Grants:IdeaLab/An outside observer on the arbitration committee
What is the problem you're trying to solve?
"A huge issue on Wikipedia is that our dispute-resolution processes sometimes (perhaps often) end up constituting harassment, and may even put editors in danger. For example, when you're being stalked online, experts will tell you that it's important to disengage. Don't respond (except perhaps for one message saying you want to be left alone); don't acknowledge. But if that person takes you through dispute-resolution on Wikipedia, the arbitration committee will penalize you for not responding. You're expected to submit evidence, respond to evidence, everything is posted in public, and it might continue for months."
What is your solution?
"We need an expert who can point out how flawed this is, and who can bring our thinking about harassment and dispute resolution up to date. There are multiple examples of editors being placed in awkward positions because of things done by people in positions of influence on Wikipedia, and it happens because those people are not familiar with how other organizations handle harassment." 
About the idea creator
During 2013, I wrote the "Arbitration Report", a regular feature that appeared in the Signpost. I am also the only member of the "GGTF Three" (see user box below) who is still openly active in the Wikimedia movement. I am also a newbie, with less than 1000 edits to articles on the English Wikipedia. More recently I have created 105 articles on simple wiki, 12 on enwiki, and probably 40 or so more on Wikisource (transcripts of speeches) and the other language wikis.
- ArbCom definitely needs some adult supervision. Gamaliel (talk) 01:36, 21 June 2016 (UTC)
- ArbCom should certainly examine how its procedures can contribute to harassment. The length of time involved is a major problem. An outside advisor would help. Smallbones (talk) 03:25, 21 June 2016 (UTC)
- This would have to be handled carefully, but I think that an outside advisor would be a great idea. Most large and powerful committees should have someone to serve as a separate witness/observer. That person might not have the power to actually stop something, but it would be beneficial to have someone who could serve in this position and raise valid points - as well as being a good person that the committee could turn to for any questions they might have as well. Tokyogirl79 (talk) 03:41, 21 June 2016 (UTC)
- I wouldn't say "adult supervision," but some kind of expert advisor on things like conflict resolution, group dynamics and ethics sounds like a good deal. I would say an eighteen-month trial period that automatically expires unless renewed. If it turns out that having this person around prevents the Arbitrators from doing their jobs, off s/he goes. Darkfrog24 (talk) 17:41, 21 June 2016 (UTC) One problem I've noticed among long-serving admins is that they become very immersed in Wikipedia's rules, to the point where they forget how unintuitive they can be to newbs and even longstanding editors who've focused on other areas. An outsider would give much-needed perspective. Darkfrog24 (talk) 03:14, 22 June 2016 (UTC)
- I was involved in an ArbCom dispute where the judging editors were swayed by lots of emotional language by the other editor using ad hominem arguments against me that were untrue (saying that my edits about a potential future risk to humanity were done in order to scare people). I was astonished to see vote after vote against me by editors who hadn't asked me any questions or read the details of the case and only referencing his emotive comments and just assumed that he was right. My edits were all well sourced to papers by the likes of the European Space Foundation and the National Research Council in the states, and were focused on published measures that can be taken to prevent the risk ever occurring, but none of them checked the sources to see if I was right.
- I think even admins are not always as objective as they think they are. In my case the judgement was inconclusive when the opposing editor "threw his toys out of the pram" in a fit of rage and left wikipedia, leaving no case to judge. But I think it could easily have gone against me. I think this external arbitor would best be a professional who has some experience in such things, for instance, perhaps, a lawyer or judge similar. Since it is only one person it could even be a paid job if funding can stretch to that. It's expecting a lot of unpaid volunteer admins to behave like experienced judges or dispute arbitors with years of training.Robert Walker (talk) 15:50, 22 June 2016 (UTC)
Expand your idea
Would a grant from the Wikimedia Foundation help make your idea happen? You can expand this idea into a grant proposal.
- Expenditures would depend on the type and availability of expert advisors, and would be easier to evaluate once a staff advisor had been identified for the project. —Neotarf (talk) 18:55, 24 June 2016 (UTC)
The initial effort, once a staff advisor had been identified, would be to identify someone with the expertise to evaluate the current structure of the arbitration committee, probably a legal scholar, law student, or employment harassment specialist. The Support and Safety team probably has the contacts to identify such a person.
The expert would spend approximately 3 months (the average length of a typical arbitration case) observing the arbitration committee, then make recommendations. It would be expected that this recommendation might include pros and cons of a permanent observer, and what the role of that permanent observer might be like.
In my experience with writing the Arbitration Report for the Signpost, I found it very easy to understand an arbitration case if I had interacted with any of the named parties while editing, but nearly impossible if I was coming into the situation cold. For this reason, I would recommend that the expert be able to follow an actual arbitration case as an insider. I have standing to take an appeal to the arbitration committee, including access to their secret "star chamber", and would be willing to partner with the expert so they could observe the arbcom's workings first hand. As people sometimes do things differently when they know they are being observed, I would be open to preserving confidentiality wrt the observer.
Failing the availability of Foundation staff, I would also be open to working with a member of the press, or someone who wished to observe for the purposes of research or publication, as long as the established formalities of privacy were observed.