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It has long been established that moderation is a volunteer activity; they can come and go as they please. Life happens and sometimes work and family take precedence. But there are a limited number of moderators and, if moderators are not "moderating", the site can suffer. What should be our policy/procedure when a moderator goes in absentia?

I am looking for general feedback and issues I may have missed. Please discuss. Thanks.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess when a moderator leaves (or astonishingly even never takes up the job) (s)he should -- after assuring that he doesn't plan to return -- be replaced. Maybe the fourth-placed volunteer from the previous election can be offered this place? $\endgroup$ – Rasmus Feb 1 '11 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$ – badp Feb 2 '11 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is relevant, no? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 15 '12 at 22:24
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As a general principle (not a specific solution to this instance):

If $n$ is the minimum number of moderators needed on the site, we should be electing $n+1$ or $n+2$ so that temporary absences and the time to a special election do not need extra coverage.

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One approach I was considering is to officially designate the 4th place winner as an alternate. That would cover two cases: a moderator no longer able to serve, and having someone who can fill in for a temporary absence due to work or family obligations. The entire nomination-campaign-primary-election process is a bit arduous to kick off every time a moderator runs into a big project at work (for example).

edit: based on the outcome of this discussion, we have promoted the 4th place election finisher to full moderator status. Welcome Akhil Mathew!

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    $\begingroup$ What, seriously? Based on a discussion that was not yet finished, you decided to retroactively change the rules of the election process? This is not a good idea. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Feb 4 '11 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ @pete rules haven't changed, see blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/02/… specifically the text "was originally the #2 winner, but withdrew from the race after some post-election reflection" -- complete inaction as a moderator is the same as a de-facto withdrawal. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Feb 4 '11 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ I'd call this a communication failure if this outcome is implementing an existing rule/process—Robert's original question certainly gave me the impression that there was not an existing procedure. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Feb 4 '11 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ Also, is Akhil replacing an existing moderator or being added as a 4th moderator? $\endgroup$ – Isaac Feb 4 '11 at 1:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Issaac: Added as a 4th moderator. $\endgroup$ – Robert Cartaino Feb 4 '11 at 1:43
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    $\begingroup$ Robert and Jeff: please get your stories straight. What you are saying here is not consistent with each other. Where in the rules does it speak of inaction being withdrawal? Isn't this the whole point of Robert's question? $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Feb 4 '11 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ Also please explain how it is possible for someone who "de facto withdrew" from an election has actually held the office for more than one month. This is just not making much sense... $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Feb 4 '11 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ And wouldn't a de facto withdrawal mean that person wouldn't have a ♦? $\endgroup$ – Isaac Feb 4 '11 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ @pete you can't hold an office if you never exercise the office. If I hold the title of "mathematician" but never actually produce any math, am I still a mathematician? Also, we're just adding another moderator from the original election to compensate, we're not removing anything or anyone. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Feb 4 '11 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Jeff Atwood: I have explained to you that I have no desire to participate in your little Socratic dialogues: your question is entirely irrelevant. It appears to me that you are retroactively changing the rules of the election. This is non-negotiable: I really feel this way and that it is a distressing violation of what purports to be a democratic process. Let me ask once again: there are several webpages documenting the rules of the election. Where is this procedure described in any of these rules? Why didn't Robert know about it? $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Feb 4 '11 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ @pete to be honest, generally when moderators get elected, they moderate. So for a moderator to get elected and never even try to moderate is rather unprecedented. In my view, this is identical to moderators who decline, withdraw, or otherwise cannot perform the role they were elected for -- which we do have precedent for. See: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/02/… and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/31752/we-miss-thetxi/… -- it's all documented there. Please read it -- and pay close attention to the dates -- thanks! $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Feb 4 '11 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ Once again, what you are saying is not even very well thought out: you say "unprecedented" and then cite what you claim to be highly relevant precedent. I will take what you are saying as an admission that you are doing something that is not in the election rules. In my view that's a problem. I have already registered my disagreement with the highest authority in the land, so I guess I'm done with it. Nor do I have any problem with the outcome: Akhil Mathew is exactly who I personally want to be moderator. It's just that the process has been circumvented.... $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Feb 4 '11 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ ...I have participated in enough democracies (and putative democracies) to know that circumvention of the electoral process, for any reason, makes people feel very unhappy and disenfranchised. Because one of your "valued associates" asked us to, we were trying as a group to work towards a solution of something that you swooped down and decided singlehandedly. This has always been the problem. I will know better than to be drawn into any issues of site governance from now on: I had better stick to the math. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Feb 4 '11 at 14:40
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Posted so that it can be voted on:

As an alternative to a new election, one could just offer the job to the fourth-placed candidate of the previous election.

