The Warm and Fuzzy Version (with bunny slippers)
In an online Community as mind-bogglingly huge as H2G2, catering as it does to the personalities and temperaments of the artistic and the volatile, there arises occasionally – when differences of opinion emerge – a need for hands to be held and flaring tempers to be soothed. Everyone here joins with the expectations of having fun, meeting new people, and writing
the most brilliant Guide entries ever. When argument evolves out of passionate disagreement, a researcher’s first instinct is to offer a helping hand towards getting things straightened out.
Most of the time this is all it takes – apologies are exchanged and virtual pints passed around and the Community gets back to working on the Ultimate Question. When the occasional dispute gets a little more involved, the Aces often step in and offer their services as peacemakers. However, albeit rarely, a situation does get so out-of-control so quickly or burns to hotly, that even the Aces step back from it. It is for this infrequent yet nonetheless damaging possibility that the Arbiter Volunteer Scheme was created: to establish a system specifically designed to help settle researcher conflicts when other attempts have failed, and before they escalate into a need for disciplinary action on the part of the Italics.
This is an overview, and links are provided to the lengthier entries giving full details of the scheme.
Why is such a scheme needed?
Certain events in the H2G2 community have suggested the need for a system of dispute-settling when conflicts arise between researchers. There seems to be a need for a system which is more formal than the friendly but mis-interpretable ‘please cool it’ of the ACEs, but which is less high-stakes than the official sequence of warnings and bans of the Italics.
The Arbiter Scheme is intended to supplement these two existing activities, easing the workloads on both groups as the community grows.
Learn more about why the scheme is needed in Section II.B. here.
LIVR – Learned, Impartial and Very Relaxed
Arbiters are volunteer researchers, in the same way that the Aces, Scouts and Sub-eds are; but they differ from the others in that they are known to have certain personal qualities. In a nutshell, they should be wise individuals with good judgement who have attained DNA's P.O.S.T.O.S.E.H. (Possibility Of Sorting Things Out Sensibly Event Horizon).
For this reason, an individual cannot just volunteer to be an Arbiter, in the way they can volunteer to be an Ace, Scout or Sub-ed. Arbiters therefore shall be both nominated and then elected by the Community.
See more about Section III.E., aka the Arbiter selection process.
What an Arbiter is, and what an Arbiter is not:
An Arbiter is a neutral third party.
They will be an active researcher of at least 9 months’ standing, who has demonstrated a cool head in the forums. They should have shown the ability to remain impartial and objective, and that they can neither easily be intimidated or flattered. They should also have shown the ability to make up their minds when presented with conflicting facts, and shown the ability
to change that mind should new information be presented. And they should have the common good of the community at heart, acting in the interests of the community to find a peaceful resolution of interpersonal conflicts.
The Arbiters represent the Italics at all times in the same way, for example, that the Scouts and Sub-Editors represent the Editors.
Arbiters are not sitting in judgement or imposing their will on other researchers. They are not the secret police, the Inquisition, or the fawning lapdog of a decadent bureaucracy. Which is a shame for them really: lapdogs often get given chocolate as a treat.
Although an Arbiter is always an Arbiter, they only act in that capacity when they are Mediating or Arbitrating a dispute. Arbiters may have a badge on their personal space, but they would not call themselves (Arbiter) in their name in the way that some volunteers include (Ace) or (Scout) in theirs. This is to clarify which of their posts are official and which are
not. Only the posts in Arbitration and Mediation threads are official. If an Arbiter drops by someone’s personal space and says “Wow! That was a bit strong – funny, but strong” it should be clear that it is a personalopinion, not an official H2G2 warning.
Where do you find an Arbiter when you need one?
The Arbiters’ home page is a good place to start. Arbiters also have badges in their Personal space, and there are several other places around h2g2 where you can find a list.
So what is Arbitration, and how does it work?
The proposal recommends three levels of action by Arbiters. These are: Mediation, Arbitration and Inquiry. The first two – Mediation and Arbitration apply to disputes between researchers. The Inquiry applies only to disputes between Researchers and the H2G2 Editors and is outside the scope of this overview.
Being involved either in Mediation or Arbitration is voluntary. Disputants agree to participate according to the code of conduct, but no-one forces a researcher to participate in either activity in the first place.
These are services offered by researchers to researchers, to smooth the path, and ease pain. Resolutions may be as simple as the realisation by one researcher that what they said was, say, culturally offensive, followed by an apology. Researchers may agree to avoid each other in specific forums for a while. An Arbiter or panel of Arbiters may issue a ‘stern talking to’ one or more disputants in private.
The Arbiters are not Italics, and cannot impose sanctions like locking accounts, or deleting content.
The key objective of mediation is to reach an agreement based on the decisions of the parties. One of the first questions that the Arbiter asks each of the parties is What do you hope to accomplish through mediation?
The Arbiter merely facilitates the discussion, though they will have absolute discretion over how that discussion is conducted. Their role is to aid the parties in identifying the issues, reducing misunderstandings, clarifying priorities, exploring areas of compromise, and finding points of agreement; they would not and cannot impose any 'disciplinary' action.
Mediations can be conducted in whatever electronic medium best suits all participants. The options include a separate thread within h2g2, email, a chat forum such as ICQ, or in a private discussion group within a forum such as Yahoo Groups.
The advantage of holding the mediation within H2G2 is that the thread will remain part of the public record – though some issues are too private for that to be appropriate. If any of the parties wish to hold discussions privately with the Arbiter they may do so at the Arbiter’s discretion.
The key here is that the parties and the Arbiter agree where and how they want the discussions to be held, that they agree to spend the time necessary to achieve an agreement, and that they aim to complete the process within 7 calendar days, though the Arbiter may extend the process.
At any time during the proceedings, the Arbiter or the disputants can agree that the mediation process is not working, and can escalate it to Arbitration.
This is considerably more formal than Mediation, and the disputants agree to be bound by the Opinion of the Arbiters.
Arbitrations are conducted by a panel of three Arbiters, and are conducted like a debate or formal hearing, with disputants taking it in turns to present their cases, and answer the case of the other disputants.
When the Arbiters have all of the information they need, they adjourn and individually write up their own interpretation of events and a recommendation. The majority Opinion is carried, and they may deliberate among themselves before finally posting their Opinion.
How to ask for help
Asking for help is easy: start a new thread on the Arbiter Home Page. All Arbiters are subscribed to that page so they see all new conversations there. Include your nickname and User ID, and say which of the Arbiters you would like to mediate or arbitrate for you. Include as briefly as practicable, the substance and the relevant parties to be dispute.
The Arbiter will then post a message in the relevant Personal Spaces, inviting the parties to begin a discussion in accordance with the rules. It is perfectly possible for any invited party to refuse the Invitation, though the fact that it was sought but refused shall be stated within the thread/s in which the original incident occurred and at the Arbiters’ Archives Page as a matter of public record.
Everyone involved needs to agree on the specific Arbiter who will act – including the Arbiter themselves! And everyone reads the rules and the Arbiters’ Code of Conduct and accepts them as binding before starting the process.
Still standing? Click here for the full-length Green and Scaly Godzilla Version, complete with bunny slippers between its toes.