Over the past 6 years, the OpenCon community has hosted many, many virtual discussions, and while it’s impossible to replicate the dynamics of being together in person, we’ve learned some important lessons for helping to make online meetings more inviting, participatory, and people-focused. As COVID pushes so many discussions online (from regular team meetings to entire conferences), we wanted to share some of those lessons in case they’re helpful in adapting to this shift in hosting conversations online.
We’ve been refining an OpenCon Community Call Facilitation Guide, which we’ve shared directly with those hosting community calls, and we’re now sharing it with the wider community. The guide is written in the context of OpenCon community calls specifically; however, many of the suggestions are broadly applicable.
We’ve learned that even seemingly small tweaks can make a big difference, and we hope our experience can provide one more piece of backup to the community as so many make this shift so quickly. Thanks to all of the OpenCon community call hosts who put incredible effort into leading these discussions and to Joe McArthur who led the creation of this guide.
[October 31, 2019] The OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee has decided to remove Jon Tennant from the OpenCon community and disallow his participation in future OpenCon events—in-person or online.
Details about OpenCon’s code of conduct policies, including instructions for submitting a report, are available at https://www.opencon2018.org/code_of_conduct.
Exploring this year’s Open Access Week theme of “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge,” Antoinette Foster reflects on underlying, often-invisible causes of exclusion and marginalization in research and calls on each of us individually to do the important work of critical introspection as an important first step in working collectively to make research more inclusive.
Written by: Antoinette Foster, PhD Candidate at Oregon Health and Science University
Does scientific research allow space for everyone, regardless of race, wealth, ability etc., to participate equally?
Does your program, department, or institution explicitly or implicitly create a scientific research environment that selects for a specific demographic of people to participate and thrive?
Who am I?
My name is Antoinette Foster. I am a black Latina woman, an activist, and a PhD candidate in neuroscience.
Who is this article for?
For people who believe research is not exclusionary, for those who believe it is, and everyone in between.
What’s my goal in writing this?
My objective is to present ideas to consider, evaluate, and apply your own critical thought process to. I hope readers remain curious, open, and honest about their thoughts and feelings as they read this. As researchers, our curiosity and ability to think critically represents core aspects of who we are. We strive to be seekers of objective truth, and we see value in alternative ideas that may hold merit. Your expertise in curious, objective, critical thought will be powerful tools in this discussion.
A common response to the questions above may sound something like this: “Of course we are a welcoming institute [department, program, work environment]. First of all, it is illegal to practice discrimination in the workplace. We let anyone apply to graduate programs, post-doctoral positions, and faculty/staff positions. In addition, we have ‘diversity quotas’ and pipeline programs to increase diversity. We even offer diverse individuals monetary incentives to come to our institution.” A typical retort might sound like, “Yes those things are true, but what about [insert an example of an exclusionary practice or inequity]?”. Then, a policy might be implemented to address the inequity; it is cited as an example of a proactive inclusion effort until another exclusionary practice surfaces. The scenario plays out over and over: wash, rinse, repeat. In a sense, both arguments are accurate. Some people are able to point to attempted efforts to create more equity, and others acknowledge areas that still need improvement.
I wonder if this approach makes sense. It reminds me of picking mushrooms. We pluck the fruiting body, addressing one mushroom after another, while completely overlooking the vast, strong, and invisible interconnected system beneath our feet. This foundational core of the mushroom is the very structure the fruiting bodies rely on for survival. The mushroom is merely a small manifestation of the much larger organism. Similarly, is it possible that the foundational core of academic research, ie. the core of what research is built on, undermines our own efforts to address social inequities seen in science? I cannot provide a comprehensive answer to these questions, but I would like to propose a possible framework to you while you consider these questions.
I believe we can start to understand our foundational structure by understanding what the research community thinks is important- What are our collective values and beliefs? For instance, we value objectivity because we believe that science should not be influenced by personal interest or community bias. One way the scientific structure reflects this value is by requiring external review for publications and grant applications. Researchers participate within this structure by submitting publications and grants. We can view this participation as a behavior. The value of objectivity and the related beliefs, structure, and behaviors are woven into the fabric of the scientific culture. Therefore, a possible model to find our foundational structure may look like this: Our values (what we think is important), shape our research structure (how we organize ourselves to do science). Our values also influence our behavior and attitudes (how we actualize, manifest, and justify our values), and our structure provides the framework where we execute our behavior. These elements create our research culture. To summarize:
I use this framework to understand the relationship between our values and how we embed these values and beliefs into our structures and culture. I also use this framework to understand how our structure and culture drives, supports, and protects our behaviors, and most importantly, how this may set a foundation for inequity.
