[Cz-editcouncil] Editorial Council procedures: tentative proposal
sanger at citizendium.org
Sun Apr 29 12:12:29 CDT 2007
This is an extremely important mail, so I hope you'll read it.
Let me kick off a discussion of Editorial Council procedures with some very
loosely connected assumptions and constraints. I have definitely put some
thought and care into these remarks, which is why it has taken a while to
get them to you. Bear in mind that this isn't my final word on any of this,
but instead some remarks to get us started.
I think the purpose of the Editorial Council is not, first and foremost, to
discuss editorial policy, but to settle it. That is, I see our primary
function as both determining and legitimizing important editorial policies.
We aren't a debate society but a legislative body.
I also see our function as a relatively high-level one; that is, we should
not leave ourselves open to every possible editorial question, because that
might end up hamstringing the whole operation, which works best when people
are self-directed. In other words, let's not kill off the wiki way with a
bureaucracy. Let's avoid, where possible, creating new bottlenecks where
whole classes of particular, ongoing decisions have to go through the
Council or its subgroups.
Still, discussion and deliberation is something that should precede voting,
and it should be something that, where appropriate--which is
usually--happens in a broader arena than this list. Furthermore, when
discussion does happen on this list, I think it is important that it not get
"out of hand," i.e., that the list not become too active. At least, not on
a regular basis. Most of us are very busy and simply don't have time for
dozens and dozens of e-mails every day. If the proceedings are too active,
we in effect shut out those who don't have the time to keep up. That's
But I also think it's important to bear in mind that deliberation can take
place in new ways when it happens online. There are important differences
between asynchronous discussions that take place online, via a wiki, a
mailing list, or a Web forum, and a face-to-face discussion. So we can't
simply import Robert's Rules to this new context.
When it comes to making decisions, I think it is best if we can set up
processes that avoid groupthink. We're all familiar with the phenomenon in
which a deliberative body (those called "committees" are infamous for this)
gets some daft idea in its collective head. Deliberative groups, especially
when homogeneous, can sometimes be "echo chambers" and produce some quite
We also need to think very carefully about our purview. I stipulate that
the Editorial Council is not the single sovereign authority over CZ; no
single person or body is to be the ultimate authority--except insofar the
law requires that there be one. This council is primarily a legislative
body, and its legislative authority itself is limited to issues we might
describe as "editorial"--as distinguished from, say, behavioral and
technical. It will be sharing authority on an equal basis with the
Constabulary, perhaps the Executive Committee, and quite possibly with other
bodies later--for example, perhaps a technical decisionmaking body.
Also, we must think frankly about what the role of the editor-in-chief ought
to be with respect to the Editorial Council--bearing in mind that we are
describing a role, and not my personal preferences. That's because, as I
have said repeatedly, I wish to step down 2-3 years after the project's
inception, largely in order to insure that the project really does become
sovereign and effectively self-governing. See:
In summary, then:
* We need a method of voting.
* But we also need a method for restricting the issues we vote on to a
manageable set, one that does not create unnecessary bottlenecks.
* We need a way to prevent over-activity on the list, and channel that
useful energy elsewhere.
* We should do something to prevent the "echo chamber" effect.
* We need to think about and agree on the principles behind our
purview a bit more carefully.
* The role of the editor-in-chief vis-a-vis the Editorial Council
needs to be clarified.
We need to establish the online equivalent of "Robert's Rules of Order."
Some of Robert's Rules can be transferred directly. Others don't make any
sense in the context of a mailing list and wiki, because they concern the
way face-to-face assemblies are run, where one person can speak at a time.
Is there a parliamentarian on board who wants to take a crack at adapting
Robert's Rules to this new context--or at least to discuss in generalities
how to do so?
Here are some tentative proposals, then, to get the discussion started. The
following are bare, casual suggestions, that need elaboration and/or
replacement, or even radical rethinking. I'll post a revised set of rules
on the wiki after we've discussed them some more, and at some point, which I
will determine alone, we will vote on any proposals. Majority vote will
rule for purposes of adopting rules, although--to ensure that this body
remains true to the vision articulated in the Statement of Fundamental
Policies--I am going to reserve the right to veto proposals.
First, I believe there should be a position of Council Chair. To begin
with, I would want to occupy this position, although I will want to hand off
the position to someone else--but not until our procedures are well
established. I am supposing that the Editor-in-Chief position would be an
"executive" one, which can propose rules, but which leaves the bulk of the
effort of working the rules out, and putting a stamp of approval on them, to
an independent "legislative" body. So I would occupy the Council Chair only
in order to get the body started and off on the right foot.
