Decisions on Wikipedia are primarily made by consensus, which is accepted as the best method to achieve Wikipedia's goals, i.e., the five pillars. Consensus on Wikipedia does not require unanimity (which is ideal but rarely achievable), nor is it the result of a vote. Decision making and reaching consensus involve an effort to incorporate all editors' legitimate concerns, while respecting Wikipedia's policies and guidelines.
This policy describes how consensus is understood on Wikipedia, how to determine whether it has been achieved (and how to proceed if it has not), and describes exceptions to the principle that all decisions are made by consensus.
Editors usually reach consensus as a natural process. After one changes a page, others who read it can choose whether or not to further edit. When editors do not reach agreement by editing, discussion on the associated talk pages continues the process toward consensus.
A consensus decision takes into account all of the proper concerns raised. Ideally, it arrives with an absence of objections, but often we must settle for as wide an agreement as can be reached. When there is no wide agreement, consensus-building involves adapting the proposal to bring in dissenters without losing those who accepted the initial proposal.
Wikipedia consensus usually occurs implicitly. An edit has presumed consensus until it is disputed or reverted. Should another editor revise that edit then the new edit will have presumed consensus until it meets with disagreement. In this way, the encyclopedia gradually improves over time.
All edits should be explained (unless the reason for them is obvious)—either by clear edit summaries, or by discussion on the associated talk page. Substantive, informative explanations indicate what issues need to be addressed in subsequent efforts to reach consensus. Explanations are especially important when reverting another editor's good-faith work.
Except in cases affected by content policies or guidelines, most disputes over content may be resolved through minor changes rather than taking an all-or-nothing position. If your first edit is reverted, try to think of a compromise edit that addresses the other editor's concerns. If you can't, or if you do and your second edit is reverted, create a new section on the associated talk page to discuss the dispute.
Be bold, but not rash. Whether changes come through editing or through discussion, the encyclopedia is best improved through collaboration and consensus, not through combat and capitulation. Repeated reversions are contrary to Wikipedia policy under edit warring, except for specific policy-based material (such as BLP exceptions) and for reversions of vandalism. This is true even if editors are using edit summaries to "discuss" the dispute every time they revert.
When agreement cannot be reached through editing alone, the consensus-forming process becomes more explicit: editors open a section on the associated talk page and try to work out the dispute through discussion, using reasons based in policy, sources, and common sense; they can also suggest alternative solutions or compromises that may satisfy all concerns. The result might be an agreement that may not satisfy everyone completely, but indicates the overall concurrence of the group. Consensus is an ongoing process on Wikipedia; it is often better to accept a less-than-perfect compromise—with the understanding that the page is gradually improving—than to try to fight to implement a particular preferred version immediately.
When editors have a particularly difficult time reaching a consensus, several processes are available for consensus-building (third opinions, dispute resolution noticeboard, requests for comment), and even more extreme processes that will take authoritative steps to end the dispute (administrator intervention, arbitration). Keep in mind, however, that administrators are primarily concerned with policy and editor behavior and will not decide content issues authoritatively. They may block editors for behaviors that interfere with the consensus process (such as edit-warring, abuse of multiple accounts, or a lack of civility). They may also make decisions about whether edits are or are not allowable under policy, but will not usually go beyond such actions.
Editors who maintain a neutral, detached, and civil attitude can usually reach consensus on an article through the process described above. They may still occasionally find themselves at an impasse, either because they cannot find rational grounds to settle a dispute or because one or both sides of the discussion become emotionally or ideologically invested in winning an argument. What follows are suggestions for resolving intractable disputes, along with descriptions of several formal and informal processes that may help.
In talk pages
In determining consensus, consider the quality of the arguments, the history of how they came about, the objections of those who disagree, and existing policies and guidelines. The quality of an argument is more important than whether it represents a minority or a majority view. The arguments "I just don't like it" and "I just like it" usually carry no weight whatsoever.
Limit article talk page discussions to discussion of sources, article focus, and policy. If an edit is challenged, or is likely to be challenged, editors should use talk pages to explain why an addition, change, or removal improves the article, and hence the encyclopedia. Consensus can be assumed if no editors object to a change. Editors who ignore talk page discussions yet continue to edit in or revert disputed material, or who stonewall discussions, may be guilty of disruptive editing and incur sanctions. Consensus cannot always be assumed simply because editors stop responding to talk page discussions in which they have already participated.
