Wikimedia Fellowships/Project Ideas/Dispute resolution

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The core of my idea revolves around Wikipedia dispute resolution, creating a streamlined process on the English Wikipedia, and increasing the amount of users that are active in the dispute resolution processes. Wikis have an open style, where anyone can edit, and from time to time this results in disagreements that can escalate into conflict. At times these are handled well and everyone continues happily, at other times, people get frustrated and leave over it.[1]

On the English Wikipedia, I work with a small group of users that are active in dispute resolution, and we discuss issues regularly as well as collaborate on ideas. Among us, we are in general agreement that there are not enough users active in dispute resolution to deal with the disputes that are brought to the various forums on a day to day basis. We also feel that dispute resolution at present is too complex, and could be streamlined. Of course, we need the opinion of the wider community and see what they think. Many of these tasks we will undertake as community volunteers, but some elements will need foundation support. Below I have outlined the plan that we have and what impact we hope it will have.

Details of project ideas[edit]

As noted above, the original project idea has morphed greatly since creation. Kudos to Siko Bouterse for persisting with me and giving me ideas along the way, as I now feel I have a clear "road map" of exactly what I want to do.

In the first step, I would deliver the dispute resolution survey to around 2,000 members of the Wikipedia community. The survey, similar to the new page patrol survey, will gather general demographic questions about editors, as well as ask them about their experiences with dispute resolution along with any ideas they have to improve dispute resolution in future. I also want to gauge interest in participation in dispute resolution in future.

Once I have received all the responses (or a month and a bit has passed, as not everyone will respond to the survey), I will collate the results, and write up the results in a fashion similar to that of the new page patrol report. At the same time, I would analyse examples of disputes that were given by those who did the survey, and research the dispute. Seeking at least one example of a dispute for the following categories:

  • The ping-pong match – disputes where participants don't listen to each other
  • The boomerang – disputes to which the solution is an explanation of policy
  • The blogger – disputes over source reliability
  • The my-source-is-better-than-yours – disputes that can be solved by attributing points of view in-text
  • The tough nut – disputes that would benefit from more formal mediation
  • The edit warriors – where something like page protection may break the back of the dispute
  • The verbose editors – where discussion is extensively long and may benefit from structure
  • Divide and conquer – where a dispute has many issues and working from the small ones can be of benefit
  • The compromise – where the final result is an amalgamation of opinions from parties.

I would seek the following information:

  • What caused the dispute to start off with. – In short, what occurred that caused the conflict to start off with.
  • What was the catalyst that caused the dispute to escalated to a proper form of dispute resolution – What led to proper dispute resolution being requested? Was there a breakdown in communication, disagreements on policy, talking past each other or just a lack of structure?
  • What dispute resolution forum was used, and what assistance was offered? Did the assistant explain policy, help form a compromise solution or just provide better structure?
  • What resolution was provided, if any? If one was provided, did it stick? Did issues continue after the dispute resolution had completed, was it escalated to a higher level? I'd also try and see what went wrong. Did the DR assistant walk away, or did they just not have the tools (and knowledge) to assist effectively?

From this information, I'd develop case studies for use at my presentation at Wikimania. In this presentation, we will be addressing the history of dispute resolution on Wikipedia, and present the results of the survey, as well as problems and ideas regarding dispute resolution that were raised in the survey, and ideas on how we can move forward. We will also take attendees through the various forums of dispute resolution, and what roles dispute resolution volunteers play.

The key part is the workshop. I would use the developed case studies (examples of real disputes with modifications to make it more generic) and have the audience give ideas on how they'd resolve the dispute. We would then detail how the dispute was actually resolved. We would also detail some key principles to use when encountering a dispute on Wikipedia. The main aim of this presentation is to increase awareness of dispute resolution on Wikipedia, and empower users with basic tools to be able to handle disputes in a better way. It's also to gauge interest in further workshops of a similar structure, which could be done by myself, or by other Wikimedia chapters. I would also hope to create an on-wiki version of this presentation (the case studies, and techniques to use to resolve the disputes) to increase the amount of users active in dispute resolution.

I'd also like to create online versions (both on-wiki and elsewhere, for example, an Apple textbook). Relatively easy to access, good distribution forum. Ideally, Wikimedians across the globe could use these basic test cases and techniques to increase the amount of users across Wikimedia that are active in dispute resolution. It would need to be tested on enwiki first, to see how successful it works, and down the road modified for other projects and languages as necessary. Implementation on other projects would require consideration of cultural differences, but fundamentally I think (but am not certain) that similar techniques used to resolve a dispute on one wiki could be effective on another project.

I would think that doing a follow-up survey in a years time would assist in measuring the impact of this project.