What are other values we hold within research? As a neuroscientist, I am more familiar with values we hold within the scientific research community, but I imagine many values are universal. For example, we value researcher autonomy, i.e. that principal investigators (PI)/mentors should have autonomy over the direction of their research and how their lab is managed. Though this concept is not inherently bad, it becomes problematic when we assume PIs will treat their employees ethically and we grant autonomy without much supervision. We create a system (the lab) with little oversight and are hesitant to become involved when the environment seems amiss, all in the name of protecting autonomy. In the same vain, we value money. We might grant flexibility to unethical behavior if the PI receives large grants and runs a scientifically successful lab. We also value prestige and do not want to tarnish our program/institutions name, so we grant additional leniency to problematic behavior. Our actions, or lack thereof, speak volumes about how far we are willing to go to protect our core values. We can argue about the universality these specific values and behaviors, but I would bet most of us know of someone somewhere who has suffered as a consequence of “respecting” an employer’s autonomy. Our values of autonomy, money, and prestige lead us to behave in ways that protect our values, even in the face of dysfunction. In essence, our values can create and support systems that protect unethical behavior, while simultaneously devaluing those who are the target of unethical behavior. Unchecked values and behaviors allow us to create systems that have the potential to hurt others, often times victimizing those with less power. This is the opposite of inclusion.
What are other unchecked values that may drive exclusion and inequity? Here are two additional examples:
Value/belief: Sacrifice - We believe a “good scientist” puts science above all else.
- Toxic when: We believe this regardless of a person’s financial stability, family or community support, mental health, etc.
- Excludes: Those with less wealth who cannot afford unpaid internships or low wage stipends, single parent homes with little support, those with mental health needs (anxiety and depression are common in researchers)
- Selects for: Those with financial resources, community support, & access to health care
- Embedded in system/behaviors: Acceptance to graduate programs is dependent on previous (typically unpaid) internships. We view sacrifices made as a badge of honor regardless of the impact of the sacrifice on the individual.
Value/belief: Similarity - we value those who have similar values/paths as ourselves. We believe similarity is better.
- Toxic when: The decision-making bodies are homogenous and we consciously/unconsciously select for people similar to us
- Excludes: The demographics of people not represented in the decision-making process
- Selects for: The demographics of people represented in the decision-making process
- Embedded in system/behaviors: Homogenous decision-making bodies, biased grant funding based off value similarities or ‘scientific nepotism’ (association with well-known scientists results in a higher likelihood of funding/acceptance into positions)
These factors all shape and protect one of our most dangerous attitudes in research: If I can do it, why can’t they? If this woman can do it, why can’t she? If this black person can do it, why can’t another? We compare individual characteristics without examining the entire system. We subconsciously engage in determining someone’s ability and worth based off of simple comparisons and anecdotal evidence that does not consider the larger structural inequities.
If culture is merely an assembly of shared attitudes, values, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization, we must ask ourselves what these attitudes, values, and practices say about our research culture. As a black Latina woman from a low-income background, research culture holds values, beliefs, and attitudes that lay the foundation of a system that actively excludes someone like me. We can have as many pipeline programs as we want. We can require and attend cultural sensitivity trainings. We can abide by “diversity quotas” and include the words “diversity, equity, and inclusion” in every mission statement we make, but until we become deeply introspective about what our real values, beliefs, and attitudes are and how they drive the structures we create, we will continue to participate and perpetuate an exclusionary culture.
These problems are deeply interconnected and challenging, but remember…
Anything we’ve created, we can change.
These problems are not too big.
But where do we start?
Start with the only thing you have control over: yourself. Start with self-assessment of your own values. There are many free online resources to help guide you. If you value autonomy, money, and prestige-great! Now, ask yourself, “At what cost?”. Do I believe in autonomy to the point of abuse? Do I value prestige over safety of others? Finding your limits helps ground you for your next steps.
