Proposal: Add a "Mediator" to the forum

After some exchange of ideas over PM and in a topic @Team_2E16 and myself agreed on the proposal below. It’s open for debate, feel free to reply. I post this as a user of this forum and didn’t discussed this with any mod. I’ll ask them to pin it somewhere but I won’t do/decide that myself because I’m involved in this one.

Intro
Over the last few days a long discussion took place in META about moderation, communication, accountability and more. A number of mods joined the discussion as well and there was a proposal from @Team_2E16 to have something like a mediator next to the mods and the members.

Why?
The idea is to have a member that’s trusted and on good terms with both the members and the moderators. This member would be able to see both sides of the community. So when one member doesn’t feel right about moderation or doesn’t want to confront the moderators directly, this person would intermediate. Not taking any side, just watching both sides at the same time and try to help out.

What could this person do?

  • Have acces to the moderator Slack-channel and the PM of @ moderations on this forum as well. That means being added on this forum on moderator-level having full acces to all communications, Flags, etc. All without the right to open/close/move topics and actually be a moderator. It’s just for getting an insight on active topics.

  • Report to the community about actions taken by moderators.

  • Intermediate between members and mods when communication between the two doesn’t progress.

  • Take part in the Forum Updates so info doesn’t only come from moderation but out of the community as well.

And what should we all get out of it?

@Team_2E16 made a reply in his topic and summed it up this way:

This would
a) help the member to feel listened to, outside the so-called ‘inner clique’ of the moderators,
b) hopefully provide a fair-minded non-mod view of the moderators’ decisions and so take some of the strain out of the moderator/member relationship,
c) provide a non-situationally-entangled viewpoint of the incidents that had occurred, and
d) provide for the general membership to feel as if they have an impartial place to go if they clash with mods,
e) provide a ‘blow-off’ valve outlet for members to release some of the energy they have pent up, and mods to do the same.
And finally, and importantly,

f) this person’s job would be to raise their hand privately to the mods when they noticed anything they were uncomfortable with, and would, after attempting to deal with it in private with the mod/s concerned, bring it to the members’ attention if necessary.

What about the Flags and contacting moderators using PM?
This all stays the same. The mediator is there for transparency and is optional for communication. The old route is still there and Flags and PM’s to @moderators stay all the same. The mediator will see them come in as well. But doesn’t intervene when it’s not requested or necessary.

Let us know what you think…

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This looks really good as a concept. I do have a couple questions:

I’m not sure what updates this refers to.

Any ideas on the selection and acceptance process of such a moderator?

He surely means: https://safenetforum.org/search?q=forum%20update

Oh dear, here we go… :wink:

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Yeah, some sort of open voting process. The problem is that not all 2000+ members will vote. I think not even 500 will. But I think we can all agree of a person for this position. Actually I think the right person will show up. I don’t know what @Team_2E16 had in mind.

I suggest that this topic be moved from meta and pinned on the front page, so the community at large can be aware of it and participate. This is not the usual meta topic.

Then we can perhaps get some suggestions for process and nominations from the community, etc.

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There has been a lot of pinning lately, I’m also not even sure why this belongs to the front page already while I haven’t heard opinions on this from others besides you @fergish and @polpolrene. I should say that I haven’t read the entire proposal but the stuff I did read makes me understand what it is about.

Definitely not suggesting doing such without the input from all the mods. Actually pinning is not necessary, but putting it on the front page will be appropriate once we’re ready to put it forward for broad discussion.

I constantly keep thinking that this (how we are doing it right now) is simply how a forum works and yes I can see that it might be an addition to have some sort of ‘controller’ or ‘mediator’ but it also gives me the feeling that we aren’t honest and trusted. Before you know, this mediator will be part of our inner circle because he discusses with us on a daily basis :slight_smile: .

So not too sure how to feel about this proposal yet but as you can see I’m a bit skeptic right now.

I like the proposal but I agree with @melvin, I don’t see how the “mediator” wouldn’t end up as being viewed as a moderator by the community.

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I too don’t see the value in this idea. It sounds great in many ways, but I don’t think it is needed or will improve things. The forum is working brilliantly IMO. Yes we have had difficulties with some members, but what when those same people don’t like what the mediator says or does? What when a moderator doesn’t like what the mediator says or does?

