This is an explanatory essay about the Wikipedia:Consensus and Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not policies.
|This page in a nutshell: Most decisions on Wikipedia are not made by popular vote, but rather through discussions to achieve consensus. Polling is only meant to facilitate discussion, and should be used with care.|
Wikipedia works by building consensus. When conflicts arise, they are resolved through discussion, debate and collaboration. While not forbidden, polls should be used with care. When polls are used, they should ordinarily be considered a means to help in determining consensus, but do not let them become your only determining factor. While polling forms an integral part of several processes (such as Wikipedia:Articles for deletion), polls are generally not used for article development. Remember that Wikipedia is not a democracy; even when polls appear to be "votes", most decisions on Wikipedia are made on the basis of consensus, not on vote-counting or majority rule. In summary, polling is not a substitute for discussion.
There are exceptions to this custom such as the election of Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee members (which has been determined by a secret ballot voting system since 2009) or for wider cross-project activities such as electing stewards. Such processes can be completed without detailed rationales from their participants. In addition, certain bodies (such as the Arbitration Committee, Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, or Jimmy Wales) can on occasion impose decisions regardless of consensus.
There are several reasons why polling should be regarded with caution:
On Wikipedia, we generally do not line up simply to cast ballots, without some sort of discussion alongside of voting. In some cases, editors decide to use straw polls during discussions of what material to include in various Wikipedia articles. Although such polls are occasionally used and sometimes helpful, their use is often controversial and never binding. Where used, article straw polls should be developed in a way which assists in reaching consensus, rather than in an attempt to silence an opposing opinion.
Editor conduct used to be subject to polling in the past, via a system called Quickpolls. This procedure was abandoned years ago because it generated more heat than light. Content issues are almost never subject to polling. Nevertheless, participants on article talk pages do sometimes start polls for gauging opinion, and focusing a long or unruly conversation on a specific question at hand. There is no absolute prohibition on polling, and there are often objections if a poll is summarily closed or deleted on sight using a claim that they are forbidden. Editors who feel that a poll is inappropriate under the circumstances may instead note that further commentary is needed, encourage the discussion to migrate back to a free-form conversation, or open a related discussion.
Straw polls regarding article content are often inconclusive and sometimes highly contentious. For straw polls to be productive, editors should keep in mind the reasons why polls should be regarded with caution (above). When polls are used, editors should remember the following:
The words "vote" and "voting" have a variety of connotations, but they are commonly associated specifically with ballot-casting or majority voting. For that reason, the use of the words "vote" and "voting" might not be the best choice when describing Wikipedia processes. While technically correct, such references may contribute to the misconception that we use a system of majority or supermajority rule. Different terminology (e.g. "seeking views", "polling" and "commenting") may be preferable.
Wikipedians often use the expression "!vote" (read as "not-vote") as a reminder and affirmation that the writer's comments in a poll, and the comments by others, are not voting, but are just offering individual views in a consensus-building discussion. The "!" symbol is used in various fields as a symbol for logical negation and was introduced in this way on English Wikipedia in 2006. Unfortunately, some Wikipedians are unaware of this convention and use "!vote" to refer to their actual votes, which can cause confusion.
It serves as a little reminder of the communal norm that it is "not the vote" that matters, but the reasoning behind the !vote that is important. While we do often seem to "vote" on things, the conclusion is almost never reached by simply counting votes, as the strength of argument is also very important. A "vote" that doesn't seem to be based on a reasonable rationale may be completely ignored or receive little consideration, or may be escalated to wider attention if it appears to have been treated as a simple vote count. It is important therefore to also explain why you are voting the way you are.
See also: Wikipedia:List of petitions
Petitions are even more problematic since they not only encourage the community to avoid meaningful discourse and engagement, but also limit their scope to only one initially-stated opinion or preference with little or no opportunity for discussing and reconciling competing or opposing points of view. As a rule, petitions should be avoided; when they are created, they should be closed and marked ((historical)) after a reasonable period of time or once the initial interest in the petition passes. If you plan to create a petition, it may help to allow space for other solutions and approaches that may be proposed by its readers. A typical layout that can encourage a wider range of responses on a serious issue might look like this:
Wikipedia has established processes to deal with certain procedures. These include deletion discussions and featured content. Because these processes are somewhat institutionalized, they are sometimes wrongly assumed to be majority votes. In reality, Wikipedia's policy is that each of these processes is not decided based on a head count, but on the strength of the arguments presented and on the formation of consensus.
