served and moderators were expected to accept the changes by re-accepting the agreement or stepping down.
  • Spring 2021 - Moderator Elections: tools for Community Managers - The first major overhaul of the actual code that manages elections. It was carried out in several phases (outlined in the linked post) with the primary goal of reducing the manual work required by CMs while also making some general changes to the process. It brought questionnaire responses onto the election page from meta and expanded ranked-choice voting to all candidates rather than the top three.
  • December 2021 - Congratulations to the 59 sites that just left Beta - this release from beta added a bunch of new sites to the list of sites needing elections and drastically reduced the number of sites in beta. Despite historical community expectations that leaving beta meant the mods had to stand for election, it would be impossible to run so many elections immediately, even with the recently-overhauled system. In part, there was a question of whether this policy was still necessary since so many of those mods had come through pro-tem elections rather than being appointed by CMs.
  • June 2022 - Our site just graduated/launched/left beta! Do we need to do anything? - This answer outlines the most recent policies as they relate to elections on sites leaving beta. It's not a change, per se, but worth including here.

No one could have predicted the size of the network today and, with the company frequently investing in other aspects of the platform, many of the early decisions ossified into what we have today. That said, there are many promises within the election process that engaged community members have come to expect. These are probably the two most important aspects to understand and address before you start discussing how to solve this issue.

What is the purpose of a moderator, really?

I'd argue that, first and foremost, our intention for what a Stack Exchange moderator is and does fails to align with community expectations in most situations. There could be many reasons for this but let's start with the historical purpose of moderators and their toolkits:

If you see anything in the system that is evil, weird, or in any way exceptional and deserving of moderator attention for any reason... flag it! That's the primary job of a moderator: to look at every flagged post, and take action if necessary.

Beyond that, the Theory of Moderation post notably entrusts mods with tools such as:

  • Unilateral versions of multi-user curation privileges - closing/migrating, deleting, flagging, tag management.
  • Additional moderation tools - post locks, question merging, mod messaging/suspensions
  • Data and analytics - High-level vote fraud investigation data, site usage info.
  • PII - while couched as "user profile information", moderators have access to much that many other platforms don't grant volunteers.

It additionally advises transparency and communication and indicates that moderators are expected to practice soft skills related to mediation of disputes but simultaneously encourages a judicious hand. Some of the specifics have changed or been added to over time but the core outline is still relatively sound, if somewhat naive.

I personally use a few public service roles to define the types of behaviors I find are expected from moderators:

  • Police officer/librarian - someone who understands the community's expectations and works to enforce and adjudicate behavioral and curation norms set by the community in simple cases. Unilateral tools support this role.
  • Judge/investigator - In more complex cases, mods are more like a judge or investigator - someone who interprets the rules, seeks to understand the situation fully, and determines consequences in a way that aligns with the community's expectations. User PII, voting histories and mod messaging support this role.
  • Politician/thought leader - A third common aspect involves seeing moderators as something more like politicians or thought leaders - expecting them to create policy, rules, and guidance for interpreting and assigning consequences. There really aren't any tools supporting this role.

Nothing says the same person can't fill multiple roles but when it comes to granting access to tools and data, we should consider what roles we are filling with moderators and whether all moderators need access to all stuff.

What expectations do community members have for elections and moderator tenure?

We build processes and tools to meet expectations that users have. In order to create a new process and tools, it's important to understand which expectations exist and how essential people consider them to be. Perhaps the expectations existed in the past but aren't important any longer. Perhaps expectations differ by site or even each user. The question gets at this somewhat in the bullet points above the non-goals section but I think it's worth making more clear and really digging into what users think and what priorities for elections are.

Here are some of the implied expectations I think of when I look at the election system and policies here:

  • Moderator positions are granted by community support - currently this is done through an election of one or more people in a ranked-choice contest where only users with a certain amount of site-specific reputation can vote.
  • Moderators come from the community - reputation minimums to nominate and the candidate score signal to voters that engaged, active users on that site are higher quality candidates.
  • Moderators should be able to focus on moderating once elected - Instead of questioning whether they'll get voted out in the next election or need to spend time away from moderating to campaign, mods generally keep their role for life once elected.
  • Communities should not be constantly distracted by elections. - Elections run, at most, for three weeks every six months. It's rare for sites to have more than one election per year.
  • Moderators should be currently active - one of the primary exceptions regarding moderator tenure is moderators who vacate their role by being non-responsive to CMs.
  • Moderators are volunteers first - mods should feel free to only keep the role when they wish to have it and have the option to leave or go on "vacation".
  • Sites should have a limited number of moderators - Adding people to the role of moderator is only done if there's a need for more hands on the site.
  • Sites should have more than one moderator - The general policy is that sites should have at least three moderators each. Recently, it has become acceptable to have only two if the site was low-drama.
  • Moderators all have the same access & tools (per-site) - Once someone gets a diamond, they have the same access to tools as all other mods on that site, even if they have no intention or need to use them.

What else could go in this list? I'm sure there are other things.

What trappings of the existing election system meet community expectations for moderators? Which don't?

Before we can make informed decisions, we would be well-served to take these expectations, question their purpose, whether the solution we've implemented is doing what we think it does, decide whether we still agree it's important (and to whom), and prioritize them so if we have to choose between them, we know which is more important.

It's reasonable to not want to spend time as part of this project deciding how to revamp every aspect of elections (e.g. candidate score)... but you should question what purpose these aspects are intended to serve and investigate what impact it's actually having so you can determine whether that even needs to exist in the new system.

An example of how questioning the status-quo may lead to novel solutions:

The question states that some sites are struggling to get moderator candidates from their community and there's an issue with elections failing. My understanding is that this can happen even in cases where the site seems to be otherwise healthy - the most relevant expectation above is "moderators come from the community" - Do we (broadly) or the site (specifically) actually want all of a site's mods to be natural, regular users of that site?

Focusing on the more standard sites rather than those with special considerations, what purpose does this restriction serve? I'll allow that right now the only way to see there's flags on a site is to visit the site unless you're staff and can see the all-sites flag dashboard, so a moderator who isn't normally on the site might not notice they need to handle flags there.

What if some of the smaller sites were fine with experienced mods from other sites handling their flags and poking a nose into meta discussions from time to time? What if they actually considered it beneficial to have someone with that expertise, either as a moderator or mentor?

This might open up many options.

  • Consider allowing users who are moderators somewhere to run in an election anywhere, regardless of local reputation. Maybe they can only nominate after the election has been extended. Maybe their tenure is temporary or subject to renewal.
  • We could consider an option where 6-8 trusted and active mods sign on to moderate a group of sites rather than only moderating their elected site. These sites could opt in if they wanted the extra hands or mentoring from these mods or they may get assigned to it due to inactive mods or insufficient moderator candidates. These mods could have access to a dashboard that shows flag queues and recent meta posts on all sites that are under their care - heck, multi-site mods may benefit from such a page, too.

Maybe these are terrible ideas for some reason or other but we can't even envision them if we don't question the most basic assumptions that make up the status-quo and investigate whether there are other options.

Avoid the pitfall of focusing on reducing CM workload

CMs are important and the time y'all have is limited, so, sure - this is important to you but the company opting to under staff the CM team doesn't seem like a particularly compelling reason for volunteer users to help solve the problem. There are far more urgent and valid reasons - that have been utterly ignored over the last decade - to overhaul elections.

In fact, you've excluded from this discussion the topic that (to my memory) consumed most of the CM time in relation to elections - figuring out what to do when a site's election failed. Have you considered that solving this problem, which could lead to far fewer elections and a higher percentage of successful ones might do a lot to save you time?

I'll admit that part of my reasons for including this section is that I feel your outline of the steps involved in running elections with the current system can lead readers to believe the process is more time-consuming than I ever felt it was - and I normally ran the Stack Overflow elections. The bulk of elections I handled were uneventful and just happened. Once the election was scheduled, I'd say most took less than 20 minutes time over the 3 weeks.

The election steps that involve reaching out to existing mods or drumming up more candidates often take a bit of time, though my impression was that a lot of that is repeating pings and waiting for enough mods to respond to make a decision. Similarly, some sites just have hectic elections that require some extra moderation.

My concern when I see your gravitation to a model that requires less CM involvement is that, while there are active users on sites wondering when the next election is who might love a system more similar to Wikipedia's, most sites don't seem have communities that know or care when they need more moderators and may not have anyone who wants the role. The users most able to determine when more mods are needed and ask for help (the current mods) frequently go silent without contacting anyone about it, so only system notifications draw CM attention to unattended sites. And, honestly, most (by quantity) sites don't need much moderation at all.


In conclusion - I understand and appreciate the interest in reworking elections but I'd argue that what you spend the most space on in the question is not the most important argument for this change and that, rather than excluding election-related subjects from this discussion, it's important that any group working on this ask and answer the questions above about the entire scope of the election process, which should help determine what CMs and devs should actually be focusing your efforts on when reworking elections. You may end up exactly where you imagine but you may realize there's much lower-hanging fruit that will lead to better outcomes for users and CMs than you expect.

