Inspired a bit by this question: Questions that are lists of things and the suggestion by at least one moderator that "consensus" is important for Big List/SW questions, but also the moderator election questions, wherein many answers (including my own) allude to emerging community desires as something to pay attention to.

When we say "consensus", what do we mean?

For example, on the "Big List" question referenced, my answer, as of the time of this writing, has 2/3rds of the votes in favor and 1/3rds opposed, but with a fair number of votes in both directions (as far as meta-questions go).

I think, if we talk about consensus building, there should at least be some clear notion of what that means.

1 Answer 1



One of the features of SE is that the site should be pretty much managed by the community itself. Everybody (with enough reputation) votes according to what he/she believes appropriate, and questions are closed/reopened/deleted autonomously, in many cases. If a user votes to close a big-list question because he/she thinks it is too broad, then that's alright.

However, some operations require moderator intervention. For instance, a post might need to be locked because it's continuously closed/open, a question can be made CW only by moderator intervention, or only moderators can migrate questions. In order to decide how to perform these operations, the moderator can either:

  • follow the general SE policy (for instance, on CW questions)
  • or adapt the policy to the specificity of the site. For instance, Ac.SE tolerates more subjectivity in their questions than, say SO, due to the nature of the questions.

In order to adapt the policy, the moderator should normally consult the community first, to check whether such a change is adequate. In some cases, there will be a clear consensus, i.e., a general agreement. For instance, in Are questions about tools on-topic?, my answer stating that I will undelete and reopen the question did not receive any negative vote, and apart from a single down vote of the meta question, there was no clear indication against the reopening of the question.

Concerning Questions that are lists of things, if anything, the voting patterns for this question indicates that the community is split on it, with a majority being in favour of your approach. If there was a dispute about the question that originated the meta question (for instance, a close vote followed by a reopen vote), then the moderating team would have to make a decision, trying to reflect best the opinions of the community expressed in the meta question. For instance, the question was effectively transformed into a CW.

What I also note with this question is that similar questions were asked in the past (Big list questions, Questions involving lists), and that in each case, they didn't attract many votes, for instance compared to Don't walk. Don't run either. So I'd say that this is not a particularly crucial point for the whole community, and they can live with either way.

For instance, another example of a question, where in my mind, there wasn't a strong consensus, was: Can we have some fun?, which is why, as a moderator, I never tried to either push for having fun questions or directly closing them if I saw one.

I don't think there is clear threshold for consensus, it is the responsibility of the moderator to judge the reaction of the community and to act accordingly. It is then the responsibility of the community to react if they believe some moderating actions were done against the consensus.

  • Can't the community continuously close/reopen questions if they cannot make up their mind? Why does a mod have to step in?
    – StrongBad
    May 14, 2014 at 18:06
  • 2
    @StrongBad: If they cannot decide in a constructive way, then the post should be locked, which can only be done by a moderator: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/22228/what-is-a-locked-post
    – user102
    May 14, 2014 at 18:11

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