Now that you are armed with your own values as a guide, determine the values of your program/department/institution. Is there alignment or misalignment? Collaboration is key here. Different perspectives will help you gain a fair assessment of your organization’s values, so talk to your colleagues. It would be helpful if these colleagues were diverse in a multitude of ways as they may notice implicit values you don’t. Is your department lacking diversity? Reach out to colleagues in different departments or even across institutions: the values that set the culture may be universal.
Now for the hard part - you must ask yourself in a moment of genuine honesty - Are my values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors contributing to a toxic/exclusive culture? Is the institution/department’s values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors contributing to a toxic/exclusive culture? It’s okay if there are incongruencies between where you are and where you want to be, as long as you are prepared to shift in order to align yourself with values that are supportive and inclusionary. Fight the temptation of becoming paralyzed with guilt or shame at your own shortcomings, as this only inhibits productive change. Instead focus on how best to align yourself with values that support the behaviors you wish to see in yourself and in your environment -that’s your goal.
Critical introspection is imperative. Without it, we will passively accept our participation and consequently reinforce the toxic aspects of academia. With it, we acknowledge the power and influence unchecked values, structure, and culture has on us all, and we better equip ourselves to create deeply meaningful change.
I genuinely believe that most people do not want to hurt others and we hold similar values in that regard. I also believe that many of us are out of alignment with our values; whether that is shown explicitly or implicitly through our compliance in harmful systems. This includes me. Critical introspection underlies this year’s theme for International Open Access Week, “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge” and motivated OpenCon organizers to use this year to reflect and rebuild their systems to center equity and inclusion. Their recognition in the importance of values-based decision-making serves as a powerful example for all of us: as we grow and evolve, we can always shift our practices to reflect what we think is important. This flexibility can happen any time; it is never too late as long as it happens with intention.
These problems are large but they are rooted within us through our values, beliefs, attitudes, and behavior, so it makes sense to start within ourselves. adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy, says that what we do on a small scale is reflected on a large scale. Molecules make the protein which makes the cells that makes the organisms that create the ecosystem, and so on. If you change all of the molecules, you change the ecosystem. If we remain open, reflective, and critical, we are engaging in the initial but most important steps of inclusion.
Note: This is cross-posted on the Open Access Week website at openaccessweek.org.
In this third blog post in our series about OpenCon’s code of conduct, we answer some of the recurring questions about the code and how it works in practice. You can find the first two posts in this series here and here. We will continue to look for opportunities to provide more information that can be useful both to the OpenCon community in better understanding our code of conduct and to other organizers in implementing their own codes.
Who is responsible for administering OpenCon’s Code of Conduct?
The OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee administers the community’s code of conduct. They receive reports, investigate when necessary, and determine the appropriate responses. They may seek guidance from experts, including the human resources department of SPARC’s fiscal sponsor, the New Venture Fund, and outside legal counsel. Ultimately, the committee makes the final decision about the most pertinent action to take, in line with the best interests of the OpenCon community. An overview of How We Respond to Reports is provided in the code of conduct itself.
It is crucial that organizational leadership is involved in the process of establishing and refining a code of conduct from the beginning and that the code of conduct—and the code of conduct committee—has their full support. OpenCon’s code of conduct policy and processes have been reviewed by and have the strong support of both the leadership of SPARC (of which OpenCon is a project) and the New Venture Fund.
OpenCon’s code of conduct contains significant detail. What is the thinking behind including details such as a specific list of prohibited behaviors or a description of the reporting process?
In our experience, it has been important to provide as much specificity as possible. Clear, detailed guidance increases the likelihood that inappropriate behavior will be reported and that the code of conduct committee can fulfill its role to provide as safe an environment as possible.
- For those considering submitting a report, understanding clearly what specific behaviors violate the code of conduct, the various mechanisms available to submit a report, and how the report will be handled can reduce uncertainty around whether to report and increase the comfort level with what the process will look like.
- In communicating with those accused of violating the code of conduct, more detailed policy language provides clearer guidelines on what is deemed inappropriate and can allow you to reference the behavior generally without getting into specifics of the report that may compromise the confidentiality of the reporter.
