Ombudsman commission/reform proposals

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This page attempts to collect suggestions for a reform or otherwise improvement of the Ombudsman commission as well as seeking to understand the causes behind the current inactivity. Please note that the OC is a body appointed by the Board of Trustees (in a role which has been delegated to the staff) and as such these are merely suggestions for the Board. Anybody is welcome to voice their opinions, make new proposals or comment on old ones, etc.. This was prompted from the discussion on w:User talk:Penyulap#Update.

Transparency[edit]

I think it would be great if the commission would publish quarterly reports in the progress of cases. It would make clear the commission itself, the WMF and the community what exactly the situation is and how it develops from now on. Snowolf How can I help? 08:45, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

I don't think that this would be a good idea, given the nature of the complaints. These matters should be handled completely non-public. Additionally, everything that increases bureaucracy is useless, because we are all volunteers and not paid staff. So please do not try to force the OC into an enwiki-like bureaucratic nightmare. --თოგო (D) 12:20, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
How is releasing stats bureaucracy? It would help us understand what the situation actually is. We know for a fact that the complaints from 2012 are not processed as at the very least one simple complaint from January/February has been sitting before the committee since then. Snowolf How can I help? 12:29, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
You simply can't know "for a fact" whether the complaints from 2012 are not processed. And that "one simple complaint" you mean is already dealt with and it was certainly not a simple issue and not a complaint that the OC should even have handled, because it was purely theoretical. Therefore, please stop spreading such uninformed "facts". ;) --თოგო (D) 13:37, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
I don't think anyone is asking for specifics but it would be nice if there was something that said X number of cases received, X number denied and X number accepted. I also think that a generic description of the problems would be nice. Something like Privacy issue, checkuser complaint, etc. Something very generic that doesn't violate privacy. AS it is now, there is the appearance that nothing is getting done and that the committee isn't active. That may be wrong, but we have no way to know that. Additionally, since multiple people have complained over the past year that they recieved no verificiation by the committee that it recieved, denied or accepted the complaints, we are left with the feeling that they were not. True or not that is a perception and that perception is what Snowolf is trying to change. (Kumioko, I couldn't log into meta so it came up as an IP).138.162.0.44 14:21, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
Why does it matter if X=24 or 25 or maybe 36 or 15? An estimation should be as good as any exact number there. The generic description of any of our cases would be "privacy issue" or "declined". ;) There is nothing else we handle. We can't give any more details about the cases, because of their nature. --თოგო (D) 14:47, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
Even that is better than zero visibility. As I said, the perception is that things get sent and never received. At least this would give the viewer the feeling that someone is reading the requests. Kumioko. 138.162.0.43 14:54, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

Being a good ombudsperson generally means making complainants feel as though they have been heard. That's often more important than whether the final resolution of the complaint is completely to their liking. You can approve someone's request in a way that makes them feel dismissed; and you can deny a request in a way that makes them feel welcome and heard. I hope the ombudsfolk hearing these concerns can acknowledge them without criticizing the peeople making complaints - that seems like the canonical quality of ombudsery.

As a specific suggestion that may address the stated concerns: noting every 2 weeks how many requests have come in, and wether or not they have been replied to, would be sufficient. No details or description about the request are needed. SJ talk  18:24, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

outline that the appeals can be public[edit]

The page doesn't really remind editors that they can make public appeals to the commission, it focuses on the assumption that secrecy is required. Fixing that would make it easier for people to track and see at least a minimum few cases and know if there was any functioning at all. Less headache right there working out how to do stats. Penyulap (talk) 02:48, 21 December 2012 (UTC)

Time[edit]

I propose that all enquiries to the OC be answered within a week with a request of acknowledgement that the message has arrived and an enquiry has been opened or summarily declined. I further propose that all simple enquiries have a target handling time within 60 days. This would then be reflected in the published data mentioned above which would allow the WMF and the community to look at the OC two quarters from now and decide whether it works or a wholesale rethinking process is needed, perhaps with a differently conceived and organized body replacing the OC. Snowolf How can I help? 08:45, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