I take the same view as I do over the call for moderator elections. I don’t think we have a problem as things stand. Some people see election more decentralised and therefore better, but I don’t because this is a forum, not a society. Some people see us negatively because we are doing what we are supposed to do, and it happens to clash with what they have done or believe. But the majority of the forum membership seem happy. Not that we can’t improve of course, just that the forum is doing its job: supporting the project by providing a place for people to learn and create together, focussed on Project SAFE and spanning outwards into the world.

I think adding bureaucracy (elections, mediation) etc has the appearance of improvement and accountability, but in practice is both unnecessary and will get in the way.

I’m not saying things cannot be improved, or that we should not have a discussion about this. As with voting for moderators I am completely open to having the community discuss, proposals to be put, and for the community to vote on them.

So this is just my opinion at this time and I do change my views in the light of argument and evidence. By all means lets have the debate and see what emerges.

There seems to be advantages in having a moderator, which is very unusual for a forum, but

Will this mediator just be seen as an apologetic for the mods and their position? The members of the forum would not know the details behind the moderator’s decisions and then we find the mediator is defending their position. Will (s)he then have to copy-n-paste things in order to show what led up and the reasons for a position (s)he takes?

I agree with @Melvin & @jm5 that there is a very good chance that this situation of the mediator being viewed as a quasi moderator by the community.

How then do we have a moderator without this eventuating?

What does the community think?

Hi all, thought I’d chime in with my thoughts on, well, your thoughts.

Yes it is how a forum works. But then, Safe itself is all about figuring out how to improve on the current system :slightly_smiling:

Mediator. No powers of moderation whatsoever.

This is indeed a very relevant concern, but I think it greatly depends upon how the mediator communicates, and what they weigh in on.

Perhaps the answer, then, would be to remove any extra abilities of a mediator to see what the moderators see; if they were just a normal member who would sit between mods and members and listen carefully to what both sides had to say (and had said, in the case of a dispute). In absence of this information, the mediator would have to commit to keeping an impartial stance, and an open mind about the issue at hand, on both sides. The idea I had in mind was someone who would look carefully at exchanges, and not so much make a ‘judgement’ of what was going on, but try to zero in on the underlying subtext, with an aim to attempt to avert any actual mod actions. Essentially, their job would be to try to resolve disputes before they reach critical levels.

This would happen by helping mods to understand the particular members’ concerns, while trying to help the member understand why there is an impasse, and what they (and mods) may be doing to exacerbate/cause it. Essentially removing the ‘you did x’, ‘but you did y’ element of the argument. When there are problems, this is often what I see. Both parties, mod and member, seem to only see their viewpoint, and I think a lot is missed by both sides. I think there is a subtle (and often not-so-subtle) element of ‘us-vs-them’ going on that creates this unwillingness to truly empathise.

Everybody has their view, and often, nobody is completely wrong. Much can be achieved by simply giving people (on both sides) an impartial place to vent their frustrations. Mediation would ideally focus on providing a ‘bridge’ between mods and members, by someone (and this is a crucial aspect) who doesn’t hold the reins of moderation power themselves.

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For many, most, yes. But there are indeed members who feel it is not. I feel they are also members of the community, and their concerns matter. I think the mediator idea is one that could help to provide a way to allow those concerns to be heard, anonymously or publicly, and impartially and help members to feel as if there is a neutral person to take their concerns to. Particularly in the case of those people who have never kicked up a fuss, but have concerns, and don’t feel comfortable taking their concerns to the very people they are criticising.

The mediator can’t ‘do’ anything, in terms of making decisions. Their role is to try to make an attempt to bridge the gap of understanding between mods and members, to facilitate communication, and remove the interpersonal tension between the member and the mod/s, because even if another moderator weighs in, they are still a moderator and, however reasonable they are, hold power over the member. This fundamentally changes the relationship between a complaining member and their port-of-call to complain, which is, at present, the very people they are complaining about.

That is logical; you, as a moderator, probably haven’t been subject to the negative consequences of decisions you disagree with very often. Instead, you make these decisions. It’s a perspective issue. On the other hand, members who complain and take issue with moderators’ decisions probably (almost certainly) don’t understand what it’s like being a moderator.

I agree with you; it’s a private forum, the admin group has a right to run it the way you wish. But that’s why my suggestion is a suggestion, rather than a demand. And it’s true indeed that people can leave if they don’t like it. I understand that if you bent to every demand that was put forward to you, then you would end up with (probably) a mess. But I don’t think having a person trying to facilitate better communication between mods and members in a voluntary way, with no obligation on the part of mods or the member, is a poor suggestion. Think of the time you’ll save in all of those back-and-forths!

