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CZ:Compromise

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This is a policy proposal up for approval by both the Editorial Council and the Constabulary.

The Citizendium officially recommends, and may even require, compromise solutions to content disputes.

When conflicts arise over how articles are to be worded, it is absolutely crucial that we work diplomatically and creatively toward wordings that are acceptable to both sides.

Collaboration and compromise

When creating a statement or paragraph, the variety of possible manner of expression of even the most basic facts is virtually infinite. As a contributer works their way through an article, they may inadvertently misrepresent or disregard a point of fact or belief that another might feel is pertinent. In this case, all that is required is any collaborative effort is for the second contributer to make the change. More often than not, the change is appreciated. Occasionally, however, the change is unacceptable to the original editor, and a discussion on the talk page should ensue. The first step of any diplomatic exchange requires that all parties involved understand that, of all the ways to express things, many are likely to be acceptable to all parties--so long as they are actually committed to neutrality. The search for this word, statement, or paragraph becomes the first step in looking for a compromise.

What is compromise and why is it important?

Compromise is our policy because the wiki process involves collaboration on jointly authored texts for which, ultimately, many people take responsibility. If one party demands a certain wording, and another party demands a different wording, an impasse occurs that makes further joint authorship and joint responsibility very difficult, socially speaking--even if the dispute is about a single word. Peace is absolutely required if there is to be smooth collaboration. The single most important means to defusing disagreements and restoring peace is a diplomatic attitude that seeks compromise.

If you seek compromise, that does not mean--to state the obvious--that you grudgingly give way to the other side, nor that the other side simply gives way to you. Often, an excellent compromise solution can be found with just a little creativity with no ground realistically given from either perspective. Occasionally, however, it means you graciously give up some degree of commitment to your original position in the expectation that the other side will do the same as you both move toward a statement that you both can agree on. You then continue to work together with the other side, diplomatically, toward the compromised statement. There are reasonable exceptions that make compromise an unacceptable alternative, but these decisions are likely to be made at the workgroup level rather than individual author/editor level.

Looking for a compromise

The first step in looking for a solution for a disputed text is to listen to the other contributer. Try not to make assumptions or comments as to why the author/editor holds their particular view. This tends to distract from the actual sentence structure in question and is generally not productive. If your disagreement has reached this stage, it is imperative to avoid meta discussions by making sure that every comment about the text in question identifies the text and is followed by a suggested revision that is supported by the new comment. For example, your documented conversation might look something like this:

I think that the statement in the first paragraph:
  • All known forms of alien life carry 24 distinct pairs of chromosomes.

is too vague. I suggest we change it to:

  • All forms of alien life that were investigated were found to carry the same 24 distinct pairs of chromosomes found in the human genome.

The next editor can either agree or disagree with the restructuring and alter it accordingly as well, making sure to make a suggested change if necessary. Never allow your comments to concern character or motivations of the author/editor in question as this becomes a constabulatory issue and only detracts from the purpose of collaboration. The goal is that eventually an agreed text can be formulated that satisfies both editors at which time the collaborative effort can continue. However, if at some point an impasse occurs where neither can think of any way to state the content without degrading the perceived integrity of the project, it is likely that is because the topic should be discussed separately as required by the Neutrality Policy. At this point, consider leaving the original text intact while creating new text to illustrate or explain the second perspective.

Third party intervention

Frequently, a third party whose expertise is in the arena of the discussion (especially if the article is outside his/her particular field) can help. For example, an economics expert might be able to shed light on a discussion about whether Adolf Hitler improved the standard of living for the German people based on his/her understanding of the economics, even if he/she is not an expert in the history or politics workgroups.

Compromise as the key to solving neutrality disputes

Compromise is often practically entailed by neutrality, since many disputes turn on neutrality issues: one side claims that a piece of text is biased and the other claims it isn't. It is more diplomatic to take the very fact that someone else is objecting as strong evidence that the text really isn't as neutral as it could be. Our policy is that one must, with unusual exceptions, seek out a compromise in such cases. Intransigence--stubborn unwillingness to compromise--is usually contrary our neutrality policy.

Many neutrality disputes concern just a few words, i.e., literal matters of how something is worded, so that the article appears to endorse a certain view that not everyone will agree with. In that case, the actual compromise position should be obvious: the offending text is merely qualified or attributed, so that no one will think that the article endorses the view.

It is crucial to understand, however, that compromise does not require that one reach a midpoint advocacy position. One might worry that ideologues would constantly and unreasonably demand new compromises, causing the position an article advocates to "drift" toward the ideologue's position. This is, however, a complete misunderstanding of our neutrality policy, which requires that competing positions all be stated as sympathetically as possible. In other words, there is no "midpoint advocacy position" or "position an article advocates." This means that, if a certain position is held strongly, that force of conviction must be conveyed by the article. If the opposing side is equally passionate, that passion, too, must be conveyed. In both cases, however, it must be made fully clear who takes the positions in question--and that the article does not endorse either of them.

Exceptions

It is possible that someone might take a position with which one need not compromise. For example, an advocate of intelligent design might unreasonably request that every mention of evolution in all biology articles be accompanied by a statement that some people do not believe that evolution is a real process. Such a request might be simply and straightforwardly rejected by the Biology Workgroup, for because that would make evolution appear to be more controversial among biologists than it really is.

Similarly, one might wonder where the prerogatives of editors enter in. If an author has a dispute with an editor, does that force the editor to compromise? The answer is: usually. An editor should "pull rank" only when, in his or her judgment, the position taken by an author is one that no expert--of any ideology, religion, etc.--would advocate. An editor must seek a compromise, however, when the author correctly points out that some experts would take issue with some wording. In any case, it is the prerogative of editors to make the initial determination of what positions are in fact in currency. But, of course, experts can be unreasonable, too: one might stubbornly insist on a position that it is entirely idiosyncratic, saying, "I'm an expert, and this is the position I take." For this reason, editor decisions are subject to review in keeping with our Dispute Resolution policy.

The foregoing actually may be generalized. Disputes between authors, too, need not always end in compromise, if one author is insisting on a position that is based on a straightforward mistake that no expert would defend. In this case, too, the disputants should take the next steps outlined by our Dispute Resolution policy.

When a compromise is not forthcoming

When disputants cannot reach a compromise, they move to the next step of Dispute Resolution. This process will activate the Workgroup editors and in some cases involve the Editor in Chief.


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