There are times when I'd like to know which way the community feels about something, so I post to meta and self answer with the options, so people can vote up the one they approve of. It had never occurred to me that there would be a problem with this until today, when my attention was drawn to this comment from Robert Cartaino (Director of Community Development for the Stack Exchange Network):

For future reference, please leave question to open discussion rather than posing all sides of the conversation yourself. If you have an opinion, you can certainly post it as an answer, but it is generally better to let everyone have a voice rather than pre-posting all sides of the conversation yourself. It's not difficult to infer what the community wants from the conversation while allowing for the possibility that there's an issue we have not considered. Polling is generally not a good substitute for discussion. Thanks. – Robert Cartaino♦

The link is to Wikipedia's page on this. There are some good explanations there on why polling can cause problems, but it also makes clear that polling is not forbidden, it just needs to be considered carefully when to use it as it is often counterproductive.

I'd like to see discussion here about when to poll and when not to poll on Stack Exchange as opposed to Wikipedia. As stated in the article, "Wikipedia is not a democracy", whereas Stack Exchange is very democratic in many aspects. I still think that many of the problems with polls will apply here, but I'd like to hear our community's perspective on roughly where to draw the lines.

I've raised this in particular because I've asked a few polling questions already, as have a few others, and I fear unless we discuss it, our example will lead to polling becoming an unthinking default, rather than an occasional tool to complement discussion.

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    $\begingroup$ I've resisted the urge to post "Polling is bad" and "Polling is good" answers. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2015 at 19:09

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In 6+ years working with SE communities, and I have participated in countless examples where a surprising "third option" turned out to be the best solution of all.

You don't get that with a poll.

A poll typically starts: "Should we do {X}, yes or no?" — and users feel compelled to vote rather than voicing a "convincing argument" one way or the other. I cannot count how many times we've been asked to take some action because "five people voted for it in meta" (voting is often that low) and ultimately nothing gets done.

It is a lost opportunity to engage with the community.

Meta is about conversation. Like I said above, it is not difficult to infer what the community wants from the conversation while allowing for the possible that there is an issue we have not considered. Polling does not do that. There is little upside to taking a poll rather than allow folks to speak for themselves. Polling should not be The Go-To Way to solicit feedback from a community. It is a missed opportunity for folks to actually participate.

  • $\begingroup$ I'd be interested to hear your opinion on this question where the answers are to show demand rather than to make a binary decision. Is this an exception or would it have been better to just let it develop organically? $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2015 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @trichoplax Great example. That poll may show demand, but it fails to show why this feature is actually needed or not. There are a few example, but if I have to go to the resource-strapped devs to make a case for this, all I have is "we need this because the CG community wants it" — unfortunately, that is not a very compelling argument. A more convincing argument could have come from that discussion, but it looks like it has already been sanitized of any personal appeal intentionally. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2015 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ In this case it's looking for community members with the relevant language experience to do the work (externally to SE) but I guess we need to convince them too, so your point still stands. I have noticed that even when I include "Please feel free to edit in any reasons/examples" people still tend to go with voting rather than editing, so the discussion doesn't emerge. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2015 at 20:42

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