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    Agree with this, especially the dangers of fixating on reducing CM involvement. Speaking from personal experience: every time we tried to do more with less by cutting services to the community, we were rewarded by... Another opportunity to make do with less. The last thing worth cutting are visible services... Despite reassurances, no one cares about the heroic efforts on the backend.
    – Shog9
    Jan 31 at 20:39
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    This is one of the most perfect 'frame challenge' answers I've ever read. @Catija well done and thank you - you've covered every concern of mine. Regarding mod duties, I will say that there's another mod role, which is to be a Manager/Product Owner for issues/requests/concerns: (raising community requests to CMs via [status-review], chasing for updates on languished requests that have been marked [status-planned] for ages, and in some cases, being responsible for updating the community on any progress (or lack thereof). Red tagging, Mod chatrooms/TL, and the Mod Teams site help with this.
    – Robotnik
    Feb 2 at 0:34
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    Thanks, @Robotnik ! That's definitely a newer aspect of the role, yeah! I think it's something that was historically done by the CMs, even as recently as when I was a mod, but with changes in the Team and the process for getting requests queued up and handled, mods do have more responsibilities in that area! I was also thinking about how some newer mod tools might actually help policy-type mods - things like updating the help center and creating/updating site-specific close reasons.
    – Catija
    Feb 2 at 20:37
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I wasn't going to comment after I noticed that y'all aren't looking for advice for failed elections (we're already having that conversation on the per-site metas anyway, so I would just be repeating myself). But then I noticed this:

We have done some cursory research on how other platforms handle their moderation elections and found some appealing practices on Wikipedia.

Please, for the love of [deity], do not copy Wikipedia's Requests for Adminship model without a large amount of care and consideration. This is a matter of significant controversy on-wiki, but suffice it to say that (nearly) everybody agrees that RfA is broken, nobody agrees what is wrong with it, the discussion has been going around in circles for years, and meanwhile they are confirming fewer and fewer admins every year* and their attrition numbers are getting a bit scary. This is, to my mind, the epitome of a failed system, and I think it would be much better to try to learn from its failure rather than try to imitate it.


* Hyperbole. It's not literally decreasing every year, since there are minor ups and downs, but the long-term trend is downwards. The numbers have gotten so small that minor absolute differences are enough to swing whether it goes up or down in a given year.

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    As an admin on Wikipedia, I can definitely agree with this.
    – pppery
    Feb 1 at 4:49
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    Philippe was an admin at Wikipedia before joining Stack Exchange. Feb 1 at 5:00
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    @user1271772: Yes, I'm honestly a bit surprised that A) they are only discovering RfA now and B) Philippe didn't tell them it was broken. But I would prefer not to get into some extended speculation session about how their internal processes work. If Philippe wants to address that issue, he can do so.
    – Kevin
    Feb 1 at 7:22
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    Philippe was made an admin on Wikipedia in 2007. I think the process was less broken then.
    – pppery
    Feb 1 at 14:46
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Kinda alluded to this in a comment, but I'll reiterate in an answer since comments suck: your process is missing some steps.

You got the mechanics of how elections are coordinated, but... Y'all are community managers: the work of building a team of moderators doesn't start with announcing an election, nor does it end with pushing a button that appoints the winners.

In my experience, it takes years to build up folks to where they're both confident enough to stand in an election and sufficiently skilled to do a good job if elected. Sure, you can just hope that enough confident and skilled folks show up when you hang the sign, but... Uh, maybe you wanna increase your odds just a bit.

In my experience, it's worth looking for folks who have potential well before you have an election. Seek them out, encourage them, chide them, guide them, and then when election time rolls around badger them relentlessly to run. Ok, maybe that last step isn't 100% kosher, but the rest are.

And then once you have folks elected... Get 'em involved! Introduce them to their new comrades, help resolve any friction or confusion, be ready to jump in when they push the wrong button and blow something up. Don't wait for them to fall on their faces and ask for help! This isn't just a great time to help folks learn, it's a great time to learn more about the bits of the system that are ... a little broken, that the old-timers have been working around for so long they don't even think about it anymore.

IOW, y'all need to be building communities that produce and support moderators. Frankly, that's both more important and far more time-consuming than any of the rote tasks you're laying out here.

20
  • 2
    When someone is trapped in the middle of a storm, saying they should build a proper house instead of figuring out how best to put up their tent is more than a little ungenerous.
    – Nij
    Feb 1 at 7:42
  • 21
    @Nij It's much less ungenerous when they had a proper house and tore it down over the last several years.
    – TylerH
    Feb 1 at 15:30
  • 26
    When someone is trapped in a tent in the middle of a storm and starts asking for advice on how they might reduce the time spent erecting their tent in the future, I think it is more than generous to suggest they may wish to question their priorities, @Nij
    – Shog9
    Feb 1 at 16:59
  • @TylerH blaming people for creating a situation when they are just not responsible is plenty ungenerous as well.
    – Nij
    Feb 2 at 2:32
  • @Shog9 whether or not it's helpful to have a house is a separate problem, and one I'm sure they are perfectly aware of. Right now they are concerned with their tent-set-up process, talking about the house they also need to build is just wasting time and space for everybody.
    – Nij
    Feb 2 at 2:36
  • 17
    I think we may be past the point where metaphors are helpful, @nij. They're soliciting participants for a working group to discuss potential changes to the system that coordinates moderator elections. This is an important system, a time-consuming system, and one I am intimately familiar with - indeed, there's a good chance they're still relying on prototype tooling I constructed to support the process after a set of layoffs in 2017 left us understaffed. It is also inherently a support system - it provides no intrinsic value.
    – Shog9
    Feb 2 at 3:47
  • 13
    The value comes from individual communities selecting their own governance. That might seem obvious, but it wasn't the first thing we tried; in fact, we repeatedly tried to get around it in the early days because it's so costly, takes so much time and planning and cheerleading and coordination and... Yeah, all those alternatives failed badly, and after the 3rd or 4th time we had to deal with the community-killing fallout of NOT encouraging self-governance, we codified this election system to ensure that it happened.
    – Shog9
    Feb 2 at 3:52
  • 11
    I suppose I should recognize that... Some of this history has been lost, and in that context my answer does probably seem tangential at best. I'll try to find time to write up a background section here to compensate for that.
    – Shog9
    Feb 2 at 3:55
  • 1
    I'm aware of the context, @Shog9, particularly for your individual experience and input, but in this case, you're doing what everybody always did and does on Meta posts by staff: bring up different issues that are just not in scope for this project. Pushing for change in the overall picture is great, but, filling up the space here with something you especially will know it simply cannot address at all, is wasting every second and every centimetre used on it.
    – Nij
    Feb 2 at 5:29
  • 11
    @Nij The 'question' also asks something about dwindling participation and whether that can be changed by changing how elections are run. I personally interpreted this answer as simply answering that question with 'no', through the big bolded part. I do feel this answer is very much 'in scope' for the project, in as much as it is answering the question about participation with a 'no, you need something different for that'. Not a discussion of an entirely different issue or a waste of space at all and I'd personally love to see the background section take up even more.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Feb 2 at 11:27
  • 3
    @Shog9 So, you're saying the current community moderator system/election process is the worst form of site governance – except for all the others that have been tried? :-)
    – TylerH
    Feb 2 at 14:45
  • 8
    So first, that's not how this works @nij - this is an open discussion, regardless of who kicked it off. Second, it's... Actually a remarkably quiet discussion thus far, given it's featured network-wide; if the failure mode you're worried about is too much noise, I think your concerns are unfounded. You're making some assumptions about the scope of the feedback they're likely to act on, and maybe you're correct - but if we limit ourselves to bikeshed discussion, then that becomes a self-fulfilling prediction.
    – Shog9
    Feb 6 at 0:00
  • 1
    @Nij I think part of the problem is the scope of the project, as many others have pointed out. It's been poorly scoped in many ways, from not addressing much of the real issues to arbitrarily being scoped ahead of community involvement. This brings us something similar to what Shog9 said things were early on, avoiding the community until they have to deal with us by telling us what curtains we can and can't look behind when trying to address these issues right from the first time they bring us in on it. So yes, a lot of these responses are out of scope, they are complaints about scopal choices
    – Andrew
    Feb 12 at 20:48
  • If CMs are going to find/promote their preferred candidates at election time, why bother with elections at all?
    – Richard
    Feb 19 at 16:39
  • @Richard because at the end of the day it's still the community voting. I'd much rather have CM's that are active in the community enough to recognize which users would make good mods than have CM's that only know the people who have self selected to participate in private processes such as this one.
    – Kevin B
    Feb 19 at 16:43
57

I think one of the ongoing critiques here is elections are a lot of work. They are — but it's a core community manager function, and having enough staff to handle core community manager functions is essential. Practically most 'cross community/common' tasks ought to be community manager led.

If something is "too much work" for a paid community manager - it seems a little unfair to try to push it to the community without the community initiating it.


