WikiTree’s Conflict Escalation Process [closed]

+33 votes

Since the recent threads about closed account reviews, I have spent many hours considering how a process so carefully crafted and involving so many well intentioned honorable WikiTreers could raise so much suspicion of unfairness. Eowyn asked us to give our opinions of whether the process itself is fair. Here's my opinion, with suggestions for improvement. I hope no one takes these remarks personally, and I assure you that none of this is meant to criticize or attack  any person or group. Nor is it a rant, nor controversy for its own sake. It's simply my cold analytical assessment of the system. It's a conversation we need to have, and we should not let fear of the process stop us from discussing the process. Please note this analysis applies only to cases ....

Please see full text.

closed with the note: Processes have been changed, question is old
in Policy and Style by Living Tardy G2G6 Pilot (774k points)
closed by Robin Lee
Excellent analysis!
Very well done Herbert.
Yes, fair analysis of the recent fallout and the process, and succinctly stated findings. Thank you for your time and the time of those who assisted you in the review.

The documents relating to the recent case have still not been opened up for public review, despite a request from the ex-member-X concerned.  

Why not follow the guidelines ? ; as in: "The member who is the subject of the MIR will not generally see it. There is one exception: If the conflict ultimately escalates to account closure, the member has the option to request a public review of all documents related to their case. This is extremely rare."  ( from ) ; and: " If you suspect that the process was not fair you can have everything about your case made public. Files will not be shown to you privately. They will be opened up for everyone to see." ( from ).

I suggest these guidelines are deleted forthwith.
Also, the banished person was named and the Wikitree members involved in the banishment were not.  Why was that ?

Thanks for your comment Joe!  I don't disagree with you, but I think whether WikiTree followed the written process in the particular case and whether the written process is fair are two different questions.  This thread concerns whether the process is fair, and I'd like us to stick with that.

There's another thread proposing changes to the public review process, that should be a better fit for your concerns about that.

I'll leave it for someone else to address your last question.

Ah, sorry Herbert - I didn't mean to derail your thread. i was just thinking about what might have contributed to suspicions of unfairness.
Good point Joe.  Thanks!

8 Answers

+13 votes
Thank you for bringing this to our attention and thank you for a very thoughtful analysis
by Susan Smith G2G6 Pilot (668k points)
+24 votes
Hi Herb,

I read through your thoughts once.  I will read through them again when I'm settled at home. (On my way back from a funeral in New Mexico.)

Thanks for taking the time to evaluate the process from your perspective and share your analysis.  At first glance,  it looks like a lot of the issues you perceive stem from the administrative angle which is easy enough for us to re-evaluate with consideration to your suggestions.
by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (2.6m points)
Thank you Eowyn!
+14 votes
Herbert, I for one really appreciate the time and effort you put into developing that free-space page.  It's a very thoughtful, objective, and well articulated analysis of the current process, and it honestly gives me much better insight into how the process works in practice than I had from reading the previously available material.  I do hope your suggestions will be taken seriously.  Thank you!
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (572k points)
I do want to clarify something.  I am appreciative of what Herb wrote and it has sparked a few ideas in my mind as to some ways we can improve how we currently do things. I also understand that there is a lot that happens that not everyone sees and so I get that from Herb (and others not directly involved) that this may be what the process looks like from the outside. However, what he presents is not a fully accurate representation of what actually happens. I'm not trying to invalidate his analysis but I want it to be clear that the full picture wasn't available.   I hope to clarify some things soon but I want to think it through some more and look at what is working and what might change. Thanks!
I also appreciate Herb's analysis, and concur with Eowyn that not all that he wrote is accurate. I've made specific comments on the page itself. EDIT: I've pasted them elsewhere in this g2g thread.

I also concur with Eowyn that it is a good idea for the process to be assessed and improved where ever possible. Leaders and Mediators know that I am a process hound, frequently asking process questions within our respective groups, in pursuit of clarity of process and consistency in application.
Eowyn: Thank you for explaining that Herb's analysis "is not a fully accurate representation of what actually happens", but that for "Herb (and others not directly involved) that this may be what the process looks like from the outside". I look forward to your post explaining where he was wrong in his analysis so that we can all truly understand "what actually happens".

I also appreciate that you and other members are always trying to "improve how we currently do things". Making the process transparent (that is we members should all understand how the stages work but we do not need to be involved in private mediations) as well as consistent (that is the same steps are always followed in the same order in the same way) will help to make the process even fairer.
+21 votes

Hi Herbert

I appreciate your analysis is solely on the formal parts of the conflict resolution process that starts with mentoring/mediation, and as Eowyn has mentioned changes to the administration of the process might be enhanced as a result.

