In any large volunteer community, dispute resolution is a vital service that helps alleviate contentious issues and problematic behavior. On Wikipedia, where volunteer editors have made the online encyclopedia the success it is, resolving disputes is essential for maintaining a supportive space to continue writing and collaborating.
Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) Community Fellow Steven Zhang has spent much of his four years on Wikipedia involved in dispute resolution and has helped start the WikiProject Dispute Resolution, where a group of volunteer editors is dedicated to improving the processes for mediating contentious issues among peers. Furthermore, he has focused his fellowship at WMF on studying on-wiki conflicts and improving the mechanisms for resolving them.
Zhang has written an Op-Ed in this week’s issue of the Wikipedia Signpost, where he details the current problems with dispute resolution and possible solutions for improving them. Through his research, including a survey of editors involved in disputes, Zhang has identified salient challenges to improving the processes:
- The main problems given for dispute resolution are its complexity, its inaccessibility, and the number of understaffed resolution processes available. Respondents want stricter action taken against problematic editors, and a simplified, more accessible process where closure can be brought to a dispute quickly
- Opinions of dispute resolution are overall negative – while respondents rate arbitration as the best dispute resolution forum (one in three respondents rate it as good or very good), Wikiquette assistance is regarded as the worst (only 1 in 12 rate it as satisfactory)
- Dispute resolution volunteers do so because they feel the process is critical to Wikipedia’s functioning — like helping people — or are motivated by the fact they’ve already received assistance as parties in the forum. Some respondents haven’t volunteered to help run the forum due to the unpleasantness of disputes, the prolonged nature of dispute resolution, poor past experiences or a lack of knowledge of how disputes can be resolved
Zhang’s notes in the Op-Ed that dispute resolution forums on Wikipedia can be simplified and efficiency can be improved. He argues for a universal dispute request form to make it easier to request dispute resolution. “We also need to make participation less ambiguous and time-consuming, and make it easier to actually get involved in resolving disputes,” said Zhang.
Zhang has been working to simplify the Dispute Resolution Noticeboard, with some positive trends, though he notes that there is always a need for new volunteers. You can get involved and help improve dispute resolution on Wikipedia by visiting WikiProject Dispute Resolution. You can find more documentation on Zhang’s Dispute Resoultion improvement project here.
Matthew Roth, Global Communications Manager