There is nothing to change here. We usually do acknowledge all requests even within a day and simple matters rarely need longer than a few weeks to finish. Complicated matters need longer, of course. It might happen that we forget to acknowledge a request, which is not a problem, because the requester can just write a friendly mail asking if we received it. And if someone wants to force us to answer in public only, we do not feel that we can answer at all, because we just don't answer complaints in public. --თოგო (D) 12:28, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
I have to say that your definition of "a few weeks" is slightly different from mine. 11 months isn't a few weeks to me. Snowolf How can I help? 12:32, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
It might be at this point that some actual statistics would help, Thogo. Just some general info, such as the exact number of cases this year and the average time to complete would better show the need (or lack thereof) for this proposal. Ajraddatz (Talk) 12:57, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
Indeed, I honestly would be happy to hear that the case sitting before the committee for 11 months was actually solved a couple of days later and the issue is instead that nobody thought of replying on https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Talk:Stewards/Elections_2012/Votes/Elfix#Comments_on_vote_of_Suprememangaka to clear up the issue for the voters. Snowolf How can I help? 13:15, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
My definition of "a few weeks" is certainly not different from yours. @Ajraddatz: As I said, there are 30-ish complaints per year, about a third of which are declined immediately because they have nothing to do with the privacy policy. The other 20-ish are handled within a few weeks for the simple matters and a few months for the more complicated ones. There have been about two or three cases in the last two years (including one taken over from the previous OC) that took longer than half a year to handle. We cannot go into any details about any of these complaints, of course. --თოგო (D) 13:21, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
adding it below, was adding it to my earlier comment but the page got edited in the meantime so I removed it to avoid changing the flow of the discussion When the issue was raised on enwiki, as you can see the commenting OC member took no issue with my remarks. Likewise, when I dealt lack of reappointment of the OC after it's term had expired, I discovered that at least one member didn't even know that his term had expired... (which he would have known if he had been watching the talk page as myself and trijn brought up the matter). Snowolf How can I help? 13:24, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
As I said, there is no necessity to monitor that page. Communication with the OC is via email. Full stop. If you want to bring something up, write at least an email. If you also bring it up on Meta, fine, but the email to the OC is mandatory if you want us to respond. --თოგო (D) 13:41, 17 December 2012 (UTC) p.s. If the developers could come up with automatic email notification that can be enabled for a single page, not for the whole watchlist, that problem would be solved, anyway, because naturally we could enable it for that page only then. I can't enable email notification for Meta, because I'm watching a lot of high-frequency pages.
I don't think there is anything wrong with term limits and to periodically get new folks in. It works for Arbcom and other areas, there is no reason it wouldn't work here too. Its not just from an aspect of changing out the folks on the committee but also from the perspective of having more people trained in what to do. If someone quites or worse then we are out a person. If we had some folks who had done it in the past though that could be added to the list in case of emergency then that is a good thing. I also don't think its reasonable to require an email be sent and choose to ignore the above notice board/talk page. I do not agree there is no necessity to monitor that page. There is, you have just chosen not too. Will anyone use it is hard to say but to assume they won't simply isn't the right answer in my opinion. (Kumioko) 138.162.0.41 19:28, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

Old inquiries[edit]

I propose that the numbers and age of the old inquiries be published so that the community and the WMF can have a clearer picture of the magnitude of the issues and that a target time for the clearing of such backlog be set. It would also be helpful if the commission could comment on the reasons behind this inactivity. Snowolf How can I help? 08:45, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

There is no inactivity. There are 20-ish complaints per year (and a few more which are immediately declined) and they are all handled. Most of them are complicated in nature, though. We won't go into any details there. --თოგო (D) 12:34, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
Could you specify the situation a bit? How many cases are being handled at the moment? L.tak (talk) 20:13, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

Responsiveness and inactivity[edit]

I propose that it be made mandatory for the OC members to monitor the Talk:Ombudsman commission page and that the current members take a step back and see if they feel they have the time required for proper handling of inquiries and clearing up the backlog. I note that some of the members haven't been very active on Wikimedia projects lately while others have continue to be very active. Snowolf How can I help? 08:45, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

All complaints have to be brought to us in private (thus via email). And if you propose something to be changed you should inform us via email, anyway, and preferably before you go public with your proposals. So there is no necessity to "monitor" that page. And besides, you seem to be the only person who writes anything there. Just write an email, and you get answers in due course. --თოგო (D) 12:41, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
Several individuals have mentioned in discussions at ENWP that they have sent requests with no responses at all. I have seen at least 2 in the last couple months. Kumioko. 138.162.0.43 14:55, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

Board[edit]

I propose that the board be actively involved into looking for a solution to the current situation, with an emphasis on methods and procedures for avoiding a repeat of this. It would show to everybody the important that surely the board attributes to the handling of nonpublic data. Snowolf How can I help? 08:45, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

