Getting Started with Codes of Conduct
This exercise is part group brainstorm, part writing. This is best done in person with a group or online.
Open science project leads and Mozilla Study Group leads seeking to attract and grow communities of contributors around their projects.
- Sticky Notes, Pen & Paper (if in person)
- Collaborative document (ie., etherpad, Google docs) (if online)
Codes of Conduct help establish and clearly communicate the sort of behaviors and values prioritized at your event or project. For example a Code of Conduct might describe an environment that is inviting and welcoming, where participants are respectful to others, and the work or resources are truly accessible to all.
A Code of Conduct also communicates to participants how violations will be handled, and indicates that process and support from organizers is in place, in case something bad happens. This signals that you’re serious about the well-being of your community members, and are taking steps to ensuring the event or project or workshop is a positive environment.
As you try to define values for yor your project or event, think of communities you identify with, be they a set of friends, a group of peers, or an organization you feel a part of in some way. What shared values or characteristics do you associate with being part of that community? What makes you return to that community again and again, and how does it welcome others to participate?
Whether you’re leading a project or running an event, there are certain community dynamics that can help boost your work and provide a welcoming environment for others to join. This exercise will walk you through how to build a Code of Conduct with your community.
Steps to Complete
This exercise can be done individually or in a group. Involving other members of your community in the creation of your Code of Conduct will increase shared responsibility and investment in community values. We find the best codes of conduct emerge from real discussion with the community, and reflect real issues the commuity faces. You can draft a COC with members of a community in person, or by circulating an draft document that community members can edit collaboratively.
Whether in an in-person group or online, start by reflecting on the following questions. Take notes about the answers. We've suggested the amount of time for brainstorming on each question, but take as much time as you need. If you are working in an in-person group, it's sometimes best to do a silent brainstorm individually, and where each participant writes responses on sticky notes to share with the group once the time is up. This method allows everyone to get their thoughts down, and prevents early responses from directing the rest of the brainstorm, which can happen in a share-out-loud session.
If working online with a group, put the questions in an editable document (ie, etherpad, Google Doc, etc), and circulate to community members for their responses. Once you've recieved feedback, move on to the remixing and writing steps below. This process will work best when the group of peers represent the diversity of interests and opinions within the community.
What core words would you associate with your community?
These could be values, ideals, or characteristics. Try to keep these to one word answers, if possible. If you are working with a group, have participants jot down their ideas on sticky notes, post the words on a wall and look for common terms, outliers and surprises. If the meaning of a word is unclear, be sure to reach a shared understanding of that term with your group.
(Examples: creative, welcoming, supportive, innovative, fun).
What behaviors do you want to encourage? What behaviours do you want to discourage?
Be specific enough to be useful here, but try not to linger on the negative.
(Examples: Encourage: active listening, constructive feedback, asking questions. Discourage: unwanted physical contact, disrespectful or prejudiced comments)
How does someone elevate an issue, should someone violate the code?
Be explicit in these steps, and keep in mind various options for "elevation," or actions to take when the Code is violated. It's OK (and encouraged, even) to have a few different options.
Examples: Set up a Safety/Code of Conduct committee, and advertise a bit about each person (general information, bios) including a photo. Talk to or email Safety/Code of Conduct representatives at an event or email them with your concern. Note that all discussions or correspondences are confidential. Call or text a Google Voice number, set up specifically for the event.
Who decides what does and does not violate the code? What's an example of how this might be done?
Brainstorm some ideas for what the process would look like for participants. This could include how quickly project leads must respond to reported violations, how decisions on reported events will be handled, how outcomes will made known to the community, etc. Articulating a clear process for participants shows your commitment to providing a safe experience.
What consequences are there for violating the code?
Think through real actions you will take to keep your community safe, healthy, and functioning well. (Examples: The person who violated the code is asked to leave the event. The person who violated the code must discuss their behavior, and how to change it, with the project leads, who then can decide if the person may remain in the community or not.)
How can you make others feel safe and supported all the time?
While Codes of Conduct help prevent bad behaviour and help communities deal with crises, they are also a powerful tool for creating a positive environment. Take a few minutes to reflect on how you can better support your peers, and model the behaviour you want to see.
Refine and Remix
Using the information and examples listed above, create your own Code of Conduct. You can also remix ours to get started.
Share and Discuss
Share the version created with your community for feedback. Make sure your community knows about the Code, and feels a shared sense of responsibility to report any behavior that feels inappropriate.
Code of conduct
a set of rules outlining the social norms and rules and responsibilities of, or proper practices for, an individual, party or organization.
Elevation / escalation
the process of flagging an issue or violation to be addressed by the Safety/ Code of Conduct behavior.
covers a wide range of behaviours of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour which disturbs or upsets, and it is characteristically repetitive. It also includes behaviours that are threatening or disturbing.
treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing is perceived to belong to rather than on individual merit. types of discrimination include race, color, religion, sex, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, public assistance status, disability, and age.
the process of moving from elevating an issue to be addressed, to acting on resolving that issue.
a state of being valued, respected and supported. Often referred to in terms of an event or community, as in an "inclusive event", meaning one that's welcoming and a respectful environment for all.
Follow-up Resources & Materials
- Why You Want a Code of Conduct & How We Made One (Erin Kissane)
- Codes of Conduct 101 & FAQ (Ashe Dryden)
- Conference Anti-Harassment Resources (Geek Feminism Wiki)
- Familiarize yourself with an example of a short, medium and long Code of Conduct>(Geek Feminism Wiki)
- A great list of ways event attendees can help support anti-harassment policies (Geek Feminism Wiki)
- Contributor Covenant: A Code of Conduct for Open Source Projects
- What Makes a Good Community (Sarah Sharp)
Thanks to Erin Kissane, Ashe Dryden, Aurelia Moser, Geek Feminism, Ada Initiative (RIP), Kaitlin Thaney, OSFeels Conference, and many more for their work in this area, help revising and for serving as a model for others (including us).