However I do think that a thorough analysis needs to look at the whole process and that moving straight to mentoring/mediation, first steps in the process are missed that can have a bearing on the whole.

For instance, I don't have statistics, but my impression is that most times when a WikiTree member notices someone else is not following the Honor Code, they alert them to this via a private message, or comment on the person's profile page or a comment on a profile the person manages.  (Step 6 in the Problems with Members process).  Often this comment will have a link to the Honor Code and/or a help page and this can be done by any WikiTree member, not necessarily by a leader, mentor or mediator.

It's then only those people, who as the problems with members page states, reply in anger, disagree it is an issue, or just ignore the comment or comments and continue with the behaviour, that end up with a Mentor Intervention Request (MIR).

So although I agree that most people might not know that an MIR has been submitted, and it might come as a shock that the Honor Code is not just a 'tick and flick' but is taken seriously, they will still previously have had a message 'in writing' to alert them that some aspect of their work on WikiTree is not following the Honor Code.

I think we need to recognise that this 'informal intervention' is the first step in the process, that is then only followed by mentoring, mediation, and a decision by the WikiTree Team, when a previous step has not succeeded for whatever reason.

I definitely support that this whole process should be as fair and equitable as it is possible to make it, given WikiTree's circumstances, but I also think we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that people are ultimately responsible for their own behaviour.

by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (637k points)
Owning my upvote and agreement/alignment with John's words.
+18 votes
It has been mentioned a few times in these discussions that there is an unfortunate duality in the role of a Mentor: for one thing a Mentor gets assigned to a member after a MIR has been filed and evaluated as a proper case for mentoring. In these cases there will be at least a seed of conflict and a potential for the mentee to feel judged or punished.

For another thing, members may themselves ask for a Mentor, when they feel the need for personal assistance in how to WikiTree. This type of mentoring is no part of a Conflict Escalation Process and seems to me a different thing.
by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (587k points)
A different thing should have a different name.
It bothers me as a Mentor that often I am asked to play something of an enforcer role. I would much prefer to be helping people. Accordingly, regardless of whether the person I am working with asked for help, or was the subject of a Mentor Intervention request, or was recommend for mentoring because they appeared be floundering, I always treat my "job" as one of helping the person be more successful in WikiTree. I hope other Mentors have a similar philosophy. Things don't always work out as we hope, but we can try.

Thank you for raising this issue. The blending of Mentoring and discipline enforcement is not optimally workable when one considers the normal concept of what mentoring is and what mentoring is meant to contribute to a social setting. The system is set up this way here, but in many organizations it is set up with a clear division of these tasks, a benefit of all parties given the way humans are so innately sensitive about relative power in social settings, given how much they grow when the mentoring relationship is working, and given the anxiety level natural on both sides of an enforcement situation.
+13 votes
The goal of conflict escalation should be to end up with valuable positive WikiTree contributors from both sides of the conflict.   It might be helpful to have a goal such as this on the Help: Conflict_Escalation page so everything can be developed/modified with that end in mind.  Your suggestions would advance that goal by allowing more help for the individual(s) involved.
by Cindy Cooper G2G6 Pilot (342k points)

You wrote: "The goal of conflict escalation should be to end up with valuable positive WikiTree contributors from both sides of the conflict."  

I like the positive way you phrased that. Sometimes having a clear vision of where you want to be going can really help you get there. I'm not sure what Herb Tardy's ideas were, but I have an idea about your goal suggestion and that is to use a data driven approach to evaluate if the system as designed leads to the goal or a stated desired outcome. For example, what percentage of Conflict Escalation Process Events lead to the stated goal and what percent lead to only one participant being still active. What number of productive volunteers are being lost at what stage of the process? In addition to helping planning, a goal would open the path for data driven analysis to assure against unintentional bias. For example, are males less likely to emerge from the Conflict Escalation process as contributing members than females? Are Autism Spectrum persons like myself less likely to survive the Process?  Mentor/mediator/mediator council burnout among unpaid leaders could be evaluated since it seems the current new system has shifted more socially difficult work onto them, but if the outcomes were really positive in relation to the goal as you stated it, they might feel the extra strain had paid off. If the system does not deliver on the goals, that would be good to know and allow adaptation.  

+13 votes
I initially added these as comments on the freespace page, but Herb asked me to post them here:

I'm still reading the whole thing, but found myself stumbling over this: "For present discussion purposes, this results in a Mentor Intervention Request (MIR)." That is actually not accurate. An MIR is one possible result.

Another sentence that is not accurate: "No one advocates for the subject." First off, I don't know how you would know this unless you were in the Mediators group. Second, I have many times seen people advocate for the subject of an MIR. I myself have advocated for MIR subjects.

