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We had a moderator election in June 2019. Before the election, it was announced that the total moderator count would be five. We have usually had four moderators, and with one resignation prior to the 2019 elections, we had three. The earlier count was established as four in this meta in April 2017: Do we want three moderators, or four?

(before the 2017 election the count was two, three having been elected with one resignation)

I was personally happy to hear we were moving to five moderators. Our site's traffic has grown, we have had some rotation in active user base, snap resignations and forces majeures happen, and with luck we would've gotten good candidates from a variety of timezones to have less blind spots in moderation. There wasn't any debate this time: this meta post in May 2019 featured two opinions in favor of five, none in favor of any other outcome: What is the reason we are moving to having 5 diamond moderators?

Came the election results. In the same post where the winners of the community moderators were announced, another mod announced their retirement, leaving us at four moderators immediately: 2019 Community Moderator Election Results

I respect mxy's right to keep the news of their upcoming resignation among moderators and/or site staff, who I presume knew of the resignation in advance. But I am disappointed in the way this was handled in the community election process. There was no discussion on the moderator team size like there was in 2017 --- it seems to me that four was already decided upon, and five was chosen only to address the coming resignation.

Notably, when the three moderators at the time opined in favor of five, advocating for a larger team because other moderators may leave with little notice, I believe at least some of them (as well as the site's Community Manager) knew the site would be served by four, not five moderators, instantly or soon after the election. I believe there are no hidden agendas beyond respecting mxy's right to keep their upcoming resignation private for the time, and certainly no malice. But I feel it is not up to the usual standards of honest communication between the community and the administration to do something like this.

I am aware calling a snap election to get a fifth community moderator posthaste wouldn't probably be the right answer, but I think we should aim for five or possibly more moderators in the future, for better coverage and for more redundancy. But whether four, five, six, sixty mods, it should be based on open and honest discussion within the community focusing on the team size we actually want --- in my case, five and possibly more.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The CMs have mentioned to the mods (and possibly publicly as well?) earlier that they won't be scheduling any more elections for the year with the upcoming holiday season anyway, so there wouldn't be a "snap election" regardless. Thanks for posting this, though, it's a good point to discuss :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 28 '19 at 23:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I may quote Brother Maynard ... five is right out! 8^D \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 2 '19 at 18:10
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We've read your concerns and we've been discussing how to respond internally. TL;DR:

  • Yeah, the situation was messy, but it was messier than that. We're sorry you weren't fully informed; we didn't see a way to fully inform the community about what was going on. I'll explain below.
  • We don't have plans to expand to a fifth moderator slot currently. The workload isn't there for it.

The specifics of our plans at the time

I don't want y'all having to speculate about what was going on, so let me fill in on some stuff. We couldn't make this public at the time and I've checked with Mxyzplk for permission to make it public now.

When we left this answer about moving to five diamond moderators, we were in fact expecting to have five diamond moderators for a sustained period. Mxyzplk had plans to resign and put his diamond away, but they weren't actually going to be immediate. He was planning to resign some time much later, such as after the new moderators were trained and confident in their positions as moderators (which takes a long time). Mxyzplk would announce he was resigning whenever he felt ready, and that was entirely up to him to handle how he chose.

That his diamond was put away immediately after the election was the result of a miscommunication with staff about timing. I don't feel it's my place to talk about this part so I won't.

Given we had no concrete plans to announce regarding his sometime-resignation, we had opted instead to just assume in our response that we would have five moderators for quite some time. We had also indicated there was room for someone to resign. That was about as much as we felt was appropriate given how we thought it would go.

Regarding team size

Now, on mod team size. SSD describes that managing the moderator team size is the prerogative of the moderator team itself. That's accurate, and honestly it would not function well otherwise. We adjust the team size based on whether the current workload fits the capacity of the current moderator team. Too much work means we need more mods; too little work leads to too many chefs in the kitchen. The community doesn't know our internal workload so it isn't in a position to be able to judge what size the moderator team needs to be. (It's definitely in a position to judge and raise issue if there's problems, and we'll address them, such as by calling elections if our problems are caused by too much workload.)

Moderator elections aren't about size, they're about the mods that get added to fill the slots the moderator team has asked for. Moderator team sizes can be in flux—we don't negotiate a size then aim to continuously meet that size, we just request more moderators when we know we'll need more moderators to manage the workload. People resign from time to time, and elections get called, and not always together or with equivalent numbers coming and going.

I understand the reasons you've laid out. We're also aware of the many snap resignations occurring around the network. However, the mod team considers the current size to be a good size, and we don't intend to adjust it to five right now.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The workload may not be there on a happy path day, but what happens when two of you get sick or get burned out on the same day, an immediate resignation spree like the Monica case hits, or so? \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Dec 2 '19 at 18:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri The size of four is there to accommodate stuff like that. There's already been multiple weeks in which two mods at a time have been almost entirely unavailable, and burnout has already occurred and we've handled it—I burned out and stepped back significantly for several months earlier this year. We're okay with the current number. We don't need a fifth yet. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 2 '19 at 19:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, maybe trust the mods to handle their business. The fact that you haven't seen a problem indicates that they are able to handle it, yes? I'm not sure why you want them to be receptive to "you should change things because maybe there will be a problem and I surely know better about the workload than you do, the people who handle it year after year," which is what this comes across as. They don't want to say that out loud as current mods, but since I'm not a mod any more let me clue you in. It's their call, let them make it, if there's a real problem bring that up then. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Dec 3 '19 at 16:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplksaysreinstateMonica Only if you are assuming bad faith does it appear that way. \$\endgroup\$ – trlkly Dec 6 '19 at 6:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's really not how I'm thinking about it. The concerns raised here are pretty reasonable. We've got a member concerned about the possibility there's blind spots or problems we might not have considered or experienced—we have, but it's not like they'd know that. The concern over the events during & after the election is also fair, and I can understand the misapprehension that the community determines moderator team size. Now that it's been brought up, we can untangle what happened, clarify things, renegotiate expectations, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 7 '19 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri - Remember moderators' primary responsibility is really to handle the things that the high rep (20k+ users) and mid level rep (10k+ and voting eligible) users can't. The majority of voting, closing, reopening, etc., is usually handled by the user base. Mod powers are used in case of site damage, spam attacks, and the like. As long as all the high rep users don't abdicate at the same time, I think the site is ok. \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Dec 11 '19 at 15:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplksaysreinstateMonica "The fact that you haven't seen a problem" is begging the question --- I've had flags sit waiting for moderation attention for quite a long while at times. Certainly not often but more often than I'd like anyway. That in addition to the communication issue, which in itself is a major problem because it makes moderator behavior appear contrary to the community's interests and while I believe it was not done in bad faith, it would be so much better if I never had to doubt that in the first place. I agree with doppel's response above. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Dec 11 '19 at 19:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri We will sometimes deliberately leave flags pending for up to several days specifically because it's an emergent situation we need to keep our eye on, or because it requires work to take place before it can be considered resolved, or because the situation is difficult and we're working out the appropriate course of action in response. The pending flag pins the situation as still current and needing attention (which we will be providing as long as it's there). The flag queue gets emptied multiple times a day every day beside these exceptions. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 11 '19 at 19:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplksaysreinstateMonica I would also kindly ask you to assume good faith on my part like I did on yours. Your comment comes off to me as little more than an unsubstantiated dismissal of my concerns where others have done a good job at patiently and cordially explaining to me what happened, that there was miscommunication, and why they feel the current moderator team size is good. We have a meta so we could talk these things out, I feel like trying to silence community members by shaming them for asking the "wrong" questions is not the way to go. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Dec 11 '19 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ You didn’t really ask a question you made a demand. I see no question at all in the OP. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Dec 12 '19 at 0:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri To add to what doppel said, our flag-handling time is well below the threshold for concern that CMs have for the network, so there doesn't seem to be a systemic issue from our end. I'd estimate that flags between 7am-3am EST are seen by at least one moderator within an at most hour (maybe 2). Usually much less during US business hours. So if you see a flag dwelling for a long time, we've almost certainly seen it and are monitoring the situation or the resolution is simply taking that long. But, seriously, if you are noticing that we are lacking in certain areas, we want to hear that. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Dec 12 '19 at 1:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplksaysreinstateMonica It is not a demand. It is a proposal, a discussion-opener, a statement, brought up for polite and friendly discussion among the community. It has been evaluated with due criticism by several members of the community, including our current moderation team, which is nothing but appropriate and helps me understand what happened, why these decisions were made, and what are the plans for the future. We have a better understanding, so it was useful. Please don't shame other members of the community for speaking up about their concerns. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Dec 12 '19 at 9:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Thanks, I didn't know there was a network-wide threshold value. I think an hour or two sounds a bit longer than I'm used to in other site moderation but if you feel it's fine and blatant offenses are handled fast regardless, it's good enough for me too. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Dec 12 '19 at 9:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri Handling flags within an hour or two is relatively fast in scope of the entire network. Being volunteers it's not unusual for moderators to mostly only check their sites once a day; some check less often than that. (Our team here is currently more active than that.) Mod teams usually do not aim to have a super fast flag resolution time (we're not being paid for that, or at all), we just aim to overall keep the site operating well. If there's something urgent such as a rude/abusive post then we recommend bringing it up in chat so people can cast extra flags to resolve the situation. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 12 '19 at 12:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri Worth noting here that we don't get notified about flags in any way if we aren't actively on the site. Unlike pings or comments or answers, there is no kind of push notification to tell us there's an issue (eg, push notifications on the SE app, neglected as it is). If there's ever a severely time-sensitive issue that needs immediate moderator attention you could try pinging me in chat for example (which does push notify me eventually). Generally, these kinds of cases don't come up very often though from what I've seen. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Dec 12 '19 at 17:32
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I’m not a mod anymore but I can speak to the 2017 election and discussion and the lead-up to the latest election.

Stack Exchange generally consults with and defers to the moderator team about how many moderators there should be. It’s more about what the team feels the need for than anything else. The process is pretty much that a CM drops by the mod chat and asks how many election spots it should have and then sets it up. It’s pragmatic and not really much of a discussion. Mods poke a CM about an election, a CM shows up and asks how many and sets expectations about SE’s ability to schedule it in, then goes off and does it. Resignation timing—for actual removal of the diamond and any announcement—is discussed if necessary.

The 2017 discussion was more about the team having some uncertainty with breaking with the original number 3. Asking the community for help making our decision gave us more to think about. Even after that discussion we were leaning to staying at 3, until at the last minute a couple of us thought that having more would make it easier for mods to take breaks. So at the last minute, we asked for two spots in the election.

So the 2017 discussion was less a community mandate and more helping is think through our answer to SE.

Maybe it should be more a community discussion and decision, but SE doesn’t expect it to be, and CMs treat it very much as up to the mods.

I don’t know how the current mod team feels about the number. I can say that expecting a discussion to be a regular part of mod elections would be unusual. It could be made part of the community culture here, but if the mods don’t want their number to be the subject of referenda, I don’t think SE will impose more moderator slots than the team wants.

SE and the CMs generally trust that moderators know best whether they need more or fewer mods. Having been a mod, I know that it gives a kind of perspective on the site that is unavailable otherwise.

I guess the bottom line, aside from providing some background, is this: if the community wants more mods, it would have to get the mod team to want more mods, not just establish that the community wants more, since the team is who SE leave it up to.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I see your point and agree that ultimately the mod team knows best whether they need more members or not, but the main point you fail to address is that the community was mislead to believe we'd have five mods, not four. Those of us who wanted five mods didn't know we had to convince anyone because the mods seemed to be in agreement. I would like that to change in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Nov 28 '19 at 16:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ (I also speak from experience that many teams I've worked with have only realized their frailty when the unlikely-yet-inevitable triple flu hits, but I believe this is one of those things the community can more easily educate their moderators about should the need arise) \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Nov 28 '19 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri Meta questions like that one are awkward for moderators. Silence from the mod team would be conspicuous; answering fully can’t be done without prematurely announcing a retirement that might not be decided yet. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 30 '19 at 18:00

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