MozillaZine

Dispute resolution process

From MozillaZine Knowledge Base

This is an unapproved working draft of a proposal. Please do not edit it, but add your comments in the discussion page.

This document describes the dispute resolution process that will be followed when two or more editors are unable to settle disagreement over the content of a knowledge base article. It does not address unacceptable behavior in the Talk pages or special pages (such as Pages voted for deletion). The assumption is that behavior problems can handled informally by peer pressure or (if necessary) by SysOp intervention.

Contents

Background

Editing disputes can occur because nobody "owns" an article. All editors are free to modify any knowledge base article, as long as the editing courtesy rules are followed. Disputes are normally resolved through discussion by the editors on the article's Talk page. A formal dispute resolution process is needed when a dispute remains unresolved and escalates to a editing war. The process is similar, but not identical to the dispute resolution process used by the Wikipedia (Wikipedia has over 2.5 million editors while we have only a few dozen, and we serve a different type of audience - users in the Mozillazine forums).

Definition of terms

  • Dispute resolution: This is a formal process that is initiated when a dispute among editors cannot be resolved informally.
  • Mediation: Mediation is a process in which a neutral party helps settle a dispute by offering suggestions and working out a compromise. It can be informal or part of the formal dispute resolution process.
  • Poll A poll is a vote taken in the forums as an alternative to formal arbitration of an editing dispute.
  • Arbitration: Arbitration is a "last resort" by which an arbitration committee is selected to decide the dispute.

Criteria used in dispute resolution

The primary goal of dispute resolution is to have Knowledge Base articles that are well-written, understandable by the intended reader and technically correct. Secondary goals are to stop editing wars or logjams where editors have stopped an edit war but can't resolve their conflict without assistance and to avoid editing wars in the first place. The following criteria should be used to determine how to proceed when editing conflicts occur that cannot be resolved in a reasonable timeframe or when editing rules or policies are violated:

  • Informal methods of resolving the dispute should be attempted first, if at all possible. Other editors should be encouraged to participate in the discussion and add suggestions via the article's Talk page or other means (applying peer and/or social pressure are acceptable methods of encouraging compromise).
  • Since the KB is built through collaboration, any potentially controversial edits should be justified and documented on the article's Talk page. When the article contains information which is disputed, the source of controversial content should be referenced to allow others to verify its accuracy.
  • Editing conflicts should be prevented from escalating into to editing wars, either by peer pressure or by SysOp intervention in the event that KB rules and policies are violated.
  • Avoid favoritism and other "political" considerations such as protecting bruised egos, coddling new editors or backing prolific editors to keep them contributing.
  • Although anyone can offer assistance so that editors can work out editing disagreements, a dispute involving an article being actively edited by a SysOp should not be formally mediated or arbitrated by that same SysOp.
  • Offer avenues of dispute resolution that do not involve SysOps in formal decision-making as far as possible, in order to avoid any criticism that they are abusing their power.
  • Specify how the formal dispute resolution process is initiated and ended, whether there is any appeal process, and set expectations on what type of actions a SysOp may take in stopping the editing war while the dispute is resolved and if an editor continues the edit war after the dispute was (supposedly) resolved. However, don't prevent a SysOp from using their best judgment.
  • Editing wars that involve multiple editors both entering their own text and reverting to a prior version of the article or removing article content without justification should be handled differently than one or more editors who just revert the article or remove a single editor's changes due to it being inappropriate or out of scope. An example of the latter would be changing an article on anti-virus scanning into a essay on why you shouldn't scan for viruses.

What starts the process

Most disputes are resolved informally via the articles Talk pages, the editors own Talk pages or by private messages between the editors. At some point a SysOp may become involved. They may have been notified of the unacceptable behavior or noticed it themselves, or one of the parties to the dispute may have asked for intervention. The SysOp might try to first handle it informally by warning the feuding editors that their behavior is unacceptable, volunteer to mediate the disagreement and/or try to get a third party involved. Regardless of the exact chain of events, the formal dispute resolution process is started whenever one person requests formal resolution, or when a SysOp imposes restrictions, as put forth in Rules or other KB policy statements, on who can edit or revert an article. Its not triggered if restrictions are imposed to deal with vandalism, spam or other unacceptable behavior.

An established rule regarding acceptable editing behavior is enforceable by the SysOp. For example, a "maximum revert" quota, if one is established, may set a limit of three reverts per week to the same article. If that rule is violated, the SysOp will enforce the established sanctions, which may include protecting the page or temporarily blocking the feuding editors from editing that article, as set forth in the editing Rules and policies. The SysOp may optionally issue a warning to first-time offenders, at his discretion, if the situation warrants.

How the process ends

The dispute resolution process ends when one of the following occurs:

  1. All disputing editors agree to stop the unproductive behavior
  2. The other editors concede the issue and accept one editor's version of the article and resume normal editing of the article. (The dispute is considered conceded when a party doesn't follow through with the process in the time period allowed, for example, fails to produce a version of the article as set forth in the steps outlined below.) The dispute will be declared resolved by default if all other editors except one concedes. The remaining editor's version will be accepted as the "winner" in the dispute.
  3. The process proceeds to poll or arbitration and one version of the article is chosen as the "winner".

Once the dispute is resolved, the SysOp will remove any restrictions that may have been imposed during the dispute process and will monitor the article to ensure that the edit conflicts do not recur.