- For those responsible for reviewing and considering reports, having a detailed list of behaviors that violate the code provides better clarity on what behavior is inappropriate as well as a clear basis for action.
If a code of conduct violation is reported during an event, how does OpenCon appropriately handle a report while continuing to run the event?
The code of conduct committee (or whoever has the authority to implement the policy) should be prepared to appropriately handle and act upon any reports made, even in the midst of an intense event with urgent deadlines. Careful scenario planning will be key, especially considering that the team responsible for the event may have significant overlap with the team responsible for responding to reported violations.
We’ve found that it’s important to have a plan for properly handling code of conduct reports while continuing to run a successful event. Based on our experience, we recommend the following preparation:
- Delegate event-related responsibilities to other members not involved in the code of conduct process. Discuss this contingency before the event, and prepare those who may need to assume responsibility for running the event.
- Prepare checklists and a step-by-step process to follow. Train those who will implement the code of conduct and practice running through the steps necessary for addressing a variety of scenarios. Train all others involved in the event to handle receiving a report and to channel the report into your code of conduct process.
- Limit the scope of conversations by prioritizing urgent actions that need to be taken right away (for example, if immediate action is necessary for the wellbeing or safety of participants). Stay true to the process and do not rush decision-making.
- Reserve space that protects the privacy and confidentiality of all involved. This may include space for code of conduct committee discussions, a safe location for reporters, and/or a private area for interviews for those accused of violating the code and any witnesses. These spaces are ideally private (e.g. few windows) and located in different parts of the building or in different buildings altogether.
How does OpenCon handle reports of careless or insensitive speech or other inappropriate behavior that might be appropriately used as a learning experience for participants?
Beginning in 2016, we’ve incorporated a session we call “Open Reactions” into the OpenCon program. Led by a facilitator with the participation of a representative of the organizing team, the 10-minute discussion is held during a plenary session with all participants and invites live feedback about the experience. This creates space where participants are encouraged to raise concerns directly and, if appropriate, where organizers can discuss topics raised by code of conduct reports that were submitted.
For example, a keynote speaker or a question from a participant may have used insensitive language (for example, ableist language). Discussing the situation openly as a group may shed light on the impact of the behavior (or language) and its implications on others. While this group discussion won’t be appropriate for many cases, it can help cultivate a healthy environment where we challenge each other to improve and hold one another accountable in a positive way.
How does OpenCon handle reports where there might be limited information? For example, reports made anonymously or made years after the actual incident occurred that violated the Code?
The same process applies to all reports, regardless of whether they’re made anonymously or submitted after an event—even if significant time has elapsed between the incidence of inappropriate behavior and the actual report.
We take anonymous reports seriously. We believe it’s important to emphasize this and have a process for anonymous reporting in the code of conduct itself, as some may only be comfortable submitting a report anonymously. Anonymity may inhibit the committee’s ability to investigate and could affect what actions can be taken; however, anonymous reports are far better than reports that aren’t submitted at all.
There is no statute of limitations for when a report must be submitted in order for it to be acted upon. While it can be more challenging to investigate and ultimately take action on a report made long after the incident, we take each matter seriously and will follow our process. Code of conduct cases that have previously been considered closed may be reopened and further action considered if additional evidence is reported.
What actions could the OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee take in response to a report?
The text of OpenCon’s code of conduct includes a list of potential sanctions for those who violate the code of conduct.
If deemed appropriate, the OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee may take further action in response to reports. For example, the committee can choose to disclose the identity of individuals removed from the community for violating the code of conduct. In such cases, the committee will not publicly disclose the names of those reporting violations or any details of the reports, due to OpenCon’s commitment to provide as much confidentiality as possible to those making reports.
How does OpenCon support those making reports?
We are committed to protecting the privacy and confidentiality of those who report code of conduct violations and to supporting them throughout the process. We recognize the emotional toll of the experience and the process as it unfolds.
If the report happens at an event, we offer to contact a friend or close acquaintance on-site who may be able to provide support. If the reporter does not feel safe, we will make every effort to provide escorts or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel protected. If some level of coordination is needed (e.g. moving accommodations, scheduling interviews), we try to offer a liaison between the reporter and the code of conduct committee.
In addition, we ask reporters about their preferences on how much and how often they wish to be kept apprised of the process and ensure they are comfortable with the way it’s being handled.