Do we need different election types (“regular” vs. “pro-tem”)?

Practically they're the same. We used to have pro-tem moderators cause new site moderators were appointed. Now they mostly are not.

While you do re-run an election after graduation, that's a later problem, and part of the graduation lifecycle.


Do our current candidate requirements make sense? Or do those need revisiting? Should they differ by site or can they stay uniform, network-wide?

SO suffers from general inflation in reputation and at the very least needs higher thresholds.

I've always thought that the spirit of the rules — that the requirements reflected engagement in that community and a knowledge of systems.

The nice thing about the current system is in theory it's trivially automatable. We used to have a community built app that kept track of candidate score.

I'd almost suggest waiving everything but minimum reputation if a moderator candidate is or was a moderator in good standing, but that's manual work.


Participation in moderator elections is declining. Can we reverse that by changing how elections are run?

Elections are 'low' effort to stand in relatively. The commitment comes after. Participation in moderator elections is declining because sites are losing their core members. I think literal volumes have been written over what ails the communities. If you want to sort that out, it might be worth looking at increasing the value the company gives their community. It's not about words, it's about actions. Make the community feel loved and valued over the longer term — and you'll have a chance of reversing this. That's only relevant to the current issue in the sense of "if you're blaming the elections process, you're completely missing what's wrong".

If you have trouble getting people to stand in the elections, what happens when your entire strategy revolves around getting someone willing to run them?

Instead of CMs running elections, would it make more sense to create a new role to facilitate them on individual sites?

Which essentially means finding someone willing to put in 2–3 weeks per site for no real benefit — and for the sake of conflict of interest can't stand in an election.

Which… I suspect is almost as much work as running an election. Considering healthy sites run elections at most annually or more, there's also a risk of last election's community elections co-ordinator dropping out from doing it, or the site as a whole.

8
  • 3
    "Elections are 'low' effort to stand in relatively." Hmmm, not sure I would agree. There's a lot of careful writing involved with a nomination. In some cases, I starting writing mine before anyone could apply to get extra time, and then had to rewrite because it was over the limit (curses to the verbose people from the community who wrote those questions!) Moderating is less effort on average, but you have to do it for longer and there are problems every now and then that crop up that can suck up your time in immense quantities.
    – Laurel
    Jan 31 at 14:30
  • As opposed to running one, and actual moderation, both of which I've done in the context of SE :D Jan 31 at 14:53
  • 10
    @Laurel Eh... I'd quibble with you on that. While it's great that you invest time and effort, the reality is, in the bulk of elections, there's little gained by taking the time to craft a nomination carefully or answering the questionnaire. Elections allow and even encourage candidates to do a ton of work but most of it is supplemental. Ive argued for years that most people vote based on candidate scores rather than anything the candidate writes. The questionnaire is optional and candidates do win without answering it. Plus many elections don't have much engagement in proposing questions.
    – Catija
    Jan 31 at 15:00
  • 1
    I do want to address the "too much work" piece. If I came across that way, it was not my intention. I specify as much, saying our current process is in need of automation, which is something that we plan to address at a bare minimum. We are not interested in offloading it to the community but wanted to present it as an option in the event that the community might want to have more control over facilitating their own elections. We are happy to continue to manage the process as needed.
    – SpencerG StaffMod
    Feb 1 at 14:45
  • 4
    @SpencerG It's probably from the "Why we're doing this" section starting with a long paragraph about how much work it is, followed by a paragraph in which moving burden to the community is "without needing to wait for CMs to find time". What are you referring to by "two most important pieces" later on? Those are the pieces that the section spends time discussing and they're both about CM time. Feb 1 at 15:09
  • 5
    @SpencerG By "ongoing" I literally mean it is a problem that goes back to before... nearly everyone on the CM team got hired. I literally recall Shog saying they needed automation. Blame where blame is due - that elections are resource intensive, and community resources are often stretched are an old problem. You didn't come across that way - the company's history and what we've heard from the folks who came before comes across that way. Feb 1 at 15:28
  • 1
    Reputation limit should only make sure that the candidate has privileges to use moderation tools, otherwise it's useless metric to determine how good a moderator they would be.
    – gre_gor
    Feb 2 at 1:35
  • @Laurel I have to agree with Catija. I've stood in some elections on SE sites and I have voted in many, many more. One of the first things I look at is a candidate score, perhaps it's a bad metric but it is a metric of their commitment to that exchange site one way or another. I will read some of the Q&A points if there is a point of particular relevance to me, or if I want to see why someone with a low score feels they fit, but usually votes still end up with the higher scored candidates even after that.
    – Andrew
    Feb 12 at 20:55
51

One thing the election system needs is a way of voting against someone.

We've all seen it: users who have no business being a moderator nominating themselves, typically because they're hat-collecting or are too new to realize how unqualified they are. Under the current system, it's entirely possible for such a candidate to get elected: for example, two open positions, one qualified candidate, and a half-dozen hat-collectors. If even one of the hat-collectors gets even one vote, the mechanics of the STV system will produce two winners.

Within the mechanics of STV, you could do this by adding a number of "empty seat" candidates; if one of those candidates wins, a moderator position remains vacant. This would require custom counting software to make the "empty seat" candidates equivalent.

Abandoning STV, you could easily get this by adding a quorum requirement, or a "more votes for than against" requirement.

13
  • 6
    that is a big issue I have with the moderation system - no way to express my disdain for someone becoming a moderator. The current system is flawed. Like everything else on the network, it works with big enough voters numbers. But as soon as the votes aren't enough you enter the phase where it is fully possible to become a mod by just having some chat friends. Basically this turns moderation into something similar to Microsoft MVP voting system where the MVP votes for the MVP and so the best way to become one is to know someone. [cont]
    – SPArcheon
    Jan 31 at 9:33
  • 11
    While I'd like a way to 'vote against' a candidate, I'm not sure if a 'no seat' vote that leaves a position vacant is the way to go yet. If elections are run based on needs, this only creates 'more' work, as the seat that remains vacant is 'needed' and thus another election needs to be run to fill it. So: I agree with the idea (I think being able to silently vote against someone could also prevent some drama in comments/shenanigans), but not so much yet with the proposed solution. Hopefully a working group can think of something else to consider as a solution as well!
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jan 31 at 9:37
  • 8
    I often see the network rewarding what I consider poor behavior. People "stealing" bug reports as soon as someone mentions an issue on chat, answering OT questions instead of closing them (and therefore giving the OP what they wanted and making them more likely to ignore the rules again), posting question that can be solved with a google query (making me wish to go back to the old times where replying "Let me Google that for you" was a thing) and so on. I came to know some of those bad actor by name since they keep doing that over and over. I hope they never nominate themselves.
    – SPArcheon
    Jan 31 at 9:37
  • 6
    @Tinkeringbell, leaving a seat vacant for a few months until another election can be run is less work than dealing with the fallout of an unqualified moderator. The best-case scenario is that a hat-collector puts in the minimal effort needed to hold on to their hat, meaning you're still short a moderator.
    – Mark
    Jan 31 at 22:40
  • Can't you downvote a candidate nomination already?
    – TylerH
    Feb 1 at 15:15
  • 2
    Also, what is the fairness in voting against someone? A vote for anyone else or no one is a vote against someone already? I don't see how in an election it is at all fair--no election anywhere in the world works this way, AFAIK.
    – TylerH
    Feb 1 at 15:17
  • 11
    @TylerH only during the primary phase, which isn't even mentioned anymore because only SO generally has enough candidates to have one and even SO hasn't for the last 2-3 elections.
    – Catija
    Feb 1 at 16:56
  • @TylerH, Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee elections work this way. You can vote "support" or "oppose", and a candidate is only elected if 1) they are among the candidates with the highest level of support, and 2) they have a sufficient percentage of support (the threshold has typically been either 50% or 60%). The idea is that since ArbCom membership is supposed to be a position of trust, there's no point in electing someone if the community doesn't trust them.
    – Mark
    Feb 1 at 23:07
  • 3
    There is already a (flawed) moderator suitability criteria gathered from each candidate automatically. What badges have they got, how many votes/reviews/flags have they cast etc. Using this system already in place, it ought to be quite easy to filter out "hat collectors". Just block anyone who have not done x number of reviews from participating, for example. That's a perfectly sensible thing to do. I remember a candidate who wasn't even aware that the site had things like flagging, editing and edit reviews, yet running for diamond mod...
    – Lundin
    Feb 2 at 12:01
  • 1
    @Mark sounds awful (as others have already described ITT)--why give users multiple votes? If the community doesn't trust someone, they won't vote for that person.
    – TylerH
    Feb 2 at 14:41
  • @TylerH, Wikipedia uses a variation on approval voting, and "not voting" isn't the same thing as "voting against". "Not voting" is a way of expressing "I have no opinion on this candidate", while "voting against" is a way of expressing "I have looked at this candidate and decided I don't want them".
    – Mark
    Feb 2 at 22:40
  • 1
    This also addresses the problems caused on smaller sites by the arbitrary rule that an election must be contested to "really count". That's certainly caused us problems quite recently over on Open Source. Whilst it's good to try to be sure that a quiet election is quiet because of satisfaction not apathy, arbitrary rules that cause everyone more work are less satisfactory than clear community choices that cause everyone more work.
    – MadHatter
    Feb 11 at 3:27
43

Don't follow Wikipedia too closely

I've been contributing to Wikipedia on and off since 2005. The Request for Admin process there is widely seen as broken. The bar for being accepted as an admin was progressively raised by the community so many times that eventually it became almost impossible for anyone to pass.

