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Problem and examples

In our chat I asked this question, and I was encouraged to ask this as a meta question (though the potential futility of it is not lost on us), so here goes nothing:

What expectations are there for selecting a winning answer? I sometimes feel it defeats the purpose of a discussion question to say ‘this is the answer I want’; doesn’t that sort of kill the discussion?

Further, I believe the current practice on voting for discussion questions is broken. Consider this answer to ‘Should we encourage or discourage the use of macrons?’ As I asked in chat:

Can someone explain to me why this question (latin.meta.stackexchange.com/a/38/2532) is downvoted? The criterion for upvoting/downvoting an answer is ‘This answer is / is not useful’. The answer provides useful information to a discussion and demonstrates effort. It is not inherently bad. In my opinion, downvoting such answers should be discouraged; in my opinion, for discussions, the policy should be simple: downvote bad answers, upvote good answers, and do not vote for (good) answers that you do not agree with; doing that allows us to get a measure of what the community’s stance is, without discouraging a proper discussion.

SE policy

The answer I received was helpful, but at the same time revealed what I would consider a weakness of the system: Downvotes are used to show what people disagree with. This is in fact not in line with SE policy on downvoting, which explicitly states that (with my emphases):

What is voting down?
Voting down, also known as “casting downvotes”, is how the community indicates which questions and answers are least useful.

When should I vote down?
Downvotes should be used to indicate issues with quality, effort, or accuracy of a post:

Downvote questions that don’t show any research effort or don’t contain enough information to be clear and answerable. These questions may also need to be closed. Downvote answers that are incorrect or don't provide sufficient information to be useful in answering the question. Some answers may not attempt to answer the question at all, and should be flagged.

Allow me to reiterate:

Downvotes should be used to indicate issues with quality, effort, or accuracy with a post.

Proposed policy

There is a problem, though. How can we gather community opinion? We should not want to discourage honest, quality discussion by taking away reputation from someone who contributes well-written opinions that we disagree with. I would suggest the following policy:

  1. When you ask a question on meta and tag it as , the asker should feel free to keep the question open, especially for questions that are expected to develop in time. Closing such a question by selecting a desired answer, can be seen as ending the discussion, and in many cases that should be discouraged.
  2. Questions tagged as are often used to source community opinion. They should therefore be voted on according to the following criteria:
    1. An answer which is good should be upvoted if you agree with it.
    2. An answer which is good, but you disagree with, should not be voted on.
    3. An answer which is bad, should as per the usual guidelines be downvoted.

The second policy suggestion, means we do not discourage people who actually provide a valuable opinion to the discussion. If I were the answerer in that discussion receiving five downvotes for what in my opinion was a well thought-out answer, I would feel quite disheartened; I would be left feeling that this is an echo-chamber community. We know we are not such a community, but currently I believe our policy is too willy-nilly to truly encourage good discussions.

Tag suggestion

It could very well be that we should add another tag: sententia-populi (I would of course have preferred it to be sententia-populī) with the synonym community-opinion for questions where we actively encourage voting as a polling tool. Whilst discussion questions should be considered merely ‘Let us hear what different members of the community think about this problem’, a question tagged as sententia-populi would be specifically expecting users to upvote and no-vote answers to reach a consensus.

Summary

In short, concerning discussion questions:

  1. Askers should not be required select a chosen answer if that discourages further discussion.
  2. Downvoting should be reserved only for bad answers.

In short, concerning sententia-populi:

  1. They may be double-tagged with discussion as well.
  2. Are expecting users to actively vote for the opinions they favour.
  3. Are expecting users to not vote for opinions they disfavour.
  4. Downvoting should be reserved only for bad answers.
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I am against codifying how people should behave on meta. The moderator team is also very lenient on moderating on meta; the threshold for closing and deleting anything is far higher than on the main site. People must be allowed to vote as they please with full anonymity.

We can give some recommendations, but I would be very careful in trying to steer meta voting in any way. I am happier about giving recommendations for main, but not too forcibly there either.