Re: "Further, on escalation to Stage Three or Four, the Mentor or Mediator should be required to provide a complete description of the specific rule violations alleged and any information, not included in the MIR, that the Mediators considered in their decision (previous history, personal knowledge, etc)."

This is already part of the existing process.

From my experience, rarely do people go directly to stage 4 without going first to stage 3. So their first contact is often a mentor who writes to them offering help; EDITED TO ADD: As John A pointed out in the G2G, actually, their first contact is often another wikitreer reaching out PRIOR to submitting an MIR.

I'm not sure how contacting them earlier will provide additional value. It's also been my experience that *in most cases,* the mentor is approaching with an open and curious mind. I realize that there have been exceptions. But by no means does the current approach equate to "trial in absentia."

A review process involving other peers *might* be useful, but I would recommend only at the team escalation stage. (Team may not think so, though.) Prior to that, it feels a bit like too many cooks in the kitchen, and might actually be uncomfortable for the person being mentored. An alternative might be to give the person being mentored/mediated the option of bringing in a peer reviewer. I'd want to think about that some more, though.

I concur that the help page about sharing with others needs to be clarified. I did ask about this, internally, and there is no explicit rule against sharing with others, but you're right that the language is not as clear as it could be.
by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (929k points)

Thank you Jillaine.

“For present discussion purposes,” was meant to be read as, “The outcome of interest to this analysis is when....”

It would have been more accurate to say "No one other than a Mentor or Mediator is allowed to advocate for the subject."  My point is that in a fair process, the subject would be allowed an advocate whose independence the subject has no reason to question.  Which of course would not exclude a Mentor or Mediator if that's who the subject wanted.

If providing the information described is required by the process, that requirement is not always honored.  I don't see such a requirement in the Conflict Escalation Help page.  Have I missed it?

The process allows for escalation direct to Stage Four, so I included that possibility in my description.  It might have been more accurate to say, "first contact after the Mediators' findings of fact."  I agree that Mentors in practice sometimes approach Stage Three as if the facts are not already settled.  I don't think that negates my conclusion about the fact finding in Stage Two.

Thank you for being open to the possibility of peer oversight, and for seeking clarification of the 'sharing' rule.

+7 votes

Links to Herbert Tardy's suggestions via FreeSpace and other link are no longer functional. Can someone restore them, please?


Oh Dear, a day or two looks like someone (?) read my request which then triggered the closing of this thread and those links are still completely dead. A brand new note says " Processes have been changed, question is old"  

So there is no uncertainty about my request, I hoped to see the rest of the document the others were responding to on this thread since Mr. Tardy's second line in his opening paragraph raised such a critical question that sheds light on a systems problem which has been yielding a suboptimal result despite the best laid plans.  I do not know Mr. Tardy, but have seen a number of contributing volunteers disappear and feel sad about each one gone. I keep thinking that the perception of unfairness in a volunteer organization is just as problematic as actual unfairness. I am puzzled over why the Conflict Escalation process has never been redesigned as a "Conflict De-escalation Process" as is typical in so many organizations. 

Sadly it feels to me that the new remake of the Conflict Escalation Process referenced in the note further solidified some of the inherent socio-dynamic flaws of the original design. Much easier on the whole volunteer community would be a system in which there were clearly enforced and clearly proportional penalties for specific violations of the honor code, and with those being enforced only by persons clearly identifiable as paid staff, meaning people clearly in a position of superior authority. This would free all mentors and mediators to act in an exclusively educational manner, be a net plus for the community, and reduce some of the interpersonal anxiety inherent in the present system where the level of authority or power of various leaders is unclear. When discipline would occur, the impact could then be contained in a much smaller circle, be perceived as more proportional and procedurally fair, and be understood as staff's prerogative/responsibility leading to less bitterness when accounts are closed since it would not be the social group of the leaders perceived as delivering what is often taken as a terrible personal loss.  

I admire those that tried to get some positive changes into this process. They were brave to speak up, while I was fearful as many of us are. I did not think any of them asked the critical question until I saw Mr.Tardy's second line in this thread. I have no clue what he proposed though. In the end I feel  the inherent socio-dynamic flaws of the original design are still with us. So for now I can only encourage every one of us to employ an extra dose of compassion and patience when faced with interpersonal conflict. If you can be the one to de-escalate, be the one. Our experienced volunteers are our most valuable resource and are vulnerable when drawn into the Conflict Escalation Process.

Special Request to Moderator: Please allow this message to stand. Thank you in advance if you can see that this is simply one non-leadership member's opinion about a system we all are going to live with and not a critique of any person or class of persons.

by R Adams G2G6 Mach 3 (31.5k points)
edited by R Adams

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