See these stats: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:RFA_by_month

From a distance, the process looks good: anyone can nominate, answer a few questions, and if a high enough ratio of community members vote in favour, they are appointed. What actually happens is that only a small number of people vote at all, and they become increasingly picky about who they vote for, and vote against people for all kinds of pretty trivial reasons.

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/Series/RfA_reform

29

This isn't 100% on-topic, but it's related.

Find a way to encourage users to regularly participate in Meta

I'll go out on a limb and suggest that good Moderators begin with regular participation in meta. I can't speak for all Stacks, but over at Worldbuilding we've seen a precipitous drop in Meta participation... and I can point a finger to the decision to discontinue Community Ads.

Community Ads allowed us to direct users to Meta for various purposes. Perhaps chief among them were ads directing new users to our Sandbox where they can test and perfect the process of asking questions, and ads directing experienced users to help mentor in the Sandbox.

That's all been lost. Users who hunt in the Help Center can find the link and I suppose Moderators could hot link the Sandbox in the right column... but in our experience few people read the Help Center until they've had their hand slapped so many times they read it in frustrated rebellion and adding a link to the right column is just another tree lost in a forest.

Is the solution to bring back Community Ads? I wouldn't complain, but no... it's not a panacea. It's merely an example of how we've lost the ability to draw people into the Community discussion rather than using Stack Exchange just to meet their immediate needs.

Conclusion

Yes, we need improvements in the Moderator election process... but we have more fundamental problems, and I believe one of them is the inability to draw users into Meta discussions. Meta experience makes for good Moderators.

8
  • 7
    I consider good meta skills - and being able to explain your decisions,handling critique and informing users of potential issues and features a essential moderator skill. Jan 31 at 8:20
  • 3
    Find a way to encourage users to regularly participate in Meta I'm saddened by the lack of activity I see on Writing Meta. As a mod, I was running writing challenges, but I had to stop when I was the only one participating. There's not much in the way of non-fun activity either, and I have no idea how to stimulate that…
    – Laurel
    Jan 31 at 14:45
  • @Laurel I remember when the Meta over at Worldbuilding was very active. Policy discussions would have a dozen or more answers promoting ideas. Votes would regularly tally above 50 and could hit triple digits. Then Monica was fired and the community ads went away and many of the original participants left. Today we're hard pressed to get any double-digit voting and more than one or two participating answers. It's tough to act on "community consensus" when the same four people are involved. I'd be curious to know how many <5,000 rep users even know Meta exists.
    – JBH
    Jan 31 at 22:58
  • @HelderSepulveda You're looking at this backwards. It's not the people with the questions who are failing Stack Exchange, it's the people who have plenty of time to type an answer. And another. And another. I've not run the test, but I wouldn't be surprised if of the top 15% of respondents on any stack only a fraction participate in Meta. (Now, getting new users to read the Help Center, pay attention to the Tour, and actually think about what a good question means... that really would be a miracle.)
    – JBH
    Feb 1 at 17:44
  • @HelderSepulveda Ah... thanks. That explains your initial comment. Sorry to bother you.
    – JBH
    Feb 1 at 18:18
  • 2
    Yeah, by and large, the elections I ran as CM that had trouble getting enough candidates to proceed were sites that had quiet/inactive communities overall – including Meta and chat. The lack of community participation was the underlying issue; the difficulty finding nominees was just one symptom of that. (Even when the election happened to get enough candidates to proceed, it didn't really solve the underlying issue – it just allowed the situation to remain until the next election.)
    – V2Blast
    Feb 1 at 22:32
  • 1
    @JBH "I've not run the test, but I wouldn't be surprised if of the top 15% of respondents on any stack only a fraction participate in Meta" That is certainly true, but just because someone has great domain knowledge or just a lot of time to write answers, doesn't necessarily mean they are good moderator material. And the opposite, we've seen some young moderators who were still students and lacking plenty in pure domain knowledge, yet were great as moderators. It's two separate things.
    – Lundin
    Feb 2 at 12:08
  • 4
    ( Particularly true on Electrical Engineering, I would say :) There's lots of grumpy engineers with great knowledge but with the people skills of a zener diode :) )
    – Lundin
    Feb 2 at 12:12
28

Moderators should not be able to effectively "veto" candidates for sites they aren't part of by suspending them on sites they moderate. For example, if the appointed mods here on Meta suspend someone who is a valuable contributor on a different site, that candidate should not be automatically precluded from standing for election on a site they haven't been suspended on. I think this benefits moderators on every site, because they don't have to think about how suspending someone who is disrupting the community they moderate might affect a different community; they can focus on what is best for their community.

If the current site's mod team and community doesn't care about that suspension, they should be able to waive the requirement that a candidate not have been suspended anywhere on the network in the past year. A requirement of nomination should be agreeing that the details of suspensions from the past year can be discussed publicly so the community is making an informed choice.

I don't think the decision of whether a community has the opportunity to vote for a candidate who is in good standing on their site should be up to a member of the CM team who may have a different opinion on the seriousness of things that happened on other sites than the community does. The CM may also not be aware of how the potential candidate's participation on the site they're volunteering to moderate is valued by the community they're asking to serve.

The network has over 182 sites and norms for what merits a suspension can vary widely. Maybe the rule should be changed to disqualify candidates who have had a suspension in the past year on the site that is having the election or on more than one other site on the network. I think one suspension on any site on the network in the past year is just too wide a net and is not indicative of a pattern of bad behavior that should exclude someone as a candidate.

The FAQ There's an election going on. What's happening and how does it work? says

A nominee must be "in good standing". Any nominee who was suspended at any time during the past year on any site in the network will not be allowed to run as a candidate (unless the suspension was in error or was reversed on appeal).

That makes it sound like a site can't just choose ignore a suspension on another site in the network unless that suspension was in error. I think that it's possible for a suspension to be completely justified on one site, and still be irrelevant when determining whether someone would be a good moderator on another site. Because elections are infrequent and need-based, unfortunate timing could exclude otherwise good candidates.