Responding to every unique code of conduct report will take time, energy, and a steadfast commitment to the implementation process. We believe this work is an essential part of responsible event and community organizing, and necessary for creating a healthy environment that is as safe as possible. We hope that this information about our approach can be helpful to others in considering their own policies and processes; however, we also recognize that the context in which this work is done is important and our approach won’t necessarily be appropriate or optimal for everyone.
We are eager to help others who are doing the important work of creating and strengthening codes of conduct for their event or organization. If it would be useful to discuss any of the above or how to establish your own code of conduct process, send us an email at nick (at) sparcopen.org.
We also welcome comments and suggestions on the code of conduct. These should be sent to joe(at)sparcopen.org or added as comments on our public Github issue regarding the OpenCon Code of Conduct.
The safety of the OpenCon community is always our top priority. If at any time you need to make a report, you can submit one through our reporting form, or if you would prefer to remain anonymous, please use our anonymous form.
Today, we’re announcing a shift in how SPARC supports OpenCon to reflect the OpenCon community’s evolution. Instead of hosting a global conference in 2019, we will focus on laying the long-term foundation for the OpenCon community, and will host a reconfigured global meeting in 2020. This decision was driven by the community’s commitment to put equity at the core of its work and represents the culmination of OpenCon’s first five years.
Since launching in 2014, OpenCon has grown from an idea into a global community of next generation leaders working to make research and education more open and equitable. Driven by these emerging leaders, OpenCon has evolved into a global network that has now hosted events in 44 countries and 24 unique languages, reaching more than 9,500 participants. Community members have helped advance open policies at all levels, launched projects and organizations, built new tools, and fostered the adoption of open practices in their local communities. Throughout these efforts, OpenCon’s community has made it clear that equity is essential and inclusion is non-negotiable, and that these values must be built into the foundation of this work—not added on afterward.
From the beginning, the aspirations for open research and open education have been connected to equity: the idea that open systems can be fairer than closed ones and should be explicitly built to address the causes of marginalization. As open research and open education transition from aspiration to implementation, we have an unprecedented opportunity. In redesigning systems for creating and sharing knowledge to be open, we can address deep inequities in the current system.
The decisions we make now—as individuals and organizations—and the values those decisions reflect will determine whether the promise of creating fundamentally inclusive systems is delivered or deferred. Openness can enable equity, but does not ensure it. Equity can only be achieved by design, with accountability, and in partnership with those who have been excluded.
Pursuing this opportunity for equitable, open systems for research and education has become the focus of the OpenCon community. The next generation leaders have taught us that the current time of transition isn’t just a bridge to what comes next. It will define the contours of what the future will look like and what is possible, and we cannot wait to act. Over the next year, we will prioritize aligning how we support the OpenCon community with this focus, a process that will require deep engagement with both the OpenCon network as well as established projects and organizations committed to this work.
The structure of the next global OpenCon meeting will reflect this shift. In the second half of 2020, we will bring OpenCon’s international network of emerging leaders together with more established community leaders to explore ways to advance open research and education that put equity at the core. The goal is to move from conversations to commitments and to create accountability in making progress together.
The OpenCon community represents a global network of leaders who are well placed to assist institutions and projects committed to equity. They can serve as a conduit with underrepresented groups to address inclusion and provide the expertise and feedback necessary for organizations to review their own actions and make internal changes in this area. We will engage OpenCon’s robust network of community-hosted events and calls to catalyze local conversations around the world ahead of the next global meeting, with the goal of surfacing local priorities to weave into the discussions and actions at the 2020 event.
Evolving how we sustain OpenCon over the long term is also a priority. Since its start, OpenCon has relied on annual sponsorships for core support. The generous support from dozens of institutions and organizations has made OpenCon possible to this point, and the flexibility of this model has helped OpenCon to evolve; however, this model also has limitations. Over the next year, we will also focus on developing a long-term sustainability plan to provide the support the community needs.
This is just the beginning of the conversation we hope to have about what’s next for OpenCon, and the community’s input throughout this work will be essential. To start this process, we will have two open calls to provide more context on this shift for OpenCon and to begin to get feedback from the community. The first will take place at 16:00 GMT on August 21st (timezone translator here | register here) followed by a second at 09:00 GMT on August 22nd (timezone translator here | register here).