* Any Member may make a proposal on the wiki. Nonmembers may not make
proposals, although they may approach a Member with a proposal. Proposals
should be listed on a page linked from
* A proposal must be well worked out before it can be placed on the
agenda. To ensure that it is well worked out, the proposal must be joined
by at least two other Members.
* Each new proposal should have its own wiki page.
* Argumentation about the merits of a proposal is not permitted either
on the wiki or on cz-editcouncil until it comes up for discussion.
Proposals should not be announced on cz-editcouncil until they are placed on
the active discussion agenda.
* The editor-in-chief and chief constable may, in a way to be
determined, object to a proposal on grounds of improper purview.
* The agenda, populated by proposals, is divided into three sections:
queue; discussion; and voting. "Queue" refers to a waiting area for new
* The Chair's primary responsibility is to edit the agenda, which is
posted on the wiki at <http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Editorial_Council>
That is, it's the Chair's job to move items from proposals, to the queue, to
discussion, to voting.
* In editing the agenda, a set of rules and procedures will be
established. For example, there should be minimum time periods established
for discussion and voting, and a minimum time that something can reside in
the queue before some sort of action can be taken.
* Any Council Member may request a change (addition, deletion, edit of
item, or reordering) to the agenda; if the Chair refuses the change, the
Member may call a vote. If the call for vote is seconded, then a vote is
announced. (Such votes should be very time-limited--a 24 hour vote, say.)
* Alternatively, there might be a committee that either sets, or is
authorized to revise, the Chair's agenda. The Chair would lead such a
* All new business (i.e., an item for discussion or vote) must be
announced on cz-editcouncil--not just on the wiki.
* "Official" discussion of a proposal ordinarily begins only as
follows. A call for comment on the proposal is posted on the cz-editcouncil
mailing list--which is made a moderated list. Some specific amount of time
is set, such as 48 hours. All comments on the proposal are saved by the
moderator until that period elapses; then they are all posted at once. This
is to avoid the echo chamber effect I mentioned above: each Member offers
his or her initial, non-binding opinion uninfluenced by others. The hope is
that we will enjoy the benefits of the full spectrum of opinion on a
* Next, three methods of further commentary are used.
* First, the proposal is posted on the Forums. The proposal may not
be posted on the Forums until after the Council has initially weighed in.
Members may, but do not have to, contribute to the discussion on the Forums.
They are asked, but not required, to read the results.
* Second, on a single wiki page, each member is given some set, fairly
small number of words (specified in the rules) to articulate his or her
position on the proposal. Voting members are required to read this page
before voting. Members may revise their statements throughout the
discussion period. Nonmembers may not comment on this page. We might set
up a distinct page for similarly brief comments from nonmembers, however.
* Third, any Member may elaborate a larger position statement on a
page such as http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Proposal_0014/Sanger_opinion
These are linked from the proposal page. Voting members are asked, but not
required, to read these pages.
* There is no such thing as a filibuster. Some rules analogous to
Robert's Rules, such as a motion to table a question, will be devised--but
adapted to mailing lists and/or wikis. Motions are made on the
cz-editcouncil mailing list, not on the wiki.
* A vote can be called only after a proposal has remained for a
minimum length of time in discussion.
* Three editors might be able to "call the question" and end
discussion, if the Chair has not yet done so.
* Except in rare cases where secret balloting is well-advised, voting
takes place on a wiki page. We can simply create two columns, "Yes" and
"No" (or whatever the options are), and Members sign their names in the
appropriate columns. I think it is important that we not offer
comments/justifications on the pages where the voting takes place. We,
Council Members, merely sign our names. Nonmembers may not vote.
* Voting is limited by time. There should be a strict minimum of 24
hours for every vote, but more time is permissible. The vote is
automatically tallied and reported by the Chair, or someone deputized by the
Chair, immediately after the closing time.
* No one, other than the editor-in-chief, chief constable, council
chair, and (perhaps) some other specifically designated persons, should
serve on any two or more of the Constabulary, Editorial Council, and
Executive Committee. Perhaps even these should not serve on any more than
* More specific rules regarding purview/jurisdiction will be posted.
I'll be very curious to hear your comments on the above, which I am asking
for now. I hope you will put thought into them, and please--let's not have
any one person, including myself, dominate the discussion that follows.
Counter-proposals, amendments, etc., are welcome.
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