41
  • 8
    I think this is an interesting point. It's probably wise to consider if every suspension reason is one that needs to prevent someone from running in a particular election.
    – SpencerG StaffMod
    Jan 31 at 14:21
  • 4
    @SpencerG I think the company should absolutely have some guard rails around who the company is willing to trust with additional privileges, but I don't think it should be a blanket rule like "all CoC violation suspensions are disqualifying". If a candidate has been suspended in the past x months anywhere on the network, maybe their nomination must go through some sort of review by mod team and the candidate must accept making their suspension and some of the details public. I think the only suspension that should automatically disqualify someone is if they were suspended network-wide.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31 at 14:37
  • 15
    Considering the trivial reasons I've seen someone get suspended (eg a very short suspension for being politely chatty in the comments), I think this is wise. If a moderator has a concern with a potential candidate during an election, CMs should be the ones to handle the issue. On the other hand, I think that there should also be a way to handle candidates who apply after moderators were generous by not suspending for a serious issue (eg AI use, which nowadays gets you a warning first).
    – Laurel
    Jan 31 at 14:53
  • 4
    @Laurel I get what you're saying, but we have to be careful about putting notices on candidates. Community Notes are vetted by thousands of people and have links to publicly available sources that people can judge the credibility of... with SE moderation stuff, it's just impossible to give the public all the context they need. It's not fair to hang an albatross around someone's neck because they posted AI-generated content once and got caught. Moderation is inherently opinion-based and context-dependent. Even though "this candidate was suspended on site" is factual, it's not informative.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31 at 16:07
  • 17
    FWIW, what you describe is how this was supposed to work - that is, there shouldn't be a hard block on nomination, rather, nominations are removed after a CM validates that the suspension wasn't BS.
    – Shog9
    Jan 31 at 19:34
  • 3
    @Shog9 Last I remember, those who encounter the block can bypass it by dismissing the alert and submitting their nomination. A CM looking at the election page sees a banner (and maybe gets an email) when such nominees come through. That doesn't mean those nominees actually persist after seeing the banner but I can think of at least one case where I OKed a user who'd been suspended in error by just telling them to ignore the banner and nominate.
    – Catija
    Jan 31 at 19:56
  • 5
    @Catija I think this prohibition keeps people from even thinking about running though. I certainly wouldn't have nominated myself if I thought I was going to have to beg for an exception. Frankly, I don't think it should require some CM deep-dive investigation. A lot of people behave differently in different communities. I've seen two active users who do not get along go hammer and tongs in a comment thread, lose their cool and violate the CoC on one site and be model citizens on another site. Suspensions happen to let people "cool down", not to put a black mark against their character.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31 at 20:47
  • 13
    The problem is maybe that we treat being a moderator like it's some great prize to be won, when in reality it's a volunteer obligation with few rewards for the most part. Busy people who take commitments seriously are going to need some encouraging to do it, and every speed bump the system puts in their way is going to make it less likely that they'll jump in.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31 at 20:50
  • 10
    Someone managing to stay cool and calm on one site while ending up suspended on another site definitely leaves me questioning whether they would remain calm on the site - particularly if the reason they stay calm on one site is simply because they're never put in such situations there. While a mod may not get tested, they're certainly more likely to than a normal user and being a mod means they can reach for tools they wouldn't have otherwise. I don't think the rule is perfect by any stretch (hence why I made exceptions) and maybe there are better options but something is needed.
    – Catija
    Jan 31 at 21:04
  • 4
    My main point in responding is to say that, as far as I'm aware, the recommendations in your answer are how it currently works, though the implementation may not align with what you would prefer. I'm not sure there's an easy way to review the suspensions to determine whether ineligibility is warranted... and in 99.9% of cases, it's totally unnecessary because there's just no election being run. I can understand wanting to take the onus off the suspended user but I don't think the process or how mods might get the CMs to allow the candidate is particularly onerous or time consuming.
    – Catija
    Jan 31 at 21:15
  • 3
    I think it's less that the post needs to be rewritten and more that when you take what I know and couple it with what I'm interpreting you to be saying, the result is the current system. Maybe we could add fields to suspensions for mods to indicate if the suspension should impact election eligibility on that site or the network but that ends up being super subjective and prone to error - and doesn't actually prevent what you're outlining since such a nefarious person would simply tick the boxes. But there are way too many suspensions for CMs to review them all individually.
    – Catija
    Jan 31 at 21:47
  • 3
    I think there's a difference between say a one day suspension cause we're worried someone's account got compromised - and a COC violation or harassment on the other end of the scale. In this case - the community team is the best people to handle it, simply cause they already have visibility of the problems Feb 1 at 15:10
  • 3
    AFAIK, they aren't precluded, necessarily. A user who has been suspended within the last year anywhere on the network can petition CMs to run anyway and explain why the suspension should not disqualify them. At least, that's how it used to be.
    – TylerH
    Feb 1 at 15:32
  • 2
    I understand that transparency is generally very valuable but I disagree that publicizing a candidate's past is effective or kind. The SE system is designed to let people move on from past issues, letting them stay in the past and hidden from general view. You say that asking someone to send a short request to the CMs - who can see the history - explaining why they should be allowed to run is likely to leave them unwilling to participate. Surely, someone who's been suspended might be similarly (or even more) reluctant to have their history reviewed in public?
    – Catija
    Feb 2 at 22:11
  • 3
    @ResistanceIsFutile Exactly. Either suspensions are “time outs” that we don’t hold against people in the future, or they’re not. They’re kept private to allow people to correct their bad behavior and move on. If we’re going to give someone a black mark that only staff can see and make judgments about whether it matters, why not have staff screen and approve every candidate?
    – ColleenV
    Feb 23 at 13:13
17

I think that current moderation tools make it impossible for anything but a Community Manager to oversee an election. As a 'simplified' example, when a user accuses a nominee in comments under their nomination of misbehavior (let's say something serious like socks) on another site, and that comment is flagged as harassment and/or because the nominee says the accusation is false, then there is no way for a moderator or community member overseeing an election to check the validity of such flags for themselves. They'd have to either hunt down one of the existing moderators of that other site and hope those read chat messages, and respond in a very timely manner before the whole comment thread becomes a mess and the drama distracts from the election, or ask ... a Community Manager, as those have the tools to check the moderation history of profiles on all sites, but that also only works if there is one available for overseeing the election and this doesn't end up in a backlog of CM escalations.

However, the processes can be streamlined to require a bit less attention. For example, when moderators reach out for an election, they could be asked to already provide some of the information about the workload, how many new team members they'd like, and the urgency. That saves a bit of time for the CM, who doesn't have to find the mods, request this information, and wait for replies. They can just say that 'based on the above, we've scheduled you for date X'.

The shenanigans for question collection could be avoided by avoiding question collection in its entirety. I'm not even sure I'm a fan of this idea, but perhaps it's worth investigating what types of questions the question collection phase yields, and whether those can be condensed into something a bit more generic that can be asked on all sites. Looking just at the latest few SO question collections (2020/2021/2022), there at least seem to be mostly recurring themes in the most upvoted ones, like questions about motivation, what sets you apart from other candidates, and how you would handle different scenarios you might run into as a mod. If a significant part of question collection leads to variants on the same questions, perhaps it's time to just make a bigger questionnaire and/or something that can be automated (like a 'menu' of questions the community can vote for, but no 'other' option, and the software just picks the most votes ones and puts them up).

I'd like to end with a counter-question. You ask: "Participation in moderator elections is declining. Can we reverse that by changing how elections are run?". I will ask: Does anyone already know why participation in elections is declining? I think without the answer to that question, there is no way to know what (if anything) should be changed in how elections are run for participation to increase.

10
  • 1
    That is participation across the board, right? So those who nominate and those who visit and ultimately vote.
    – rene
    Jan 31 at 9:26
  • 3
    @rene good question actually, I was assuming nominations (and didn't consider the rest), but that sounds like a question for SpencerG. :) I wouldn't mind if it was about more than just nominations though, my question remains the same and open for answers addressing all sorts of participation ;) I want things based on data though, not just guesses (not even the obvious 'there's been way too much drama' ones :P)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jan 31 at 9:27
  • 3
    Bit of history: the "question collection" thing replaced a previous process which involved live Q&A in chat. Question collection had the advantage of being more asynchronous. Purpose of both was just to motivate community involvement in the election, get folks talking with / about the candidates.
    – Shog9
    Jan 31 at 20:58
  • I'd imagine participation is falling largely because we have mod-for-life tenure, so the users who are most active (probably in their first couple of years) and hence most likely to want to run are effectively excluded unless they happen to be a) quite lucky or b) hang around forever until a rare slot opens up. The whole election process is incredibly disempowering to users.
    – Richard
    Feb 10 at 0:00
  • @Richard I'm not sure, wouldn't there (on healthy sites at least) continue to be a steady stream of 'newer' users then, that replace the older 'most active' users when those become less active, as the newer 'most active' users that will also want to run? I can imagine it's some sort of discouraging to have to run against such newer users if elections are that rare, but I wouldn't necessary expect participation to drop because of that, just stall, perhaps.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Feb 13 at 12:07
  • @Tinkeringbell - There has to be a sweet spot where an active user becomes a realistic potential moderator (because of their experience) and yet retains the enthusiasm in the site to actually want to do the job. I think at the moment that 90% of those that fit the bill are never getting the opportunity to stand. They're getting to the point that they want to be a moderator, but just never having the opportunity
    – Richard
    Feb 13 at 12:19
  • @Tinkeringbell - Or worse, because elections are so rare, you have a pool of well committed users who're interested in becoming moderators, but then become disheartened because they missed their one shot in X years to become a mod.
    – Richard
    Feb 13 at 12:26
  • @Richard by "missed their one shot", do you mean they weren't able to nominate on time, because they somehow had other obligations that week? Or that these users didn't end up elected? (both is fine too, but if it's just one that limits the directions I have to think in...)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Feb 16 at 12:40
  • 1
    @Tinkeringbell - By 'missed their shot', I meant 'failed to get elected'. If elections only happen once every few years, a user might only see one election during their period of highest activity.
    – Richard
    Feb 16 at 13:04
  • @Tinkeringbell - MoviesSE, for example has not held an election since 2018 and only elected one new mod since 2015. During that time, users have joined, been vigorously active, entered senescence and eventually gone inactive without ever having a sniff of a chance at modhood
    – Richard
    Feb 16 at 13:10
16

I don't believe it would be that hard to bring fresh blood and greater activity into moderation. It requires the change of but a single rule:

Moderators cannot serve for life

Notably because only moderators can initiate the process of electing moderators, but also because the needs of even moderator lives change, meaning they sometimes drop away from active moderation. Consequently, there should be a period of time after which a moderator must re-justify themselves to the community. For good moderators, this is little more than an inconvenience. But it's a way to ensure fresh blood can enter the moderator circle.

While I think it would be ideal to let communities set their own term lengths, I could easily be convinced that no moderator can serve longer than five (5) years without re-election. And I believe it would be more than reasonable to set the term length to three (3) years.


I would like to underscore my primary reason for posting this suggestion

Commenters have read my second suggestion (let communities add more moderators) and jumped to the conclusion that the reason I posted this suggestion was to provide a means of dismissing Mods who, for whatever reason, have become unappreciated or unwanted. It's certainly true that removing the lifetime status of Mods would benefit that problem. However...

