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I am a moderator on Cooking Stack Exchange. Our activity is quite low compared to the tech-oriented sites on the network, but we do have a bunch of users with sufficient reputation to cast close votes, and of course, many more can downvote.

We have a few marginal areas of expertise which are explicitly described as on-topic in the Help center. A good example is kitchen equipment. Questions about dishwashers and the like are rare, but when they turn up, they invariably gather downvotes and close votes.

We haven't had the case of such a question gathering five community close votes yet, but I think this is just a matter of time. Almost all of our closed questions are closed by moderators, just because we have so few active high-rep users, but their number grows over time, and someday this is bound to happen.

My conundrum is: should I, as a moderator, reopen such a question if it gets closed by the community as off-topic? On the one hand, it is the community that should define which questions are welcome. Stack Exchange operates on the principle that the users decide what is on-topic, and it is not my position as a moderator to enforce topic areas against the wishes of the community.

On the other hand, this area is codified in the site rules, which are open to everybody. Newbies are already confused by the Stack Exchange system because it has so much discrepancy with expectations formed by standard discussion forums. I frequently send them to the Help center so they can 1) have some guidance on how to behave, and 2) see that my actions are indeed informed by existing rules, as opposed to arbitrary whims. I really don't want them to experience a situation where the community does the opposite of what is stated in the written rules.

I have thought that maybe this is a sign that the community needs a new discussion on the on-topicness of equipment questions. But our Meta is so badly visited that almost nobody outside of the moderators will see new Meta questions. Besides, I have the feeling that the people who are downvoting these questions are not against the idea of having them per se, but are just unaccustomed to see this type of question, and automatically assume that they must be off-topic just because they aren't like the other on-topic questions. If this is the case, it makes no sense to start a discussion about the overturning of an existing rule which isn't causing any problems.

So, what is my role in such a case? What action can I take, and what outcome should I pursue?

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Here's what I would do:

  • Reopen the question if you're absolutely sure it shouldn't have been closed as per current site policies. You're a human exception handler, and this is the definition of an exception - the community not doing what it said it should do.
  • Create a question on your Meta site ask something like this:

Should question FooBar be closed?

I noticed that <link to question> was closed by the community. I think that this is on topic per <link to rules>, and so I reopened it. What is your opinion on this? Is there something I'm missing?

Also, to help with Meta participation, you might consider adding the tag to the question, causing it to show up in the sidebar on the main site. You could also add a feed to your site chatroom to post new meta questions in chat.

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Las costumbres hacen leyes *

* customs laws do

Depends. If there's a established pattern in your community about how to deal with certain topic, the policies needs to reflect this change of heart. Discussion is warranted.

If was an one-off scenario, maybe the community perceived that that topic wasn't what they actually expected. In that case, discuss with your community, call out the ones involved, try to ascertain the situation that lead the community to behave that way.

In any case, some kind of update of the policy may be in order to establish the special cases on how to handle specific situations.

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