The Secret Sauce, Ep. 10: Why Codes of Conduct Matter

Codes of Conduct aren't just lip service; they play an important role helping make communities, organizations, and events more inclusive. Our founder and CEO George DeMet shares the how and why with real world examples of the work and research he has done related to Codes of Conduct.

Codes of Conduct aren't just lip service; they play an important role helping make communities, organizations, and events more inclusive. Our founder and CEO George DeMet shares the how and why with real world examples of the work and research he has done related to Codes of Conduct, and why they can make such a huge impact for your organization and events.

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Transcript

AM: Hi again everyone, and welcome to The Secret Sauce, a short podcast by Palantir.net, that offers a quick piece of advice to help your business run smoother.

I’m Allison Manley, an Account Manager here at Palantir, and today’s advice comes from one of the Founders of Palantir, George DeMet, who is going to address the need for having a code of conduct at your organization or event.

GD: Hi, my name is George DeMet, and I’m the founder and CEO of Palantir.net. Today, I’m going to be talking about codes of conduct and how they can help make communities, organizations, and events more inclusive.

First, a little bit of background. I’m currently the acting chair of the Drupal Community Working Group, whose mission is to uphold the Drupal Code of Conduct in order to maintain a friendly and welcoming community for the Drupal project. In the past, I have also helped write codes of conduct for open source community events, including DrupalCon, and have provided consultation and guidance to organizations and groups who are looking to adopt codes of conduct for themselves.

In its simplest form, a code of conduct is a policy used by an organization to establish the standards for behavior and appropriate conduct when interacting with others in a defined space like a conference, workplace, project, or event venue. Almost any venue that serves the public, such a theater, museum, sports arena, or ice skating rink, has a code of conduct posted that sets expectations for people so that they don’t engage in unsafe behavior that interferes with the ability of others to enjoy that space.

In the context of technology communities, codes of conduct fill a similar function, helping to create inclusive spaces where people can feel safe and welcome to contribute. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen all too frequently is that even as more and more people are participating in open source and other technology communities, the number of incidents of harassment has also increased. Technology communities in general, and open source projects in particular, frequently suffer from a lack of diversity, with low participation rates by women, people of color, and other marginalized populations who are frequently the targets of harassing behavior.

A well-written and implemented code of conduct can help address those issues by making it clear that communities value openness and diversity, and are committed to providing an inclusive space that is free from harassment and where all kinds of people can contribute in a professional manner.

Just having a code of conduct won’t get rid of every issue, but making sure that everyone underst ands the values of your community and the ground rules for interacting with others makes a huge difference. A good code of conduct will have the impact of making it easier for everyone to participate in your community.

So, how do you go about drafting a code of conduct? Fortunately, there’s a ton of great resources out there that provide a great foundation that you can build upon to meet the needs of your organization or community. Don’t worry, we’ll provide links to all of these in the description of this episode, as well as on our website at palantir.net.

For conferences and other events looking for a good anti-harassment policy, the Ada Initiative’s Conference Code of Conduct is a great example for others to use. What it does well is make it clear that harassment will not be tolerated at the event, provides examples of what kinds of behaviors constitute harassment and tells folks how they can let event staff or organizers know if they feel they’ve been subjected to harassing behavior.

The code of conduct that we use at Palantir for meetups and other events that we host is based heavily on the Ada Initiative code, with some additional language borrowed from the code of conduct used by the Drupal Association for DrupalCons and other events.

It’s very important that everyone who attends your event be aware that you have a code of conduct and be able to easily access it. That means that in addition to having it posted on your event website, you should also have a printed copy on display at the event itself, usually near the entrance or event registration desk, and if you have a printed program guide, it should be included in there as well. It’s also a really good idea to mention the code of conduct at the beginning of your event or during an opening plenary session and point out who to talk to if someone has something to report.

Which brings us to the question of enforcement. One mistake a lot of events make is adopting a code of conduct, but not creating sufficient mechanisms to enforce it. In some cases, where the behavior in question is endangering the physical safety of another attendee or breaking the law, the answer is obvious: event staff needs to immediately remove the perpetrator from the premises and call the cops if necessary. Often though, the answers aren’t always that clear-cut, and it’s important that your event staff or the person in charge of enforcing the code of conduct knows how to handle the situation.

Ideally, you want to have multiple people who are empowered to handle code of conduct reports, and you need to have those people fully understand and appreciate the responsibility they have, as well as be folks who attendees can feel safe talking to and can trust to handle their reports with discretion.

Now a community code of conduct operates on most of the same principles as an event code of conduct. While an event code is largely designed to govern in-person interactions at a conference, meetup, or other event, a community code of conduct helps set the standards for conduct when it comes to the way we collaborate and communicate with others. I believe a community code of conduct should be built around and reinforce the shared values of the community in question.

In my work with the Drupal Community Working Group, a lot of the issues that we deal with are not harassment issues, but conflicts between people who are really frustrated with one thing or another and end up lashing out at each other in negative and unproductive ways. In those cases, we usually find ourselves in less of an enforcement role and more of a mediator role. One of the core tenets of our community code of conduct that is we treat each other with respect, even when when we disagree, and often just reminding people of that can be enough to alleviate the situation.

Sometimes however, you do end up with a situation that requires a greater level of intervention, and that’s where it’s really important to have a good conflict resolution policy and process. In the Drupal community, we encourage people to work things out between themselves whenever possible, asking for help from others as needed. We think this approach helps give people more control over the outcome of their dispute and is more likely to lead to a lasting resolution.

If that’s not possible though, folks can escalate to the Community Working Group, and we’ll do what we can to help resolve the situation. We are very clear, though, that under no circumstances is bullying or harassment tolerated within our community, no matter how long you’ve been in the community or how many contributions you’ve made.

In addition to the resources we provide on the Drupal Community Working Group pages, another good place to check out is the Django project code of conduct, which has also been adopted by the jQuery Foundation and others. The Contributor Covenant and the Citizen Code of Conduct are also fantastic starting points for community codes of conduct that are used by a wide variety of projects and communities.

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate about codes of conduct in various open source communities lately, and there’s been a lot of misinformation floating around out there. What I can tell you based on my experience is that no matter what kind of community you’re involved with, having a well-written and enforced code of conduct helps create a more level playing field for participation and an environment that helps encourage contribution and involvement that you would not get otherwise.

Thanks!

AM: That’s the end of this week’s Secret Sauce. For more great tips or links to some resources regarding a code of conduct, please check out the transcription of this podcast on our website at Palantir.net. You can also follow us on twitter at Palantir. Have a great day!

Resources

Ada Initiative Conference Code of Conduct

Palantir.net Code of Conduct

Drupal Community Working Group

Django Code of Conduct

Contributor Covenant

Citizen Code of Conduct

Codes of Conduct 101 + FAQ