We’ve seen firsthand the leadership the next generation is already providing in building systems for research and education that are equitable by default, and we believe there is nothing more important than supporting this leadership to make progress together. We hope you will join us.
Ahead of OpenCon 2018, we are today releasing an update to the OpenCon Code of Conduct. This update is informed by our experience putting the code to use during and after the 2017 meeting and the lessons learned as a result.
As we described in a blog post earlier this month, healthy communities are only possible when the individuals within them feel safe, and an effective code of conduct is essential to providing a safe and welcoming environment for participants—both in-person and online. We recognize that the work of improving the code of conduct and its implementation is an ongoing process, and the changes that we are releasing today reflect our latest thinking on how to work to create a healthy community, as well as our intention to continue learning and making improvements.
You can read the revised text of OpenCon’s code of conduct here and access the previous version here. To help provide clarity, we’ve cataloged the major changes in the revised code section by section below, in the order they appear in the code. We hope this will help clarify precisely what has changed and also provide insight into the thinking behind the updates. We would also like to note this revision has benefitted from extensive conversations with and feedback from the human resources team at our fiscal sponsor, the New Venture Fund.
As always, we sincerely appreciate your feedback, and avenues for providing feedback are listed at the bottom of this post.
OpenCon Community Values Statement
At the top of the text of the code of conduct, you will now see a link to the OpenCon Community Values Statement. We combined two sections from the previous version of the code—the Diversity Statement and OpenCon Community Values—to create this new document that describes the positive values we want to reflect throughout the OpenCon community.
We separated out these two sections, because we wanted the code of conduct itself to be as clear as possible about the standard of behavior we require of participants in the community and the consequences of behavior that violates these expectations. However, we also wanted to be explicit about the positive values and behaviors we hope community members will exhibit, which are described in the values statement.
We renamed what was referred to as the “Code of Conduct In Brief” at the top of the code to “Participation Guidelines,” in order to emphasize that this section provides a summary of behaviors expected of participants in the OpenCon community.
Key changes in this section include updating the title of the second paragraph from “Be careful about the words you use. Is the language that you’re using discriminatory?” to “Be considerate in your interactions with others and careful about the words you use. Is the language that you’re using discriminatory?” The updated language broadens the point about language to cover interactions generally. This change has been accompanied by guidance on unconscious bias and microaggressions, with a definition of the latter added as a footnote. We also replaced some specific examples of problematic language with more general text describing the types of language that should be avoided.
Anti-Harassment Policy: At Events & Online
The opening of this section was modified from “We value your attendance” to “We value your participation.” This change speaks to the range of activities this code of conduct covers—both in-person and online. We felt that “participation” was a better way to describe how individuals engage with the community, since “attendance” fits well with participation in events but is not as accurate for online engagement.
This section was also updated to clarify exactly when the code of conduct applies. The previous language (which appeared in the “Definitions” section) read that “Our Code of Conduct and Anti-Harassment policy extends to all hours and aspects of OpenCon.” This was updated to instead read that the code “extend[s] to all aspects of OpenCon where an individual’s behavior affects the ability of others to participate.” Instead of referencing time (i.e. “all hours”), we felt it was more appropriate to clarify the code covers all areas within the scope of OpenCon—in-person and online—where an individual’s behavior can negatively impact the ability of another to participate in the community.
We also adjusted language in this section to ensure that we can fully commit to following through on actions as described. The main change here was to modify the language that said “conference staff will… provide escorts” [to those making reports] to “conference hosts will make efforts to provide escorts.” This does not signal a change in our intention to support those making reports as much as we possibly can; however, we believe it better captures the potential complexity involved in providing support mechanisms to reporters and reflects that despite our best efforts, there may be circumstances where we might not be able to provide an escort at all times.
We also removed language in this section reserving the right to remove someone from the conference without a refund. While removal from the conference and community are still potential sanctions, doing so without a refund (if a registration fee is paid, for example) could create unintended legal liability that is best avoided.
While we kept the important clarification that sponsors are subject to the code of conduct in the same way as participants, we removed language that specifically referenced sponsors’ use of sexualized imagery or creation of a sexualized environment. We felt the prohibition against these activities was sufficiently captured in the rest of the code of conduct.
