Loosely defined, consensus is "a general agreement". However, in the context of the Marvel's Spider-Man Wiki, consensus refers to the specific process by which decisions are made and content disputes are resolved on the wiki.
The Marvel's Spider-Man Wiki is not a democracy. Instead, we follow a more organic process of reaching agreement through discussion, prioritizing the cogency of legitimate concerns over undefended "sides" of an argument. While unanimity is ideal, it is not required. Edits ensuant on concession and good faith establish consensus for practical purposes; resulting adjustments or additions to policies and guidelines formally codify these decisions.
The ability to decide when consensus has been reached without depending upon a democratic system resides within the relevant parties' ability to compromise, remain civil, and remember that editing a wiki is not about winning. Occasionally, the discussion may simply reach an impasse. When this occurs, either the result is no consensus and the status quo is maintained,[a] or the involved parties may unanimously agree on some alternative means of resolving the yet-intractable dispute (arbitration, straw polling, etc.)
All parties are expected to make adequate efforts to put forth and respond to all good faith attempts at objective arguments. Contributors who deliberately disregard this standard, make no good faith attempts at engaging in conversation, or engage in status quo stonewalling may be excluded from the consensus-building process by being assumed to concede to the prevailing argument.
Role of democracy
Although the wiki is not a democracy, and majority rule is not what determines consensus, straw polls may have a role in determining consensus. Voting should be seen as a means to consensus-building, just not what ultimately determines it. When voting occurs, it should happen in a specific way:
- Votes are not to be tallied at face value. Votes in this case should be seen as a way of structuring the conversation, rather than tallying majority sentiment. Counted votes must be briefly defended using reasonably well-formed arguments that have not been satisfactorily rebutted. "I like it" or "I dislike it" (and the like) do not count as defensible votes.
- The decision is not automatically made by the majority vote. Rather, a majority result places the burden of proof and rebuttal on the minority side. Failure to adequately account for the concerns of the majority, either by coming up with an alternative or adjusting the proposal in some new way, or failure to reason why the result of the vote should be non-binding, will result in consensus favorable to the majority.
Votes should be treated with caution. In the same way that votes can be useful, they can also be detrimental if their utility is misunderstood, or if their pitfalls are ignored:
- The presumption that the majority is an accurate representation of the majority affected by a decision. In fact, a "majority decision" is technically impossible; said majority is the majority for that particular juncture in time and gathering. If the majority decision was not backed by defensible reasoning, it does not hold up to future scrutiny and can more easily be overturned by simpler consensus and fewer participants later on.
- Participants may vote in a way that is biased. While a more organic consensus system does not eliminate bias, it forces participants to reason with others and explain fully their position. If the reason for their position does not go beyond simple personal preference, it should not weigh into any decision made for the rest of the community and the wiki's readers.
- Participants may vote lazily or in haste. In ensuring that the discussion has a chance to play out in its entirety, it is more likely that participants may have their mind changed, the reasoning for their position strengthened, or that better options and compromises come about as a result of discussion.
Consensus, too, has common pitfalls:
- Reaching an intractable impasse. Sometimes, level-headed editors with well reasoned positions simply can't see eye to eye. Or, these editors acquire a personal or emotional investment in "winning" the debate, and the discussion becomes uncivil. While no consensus is okay, and the default, moving the wiki forward to a position that satisfies mostly everyone should be the goal.
- "He who argues the longest wins". Some editors may argue ad nauseam to the effect of disenfranchising other editors from contributing to the conversation. They may attempt to bludgeon the process, put forth confusing or overly wordy arguments, or try to thwart challenges to existing consensus. This is undesirable (and if taken too far can be considered disruptive) and should be pointed out when it occurs.
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