Exactly the point of the suggestion. I believe some people clash with you simply because you are moderators, just as some people clash with the Police simply because they are Police. But I think mods also (sometimes, and I don’t want to overstate this) react defensively as an initial instinct, as well, because they are being criticised. A mediator would add to the discussion a person who is concerned with the success of the forum/project, but is not a member of the mod team, and hopefully (and this depends upon the person greatly) is able to speak impartially.

First, that’s a great thing, and somewhat of an achievement, on the mods’ part, and on the part of the great collection of people we have on this forum. But I don’t believe that ‘most people like the way things are’ is an argument against the idea.

  1. By definition, it would help the admittedly existent members who do feel there is a problem here
  2. It may help remove some of the mod’s workload, which you yourself have pointed out in several threads is a strain on your time
  3. What people who don’t have a problem think is not really the issue. This idea wouldn’t affect them in any negative way. Everything essentially stays the same, but now there is an extra person available for people to go to when they want to express their views/frustration, rather than being asked to complain directly to those who hold the very authority they are complaining about. I would agree with you in a public matter, where everybody would pay more taxes to provide this role, but as there is no negative placed upon the ‘happy’ members of the forum, I see no reason this is relevant.

My suggestion came on the back of an assertion by me that more bureaucracy is both impractical, and probably ineffective. I think mediation is no further burden on anyone but the mediator themselves. And I don’t think mediation is a form of bureaucracy, either, as the mediator would have no power, save to have a discussion from an impartial standpoint. Elections are a different story, and, as @polpolrene has pointed out, would probably be rather ineffective anyway. So that’s a different story. It doesn’t get any better if we reverse it, and ask for objections to a nomination (as in a club situation). It’s a tricky one, I admit. But it is what it is.

This is another thing that crossed my mind.
On the one hand, there would have to be a guarantee of anonymity and privacy to both sides; a member complaining should feel as if they will not be targeted because they complained, and moderators should be able to deliberate without laying bare everything they discuss, as this prevents further offense being taken by the concerned member, but also because laying bare moderators’ thoughts on the member’s actions may be embarrassing to the member. We also don’t want micro-management (direct democracy) of mods actions, as they have to be able to do their job without justifying every tiny little thing they do (think of police spending more time in court than on the street).

My comment on this in my OP was that the mediator could, with both sides express permission, show justification of decisions and an opinion on these decisions. Perhaps the mediator would, with the members’ permission, start a topic in meta to discuss the matter, build a timeline of public posts, outline the relevant issue in terms of the FG, and offer an opinion, and then allow others to comment.

Note my original idea did not include the mediator being privy to moderators information; I rather envisaged the mediator respectfully approaching the mods and asking for relevant info/links that they could provide if they wished, and asking the member to provide links to the incidents. I would envisage that this person would work with the public information available, put it together, sum up the arguments on both sides, state the mod decision/s made and allow other members to weigh in on whether they thought the mediator had it ‘right’.

But all of that would presume that a moderator decision had to be made in the first place. The mediators’ chief role would be to attempt to prevent such an action from needing to be taken in the first place. Doubtless, there are actions that need to be taken immediately (extreme profanity/attacking others/spamming). There could be a role for the mediator to ‘review’ mod actions that the affected member continued to maintain were unfair after the fact, or actions that were controversial among other members, with a goal to helping the two ‘groups’ understand the facts and each other’s perspectives.

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I like your approach @Team_2E16 and as I say I’m open to being convinced - or indeed to accept the decision of the community whether or not I agree.

I’m still not swayed as to the value of this, or the impact of bureaucracy, which is already underway - I don’t just mean election/selection of a mediator. That could perhaps be done by anyone simply saying “look, here I am, this is what I am offering, get in touch with me if you think I can help”.

If you or anyone else were to do that at some point, I’d see it as a positive option for anyone who wants to make use of it. It was always possible for someone to take the initiative and ask someone else to raise an issue, or to talk something through with them, or to meditate. But this would give people permission, as well as make them aware there was another option available.

This approach would indeed avoid or seem to involve little bureaucracy, and I do accept the point that it could save us work. Although we are always in control of that as individuals and as a team - meaning I think we sometimes overdo trying to please those who are often simply unhappy with the guidelines, or the very fact there is moderation, as well as those who appear to have personal issues and are using us to work through them etc.

When I’ve mentioned I don’t have time, this is really a symptom, and my recognising that I have spent too much of my time on something that I could not improve for someone else’s benefit, and really just ended up wasting both our time.