The Board and WMF staff can (and do) contact us whenever they have questions or concerns. --თოგო (D) 12:46, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
It would be great to have some staff/board input on this. Can anyone contact Phillippe/another person who might have some good thoughts to share? Ajraddatz (Talk) 18:35, 19 December 2012 (UTC)
What would you like me to share? :) I'm unclear as to the question. Philippe (WMF) (talk) 03:12, 22 December 2012 (UTC)
The issues mentioned above and below. Is this group accomplishing what it should? Is it actually solving cases and letting people know about it? Is this group functional? Ajraddatz (Talk) 03:15, 22 December 2012 (UTC)
Indeed as Ajr says your input would be very valuable and interesting. We've only had a chance to hear from one of the OC members while the other have no commented at all here and the member in questions has made some comments to the effect that in several cases decisions are not formally taken (if you are waiting for an opinion, you can't possibly have solved the case conclusively) and/or not communicated to the interesting parties. It seems from SJ's comments above that the Board no longer appoints the OC and that is instead WMF staff that does so. It would then be appropriate for the WMF staff responsible for the appointment to comment on whether they feel that the depiction is accurate, whether they consider the situation acceptable and what they feel should/will/is being done about it. Snowolf How can I help? 03:31, 22 December 2012 (UTC)

Term limits[edit]

I propose that all members be limited to one term as ombudsman, maybe that can get fresh people into the job and breathe some life into the whole thing. Snowolf How can I help? 09:33, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

If you want restricted terms (whyever that is deemed necessary by you), you should think about longer and overlapping terms, like 2 year terms with an annual exchange of half of the OC only, lest you lose the experience and expertise collected by the older members. One year is hardly enough time to get used to the sort of work. Changing the committee too often means you won't get anything done in due course, because at every point of time the OC is just new to the job and therefore needs much more time to come to their decisions. --თოგო (D) 12:54, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
I am merely throwing around ideas to try and see what could help in what I see as an inactivity problem on a very important body, Thogo. The very reason I brought this up and made this page is because I don't have any particularly good ideas, and maybe if the community, the OC, the board and whoever talked about it, we could solve it. As I see it, there's one major yet simple case that stems from the allegation of Checkuser misconduct made during the last Steward elections here on Meta on the vote page and we have yet to hear anything about it. That to me is a major problem. The specific of the proposals is merely brainstorming of what could help with this going forward. Indeed, you are quite right here to point out the flaws in my proposal and should something like this be necessary or useful, your proposal makes a lot more sense than mine. Snowolf How can I help? 13:13, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
That's absolutely fine, and I do acknowledge that you try to improve things! Don't get me wrong there. But some things just can't change, viz. mostly the absolute private nature of handling our cases. I agree that for the outside it looks as if we sometimes don't do anything. And I do confess that it occurred several times that we simply forgot to send our answer to the complainer. Yes, it shouldn't happen, but it does if you decide to wait for a fourth or fifth opinion before you decide on a difficult matter, and that fourth or fifth opinion simply doesn't come. And I am discussing that workflow problem with WMF staff already (Maggie is now responsible for that, not Philippe anymore). In my personal view it would help getting easier if we had a ticketing system like OTRS. That would enable us to have statistics, too, which we now do not have readily available to share with you. Doing statistics on our cases right now means searching email archives which is a trainload of mails. --თოგო (D) 13:54, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
I find it extraordinary that you're telling me with a straight face that you do solve your cases but you just forget to agree on a decision ("decide to wait for a fourth or fifth opinion before you decide on a difficult matter, and that fourth or fifth opinion simply doesn't come") and/or to notify people of the results of their cases ("it occurred several times that we simply forgot to send our answer to the complainer"). I think any reasonable person here would agree that for a case to be solved, a decision has to be made, at the very least, and I'd think most people would agree that one need to communicate said decision to the interested parties for the process to be considered concluded. Snowolf How can I help? 17:49, 19 December 2012 (UTC)
I also gather from the comments that the OC lacks a meaningful structure or Standard Operating procedure and that some additional oversight or at least structure is needed. I find it rather surprising that if the foundation/board is involved as is noted on this page that they have let this go for so long without action. I also think Snowolf was completely correct in bringing this issue to light and I am glad that they did finally drag this mess out in the open for discussion. (Kumioko) 138.162.0.42 18:56, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

Basic details about ombudsman appointees[edit]

In February 2012 I complained that this page did not contain basic information about ombudsman appointees, and in particular I requested some kind of listing of ombudsman appointees and links to any discussions about their appointments. That talk is here; I had it with former appointee user:Pundit.

