Collaboration/Workflows

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See also: the Workflow disambiguation page.

The Collaboration team is still interested in developing this broad Workflows project, but it was postponed in October 2015 in order to focus on cross-wiki notifications and other notifications work. The team is not currently planning work on it in the coming quarters (July 2016 onwards), instead focusing their efforts on improvements to some of the edit review improvements workflows. Please see the Collaboration team's main page, as well as the latest Flow plans, for further information.


Workflows are multi-step community processes that involve discussion, and end with a decision.

Each wiki community has dozens of workflow processes. Examples from English Wikipedia include:

  • Approval of content: Articles for deletion, Articles for creation, Requested edits
  • Approval of process change: Categories for discussion, Templates for discussion, Bot approval
  • Quality review: Good article review, Featured article review, Did you know fact review
  • Proposals: Requests for comment
  • Status change: Requests for adminship, Requests for unblock
  • Reports and investigations: COI noticeboard, Non-free content review, Sockpuppet investigators
  • Appealing to a higher authority: Incident noticeboard, Requests for arbitration

Workflows all have the same basic structure --

  • Somebody poses a question or makes a request
  • Interested people review and discuss
  • Qualified person summarizes the decision, and closes discussion
  • Action is taken (or not, as appropriate)

Workflows are held together by a combination of templates, categories, instructions, bots, gadgets and cultural norms. With limited software support, wiki communities have been very creative at using workarounds to get important work done. There are helpful community-created tools like Twinkle, but only for a few processes, only on some wikis, and they rely upon user-discovery in the preferences pages.

These workflows get more complex and sophisticated as wiki projects grow, because there's a limited number of experienced people doing an increasing amount of work. So where is the next generation of experienced people going to come from? What's the path for current active content editors that helps them learn to use and maintain these increasingly complex tools?

Problem statement[edit]

There are four major problems with the current approach to Workflows on Mediawiki projects.

#1: Attracting and retaining participants

  • An increasing workload, managed by a decreasing number of people willing to do it.
  • The learning curve for the next generation is very steep.
  • Complex gadgets and userscripts are only a stopgap solution.

#2: Tedious and confusing workarounds

  • Workflows use templates, categories and transclusion to get MediaWiki pages to do things that they weren't designed to do.
  • There are a lot of manual steps in these processes, and it's easy to make a mistake.

#3: Affordances vs Instructions

  • If you have to write "Don't write above this line", then you should have software that doesn't actually let people write above the line.
  • Built-in affordances should take the place of lengthy instructions, and reduce the number of mistakes that a user could make.

#4: Workflows around the world

  • The largest wikis have the most complex workflows.
  • Smaller languages try to copy workflows from the larger wikis, but they have to scale down.
  • Wiki communities have different styles -- for example, it's common on Hebrew Wikipedia for people to count votes in order to reach a decision, while on English Wikipedia, voting is mostly used to get a straw-poll sense of the participants' mood.

Building workflows as software[edit]

It would be relatively simple to build a workflow like English Wikipedia's Articles for deletion as software. You create an entry point, and a form that asks for three things: Article name, Reason for deletion, Choose a category. You hit submit, and the software adds all the relevant templates in all the relevant places, and creates the discussion topic as a structured discussion.

But if we approach the problem in that way, we'll have to build workflows for every language and every project. What we need to build is a set of tools based on common components, so that expert users can build workflows for their wikis.

Each community should be in charge of defining their own workflows. Our goal is to help communities to do this in a structured, scalable way.

There's a lot more work to be done, and we'll be sharing more ideas with you soon. Formative research for this project was conducted in July and August of 2015 (results). You can see more information on this project in the slides for our Wikimania 2015 presentation: Workflows - Collaboration team 2015.

Feel free to ask questions on the talk page!