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The info of the tag here on Meta reads:

The question you're asking is designed to solicit opinions or best-practices on a particular topic, with the goal of reaching community consensus.

How do we define “consensus” when it comes to meta discussions?

It’s obviously complicated, so let’s just imagine a discussion with only two literal answers “Yes” and “No”. I suppose the easiest way to reach consensus is counting votes, but:

  1. How exactly do we count?
    Do only upvotes count, or do we take the displayed vote score (upvotes-downvotes)? If the latter, what if a user upvotes one answer and downvotes the other one?
  2. When do we call it a community consensus?
    Does the highest voted answer reflect the community’s opinion from the moment the question is posted on? Or does an answer need a certain vote count? Which?

What do we do with questions with just one answer, does this automatically become consensus when it reaches a certain vote count? Which?

A Meta discussion about Meta discussions – Inception

  • It has to be based on the displayed score not upvotes and downvotes separately. It needs to be determined in a way which allows anybody to look at the answers and deduce whether there is consensus or not. That rules out using information which requires a certain amount of reputation to see. – kasperd Feb 17 at 16:41
  • @kasperd Please add an answer below, I’d really like to read your suggestions! – dessert Feb 17 at 16:53
  • I don't really have a full answer to provide. That's why I only added a comment. – kasperd Feb 17 at 17:46
10

To answer both questions with one blithe statement: I don't think we do.

Now, that might not be the most useful answer to your question, but I'm speaking as one of the people tasked with attempting to apply this stuff, and largely speaking, keeping the wheels turning. Trying to define solid rules on quorum and then how opinion-de-jour gets applied to the site, well it leads to madness and frustration.

My observation of what tends to happen is:

  1. Person has opinion 💡
  2. They either apply it without asking and somebody complains on Meta, or
  3. They ask whether or not it's right on Meta
  4. More opinions get shared and people deploy votes
  5. The general outcome usually get's applied to that case.

That sets a precedence so the next time another person has the same opinion and tries to act on it, we can reuse the old arguments. But similarly often, the thing gets churned up because the context is different, or the outcome wasn't satisfactory. I think that works for us.

I honestly think it's dangerous to try and define a quorum here, or solid finite rules on our democracy. There's always situational context. There's nothing to say that somebody might one day, with hindsight maybe, have a better opinion. Speaking as one of the 48% of Brits being told that democracy is apparently immutable (unless it's trying to shove the same crappy deal through Parliament) I'm quite passionate about this concept of encouraging the revisiting old decisions.

Basically, if you want to do something you suspect people disagree with, make your best case right there. By all means cite the previous discussions but they're not law. If you have a better reason on the day, there's no reason you might not buck the trend.

Just to pull this back to me, I'm not always here. Few mods are. There are a great many high-rep users who do a fantastic job of answering Meta questions so that we don't have to. If you see one of us doing something that's against a recent consensus, please bring it up. We might have a good reason, we might not and we might need to revisit our actions.

7

Good question

A few thoughts & observations I made over the years:

  1. Voting on Meta questions and answers is often not done on strictly rational grounds. Two posts, in fact saying the same, can have opposite voting. Even in a time span of a few days.
  2. Although we try to make things generic, questions and answers on meta are often strongly related to, and inspired by a specific case, subsequently quoted in situations, just a bit different, but because of that, totally incorrectly applied.
  3. The highest voted post on Meta has (of now) 117 votes, which definitely says something about the support in the community. At the same time, we have roughly 155.000 registered users. Then to say a few votes, even if many, represents "the" opinion of the community is not correct. It gives an indication of the opinion of the people who post and vote on Meta. To make it a democratical truth would require a system we don't have.
  4. Like anything in life, there are different ways to look at things. When literally taken, even the highest valued posts and opinions clash from time to time in practice. Even in real life law, similar is the case, and common sense should tell us what to decide.

Therefore: discussions on meta are definitely useful, if the posts are good, it gives us tools and arguments to look at what we are doing and to make our practice. They don't deliver consensus in the sense of a set of rules to blindly follow, and they should never replace common sense to make decisions in situations the posts were not meant for, or where different angles are applicable. Furthermore, the outcome of any of the posts is never an absolute truth that should be blindly applied year after year. Opinions and practice evolve over time.

That is actually how we should look at meta discussions.

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