I requested this because I wanted to be able to check if a given user was an ombudsman in good standing, and at the time it was not obvious how I could do that from visiting the Ombudsman commission page. Things seem better now but still there are no links to discussions about the appointment processes for any ombudsman. Also I think it would be a good practice to link to the active userpages in any Wikimedia projects which are a home for an ombudsman. Blue Rasberry (talk) 14:15, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

The discussion about appointing OC members is not made in public, it's done by WMF staff and board. Not even the OC gets them. So it will not be possible to share any such links. Links to the OC members and information about their homewikis is provided here. --თოგო (D) 14:25, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
Is it correct that community discussion is never a factor? Is it also correct that no one says in a public place, "I want to be an ombudsman", and that the first time anyone hears anything about a person's appointment is when the WMF announces the appointment? It is good that the ombudsman homewikis are named now and I suppose I could track the links to their homewikis myself, but there are no links there right now. Blue Rasberry (talk) 14:56, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
Appointments are made by WMF staff; there's no Board involvement at present. A better and more transparent process for naming and tracking the tenure of appointees would be welcome, perhaps in combination with other transparency suggestions noted here. SJ talk  18:15, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

Why the aggression[edit]

The sheer aggression of თოგო would be enough to ringing warning bells for any organisation. Every proper Ombudsman body publishes at least annually some information about what they have been doing - number of cases handled/rejected/found against/found for - usually with a summary of trends, and an indication of performance against any targets or standards. If this is intended as a real institution, then the appointing body ought to be insisting on this. It is definitive in the Penyulap case that the ombudsman failed to respond to the request (FloNight has confirmed this). This and the issue about member terms expiring with the member apparently unaware, both suggest that the appointing body should be insisting on reports showing the efficiency of the body. The insistence that any suggestions be emailed to the Ombudsman mailing list first doesn't look so hot either. I'm sure it's not actually sinister, but it's not giving a good impression at all. --Elen of the Roads (talk) 15:03, 17 December 2012 (UTC)

I agree with you Elen. Kumioko 138.162.0.42 17:31, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
Insisting that complaints be sent via mail sounds like something out of Wikia, not here. I agree that this discussion is best here, in the open. Ajraddatz (Talk) 18:29, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
I find Thogo's comments quite concerning. --Rschen7754 21:06, 17 December 2012 (UTC)
It is rather sad from my perspective that the issues raised here are not deemed serious enough for other members of the OC besides Thogo to comment on :( I for one find that the admission that the OC considers cases solved even when no formal decision is made and/or communicated to the interested parties to be shocking and to warrant some discussion. To merely put it out there as accepted practice is really confusing to me. Snowolf How can I help? 01:47, 22 December 2012 (UTC)

Privacy[edit]

It is important that privacy be maintained where appropriate. However the movement has an enviable reputation for openness, and often any damage to privacy has already occurred. In the case in question, the complainant published the initial email on his talk page (from which the subject of the complaint rapidly blocked him) inviting a response there. There is certainly no need to keep the fact that this case has been raised (and heretofore ignored) "private".

Similarly basic record keeping is not "bureaucracy" but essential to maintain even a smidgen of accountability in what is in some ways the ultimate body of appeal for mistreated users on our projects.

Rich Farmbrough 16:47 19 December 2012 (GMT).

Delete it[edit]

Discussion of the specific case on my en talkpage should pretty much be there on that talkpage, but I will point out that my case is not a typical one. Had it been so, then the not one, but two, letters sent to the commission which up and disappeared like a fart in the wind along with the case, issue, whatever, would have remained that way. Having access to the most competent people, being mentioned on Richard's talkpage, and being 1/3rd Zombie is the only reason the OC is now acting disgracefully like someone just handed them an orphan baby and are all like 'oh what are we meant to do with this?' The vast majority of corpses are easily disposed of, it's just like that one in 1,000 that just doesn't stay buried, some dog finds a hand or a foot or something and brings it into the dinner-party or whatever.

For all practical purposes the OC is just a fancy email address. It would go without mention amongst the US, and UK demographics, but for most of the rest of the English speaking world, the OC name, and what wm is doing with it, is detrimental to the intellectuals in the project. In a nutshell, people would figure they are better off going to 4chan for a better appearance of a fair hearing.

