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We have a place called Meta where we discuss about policies. Voting on meta usually indicates the consensus of community. Recently I've found that some of users in community is divided into two groups, say the practice of (I'm not sure about word usage) groupism or brigading.

Now, what the issue is: Many a times, when we have discussions on meta users votes from both sides i.e part (50%) of the users vote in agreement and part (50%) votes on opposite side and eventually the topic or issue become controversial. The result is that we can't reach at conclusion and the issue remains unsolved. (sometimes community leave/forgot the topic for now but there are chances of same or similar issue being problematic in future since the problem was not solved when it was discussed)

Here, one thing I'm unsure about whether:

  • The issue becomes the controversial because the community is divided or
  • The community is divided because the issue is controversial

However, I'm sure the mentioned groupism or brigading effect is severe/critical sometimes.

Only some users participate or vote on meta and among them if community divides, it becomes difficult to reach at conclusion.

So, I need guidance on how to deal with the problem of "Community is divided and finding difficult to solve the problem"?

Thanks.

5

Some observations I've made over the years.

Here are some things that cause division:

  • One or more sides feel that they are not being heard
  • One or more sides feel that there is favoritism
  • One or more sides feel that there is cliquishness
  • A breakdown in civility

Controversy only becomes a factor when those four are in play.

I'll start with the last first.

A breakdown in civility

When there is a breakdown in civility, the previous three points are amplified, because it will turn into a free-for-all, and from there, any moderation will be seen as unfair as cries of "Why did you step in NOW after he said all of that to me."

  1. At the first sign of incivility, step in.
  2. Make sure discussions are about topics, not people (see point 1).
  3. Have a kindness policy. If it's unkind, don't post it. (see point 1).
  4. Discourage "dogpiling"

One or more sides feel that they are not being heard

Encourage discussion from all sides, try to find common ground and build on that. This can make even the most heated topics turn into discussions, not fights. Be on the lookout for anyone encouraging/employing any of the following tactics

  • The filibuster. Talking a topic to death to the point where others retreat
  • Dogpiling... getting others to join in to deride someone's opinion.
  • Swarming... burying someone's opinion in a swarm of replies from a single or multiple people
  • The Columbo.... Pretending not to understand a person to frustrate them

If you see any of these, you need to step in and bring things back on topic.

One or more sides feel that there is favoritism

You need to be able to demonstrate that there is none. Be as fair as you can, step in early and try the light touch first, because sometimes people just need to say their peace.

Also, if, by the time you step in, all sides have settled down, acknowledge that they have, and just comment that you're glad that they were able to handle it (treat them like adults)

One or more sides feel that there is cliquishness

This is hard to combat because there will be regular long-time people, people who drop in and out, and new people.

All you can do is encourage mingling.

You want to be very careful in declaring certain topics "VERBOTEN", as people will quickly learn to get uncivil if they want a topic shut down.

Worse, this can become a tactic to drive people out especially when it becomes a tactic to scold people for bringing up a controversial topic.

The old standard admonition of "Please don't feed the troll" helps as well.

The best way to keep controversy from becoming an issue is to look for those who seek to make it one.

These are not necessarily those people spoiling for a fight, but rather the people who are egging others on.

ONCE YOU FIND A COMMUNITY DIVIDED

You need to crack down on the incivility first. That will stop the bleeding so to speak.

Then, you promote discussion where there is common ground. The key is to get people talking again.

After that, you will find the community cooling down a bit, and you can start to re-introduce a few hot-button topics, but enforce civility very strictly until it becomes habit

3

I'm assuming you are discussing multiple policies and the community is divided on many policies. If your community is usually dividing along the same lines, you may have Team1 against Team2 (Management vs Minions).

I think you need to find why they're divided. Identify a representative from 'each side' and discuss separately, then together, why they oppose.

Another thing to look into is how the policy is being introduced prior to voting. People are more willing to accept a policy if they have had input on it. Let the people have input on various aspects of the policy before creating the policy.

Personally I hate policy that doesn't come with a reason. Tell me why something needs to be done, and I'm more willing to accept the policy. Instead of saying "YOU MUST DO THIS!" try explaining what your goal is and solicit suggestions.

Ideally you'd introduce policy like this:

Person 1: We need to accomplish Goal-1. How can we do that?
Person 2: We need to do Task-A.
Person 3: But doing Task-A will take extra time we don't have.
Person 1: How about we scale back on Task-Z so you have time to do Task A?

If you do this with a small group, you can then introduce it to the larger group. Person 2 and Person 3 will then champion the policy.

2

Dealing with division in any community is difficult, but there are ways to manage it. However this largely depends on what you are trying to accomplish (if you have an agenda or a leader or a main focus or cause uniting you). If Meta is just a place for people to discuss about politics with no one particular aim in mind then I would say division is what makes a good discussion and discussing that which is controversial should be the goal of such community. Resolving an issue is only a must if it deters from the community’s larger goal or aim. In my opinion, there are two ways you can deal with this: 1. Reminding people of the bigger picture. So let’s say 50% love cats and 50% love dogs and that this is a controversial topic. It is good to deflect and put the “debate” to sleep by agreeing “we are all here because we love our pets” or “we are all here because we are having trouble with our neighbors who do not like our pets”. Remind people why they are there by pointing to a common enemy or a common goal and soon they will forget about the marginal issue. 2. If there is no obvious common goal deflect by praising both sides and then the platform itself as a place where these controversial issues can be heard and discussed.

Sorry if this wasn’t much help, but when it comes to discussing politics keeping up a united front is an idealist tack.

2

A chicken and egg problem?

Here's, one thing I'm unsure about whether:

  • The issue becomes the controversial because the community is divided,

or

  • The community is divided because the issue is controversial.

I think not, if/when people find out "we discussed this on Meta, and decided without your input, this is how it is ..." those people won't be impressed and you'll be reopening the can of worms to hungrier mouths; barracudas.

Only some users participate or vote on meta and among them if the community divides, it becomes difficult to reach a conclusion.

The Moderator can inform people with the "Featured on Meta" box (see upper right) that there is a Q&A on Meta that they should look at. Have enough lead time to catch people whom visit weekly (some people have commitments during the week) and wait until it seems obvious that enough people have been informed and can join in if they wish.

Exactly how long and how many is a complicated formula based on: the timeline for a solution, the effect that the changes will cause, and how much grief you want afterwards.

I need guidance on how to deal with the problem of "Community is divided and finding it difficult to resolve the problem"?

Present the problem clearly and try to formulate each piece of the puzzle into bite sized chunks that are likely to be supported by a majority instead of offering a turducken and saying "eat this", resulting in a two or three way split in the voting.

Once each smaller problem is resolved and implemented you can work on the next. Nothing wrong with presenting all the problems on the same page, just break them into sections clearly outlining each problem / suggested solutions.

If it's just "one big problem" sometimes that is exactly what you have. Discuss how it might be divided so each part can be settled separately. If there's a need for an immediate solution propose temporary solutions that you need to implement while waiting for the outcome of a permanent solution.

Of course, as a Moderator (or owner) you can simply impose your solution and risk complaints / blogs and everyone jumping ship. That leaves the remaining people with a greater vested interest, but also more 'heel diggers'.

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