As I state in the first sentence, the goal here is to give more people a chance to be Moderators. Such changes bring new ideas, new enthusiasm, and serves to give a greater number of people Moderator experience, which can only be a good thing for any community. It increases the value of the community user base as a whole.

A legitimate argument is that well-trained Moderators (which includes their experience interfacing with Staff) have substantial value. But I counter, is that value so great that it makes the effort of training new Moderators so undesirable that the advancement of community members to Moderator status should be rare? Having never been a Moderator, I can't answer that question.

I do understand that, generally among all Stacks, participation in elections is decreasing. I address that with my third suggestion about finding ways to improve participation in Meta. That problem is reflected all too well in Real Life. When few people are involved in city activities (e.g., volunteering with non-profit organizations or participating in public discussions), they're less likely to vote and unlikely to stand as a candidate at all. I made three suggestions because I think more than one suggestion will be required to solve the problem.

This suggestion focuses on thing: the benefits of rotating elected officials.

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  • 11
    First, a fact: your primary problem statement of mods dropping away from active moderation isn't much of a concern, since mods who don't moderate for six months are subject to being procedurally removed for inactivity. Second, a question: under your system, if mods serve limited-time terms, would moderators be able to stand for re-election once their term is about to be over? If so, would they be limited to a given number of terms or not? Jan 31 at 2:16
  • 12
    Elections are primarily about whether the current mod headcount is sufficient to cover the workload. What you're proposing wont affect inactive mods (they're already handled/removed), but it will affect "Less active mods" - the ones that (understandably, imo) treat modship as the part-time volunteer position it is. So I disagree with the idea of term lengths - they will punish current mods by forcing them to either re-apply and go through the whole rigamarole of the election process again, or (more than likely) bow out, while ultimately not doing anything to stop inactive mods.
    – Robotnik
    Jan 31 at 4:51
  • 5
    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog I don't know what criteria is used to determine whether or not a Moderator has become inactive. I've seen Mods vanish from the public stage for years, only to appear rarely. Therefore, while I understand what you're saying... it's a system that's inadequate if not broken as it fails to meet the needs of communities (if you think it does, then it's irrelevant to this discussion as the problem remains). I don't believe terms limits are necessary. Active and popular Mods will sail through the process. (*Continued*)
    – JBH
    Jan 31 at 5:08
  • 8
    ... Finally, if the process of electing Moderators is so onerous that it's a burden every 3-5 years, then the whole process of electing Mods isn't just broken, it's entirely ill conceived. The idea of lifetime Mods is antithetical to community moderation. Frankly, if the process of electing Mods due to the present effort reduces the burden of the election process, then your assertion has little merit. If, as you claim, this suggestion would ultimately do little to stop inactive Mods, then the SE community system is entirely broken and this entire effort is a waste of time. (*Continued*)
    – JBH
    Jan 31 at 5:11
  • 7
    ... Please keep in mind that some SE users feel powerless to solve problems on their stacks. The Help Center isn't updated. Policies aren't reviewed. Community input isn't sought after. I'm certain some stacks are worse than others, but it doesn't change the fact that today a large fraction of what Moderators do is entirely hidden from the community. All we see is what Mods give us in terms of a public face. When that fails, trust is breached, and the community has no recourse but to send emails to SE Management asking for intervention. That's not a practical solution.
    – JBH
    Jan 31 at 5:14
  • 11
    I'm not sure this is a good idea. At the size of Stack Overflow (26 moderators, most of which have been elected over 3 years ago and with a substantial number elected over 5 years ago), the number of (re-)elected moderators per year would have to increase substantially. That would require about 5 additional positions for (re-)election yearly if we would like to keep the team the same size and used a 5-year term. Researching and voting for that many positions yearly is a substantial task for the community, I fear people may just go for the stupid candidate score.
    – Erik A
    Jan 31 at 10:20
  • 7
    By all means, let's bring new trustworthy people onto the mod teams, but please let's not remove anyone. There would be so much knowledge lost if we did. I really think that nobody else could or would do the things I do for my sites, like identifying socks or working through deep issues that require a lot of finesse and experience (eg I'm dealing with interconnected issues that straddle 2sites I moderate right now—nobody else can work through this). I also don't think there's any value in removing mods that most like (and I think that describes me—if not, I'd like to know before it comes2that)
    – Laurel
    Jan 31 at 15:01
  • 9
    I agree in principle with this concern, but... By my count, there are currently 33 sites with less than the required minimum number of moderators, and as @Tinkeringbell notes participation is down in most (not all) sites' elections. And... That's not even mentioning all the "moderators" who went on strike and never returned. IOW, CMs need to put in a lot more work drumming up interest in moderating before anyone can seriously think about forced retirement.
    – Shog9
    Jan 31 at 20:02
  • 6
    Term limits and regular elections is a definite plus. Seeing that a site has been moderated for years by the same tiny group of individuals is very disempowering for new users.
    – Richard
    Feb 2 at 1:31
  • 4
    @Nij - I'm seeing the same issue cropping up on a range of smaller sites, where the established moderators are just sitting there, like toads on stones, refusing to ever give up their power or allow newer users, who may have fresh ideas about how to support or manage the site, to ever get a look-in.
    – Richard
    Feb 2 at 17:23
  • 5
    It is not a mods job to go against policies that they or a few outspoken people don't like; rather, they are there to enforce the policies that have been agreed upon.
    – Kevin B
    Feb 2 at 20:14
  • 3
    @KevinB - The problem with having a fixed class of moderators is that nobody else gets much of a look-in. Rotation would allow other people to take part in site leadership rather than merely having their noses pressed against the glass for decades at a time
    – Richard
    Feb 3 at 17:38
  • 9
    you don't need a diamond by your name to be among the leadership of the community.
    – Kevin B
    Feb 3 at 19:03
  • 7
    @Richard I find it kinda amusing that you are implying that a diamond is in any way required for leadership. Mods are not leaders, and even if you see them as such, implying that only mods can be leaders is actually discouraging to anyone who's not a mod and wants to help the site grow and improve. Maybe if we stop implying that mods == leaders, we can get people to stop waiting for a slot to open up to do something.
    – Catija
    Feb 4 at 2:53
  • 3
    @Catija - it's incredibly difficult to get traction for any ideas that promote the site if you don't have a diamond. You're subject to the whims of moderators, constantly having to beg them to highlight posts, for example.
    – Richard
    Feb 4 at 9:44
13

Consider running elections with 1 candidate. In that case just make the election a yes-no choice. (This is a more specific special-case of the "empty seat" that @Mark proposes).

I've seen at least a few times (mainly on smaller sites) where one good candidate nominates themselves, but an election isn't able to proceed. What usually happens is that the period is extended, and someone else puts themselves down as a "fake" candidate to offer the illusion of choice (making that explicit in their nomination).

I tend to think this is worse than just proceeding with the election and allowing the users of the site to accept or reject the person who originally nominated themselves.

Edit: Reading the question in more detail, one of the things you're considering is holding elections when users self-nominate. In this case I imagine a choice on an individual candidate would probably be much more common?

8
  • 3
    What would be the threshold? Two votes in favor? Twenty? Fifty? A first past the post win? You run the risk that a crappy candidate becomes a mod because they win by a majority of a single vote. Feb 1 at 7:52
  • 1
    @Mari-LouAСлаваУкраїні Given a yes-no choice on a particular candidate, I'd think 50% yes would win. Although I kind of agree with you that someone getting 49% no would probably be pretty controversial. I don't think it's worse than the existing system though.
    – DavidW
    Feb 1 at 7:54
  • If there's only one candidate wouldn't 50% be a draw? Feb 1 at 8:05
  • 10
    I probably should have said 50%+1 vote. This feels like a discussion about irrelevant technicalities though so I'll leave it there.
    – DavidW
    Feb 1 at 8:10
  • For every proposal there are always pros and cons. I don't see any mentions of cons in your answer. Feb 1 at 8:18
  • @Mari-LouAСлаваУкраїні The "crappy candidate problems" does not seems specific to the number of candidates required, but relates mainly to the number of voters. The same problem occurs with e.g. 2 crappy candidates and 3 votes. In fact, I think the problem shows that the number of voters is more important for the "legitimacy" of an election than the number of candidates. Feb 1 at 19:57
  • 1
    For reference, if a "pro-tem" mod election ends up with an insufficient number of candidates (even after the 1-week extension), the users who do nominate themselves do end up being appointed as mods. (The same applies to a site's "graduation" election if it gets an insufficient number of nominees, e.g. if the current mods don't renominate themselves; any candidates who aren't already mods there are appointed, and the "graduation" election is reattempted after 6-12 months or so.)
    – V2Blast
    Feb 1 at 22:51
  • @DavidW You're saying they need a positive vote over the course of the election (50%+1 yea over nay) but I think that's too low a threshold for something like this, and is open to abuse. People are more likely to stay silent than vote against, it's a part of human nature, so a slim positive record should be cause for alarm, not election.
    – Andrew
    Feb 12 at 21:16
9

Terms

There is a reason why democratic elections held all over the world, usually have a specific time period of power for the elected person.