Oh, and if whatsisname wants to be rude and bark at me too, I won't be rude. Even though I am going to ignore you, I'm going to leave a lovely dismembered rotting hand here for you to talk to. Enjoy. Penyulap (talk) 16:32, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

Alternatively, if OC is indeed broken we can fix it. Rich Farmbrough 23:24 19 December 2012 (GMT).
Bob the builder approach, hmm... well I don't argue with optimists. Maybe it could be fixed, I won't hold my breath, in the meantime, maybe some automated message system "Your complaint has been archived in the mailing list, there is a 15% chance you'll be informed of a result next year, a second to no chance of any action being taken and a pretty damn good chance we'll never hear from you again, Good bye." Actually, maybe there is a spin doctor who can come up with something that creates a less realistic tone to that, I'm not much good at hype right now.
"Complaints of abuse of CheckUser OR privacy policy breaches may also be brought to the Ombudsman commission." is the claim being made on the en wikipedia page. It would suggest that a complaint of abuse of the CU tool which doesn't involve privacy policy could be made to the OC. However, that doesn't appear to be the consensus, and the OC page seems to indicate a dead end. It seems for cases for example where
  • the Checkuser tool being used to create a badge of shame in the userlog when no block is actually required,
  • in lieu of a reason for blocking the user, for example, if there is no consensus for a block, or when there is a strong consensus that the user has not violated policy, it can be used as a bluff to suggest there is some hidden evidence and hidden reason for blocking the editor.
  • gratuitous use of the CU tool, for example Checkuser-ing a bot to determine the owner, some people may find that contemptuous to the BRFA process and bot operators in general, given the operator of a bot is expected, according to bot policy, to be clearly identified and associated with the bot account at all times.
if someone using the Cu tool abusively takes the precaution of blocking the editor, and possibly goes further by locking the community itself out of commenting on the user's talkpage as well 'dispersing the crowds', then there is no pretence of there being any avenue of appeal. It is quite popular though, I have seen it a lot, that the editor is advised to write an email appeal to some list or committee that the blocking admin is INVOLVED with, but I can't see many people with an iota of commonsense falling for that one, it's too obvious to too many passers-by. So maybe some more meaningful appearance of an appeals process can be formulated? Penyulap (talk) 04:48, 20 December 2012 (UTC)

Year report; discussion on systematic issues?[edit]

The ombudsmen I know all make year reports and use the upportunity to identify systematic problems in an organization (often in the form of recommendations). As the position has a high visibility (and the information the ombudsmen bases it on), such recommendations can not be take lightly. I think it would be very helpful -in view of openness; but also to improve the functioning of the pedia's- if the Ombudmen would make such a report yearly (yes, I recognize that leads to some bureaucracy). L.tak (talk) 20:22, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

I very much like the idea of ombudsmen giving feedback to the projects on how they can do a better job meeting the needs (and perceived needs) of the editors; including those that file complaints but also the span of the discussions that spring up around those complaints. The complaints are just one fringe of a larger texture, which ombudsmen are often in a unique position to observe and reflect on. Agreed that this would be taken seriously. SJ talk  03:02, 21 December 2012 (UTC)

Feasibility[edit]

I'm a big fan of transparency to the Wiki-m/p-edia communities. But I'm just not thinking that it's going to be possible in the case of the OC.

For one thing, I get the impression that the OC is not responsible to the community, but to the WMF and staff, etc.

I get that sense specifically because of what little we know of the process and that the process itself is not considered necessary to inform the communities about.

IANAL, but I would guess that part of this is due to legal issues as well.

So if this is an "inner workings" situation, then while I'm sure they welcome our input and thoughts, in the end, this appear to be in their laps, and not in the communities'.

So I suppose we can all spin our wheels here, but I think in the end, time is better spent elsewhere. - Jc37 (talk) 05:54, 20 December 2012 (UTC)

I am aware of the legal issues involved and do not know of a reason why any transparency suggestions made above could not be implemented, if it seems like the right social and structural thing to do. The idea of "legal issues" sometimes causes people to self-censor and avoid discussing a topic, but there is no legal reason not to share basic aggregated information about caseload and types of response. SJ talk  03:02, 21 December 2012 (UTC)

Yearly performance notices[edit]

All that said, I find myself wishing it were possible to have a yearly performance notice of some kind (yearly, because the terms are stated to be roughly yearly).

It wouldn't need to violate privacy etc. Just merely to give an idea the amount of activity done.

I can understand that that might not be able to be done per a "by case instance" basis, because a "case" could be as simple as dealing with a single (obviously trolling) email all the way to a several month incredible complex situation.

So any ideas on how this at least could be possible, would be welcome. - Jc37 (talk) 05:54, 20 December 2012 (UTC)

A yearly report with exact figures would be good. Like you said, it doesn't need to violate privacy, but enough to show what is going on. Ajraddatz (Talk) 03:12, 22 December 2012 (UTC)