The goal of a consensus-building discussion is to resolve disputes in a way that reflects Wikipedia's goals and policies while angering as few editors as possible. Editors with good social skills and good negotiation skills are more likely to be successful than those who are less than civil to others.
By soliciting outside opinions
When talk page discussions fail—generally because two editors (or two groups of editors) simply cannot see eye to eye on an issue—Wikipedia has several established processes to attract outside editors to offer opinions. This is often useful to break simple, good-faith deadlocks, because editors uninvolved in the discussion can bring in fresh perspectives, and can help involved editors see middle ground that they cannot see for themselves. The main resources for this are as follows:
- Third opinion (3O)
- A neutral third party will give non-binding advice on the dispute. Reserved for cases where exactly two editors are in dispute.
- Most policy and guideline pages, and many wikiprojects, have noticeboards for interested editors. Posting a neutrally worded notice of the dispute on applicable noticeboards (or in some cases only their talk pages) will make the dispute more visible to other editors who may have worthwhile opinions.
- Dispute resolution noticeboard (DRN)
- For disputes involving more than two parties, moderators help the parties come to consensus by suggesting analysis, critiques, compromises, or mediation, but generally limited to simple disputes which can quickly be resolved.
- Requests for comment (RfC)
- Placement of a formal neutrally worded notice on the article talk page inviting others to participate which is transcluded onto RfC noticeboards.
- Village pump
- Neutrally worded notification of a dispute here also may bring in additional editors who may help.
Many of these discussions will involve polls of one sort or another; but as consensus is determined by the quality of arguments (not by a simple counted majority), polls should be regarded as structured discussions rather than voting. Responses indicating individual explanations of positions using Wikipedia policies and guidelines are given the highest weight.
Administrative or community intervention
In some cases, disputes are personal or ideological rather than mere disagreements about content, and these may require the intervention of administrators or the community as a whole. Sysops will not rule on content, but may intervene to enforce policy (such as WP:Biographies of living persons) or to impose sanctions on editors who are disrupting the consensus process. Sometimes merely asking for an administrator's attention on a talk page will suffice; as a rule, sysops have large numbers of pages watchlisted, and there is a likelihood that someone will see it and respond. However, there are established resources for working with intransigent editors, as follows:
- As noted previously, policy pages generally have noticeboards, and many administrators watch them.
- Administrators' noticeboard of incidents and general Administrators' noticeboard
- These are noticeboards for administrators. They are high-volume noticeboards and should be used sparingly. Use AN for issues that need eyes but may not need immediate action; use ANI for more pressing issues. Do not use either except at need.
- Requests for arbitration
- The final step for intractable disputes. The Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) may rule on almost any behavioral or policy-interpretation aspect of a dispute, and has broad powers in its decisions. ArbCom does not settle content disputes or change policy.
Pitfalls and errors
The following are common mistakes made by editors when trying to build consensus:
- Off-wiki discussions. Consensus is reached through on-wiki discussion or by editing. Discussions elsewhere are not taken into account. In some cases, such off-wiki communication may generate suspicion and mistrust.
- Canvassing, sock puppetry, and meat puppetry. Any effort to gather participants to a community discussion that has the effect of biasing that discussion is unacceptable. While it is fine—even encouraged—to invite people into a discussion to obtain new insights and arguments, it is not acceptable to invite only people favorable to a particular point of view, or to invite people in a way that will prejudice their opinions on the matter. Using an alternative persona ("sock puppet", or "sock") to influence consensus is absolutely forbidden. Neutral, informative messages to Wikipedia noticeboards, wikiprojects, or editors are permitted; but actions that could reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to "stuff the ballot box" or otherwise compromise the consensus-building process are considered disruptive.
- Tendentious editing. The continuous, aggressive pursuit of an editorial goal is considered disruptive, and should be avoided. Editors should listen, respond, and cooperate to build a better article. Editors who refuse to allow any consensus except the one they insist on, and who filibuster indefinitely to attain that goal, risk damaging the consensus process.