The project is targeted, as it fits in with the goals of the Wikimedia Foundation to increase editor retention. The project address a day-to-day issue on Wikimedia - conflict resolution. By creating an environment where conflicts are dealt with in a more efficient manner, people are less likely to walk out of the project "in a huff" and over time, this would hopefully have a snowball effect over time. We have a very clear plan as to what we want to achieve, so the project is very actionable. By creating a "manual" for dispute resolution, which can be translated across languages, the project has a greater impact. While disputes are normally quite specific, the principles to resolve disputes are generally quite broad, and can be applied on many types of Wikimedia project. This also makes the project one that is scalable, because it can be tweaked to suit other Wikipedia languages, as well as projects like Commons or Wikisource - because the principles to resolve disputes are generally universal. Additionally, by distributing these "manuals" on wiki, and in other various forums, others who have learned the techniques can teach even more people how to resolve disputes on Wikimedia, and so on. This makes the project sustainable, as even if some of us leave the project (though I have no plans to) others can continue the process. Lastly, I would hope to do another survey after a period of time, and compare the results to the original survey. Comparing the results, I could see how many users are active in dispute resolution (as opposed to now) and see how effective Wikimedians feel dispute resolution has become (as opposed to now). This makes the project measurable.


Components of this fellowship would be actioned by me as a community volunteer (such as the survey) but other components I see the assistance of the foundation will be necessary. I think that sitting down in "real life" with an expert in alternative dispute resolution would be of great assistance in my efforts to improve the dispute resolution processes. They could assist with examining the dispute resolution processes and giving real works examples of dispute resolution that is effective in various scenarios, and could also assist me with putting together a lesson plan on how to teach others the basics of dispute resolution.

As recommended, to further develop my experience in the area of dispute resolution, I am currently undertaking a Certificate IV in Mediation. In the long run this will enable me to more effectively teach others various dispute resolution techniques.

Lastly, if workshops to teach others dispute resolution (other than Wikimania) take place, I would hope to attend these so would require transportation as necessary.

Fellow(s) responsible for this proposal[edit]

Myself (w:User:Steven Zhang) email: I've done dispute resolution on and off on Wikipedia for a few years, as well as doing dispute resolution in real life in my employment. I have a sound understanding of how dispute resolution works, and for this reason I am well equipped to this fellowship.


  • I am willing to help in any capacity. I have participated both in MEDCAB and 30 but am no longer an active editor on enwiki, maybe that's a good thing? fr33kman 02:13, 28 July 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • What an excellent idea! This is research which needs to be done. ThatPeskyCommoner 22:31, 1 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • I'm very new at Wikipedia (@ two months since first edit) but have spent some time watching discussions about DR unfold on IRC. I've also worked professionally in political fundraising groups which used consensus decision making and have first-hand experience how tricky it is to balance the needs of an individual with that of the whole. Despite the individual nature of problems that come up, I think it's a great idea to try to typologize them and and review trends with a statistically valid sample. On this basis, I fully support Steve's proposal. Snardbafulator 22:47, 1 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • IMO DR is more important to the long-term health of Wikipedia than most people realise. And that it needs improving is surely not in dispute. Rd232 (talk) 23:18, 24 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Many projects do have a dispute resolution committe. Agree with Rd232. We look sometimes a debating club and many (including me) like to do it, but helping in disputes is a specialist thing, for people who know most about a certain subject including the language(s), culture and ideology. Its a world wide problem for ages and we can help to solve it, but our task is to share information and the disputes are a a consequence we have to deal with it ALL ZeaForUs (talk) 18:19, 25 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • As I'm the last arrived, and I've been taught that's not wise to talk too much when you are a newcomer but, as somebody from the upper levels asked me if I "would help the Community Fellowship Program evaluate project ideas by reviewing open projects?", now, therefore, I'll say just that I very much agree with the purpose to settle down conflicts. I'm Italian and I've seen a lot of disputes leading to leave, especially between new users. So it's important to be gentle and helpfull with people at their first experiences. Trying to help them instead of punish them with a harsh deletion. Hope this modest opinion and any kind of further help that I could provide could be used to keep the ball of this conversations rolling smoothly. Ciao--Giorgio27002 (talk) 22:39, 27 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • i would like to see more methodological stuff on how Steven intends to tackle the culturally different patterns of conflict management in regard to the claim on "around the globe". however, that is just an aspect affecting the transproject-compatibility and the rest looks pretty comprehensive - i therefore endorse the general proposal, regards --Jan eissfeldt (talk) 12:01, 28 February 2012 (UTC) note: these amendments are looking workable, regards --Jan eissfeldt (talk) 14:23, 2 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • It's a very important topic. In portuguese community (where I'm from) it's impossible to achieve consensus without complete agreement. As Jan eissfeldt pointed out it's tricky to deal with different communities but I believe any start point it will be very useful to other communities.OTAVIO1981 (talk) 12:27, 1 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Well, when I hear the word "mediation" I am happy because it takes me to the fact that mediated dispute doesn't have winners or loosers, but both sides gets something from such conflict. Digging deeper in this area could surely help users within Wikimedia community. As far as I know most of the users of Czech Wikipedia, who staged in a conflict at arbitration committee, were quite active participants. The results of such AC, where mostly painful if not for one side for both sides.--Juandev (talk) 18:01, 3 April 2012 (UTC)[reply]

References & Notes[edit]

  1. I unfortunately have not collected examples of this sort of behavior, people leaving because a dispute was not handled well, but I could gather examples if required