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It has been a year since close reasons were revamped across the Stack Exchange network, giving individual sites the ability to define a set of custom reasons explaining why a question is off-topic. At that time, SE Community Coordinator Shog9 "seeded" us with an initial set of custom reasons, and directed site moderators to develop and refine their custom close reasons in consultation with the community. This was never done. Despite an effort to get this conversation started at the time—an effort that, it should be noted, originated from the community and drew little attention from the moderator staff—we are still using the original custom Off Topic reasons Shog9 wrote for us a year ago. As Shog9 himself noted during the recent election campaign, we "could probably do a lot better."

At the same time, in a meta post that currently has 16 net upvotes, Shog9 strongly urged us to define the limits of General Reference, including getting a lot more specific about what reference sources should be considered GR for which questions, and helping people understand how they can find answers for GR questions. There was considerable discussion in answers and comments to that question, but nothing ever came out of it. Shog9 has urged us to return to this question and actually come up with a resolution.

What is the process for proposing a change to site policies and governance and seeing it through to resolution? We are very good at chewing issues to death on meta, and very bad at ever actually doing anything to change anything. I made a specific proposal in January to clarify and narrow how the GR close reason should be used. It sits at +13, with 19 upvotes and 6 downvotes. Despite attracting a reasonable amount of discussion, it has never officially been accepted or rejected, and as far as I can tell, no one from the moderation staff has ever weighed in on it at all. I'm not wedded to this proposal, and if I were to propose it today I'd probably make some changes to it. But to not even have it get rejected leaves me wondering where we go from here. If this is not how we're supposed to have these conversations, please tell us what we should be doing instead.

What do we have to do to satisfy these requirements? Does the process need to originate with the moderation staff? If so, why didn't that ever happen? What can we do to help craft a policy that will work for this site? How is the sentiment of the community determined, and to what extent does that sentiment matter? Who makes the ultimate decision, and how will we find out what the decision is? Just tell us what we're supposed to do to help get the process started, and we'll do it. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

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The custom close reasons are set already. They are:

  • Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. A list of these references can be found here: List of general references

  • Questions on choosing an ideal word or phrase must include information on how it will be used in order to be answered. For help writing a good word or phrase request, see: About single word requests

  • Proofreading questions are off-topic unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified.

If you wish to change one or more of these, please post a question on Meta that identifies the specific close reason you think should be changed, provide a clear definition of how the reason is to be applied (including edge cases and examples of questions that do and do not meet the criteria), and if necessary, which existing custom close reason you think should be discontinued in favor of the one you are proposing.

After the community has discussed/voted on your proposal, the mods will decide on a course of action and make changes as they feel are appropriate. The onus is on the OP to accept the answer that most closely reflects the mods' decision.

My own personal recommendation is that we update the underlying policy (linked items from the custom reasons) and not the items themselves. The process for making that change would be the same (post on Meta, discuss, let us know what you come up with). Also, I think "proofreading" could use modification or at least a link to a policy that clarifies what we mean by that.

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In my opinion, this is what the process should entail:

  1. The community raises an issue and makes a big stink about it
  2. The mods acknowledge the issue and post something on meta inviting potential solutions to be posted as answers
  3. The mods discuss these solutions after letting the issue fester for a week and either:
    • Pick the one they like the best
    • Pick a few solutions they can live with and have an official vote on meta to choose between them
  4. Once a solution is picked, it is implemented by the mods
  • FWIW, I have no idea if an actual existing process already exists. This is just one plan that would theoretically lead to an actual change being implemented. :P – MrHen Jun 30 '14 at 19:03
  • 2
    As a community, we're really really good at step 1, and not nearly as good at step 2 and subsequent. – phenry Jun 30 '14 at 19:16

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