  • It holds the elected person accountable to the community - to some extent.

  • It gives the community time to evaluate their elected person's decisions in power and vote accordingly in the future elections.

Vote of no confidence

In the absence of predetermined terms, I believe Motion of no confidence is absolutely essential. In case of complete breakdown of community - moderator relationships, currently the only form of recourse for the community is the CMs, which are highly ineffective. I understand that such votes are held within a legislature. However, a modified form with all voters can be implemented. Similar to Proposal for votes against moderators, a simultaneous vote of no-confidence for current moderators, can be held concurrently with the election for new moderators. Along with electing new moderators, old moderators are put in voting for votes for no-confidence. Any moderator with votes of no confidence of say >35%-50% of total votes on the election, should have their privileges revoken, as the community has no more confidence in the moderators. This is especially needed for "pro-tem" moderators, but would also be useful for "regular" moderators.

Community should have the right to retract/change their original decision.

13
  • 5
    If a moderator is failing their community such that 50% of the votes in an election would have them removed, surely there's enough of a case against them such that existing moderators, or the company would agree to remove them without such a vote? Why must it wait for an election?
    – Kevin B
    Jan 31 at 20:03
  • 8
    @KevinB There's no way to prove that at least 50% of the community has no confidence in a specific moderator, except by elections. Especially in small sites, Moderators can claim plenty of things - like "Meta users isn't representative of the whole community", "They're just loud voices on meta" and even go far as to delete Meta posts showing any dissent/accusations. Furthermore, CMs would want to avoid another Monica - where they don't want to appear to remove a moderator willy nilly. Elections provide a solid ground work. This is also why "vote of no confidence" exists in the first place.
    – TheMaster
    Jan 31 at 20:10
  • 5
    That's not my point, proof isn't needed, if it's actually that bad the other mods or a CM should be able to objectively agree given the complaints on meta. I have been poking around the stack i think you're talking about and think there's plenty of evidence there for one to bring forward such an argument... yet i see nothing of it outside of heated arguments in the comments of unrelated posts.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 31 at 20:16
  • 6
    @KevinB the other mods Smaller sites - there are barely other mods - usually 1 or 2 - with barely any one wanting to participate in the election. This would also be one reason, why CM wouldn't want to remove a moderator, as there isn't enough people to do this job... Also, anyone willing to participate might have been suspended for forged reasons or coincidental reasons.
    – TheMaster
    Jan 31 at 20:21
  • 6
    Maybe the site should just be shut down then.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 31 at 20:21
  • 3
    The actual issue often lies in the dissonance between "Site" community - as in the users who actually use the site - and "Chat" community - as in the groups of friends that often control the chat rooms and make up things like "this is our site culture" to newcomers. Given the low participation in elections more often than not those "chat communities" manage to elect their own "domesticated" mods and thus end up controlling the site. I guess these proposal were both born from wanting a way to fight against such similar issues.
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 1 at 8:56
  • 5
    "yet i see nothing of it outside of heated arguments in the comments of unrelated posts" You don't see it because the relevant meta posts and comments discussing problematic moderation actions have been deleted. And before anyone asks, yes, we've already contacted the CMs about it. Feb 3 at 12:59
  • 2
    Site moderators who are actively disliked can simply suspend 'malcontented' users and block any discussion on meta.
    – Richard
    Feb 10 at 0:04
  • 2
    As a moderator I agree with this proposal. Regular re-elections and the instrument to remove me through a vote of no-confidence would give me more legitimacy. There are often individual users who are salty after I did a mod action they disagree with and then complain on meta that I am a horrible despot who moderates the website completely wrong. Then I can just point to my last re-election and say: "See, the majority of people in this community think I am doing a fine job".
    – Philipp
    Feb 21 at 16:56
  • 1
    @Philipp Whenever people suggest having moderators be up for re-election, I'm worried being a moderator will be turned into a political job where taking unpopular-but-necessary actions are avoided.
    – Mast
    Feb 21 at 18:21
  • 1
    @Philipp I completely agree. It also gives real world perspective to the salty user that they are not in the majority, but just a loud voice in meta and gives them opportunity to reevaluate. It cuts both ways - I like it.
    – TheMaster
    Feb 21 at 23:45
  • 1
    @Mast I believe it is a political job.Aren't moderator candidates usually popular among the community before elections? Do we elect them for being popular or because they have done many review work "silently"? Unpopular-but necessary actions - The main issue with this is a lack of humility: You assume you're superior to the community and attribute dumbness to the community in a sense, that the community won't/can't understand the necessity of such action, but you would. You also portray inability to convince the heart and therefore prefer force for the good end. Ends never justify the means.
    – TheMaster
    Feb 22 at 0:11
  • 1
    @TheMaster It is not a political job at all and definitely not a popularity contest. There are no assumptions either and definitely none of superiority. It's a thankless job and someone has to do it.
    – Mast
    Feb 22 at 8:29
3

It’s great to see the discussion here, and that includes the critiques. I want to clarify and address a few things that have been mentioned.

Spencer has pointed out what elections are like on the Community Managers' side because it’s likely that most people will be unfamiliar with what happens on the backend with elections. As Spencer mentioned, the main reason we want to revisit elections is not to take work off of the CMs’ plates and to pass it on elsewhere but to put more ownership over appointing new moderators where it belongs: with the communities.

As Spencer mentioned this is only one slice of what we’re looking to improve over the coming year. We want to look at engagement, elections, moderation, and onboarding - all very holistically - and we want to do it with the community. In the upcoming months, you can look for more posts about initiatives addressing long-standing community concerns and pain points. You’ll see more calls for working groups because we want to involve you more in the decision-making process (again, pushing out ownership to let it sit where it belongs) and incorporate your feedback and ideas earlier and more often. The underlying idea here is to empower the communities in ways that we haven’t been able to before.

Our fiscal year kicks off in April and we’re still in planning mode for the upcoming year. In the next three months, you can expect to see more updates on what the Product and Community teams will be working on. This comes directly from your feedback (and our shared opinion) that you missed the old roadmap posts. We don’t want to simply revert to the old though and just inform you of what we are working on. We want to include you and your voice.

10
  • 2
    Thanks for clarifying. I read back some of my comments and it may not be clear that my criticism was about how things looked and was not an opinion about the actual motivation behind the post. I am happy to see more energy around involving the community in decisions. It would be great to see focus groups like these become part of SE's DNA.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31 at 19:04
  • 1
    FWIW, if you want to make this process more transparent... Maybe start by making the election calendar public? After all, it was designed to replace the community-run calendar, not just as a CM tool. (that's assuming you're not still using my userscript for that, which... If you are, don't say anything.)
    – Shog9
    Jan 31 at 19:18
  • 1
    @ColleenV I'm really excited about focus/working groups becoming a staple too.
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Jan 31 at 19:44
  • 3
    I'm really frustrating about focus/working groups becoming a staple, : / means the majority of the community isn't part of the process. I hope at minimum these focus groups try to pull from a variety of users rather than just the same users who tend to volunteer to all of them.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 31 at 19:49
  • 4
    Working groups are a way for the community to have a more active voice at the beginning of the "building and design" process as we work through the feedback. It's not to replace asking for feedback on Meta. We do plan on mixing up who participates so it's not the same voices or perspectives every time. We will be posting soon more about working groups and getting community feedback on what you want to see out of them. We needed to get a few of these under our belts first though to make sure this could work and be sustainable.
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Jan 31 at 20:38
  • 3
    How, though, does it allow the community to have a more active voice at the beginning of the building and design process? Sure, it allows a select few individuals to poke around at it directly rather than only being able to see it visually, but all of that is kept hidden away from everyone else. We can't see the process of going from A to B, we don't know who the group is or what feedback their providing so we can't know how much to trust what feedback you say you've received, it's just a void that goes from "Hey we have this idea" to "Surprise! it's live! Check the link in labs!"
    – Kevin B
    Jan 31 at 21:07
  • Take OverflowAI for example. I've seen plenty of the marketing surrounding it that makes all kinds of claims, but despite being signed up for it for it since launch I have no idea what it's current state is. Did it ever get to the point of building questions for people? do votes on the sources still have no effect outside of tracking data? idunno.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 31 at 21:11
  • 7
    @KevinB I think in general smaller groups get more stuff done. I think most people have been in a meeting where there were just too many people to be productive. Most popular meta discussions involve a few dozen people re-stating the same 3-4 general viewpoints while each believing that their way of saying it is the best way (otherwise they'd just vote for one of the others). That might be a good way to give everyone a voice, but isn't necessarily the most efficient way for a product team to receive feedback. Feb 1 at 15:16
  • @Shog9 ah, wishful thinking. Feb 4 at 8:31
  • Maybe silly question, but the CEO clearly said: "our focus for this fiscal year and into the next is profitability" - how exactly are those changes going to help Stack Exchange with profitability? So far it looks like the opposite, as vast amount of work and research are being spent here, so I find it odd after reading what I quoted before. Feb 4 at 8:34
0

Come on folks. Have some heart. Can we have some compassion on the CM team and their attempts to reduce their workload? Sure, the reasons stated are from the CMs' perspective. But why is someone speaking from their own perspective an inherently bad thing?