(I'm not sure if I'd prefer this myself.)

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    $\begingroup$ I would think that a new election would be better, since people's preferences likely have changed. $\endgroup$ – Akhil Mathew Feb 3 '11 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Akhil: I think I agree. $\endgroup$ – Rasmus Feb 3 '11 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ One approach I was considering is to officially designate the 4th place winner as an alternate. That would cover two cases: a moderator no longer able to serve, and having someone who can fill in for a temporary absence due to work or family obligations. The entire nomination-campaign-primary-election process is a bit arduous to kick off every time a moderator runs into a big project at work (for example). $\endgroup$ – Robert Cartaino Feb 3 '11 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: It seems to me that if that's a common scenario, we should be electing 4 moderators to start with--that is, if $n$ is the minimum number of moderators needed on the site, we should be electing $n+1$ or $n+2$ so that temporary absences and the time to a special election do not need extra coverage. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Feb 3 '11 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ +1 @Isaac. RAIM(ods) anyone? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Feb 3 '11 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Willie: Are you saying that mods are inexpensive? ;) $\endgroup$ – Isaac Feb 3 '11 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Isaac: depends on how you look at it. The cost incurred for additional mods grow, as is well known, exponentially with the current number of mods. Which is rather cheap. ;p $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Feb 3 '11 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: Why not post these suggestions as answers so they can be voted on with further commentary? :) [Your Miss America approach sounds quite reasonable to me.] $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Feb 3 '11 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Pete L. Clark: Done. I was originally holding off on offering up my thoughts as to encourage original ideas, but the topicality of these comments got the better of me. $\endgroup$ – Robert Cartaino Feb 3 '11 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Isaac: judging by the votes, I think quite a few people like your idea. Perhaps you should post that as an answer? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Feb 3 '11 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Willie: I've posted the content of my comment as an answer on which people can vote, though it's not really specific to this situation. (In this specific situation, my preference is for a special election.) $\endgroup$ – Isaac Feb 3 '11 at 21:20
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Posted upon request from Robert Cartaino [it doesn't seem like much of an answer, but OK]:

It seems obvious that at some point a moderator who is not moderating needs to be replaced. I don't know what the precise procedure leading up to this ought to be. But I do think that if more moderators are needed for any reason, another election seems to be in order, especially since the "cost" of a site election is essentially zero. (This is nothing against the fourth place candidate in the previous election: he would likely have my top vote in a new one.)

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  • $\begingroup$ A site election requires time, so if we anticipate needing one we should try to start it slightly sooner than we think we actually need a new moderator. That is, if we set the cutoff for a moderator being replaced at 1 month of inactivity or whatever, we should anticipate starting the election at the 3 week mark or so. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan Feb 3 '11 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree. If we start the election at 3 week mark and the Moderator shows up four days after, and said: "sorry guys, got busy with family issue for a while. Am back now." What do you do? If the policy is that one month of inactivity triggers a new election, then the electiron should actually be triggered after that month. If the other moderators have been able to handle the load for a month already, what's another 10 days? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Feb 3 '11 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ -1, elections do have a cost. Admins must start them and tune them. The community must update its election following tools. Nominees must write nominations from there, and if you assume opinions will have changed in the meantime those nominations also will have to. Users must read the nominations, evaluate the candidates, then make informed voting. Admins have to doublecheck the results then switch the flags. It's far from being free. $\endgroup$ – badp Feb 3 '11 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Willie: I guess we are just disagreeing about what "when we think we actually need a new moderator" means. What I mean by this is the time t such that if we do not have a new moderator by time t then spam or whatever else will seriously affect the workings of the site. If we have a rough idea when t is, we should probably start the elections before t... in any case, elections can be canceled, although that's maybe not the best idea. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan Feb 3 '11 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Qiaochu: my implicit point was that I think cancelling elections is a bad idea. But I agree, if we decide that it is unreasonable to have a Mod out of commission for X days, and voting takes Y days, then the published time frame for triggering an election should be X-Y: that is, a moderator will be replaced after X-Y, regardless of whether he returns after that. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Feb 3 '11 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ In any case, I am more in favor of either Isaac's RAIM idea or Robert's Second Team Sub idea. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Feb 3 '11 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the comments above: I think somewhat simplifying the election process might be a good idea. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Feb 3 '11 at 22:29

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