If the dispute was resolved by informal agreement and an editor resumes disruptive or destructive editing, a SysOp should take whatever action is appropriate for the new offense as outlined in the editing Rules and the dispute resolution process will resume.

If the dispute was formally resolved either by formal mediation, poll or arbitration, that decision is final. If any editor refuses to accept the decision and continues to disrupt the editing process, the SysOp may deem that the edits constitute vandalism and take appropriate action, including suspension or removal of the KB account. No warning is needed, but the SysOp's action may be contested through the appeal process established for such cases.

Common sense should be used in deciding whether any future edits of that article is constructive (not part of an editing war), though its recommended that all of the editors in the dispute try to avoid making future reversions in that article and if an edit is needed it should be fully documented on the article's Talk page.

Steps

Once formal mediation is requested by one of the disputing editors or a SysOp determines that formal mediation is needed, any needed changes to the article should continue to be made by editors that are not parties to the dispute, or by the mediator, unless a SysOp determines that the article needs to be protected from all future edits (see below). It is normal (unfortunately) for some of the KB articles to have errors or be hard to use. However, if there is some critical change (a technical error that causes serious problems for many users for example) that truly needs to be made while the dispute is being resolved, the mediator will either make the minimum changes necessary or arrange for a SysOp who (preferably) has not recently edited the disputed article to do it. If this could potentially effect the dispute the changes should be made as neutral as possible.

1. A SysOp will arrange formal mediation by a neutral person that the editors agree on. The mediator might solicit comments from other editors, helpers and/or users, conduct a survey, or the mediator may actively suggest or even make edits to the article that constitute a reasonable compromise. Whenever possible the dispute should be resolved in this step, even if it means several failed attempts at mediation by different persons. If the SysOp can't arrange mediation they will wait at least two weeks for things to cool down and see if the problem resolves itself before moving to the next step.

2. If mediation fails (for whatever reason) a SysOp will ask the different editors to produce independent versions of the same article, and create a thread in the appropriate general forum to provide all registered users the chance to critic them. The SysOp should also explicitly invite via a private message some of most well known helpers (that hang out in that forum) and some of the most well known editors to critic the articles in case they did not notice that thread.

The SysOp should provide at least a week for the editors to create their own version, and at least a week for any registered user to critic the articles (and apply social pressure). If a editor does not provide the requested version of the article, it will be considered a concession. If there was only one other party to the dispute, that editor will be declared the "winner" and the other editor will be permanently blocked from reverting the article, although future constructive edits will be allowed. This is intended as an incentive to resolve the dispute before it got to that step.

3. As a last resort the feuding editors are asked to decide whether they want the dispute resolved by arbitration or by a poll in the forums. If they can not agree on a method whatever method is chosen by the majority of the feuding editors will be used. If there is no majority the SysOps will choose.

Poll
The SysOp will create another thread in the same forum and have a formal poll for at least a week to pick the winner. Once the winner is chosen the thread will be locked. If the SysOp isn't a forum moderator they will ask a moderator to create the poll and lock the thread afterwards. It is the SysOps (not the moderators) decision when to declare the winner.
Arbitration
An "arbitration committee" will decide the dispute by majority vote. It will be comprised of three or more arbitrators, selected from a pool of volunteers who have a recent history of editing other editors articles in accordance with the rules of editing courtesy (the Arbitration Committee can also be a standing committee chosen previous to the current dispute). How likely the arbitrators are to be objective should be given precedence over other qualifications. A SysOp cannot be a arbitrator if he is actively editing the same article under dispute. If there is a shortage of qualified volunteers one well known helper (that was not also a editor) could be asked to arbitrate. The disputing editors will jointly pick the arbitrators, if no standing Arbitration Committee exists. The arbitrators' duty is to select a winner to the dispute, by a majority vote.

By definition there can only be one winner, even if some of the feuding editors avoided reverting each others edits.

Article protection

The mediator to the dispute may select a version of the article taken from before the edit conflict occurred and maintain that version by reverting future edits. Editing an article to correct misinformation, however, takes precedence over settling an editing dispute, so protecting an article from edits by nondisputing editors should be avoided. In the event that an article is deemed so important to the Knowledge Base, to the support forums and to the Mozilla community in general, then disruptive editing must be stopped at all costs. In such cases, the article may need to be protected from all edits during the dispute resolution process by "locking" it from all edits except by those made by SysOps. Any needed changes to the article would then be requested on the article's Talk page and the edits will be made by the SysOp, as set forth in the Rules on article protection.

Appeals

Sanctions imposed by an individual SysOp may be appealed to an Arbitration Committee, if one has been established with the authority to decide such appeals. Any formal decision on how a dispute is resolved can potentially be appealed to administrator of MozillaZine but that iss outside the scope of this document.

Unresolved issues

  • Formal definition of "editing war" to be entered into Rules?
  • Setting a formal "maximum revert" policy and enforcing it (Example: Wikipedia:Three-revert rule) to be entered into Rules?
  • Setting a formal "article protection" policy (Example: Wikipedia:Protection policy) to be entered into Rules?
  • Sould an Arbitration Committee be established and allowed to decide appeals of individual SysOp decisions, in addition to deciding disputes?
  • How to deal with logjams
  • How to deal with inappropriate edits from a single editor.