Policy or guideline?

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mmmm thinking out loud here,

It seems to me that consensus document describes preferred processes for decision making, in other words WE encourages the consensus model for decision making. In this regard, the Consensus document seems to be more aligned with a guidelines document rather than a policy document. My concern is that I don't think we can "regulate" decision-making behaviour through policy. In the event that consensus on a topic or issue is difficult to achieve, the interested participants may decide to vote on a matter -- when a group moves over to voting it is not necessarily a consensus model.

I'm wondering whether it would be better to classify the Consensus document as a guidelines document? So for example, should a Community mediation or arbitration committee be requested to resolve a difficult dispute, the composition and processes required to be adopted by the Arbitration committee would need a policy.

Mackiwg (talk)14:31, 5 August 2009


When too short it becomes a directive and when too long it becomes manual or guidelines...in between somewhere it is called a policy. Again, when too short it becomes arbitrary in nature, and when too long it loses precision. Therefore we may keep a well explained/stated policy and separate set of guidelines based on the policy. Policy will be a protected document and guidelines will be semi protected.

Through action and reaction with incidents the guidelines will signal the need of changes to the policy.

Anil Prasad (talk)23:56, 5 August 2009

Hi Anil,

I think we may be using a different interpretation on the meaning of policy versus guideline, hence the need for definitions :-).

I'm using the distinction between policy and guideline as it is used in WP:

  • Policies are primarily decisive. They represent firm positions, often on common disagreements, and endorse processes, actions, and guidelines.
  • Guidelines are primarily advisory. They advise on how to prevent or avoid causing problems, and on how to apply and execute policy under specific circumstances. Guidelines are supported by policies. Where a guideline appears to conflict with a policy, the policy takes precedence.

So I'm not distinguishing between the length of the document but rather the level of "authority" to distinguish between the two categories of documentation.

Therefore I see the Consensus document as a guideline which supports and advises WikiEducators on decision making processes when developing content. In the event of an issue that can't be resoloved, we may need a process of voluntary mediation (another guideline -- but could perhaps be included in the consensus document) and the arbitration which is a formal decision making process. In this case, we would need a policy on arbitration because this is a decisive and authoritative decision.


Mackiwg (talk)13:13, 6 August 2009

Dear Dr. Wayne,

OK, in the first instance I thought that you would like to call the content as guidelines because it contains policy statements on many terms.

Now based on my experiences and experimentations with administration, I think that guidelines should be supported by a Policy for effective implementation. Even the definitions as given by you highlight that requirement.

Only policy can set a clear direction, its precise nature with clear policy statements saves the target audience from getting lost in the procedures. Policies are being arrived at after considering past experiences and present requirements in detail. Therefore a good policy would not cause common disagreements, instead it will create public value. Therefore policies will be stable for long durations and it will protect the core functions from frequent turbulences.

Whereas, Guidelines will naturally be very much illustrative in nature - with long listing of procedures, that may change frequently, so that the danger of missing clarity of direction is very high.

Each core function of an organization/system required to be stated in a policy. Since consensus is the soul of our works, its position in our business process itself grants it the status of a policy.

Therefore I would like to suggest that we may develop Policy first and develop the guidelines in consultation with the Policy.

Anil Prasad (talk)18:15, 6 August 2009

Hi Anil,

I see your rationale that policy should precede the development of guidelines in the sense that guidelines support the implementation of policy.

My concern within an open wiki environment is that directing decision-making behaviour for individual projects seems counter productive to the spirit of collaborative wiki projects. Even under the consensus approach there are different models which can be applied and I feel that we should allow the community the freedom to decide which consensus models or approaches they wish to adopt. See for example WP article on consensus.

Consider for example a New Zealand OER content development aimed at developing a content resource in support of the New Zealand national curriculum. Lets assume there are educators from Kenya, Trinidad, India and Tonga collaboration on the same resource. Lets assume that the majority of collaborators, for the purposes of this example, are based outside New Zealand. A dispute arises over the inclusion of a key concept, which is not part of the national NZ curriculum. In this scenario -- the consensus model would not work. The NZ educators are bound by the constraints of the national curriculum.

Therefore I don't see how WikiEducator can dictate a blanket decision making model for all of its projects. We are not attempting to develop an objective encyclopaedia example. At best we can advise and encourage WikiEducators to use a consensus model, and when content groups cannot achieve consensus we can provide mechanisms to help groups achieve a positive outcome. The development of policy documents themselves is another matter -- here we should strive for the consensus model and the proposed workgroup policy caters for this dimension with rigorous for transparent development and consultation.

I agree with your points that guidelines are dynamic and may change and evolve -- that's the power of the wiki model, an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

WikiEducator does need policies, for example the selection of Admins, establishment of Community Workgroups, Arbitration committees/procedures, Council policy etc -- I'm just not convinced that consensus as one of many decision making processes warrants a policy. We may end up with a bureaucratic quagmire which stifles innovation and progress. While consensus is a good model which we should promote -- it also has significant risks, for example group think, minorities blocking progress at the expense of the majority view etc.

The key question is what the consensus policy is aiming to direct -- if its the development of OER and education material, given that education is culturally and contextually bounded, I don't see how a consensus policy will operate. Anyone who wants to develop an alternate perspective or derivative of the education resource can simply create another page -- thus forking the content development and negating the need for a consensus policy on content. In the case of WP, you can't have two articles on an "Apple" hence the need for consensus on content development.

We need to think this through carefully and encourage wider discussion on this point.


Mackiwg (talk)23:31, 6 August 2009

Dear Dr. Wayne,

now let us think about workable guidelines on consensus.

Anil Prasad (talk)04:37, 7 August 2009

Hi Anil,

Together with the corresponding polices that provide an enabling framework for the guidelines to function effectively.

Cheers Wayne

Mackiwg (talk)08:35, 7 August 2009