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Part of the challenge is that not only do users need some agency, but we need to believe we have some agency. This is a core part of what your employer violated in September; last year they made an explicit promise to moderators (of agency and several other things), and then they grossly violated that in a profoundly hurtful way that they've refused to mitigate at all. Against that backdrop, changes that appear to shut down feedback channels face an uphill battle.
Meta doesn't scale, I know. I'm not active on SO meta where I hear things have broken down. On my smaller sites, meta still works fine -- not only that, but it helps us actively build community! Main meta is somewhere in between -- not as big as SO meta, bigger than any other site's meta. I've seen main meta be very productive and collaborative, and I've seen it be...not. I don't think that's just scale; it's also tied to trust (which is related to and perhaps derived from agency).
It's important, therefore, to not just say "meta works" or "meta doesn't work" but to drill into what characteristics make it work or not work. You indicated that scale is an issue. Here are some others:
I know that you, Jon, know all this already. But sometimes even when I know something, hearing somebody else say it helps me see it in a new way that then helps me act on it. You know all this, but perhaps, maybe, my commenting on it anyway helps you do something with it to get through to the people who don't know it and seem uninterested in listening to mere users.
Content creators used to be the customers of Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow. They are now a mere marketing target.
Users are targeted with ads like never before, funneled into teams (where all the actual development is going) and the user base is being grown with the evident intent of adding more and more people without a lot of regard to the quality of content -- and this is cynically being sold as being "inclusive".
Unfortunately, the content is free for all so the company can't monetize its quality and the alternative is trying to monetize users and upsell to them. In all practical terms, they are not commercially interested anymore in improving the quality of the content or of moderation. As long as they have users, they will not see the problem. Not really.
I predict that the more expert users will leave or move into side communities in the network, but they will be eventually chased off by either community management or mobs of new, "trained",
This is already happening. The poor quality content disengaged a lot of the top users in the last few years, this recent situation alienated a lot of the most senior (and reasonable) community mods, meta is being killed, neutered or otherwise simply ignored. As proof of this, a lot of the latest complaints were on satellite site metas already. Alternatives to the Stack Exchange software exist and are being worked on by dozens of volunteers. Unless someone changes its course, I can't see this ending well for anyone.
So how's the loop helping? It isn't. It's a tool to enable faster user growth which is a different purpose as meta.