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User:Xeeron/status quo bias

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This is an essay describing what status quo bias is, how it arises in wikis and influences wikis.

[edit] Status quo bias

Status quo bias means that the current state (status quo) has an advantage over any form of change. In other words, if a wiki shows a status quo bias, it is structurally conservative. This implies that, in any disagreement, the proponents of change have to exert a much larger effort to have a change implemented, compared to the amount of effort needed by opponents of change to stop a change.

[edit] Origins of status quo bias

The status quo bias stems mainly from the form of decision making used on many wikis (like this one): Consensus seeking.

Consensus is not well defined, but usually described as something well bigger than a 51% majority. This alone confers a large amount of status quo bias: Any vote where a super-majority (strictly more than 50% + 1 vote) is needed, favors the status quo. A second way in which consensus seeking as a decision rule helps the status quo is via its demand for editors to take criticism seriously and to try to work towards a compromise. This offers a way to strong proponents of the status quo to abuse the system by engaging in endless discussion, meant to entangle proponents of change into a multitude of secondary issues, repetitive points raised, etc, all with the purpose of delaying change indefinitely.

Note: This is a description of consenus seeking, not an statement in favor of some other decision rule. There are many good reasons to use consensus which I am not going into here.

A different source of status quo bias is the influx of new, inexperienced editors that wikis typically get. New editors will typically be those most likely to put forward new ideas. At the same time they will also be most likely those lacking experience about the inner workings of the wiki, past happenings, alternatives that have already been tried out. Some might also be straight out vandals, trolls or otherwise unproductive editors. Since the majority of proposals for change will come from such editors, it is easy for old editors to equate “new proposal = bad”. Leading to a general mistrust of new ideas, especially if not put forward by an “old” user.

[edit] Impact of status quo bias

The direct impact of status quo bias is to slow down change in a wiki. While in many cases this is positive (we do not want a new main page design getting implemented every second day), it sometimes prolongs the use of mechanisms and designs that have outlived their usefulness. However there are also several indirect ways how status quo bias can impact a wiki.

  • Any form of structurally conservative decision making is susceptible to agenda setting. That is, whoever decides ‘’how’’ to discuss something is at an advantage, in the most simple form by presenting his preferred option as the status quo.
  • Status quo bias, and the associated lack of progress, can also lead to severe disappointment on the side of the editors trying to change things. Which in turn can lead to demands for faster decision processed (e.g. decisions by a small “elite”, or an “benevolent dictator”). Or it can lead to periodical upheaval, where the disappointment with the current situation is so big that suddenly any change is supported (“it can’t get worse than this”).
  • Finally, the problem of small groups being able to stand in the way of change means that, to change anything, it is best not to incur any opposition at all. That is, “lowest common denominator” type of change will be easier to implement than wider ranging, more detailed change that presents more potential opponents with stuff to dislike.
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