Because the point of these processes is to form consensus, it is much better for editors to explain their reasoning, discuss civilly with other editors, and possibly compromise than it is to sign a one-word opinion. "Votes" without reasoning may carry little to no weight in the formation of a final consensus. "Vote stacking" is frowned upon because it tends to encourage voters without reasoning. The template ((Not a ballot)) can be used to remind editors about this when necessary.
Wikipedia policy and guidelines are created by (1) codifying existing practice; (2) through community consensus, or (3) in appropriate cases, as a result of a declaration from Jimmy Wales, the Board, or the Developers. Wikipedia is not a democracy; while users sometimes think they should make a "motion" on some issue and "call for votes", but this is not the case. No guideline has ever been enacted through a vote alone.
Polling is rarely helpful in the development of policies or guidelines, and may be counterproductive. Straw polls and votes have been used in the adoption of a few policies in the past, including the adoption of the three-revert rule, and the older parts of criteria for speedy deletion. In those few cases, the polls were put together carefully and only after discussing the matter for a month or more.
The aim of many guidelines is primarily to describe current practice, to help editors to understand how Wikipedia works. This means that it is not necessary, and in many cases unwise, to call a vote or straw poll on a proposed policy or guideline. If a proposal is not controversial, doing a head count is not necessary; if a proposal is controversial, doing a headcount to see where the majority lies will not resolve the controversy, and may polarize it further. The controversy may spill onto the poll itself, causing debate on its mechanics. When editors consider a poll ill-advised, they should explain why and if appropriate should vote against the poll itself.
Once it has been decided by consensus to standardize an issue (e.g. template layout), it is likely there will be several suggestions for standards. Unless one of them is clearly preferred, an approval poll is recommended to select the best-liked standard. This is a way of helping to gauge which of several possible (often similar) versions has the most widespread support, so that the final version reflects consensus.
In some cases on Wikipedia, community polls are used to determine whether to trust editors with additional responsibilities, in particular elections and requests for adminship. However, in both cases the poll results are subject to interpretation by the party who makes the decision (i.e. the bureaucrats or Jimbo). Historically, the party making the decision has considered the arguments made, the number of editors on each side of the issue, and any other relevant factors.
In these processes it is preferable if people discuss, ask questions of the candidate, and state their reasonings, rather than simply stating "yes" or "no" with no further comment. While the end result is often obvious based directly on counts of who said yea or nay, it is possible to sway people's opinions by applying solid reasoning and logic. Even so, people new to Wikipedia are often confused, due to the strong resemblance between such structured discussion and a majority vote process, which they are not. There is no exact "target" percentage that forms the cutoff point, although some processes, such as requests for adminship, do indicate a rough numerical percentage for establishing consensus.
Changes to the MediaWiki software are made by the developers and are usually discussed on Phabricator. Some people are tempted to call a vote on feature requests on the assumption that the more people support a feature, the more likely the developers are to implement it. However, this is not always the case, as the developers consider issues of feasibility and server load to be the primary concern.
However, for requests for configuration changes for the English Wikipedia, such as enabling or disabling an existing feature, a straw poll may be helpful for the sysadmin tasked with determining consensus for it. Though as with feature requests, the final decision still rests with the Wikimedia sysadmins and, ultimately, the CTO.
Although arbitration is not a community process, it is listed here for the sake of completeness. The ArbCom follows a procedure of listing principles, findings of facts and remedies; individual arbiters discuss these issues and then vote for or against statements and resolutions. However, no "vote" is final until the case is closed. Arbiters can change their positions as a result of discussions with fellow arbiters. In general, findings which attract opposition are reworded to address that opposition, with the aim of reaching a consensus view among the arbitrators. Nevertheless, Arbcom decisions are subject to simple-majority vote.