So my thought at this point is - do you or anyone else need my, the mod team, or the community’s approval? I think not. By all means test the water here, continue the discussion, but you are free to offer your help, and so are others. I have no objection, and I think on the basis I’ve suggested here, don’t see why others might object either.

That leaves the question as to whether you, or the community want an approval process. Well, if a mediator is to have certain privileges (e.g access to moderator discussions) then yes - but that could be dealt with case by case, rather than carte blanche. In which case, again, no need for pre-approval?

What do you think of this approach: anyone can offer an unofficial mediation or personal support service, no pre-approved privileges, except say to have a pinned post describing what is on offer in a suitable category? Anything else?

If pre-privileges are needed, then I think we’ll enter into bureaucracy so that’s why I’m trying to avoid if they are not really required. Personally I think it is would be cleaner and simpler all round, but want obviously to hear your views.

BTW I’m having time with family for a couple of days so forgive me if I’m not able to follow up in a timely fashion - but if you quote me / mention me it will at least draw my attention and help me get back sooner where my input is wanted.

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I’m about to go to sleep here so I’ll reply in short, and if necessary, add more thoughts tomorrow.

I agree, but think the community (or at least those who this all matters to) would need to feel comfortable about the member who offers this help. I’m not sure ‘electing’ such a person would be necessary, as they would possess no powers of moderation anyway.

As far as the mod’s approval goes, I guess it would just need to be in the form of a loose agreement to be open to discussion, which I feel, for the most part, you have all shown to be in response to this and others posts I have seen. Also I take you (the mod’s group) at your word when you have asserted that this is indeed the case. It’s an important point because if the mediator can’t converse with the mod’s, then there’s not much point having one. Also perhaps a willingness among mods to (in appropriate cases where banning isn’t immediately necessary, but perhaps is drawing imminent) ask the mediator to make an attempt to discuss the issue with the member, or refer the member to the mediator.

Agreed. I think it’s unnecessary for an extra person to be aware of every single thing that goes on in your discussions. There’s plenty of decisions that aren’t contested, for example.

Of course, this can be done at any time, and there is no bar to that. The only disadvantage I see is that people may feel that the person was then ‘self-appointed’, which I think could be a shaky basis to start it off. Sure, the person would have no power, but still, people need to feel like their privacy won’t be betrayed. But again, an election, I think, would only be necessary if people in the community asked for one. But it wouldn’t need to go to an official poll, per se, perhaps just a discussion thread posted in a prominent place for a short time, and interested persons putting themselves forward for the role, nominating, seconding, or something similar. Depends what people want.

As far as myself performing the role, I feel reluctant simply because I have refrained from posting here for some time, so many will not know me. So I’d have to feel that there were no objections there. I’m happy to step forward to offer help.

I agree with this; less formality would help here.

So to sum in short:

  • No need for elections unless the membership wants them, community input welcomed
  • No special powers/privileges
  • Ideally moderators being open to conversing with mediator, and referring member or approaching mediator in the case of disputes that are close to a ban
  • Important for community to know that mods are ‘on board’ with this person/s’ attempts to help facilitate peaceful relations.

No need to justify; I wasn’t calling you out on it :slight_smile: It’s a reality of being a moderator, and also of daily life. I’m a fellow dev, and so understand that juggling even just that and family can chew your time up immensely.

I would support this, pending any further ideas/discussions. I think we need to hear from those who have expressed reservations with approaching mods, or who have demonstrated significant dissatisfaction with either moderation in general, moderation here, how mods are chosen etc.

I guess that hasn’t happened so far because meta is not on the front page so we could either pin this topic, or if you like, you could post a new topic (with a ref to this one) that summarises the idea and calls for comment and feedback. We can PM anyone we think this approach is designed to help but who doesn’t show up, in case they’ve missed it.

With due respect to all the good ideas and thoughts so far expressed, it seems to be missing an all important ingredient and that is other forum members thoughts and input.

At this stage it is 100% mods and @Team_2E16 and I think to be a successful discussion we need other forum members to provide their considered thoughts on this.

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Agreed, I’m skeptical many will take part now things are rolling (unless there is a pause), so I think we can try as I suggested (by @Team_2E16 making a post and us pinning it) and if necessary PMing those we think might benefit from this based in their previous issues and feedback. I don’t think we can do more than that. So it’s over to you @Team_2E16 :slightly_smiling:

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Yeah, the timing couldn’t have been more inconvenient, haha. Everybody’s eyes are looking towards the launch, as they should be.

I’ll have a good think about the approach and get back to you guys.

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