- Forum shopping, admin shopping, and spin-doctoring. Raising essentially the same issue on multiple noticeboards and talk pages, or to multiple administrators or reviewers, or any one of these repetitively, is unhelpful to finding and achieving consensus. It does not help develop consensus to try different forums in the hope of finding one where you get the answer you want. (This is also known as "asking the other parent".) Queries placed on noticeboards and talk pages should be phrased as neutrally as possible, in order to get uninvolved and neutral additional opinions. Where multiple issues do exist, then the raising of the individual issues on the correct pages may be reasonable, but in that case it is normally best to give links to show where else you have raised the question.
Consensus is ascertained by the quality of the arguments given on the various sides of an issue, as viewed through the lens of Wikipedia policy.
Levels of consensus
Consensus among a limited group of editors, at one place and time, cannot override community consensus on a wider scale. For instance, unless they can convince the broader community that such action is right, participants in a WikiProject cannot decide that some generally accepted policy or guideline does not apply to articles within its scope. WikiProject advice pages, how-to and information pages, template documentation pages, and essays have not gone through the policy and guideline proposal process and may or may not represent a broad community consensus.
Wikipedia has a standard of participation and consensus for changes to policies and guidelines. Their stability and consistency are important to the community. Accordingly, editors often propose substantive changes on the talk page first to permit discussion before implementing the change. Undiscussed bold changes are permitted but rarely welcome on policy pages. Improvements to policy are best made slowly and conservatively, with active efforts to seek out input and agreement from others.
No consensus after discussion
- For an essay recommending a best practice during discussion of contested material, see WP:QUO.
What happens when a good faith discussion concludes with no agreement to take or not take an action? It depends on the context:
- When discussions of proposals to delete articles, media, or other pages end without consensus, the normal result is the content being kept.
- When discussions of proposals to add, modify, or remove material in articles end without consensus, the common result is to retain the version of the article as it was prior to the proposal or bold edit. However:
- Living people. In discussions related to living people, a lack of consensus often results in the removal of the contentious matter, regardless of whether the proposal was to add, modify, or remove it.
- Copyright violation. When the material in question is a suspected copyright violation, it must be removed immediately and not restored when a discussion ends without consensus.
- External links. In disputes over external links, disputed links are removed unless and until there is a consensus to include them.
- When article title discussions end without consensus, the applicable policy preserves the most recent prior stable title. If there is no prior stable title, then the default is the title used by the first major contributor after the article ceased to be a stub.
Consensus can change
Editors may propose a change to current consensus, especially to raise previously unconsidered arguments or circumstances. On the other hand, proposing to change a recently established consensus can be disruptive.
Editors may propose a consensus change by discussion or editing. That said, in most cases, an editor who knows a proposed change will modify a matter resolved by past discussion should propose that change by discussion. Editors who revert a change proposed by an edit should generally avoid terse explanations (such as "against consensus") which provide little guidance to the proposing editor (or, if you do use such terse explanations, it is helpful to also include a link to the discussion where the consensus was formed).
Decisions not subject to consensus of editors
Certain policies and decisions made by the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), its officers, and the Arbitration Committee of Wikipedia are outside the purview of editor consensus. This does not constitute an exhaustive list as much as a reminder that the decisions taken under this project apply only to the workings of the self-governing community of English Wikipedia.
- The WMF has legal control over, and liability for, Wikipedia. Decisions, rulings, and acts of the WMF Board and its duly appointed designees take precedence over, and preempt, consensus. A consensus among editors that any such decision, ruling, or act violates may be communicated to the WMF in writing.
- Office actions are not permitted to be reversed by editors except by prior explicit office permission.
- The English Wikipedia Arbitration Committee may issue binding decisions, within its scope and responsibilities, that override consensus. The committee has a noticeboard, Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Clarification and Amendment, for requests that such decisions be amended, and may amend such decisions at any time.
- Some matters that may seem subject to the consensus of the community at the English-language Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org) are in a separate domain. In particular, the community of MediaWiki software developers, including both paid Wikimedia Foundation staff and volunteers, and the sister wikis, are largely separate entities. These independent, co-equal communities operate however they deem necessary or appropriate, such as adding, removing, or changing software features , or accepting or rejecting some contributions, even if their actions are not endorsed by editors here.
For a listing of ongoing discussions and current requests, see the dashboard.
- Wikipedia:Essay directory § Discussions and consensus
- Wikipedia:Consensus dos and don'ts
- Wikipedia:Closing discussions
- Wikipedia:How to contribute to Wikipedia guidance
- Wikipedia:Silence does not imply consent when drafting new policies
Articles concerning consensus: