company February 17, 2020

Community working group updates: February 2020

In this post, we'd like to talk about some of the initiatives that are happening internally at Stack Overflow aimed at addressing and repairing our relationship with our community.

Last year, we announced The Loop as a way for us to share more about our product development process. You can see the subsequent updates here and here. In this post, we’d like to talk about some of the  initiatives that are happening internally at Stack Overflow aimed at addressing and repairing our relationship with our community.

We’ve shared some of the things we are doing in order to better our communication with our community, but we haven’t said much about what’s going on behind the curtain at Stack HQ and around the world. It’s important to us that you know we’re working hard on improvements and to provide you with regular updates, even when we’re not ready to officially “ship” things.

Behind the scenes, we’ve established some internal working groups to work on the problems that we’ve identified. We’ve recruited people from many different areas of the company, making sure that we involved the people with the experience and knowledge needed to come up with sustainable solutions to the problems that you’ve helped us identify and prioritize. These problems share the following four common themes:

  1. How we work with community stakeholders on Meta
  2. How we work with and support our volunteer moderators
  3. How we can more effectively and consistently gather feedback from as many different types of users as possible
  4. How we can keep you all updated on the progress of these initiatives and other community-related plans

Before we dive into that, however, we want to clarify that these groups aren’t formed to make unilateral decisions and “ship” whatever they decide on into the wild. In some cases, the deliverables they have are pretty well-defined (e.g. The Loop blog posts), but in others, the goals are really more about coming up with proposals for new solutions where all of the knowledge, resources, and specialization required to execute comes together in one place. Think of them more as highly-specialized advisory groups than product teams.

So with that said, what have we been up to?

Setting a course and expectations for Meta

We’ve got a broad group of folks looking at the problem of how far out of alignment we’ve become with our meta community. The folks in this group have worked with us for the longest, and many have a long history of working both with and within our meta communities. While we’re aware that meta needs attention at the functionality level, this group’s priority is getting us back into alignment with the community.

This project has unearthed a lot of very strong feelings and opinions, both internally and externally. Many in this group have close ties to people in the Meta community and feel strongly that we should be reaching out to them more and making them a bigger part of our decision making. Others have had experiences that cause them to fear the feedback they receive there. Some of them feel like they just can’t succeed in having conversations with our meta community and worry about how they’ll get their jobs done.

Opinions and feelings about the best way forward are extremely valid things to consider, but the devil is in the details data, too. We’ve spent a lot of time re-examining how we look at engagement on meta in terms of the ways people participate, and how that correlates to their participation on the main site. Looking at data about meta that’s eluded us until recently (we promise we’re not ever going to call it metadata), it’s clear that our focus there needs a lot of work and better resourcing.

We all need to be on the same page about the role that meta plays in decisions, and expectations need to be set and consistently met. We’re close to being done with a plan to move forward and we’ll be sharing it with you soon. The key takeaway for now is that we’ve heard you, and we want to work our way to a place where all of us feel trust and cooperation again.

Working with and supporting our moderators

There are two teams that are exploring a couple different approaches here.

Folks primarily from our community management team have been working on putting together more in-depth training for moderators. The goal of the project is to provide moderators with short courses that dive into issues that they’re likely to face as moderators. From best-practices and guidelines for identifying and handling PII (personally-identifiable information) to conflict management and resolution in online communities, our objective is to set moderators up for success and provide them with a continued path of learning.

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  • Discovery & research: consult with active moderators and find out what kind of materials would be most helpful.
  • Discovery on module format, use cases for discovering the availability of training content.
  • Review of our moderator agreement to include updates surrounding our privacy policy, moderator reinstatement process, and clearer wording (currently being reviewed by legal).

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  • Initial drafts of training modules and proposed moderator agreement shared with all moderators for feedback and discussion.

Additionally, in a recent blog post, we mentioned that we are forming a moderator council. We have determined the structure of the council, but are still working out all of the details. We are going to kick off the process soon by creating a pro-tempore council. The moderators on the pro-tempore council will help finalize and shape the permanent council’s structure. They will also help build the lines of the communication with all of the internal teams who are interested in hearing from the moderators across the network.

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  • Discovery & research: we’ve gathered a lot of feedback from moderators around the network in large and small group settings.

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  • Draft charter for council structure and function to be shared with all moderators for feedback and discussion.

Gathering diverse feedback

We’re putting a good deal of effort into making sure that we gather and analyze feedback in a way that gives us a better understanding of everyone’s perspectives, frustrations, and specific recommendations for improvement. We’re very excited with what we’re learning, even though we’ve got a ton of work left to do.

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  • An in-person meeting with one of our Stack Overflow moderators, with many very helpful takeaways.

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  • Fast coding of free-form responses from all surveys. Problems talk to us with data much faster with more accuracy.
  • Initial discovery for a format to facilitate more face-to-face communication between a diverse group of users and people working on community-facing products across a variety of teams.
  • Initial discovery for a format to hold regular group conversations between folks in our community, product, and senior leadership teams with our community moderators.

We want to say a huge thank you to all of you that have participated in our surveys and interviews so far. Your feedback has been extremely valuable and we look forward to being able to interact with many more of you on a more regular basis!

Keeping you updated

It’s this post! As mentioned before, we are planning to post these updates periodically. In our view, being consistent and dependable in this area is important, so some of these updates might not have a lot of meat to them as some initiatives or projects take time. But we want you to know that these initiatives are on our radar and taken seriously.

In Closing

So this is a broadly unfiltered look at where we are, directly from behind the curtains at Stack HQ. While we will always share the outcome of the important conversations and debates, we want to include you by letting you know what those conversations are. This is especially true if what we’re discussing is how we listen to and support you. We hope we can continue moving forward here and that 2020 brings some much-needed relief and clarity to our community efforts.

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