Voting on meta

The SE guidelines you quote are for voting in general. Voting on meta works differently, as has been recognized by the whole network. See this discussion on the network-wide mother meta site or any of the related content on that site.

Votes on meta have a different meaning. Voting an answer up often means "I agree" and down means "I disagree". When it comes to a question, voting up can mean "I agree with this proposal" or "this is a good discussion to have", and voting down means the opposite. For example, I think this meta discussion is useful to have but I disagree with your proposal, so I have not voted at all, at least for now.

By your proposal if a user disagrees with something, they should not vote at all. But that disagreement would be valuable information which is not conveyed in any way. If our users are against an idea, then it is probably not a good idea to implement it; we don't want to annoy the very people who make this site what it is. Your system would not distinguish disagreement, no matter how vehement, from not even having read the post, and that would lose too much information.

Prescription and description

We can codify if necessary, but I don't see a necessity here. And when it comes to voting, there is no way to enforce anything. We can recommend, but we cannot really prescribe behaviour.

I find it more useful to describe what voting means, and that is what I have tried to do. That way you have a way to interpret votes on meta. I cannot and will not argue that I know the rational behind every vote, but in broad strokes and seen across the network I think my description is fair. See also the linked question on the mother meta.

Network-wide policy

Not all policies from the level of the whole SE network are implemented on our site. For example, the network is mostly against greetings of all kinds and encourages them to be deleted, but I think it works best for our welcoming atmosphere to allow greetings and to welcome newcomers in comments. The broader SE policies and guidelines are good suggestions, but we should evaluate whether we should adopt them.

And when it comes to the meaning of our votes, the SE policy describes well what happens on our main site. The policy is worded inaccurately as it does not describe meta behaviour.

Policies in general

I prefer to have as few policies as possible. We do need some, but we should not have a fixed house style for formatting citations or including macrons. Some people say "subjunctive" and some say "conjunctive", and that's fine.

Community opinion

Based on two discussion from Mathematics SE meta (1 and 2), let me consider a soccer club:

The local soccer club needs to choose someone to take responsibility over finance, but most members of the club might have their sole interest in playing ball. And that's fine, the club exists for the purpose of facilitating the game.
 
Most are see making and discussing the rules with disinterest. As long as they are interested in following them, there's no issue. If every new soccer player can say "it seems I can only kick the ball here and I need to pay my share of the rent — I'll do that", their lack of involvement in administration is no issue. If they are unsatisfied with the rules (whether about soccer or social behaviour), they should join the discussion. Obedience and awareness of the rules doesn't require any further interest in them.
 
Some people have interests in the inner workings of it all, but they are a minority. The club is administratively run by that minority, but that is neither wrong nor worrying.

It's no different on this site. Most people are here for the Latin, and that's perfectly fine. The number of people participating on meta can seem low, but that is not a major issue.

The best gauge of community opinion on policy suggestions is voting on meta. Only those who participate — by voting, commenting, or suggesting alternative answers — have a say. It's not like we've closed the door to anyone; it's just that not everyone cares to enter the door.

Some discussions are open-ended, some have a conclusion (such as a policy decision). If there is a conclusion, an answer can be accepted to signal that. But which answer is accepted cannot alone decide what the policy is, because a single user gets to accept freely, and that is not how policy is decided.

Some questions have a more clear polling nature. Then we can simply have answers like: "Vote this up if you agree with the proposal." That invites voting far more clearly than anything else. I don't think a separate tag is useful.

Tagging

Every question on meta must have one of the four "required tags": . This is forced by the system. Therefore almost anything where voting might be needed is tagged as a discussion.

Summary

I am against the proposal. I would rather not have a policy at all.

Or rather, my preferred policy is just an invitation to vote up and down as much as they like and let their opinions show that way. It is the votes of our users that give meta discussions weight.

It is important to know when our users are opposed to an idea, and voting down is the best way to message that.

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