Can you lay aside your past grievances for just a moment to look at this more objectively?

Imagine a world where you had goodwill toward SO (the company) and CMs in general, like they were your friends and allies. In that world, you would welcome any opportunity to help them out and make their lives easier.

Lots of discussions on Meta are about the great load and burden that Mods carry on this site, and many requests come in for SO making Mod tools better. Why does it need to be a one-way street? Why can't we (the community) also make CMs' lives easier too? In the end, it will benefit us also, because CMs who are less overworked and less stressed will be freer to think clearly, act kindly under pressure and come up with better and more creative solutions.

If we always wait for SO to start treating us well, then we will never arrive where we want to. Let it start with us, the community. Treat CMs with the compassion and understanding you want to receive from them.

6
  • 3
    At a certain point, when the company has made it clear that there's only a small amount of dev time they're willing to spend on the Q&A product and it gets spent almost exclusively on cosmetic changes and changes they cook up for marketing (OverflowAI/Collectives/Discussions)... the capacity for trusting things are being done for the good of the community is significantly reduced.
    – Kevin B
    Feb 15 at 17:23
  • 4
    I expect most everyone is sympathetic if not outright in favor of efforts to automate away drudgery - for CMs or anyone else. For elections specifically, that sort of effort is long overdue. The elephant in the room here is... This effort is coming shortly after a major moderator strike triggered by company communications that aimed to pit moderators against the folks who elected them. No amount of automation on the one side or consideration on the other is gonna compensate for the damage wrought to the process by crap like that; folks are looking for more substantive efforts.
    – Shog9
    Feb 16 at 16:50
  • All of that context (about the moderator strike, etc.) is true. But does it really make sense to punish CMs (by resisting their efforts to improve things here) because we don't like how the company leadership handled things? Demanding or expecting equity in treatment is never going to move the needle toward a better relationship. Only generosity, forgiveness and compassion can.
    – GreenGiant
    Feb 22 at 16:39
  • 2
    Who is punishing CM's? I don't see anyone here blaming spencer, or any other CM or CM's as a group for any of this.
    – Kevin B
    Feb 23 at 16:07
  • SO is a company, that relies on volunteers work and community effort, but has shown multiple times, that values profit over community needs. No wonder that complaints on too big workload on paid employees with question, how would volunteers could help lower it, is not well received. The obvious solution is to make use of company profits and hire more CMs instead of laying them off. Mar 7 at 18:19
  • 2
    @GreenGiant SE's had a history of cutting the CM team to the bone, often people with deep ties to the community. If I have any grievances, its often the lack of resources and follow through - none of which are the fault of the CMs or line staff. The moderation system in a sense is one of the few things that provides long term continuity. Yanno what would make the CM's life better? Sufficient resources and job security, which would make things less stressful. I'd also point out some of the replies are from former community managers. Mar 9 at 14:11
-2

Give the Community the ability to add more moderators

Today only moderators can decide whether or not to increase the number of moderators. The community might disagree and wish to increase the number of moderators — but the community has no recourse if the moderators don't accede to the request.

Give communities a mechanism to invoke a moderator election. It shouldn't be easy or trivial, but it should be possible.

28
  • 11
    What problem would this solve, besides mollifying the community? What kind of problem has the community clamoring for more moderators, that moderators think doesn't require more moderators?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jan 31 at 8:33
  • 7
    I have the same question as @Tinkeringbell - People who suggest this usually misunderstand what moderators do. Mods do not set policy for the sites, though they may advocate for a specific policy or write it. Anyone who disagrees with how a site is being moderated can already raise concerns on the site's meta or by contacting the CMs. If the only interest is in simply adding more headcount but the users feel the mods are doing a good job otherwise, I guess I'm a bit confused.
    – Catija
    Jan 31 at 10:12
  • 11
    Surely nothing stops anyone from posting on meta / emailing the team & asking for more moderators? If, say, flags aren't being handled effectively, or abuse is getting out of hand... I would strongly recommend doing one or preferably both of those things!
    – Shog9
    Jan 31 at 20:00
  • 2
    @Shog9 Do you have any evidence of that having worked? I don't... but I know people who have tried. If the problem were moderators behaving badly I would expect SE to intervene. When the problem is one or more moderators not actively participating.... Never seen that resolved.
    – JBH
    Jan 31 at 22:53
  • 2
    I've been the one to "resolve" it, so yes I know it has worked in the past @JBH.
    – Shog9
    Jan 31 at 23:56
  • 2
    @Shog9 You've been involved in a community request for more moderators that resulted in more moderators or the removal of a moderator? If so, does this happen so frequently that my answer isn't relevant? Or is it the rare gem in a large field of clay?
    – JBH
    Jan 31 at 23:58
  • 3
    Both? As to how frequent, these days I couldn't say. Your answer is certainly relevant, @JBH - I'm just saying that I don't know that the mechanism you're asking for should already exist! If it doesn't work anymore, that's the kind of issue that... probably ain't gonna be solved by adding another channel for communication.
    – Shog9
    Feb 1 at 2:30
  • 2
    @JBH your recent comments maybe indicate that you're overlapping two things that aren't really connected. When I was a mod on IPS, I really needed more help but I made the error of asking for the removal of an inactive mod so we could replace them rather than just asking for a new mod. As such, when I made my case for replacing them, the reply I got was that the CMs had reached out to the inactive mod and they'd committed to be more active. This left me frustrated and angry that I was being brushed off because I was sure they wouldn't actually step up.
    – Catija
    Feb 1 at 8:45
  • 4
    When I asked again after a week and no change in response, a different CM responded, telling me to maybe take a break from the site because I seemed stressed. When I responded by saying that it was impossible for me to take a break because it would leave the site practically unmoderated, something finally flipped and they realized that it was that more mods were needed, not that the inactive mod needed removing... and they appointed two more mods to the team. The key point, though, is that the inactivity of members of the mod team is irrelevant to whether or not a site needs new mods.
    – Catija
    Feb 1 at 8:51
  • 4
    If a site has 5 moderators and one is inactive, the key question a CM is going to ask the mods when preparing to remove a truly inactive mod is "is the workload enough that you need a replacement?" If the answer is "no", then removing the mod will just mean the site only has four mods on the team. The number of mods is not fixed - in either direction - the needs of the site change over time. A site with more activity than it once had may need to increase headcount while a site seeing less activity or less drama may need less. If you feel more help is needed, it's OK to suggest that...
    – Catija
    Feb 1 at 8:59
  • 5
    That's why I'm trying to understand why community members should have the ability. Any great request for a change hinges on convincing others that the change is needed. You may have thoughts about that and maybe you think it's obvious... but you haven't actually explained why, even when people have asked for that explanation. Maybe try editing this answer to explain it using the examples you seem to have where you weren't able to get more added?
    – Catija
    Feb 1 at 18:16
  • 3
    In my answer to this question, I outline the purpose of mods and list three main ones people often mention. In general, I've found that the platform is designed with the expectation that moderators are one of the first two types (police/judge) but that many users want/expect moderators to be the third type (politician). The intention of Stack Exchange is that everyone on the site is able to propose and define site policy through community consensus As such, having a diamond isn't really intended to indicate you're magically better at that or that your voice is louder.
    – Catija
    Feb 2 at 20:27
  • 3
    It's not about needing a smoking gun. You're proposing a solution but not actually explaining the problem and why it's a problem. In order to solve a problem, you have to understand it. There could be dozens of solutions that would work if you only look at things on the surface but when you dig further, you realize they won't actually solve anything. Paths in 2-D space are simple - you're getting from A to B and if the path doesn't go where you want, you make one. We're not talking about 2-D space, though. This is a complex system involving people.
    – Catija
    Feb 2 at 20:53
  • 2
    The CMs have a specific way of thinking about mods and mod headcount that is entrenched in the expectation that mods are those first two categories and they do not (generally) take the third category into account when it comes to headcount - and I don't see them adopting a system where they can't say "no" to an adding headcount due to PII access risk. WIthout redefining, expanding, or breaking up the role of moderator first so that it actually aligns with how users perceive the role, having a way to circumvent the mods doesn't matter.
    – Catija
    Feb 2 at 21:08
  • 4
    @JBH You're presenting a solution and asserting that something needs to be done without being willing to explain it. In my mind, that indicates you actually are beating around a bush. Take the example of someone saying "The light bulbs in here need to be changed." If the light bulbs work, it's unclear why they should be changed. If they explain "The fluorescent bulbs add a green tinge to everything and that's throwing off our calibrations." That's actually more direct while also ensuring that the replacement bulbs emit neutral light.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 2:20

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