The Definitions section contains the most significant updates. The main adjustment was to separate sexual harassment from other types harassment, to define sexual harassment independently, and to provide specific examples of what constitutes sexual harassment. Based on past incidents submitted through the OpenCon code of conduct reporting process, we felt it was crucial to make the prohibition against sexual harassment as visible as possible and to enumerate the behaviors that constitute sexual harassment.
We also updated this section to provide a definition of other types of harassment, as well as additional specific examples of what constitutes other harassment, where the previous version of the code only defined harassment through examples.
Finally, we kept the clarification on the types of complaints we will not act on, but we reformatted them from a list to a paragraph for concision.
We changed the primary suggested route for submitting a report to a Google Form. Our past experience indicates that the structure of a form may help facilitate submitting a report.
We have also kept our previous primary methods of submitting reports—emailing, texting, or calling key organizing staff who are also on the OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee at the contact information provided—as well as a separate Google Form for anonymous reports. Though the anonymous and non-anonymous forms are nearly identical, we felt it was important to maintain a totally separate form for anonymous reports (rather than simply making the reporter name field optional on a single form) to avoid creating unintended pressure on anyone to provide their name.
This section was also updated to clarify how the code of conduct operates in spaces that are organized by the OpenCon team directly (the flagship conference and virtual spaces like community calls) and those that are organized locally (OpenCon satellite events). This revision clarifies that satellite hosts are responsible for implementing the code of conduct at their events, but that individuals who are not satisfied with how reports are handled by satellite hosts can contact the OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee for support. This change is also reflected in the following section, “How We Respond to Reports.”
We’ve identified providing more support to satellite event hosts in areas related to the code of conduct and reviewing the relationship between satellites and the overall OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee as an important area for review as we continue to refine the code of conduct and its guidelines and implementation.
How We Respond to Reports
This section describing how we respond to reports was updated to reflect our use of a Code of Conduct Committee, comprising members of the OpenCon organizing team and representatives from the community.
The updates in this section also clarify that anonymity or wishing not to disclose key details (like the name of the person being reported) may inhibit the ability of the committee to take action as a result of a report.
Throughout this section, we replaced the word “harasser” with “the accused.” This change was made to reflect that, if necessary for the safety or well-being of the community or individual participants, some sanctions may be imposed before it is possible for a full investigation to occur.
We also want to ensure that we can confidently follow through on the sanctions listed in the code of conduct. For this reason, we removed a few of the sanctions previously listed, including:
- “Requiring that the harasser avoid any interaction with, and physical proximity to, their victim for the remainder of the event.” We felt that this would be difficult to guarantee, especially at an in-person event where participants are often all in the same room. If a participant’s behavior violated the code of conduct in such a way that they should avoid physical proximity with another participant, we felt removal from the event altogether would be the most appropriate action to take.
- “Removing a harasser from membership of relevant organizations.” Since we can only control who can participate in the OpenCon community, we can only commit to removing individuals who violate our code of conduct from OpenCon spaces, both in-person and online.
- “Requiring that the harasser refund any travel grants and similar they received (this would need to be a condition of the grant at the time of being awarded).” As mentioned in the Anti-Harassment Policy section above, we felt it was best to remove any financial components from potential sanctions to avoid unintended legal liability. Due to the financial precarity many OpenCon participants may face, requiring the refund of travel grants or removal from scholarship-funded accommodations could negatively impact those accused of violating the code of conduct in ways that are not appropriate or that could create an unsafe situation. If removal from the conference hotel where other participants are present is felt to be necessary, we will arrange for alternate accommodations as needed and at the organizer's expense.
- “Publishing an account of the harassment and calling for the resignation of the harasser from their responsibilities (usually pursued by people without formal authority: may be called for if the harasser is the event leader, or refuses to stand aside from the conflict of interest, or similar, typically event staff have sufficient governing rights over their space that this isn't as useful).” In certain circumstances, we may disclose that a named individual has been removed from the community; however, we are unlikely, as organizers, to disclose the detailed specifics of a report in order to protect the identity of the person making the report and respect their privacy.
We also added an additional item to the sanctions list: “Being reported to the proper authorities.” In circumstances where we believe a participant’s behavior has violated the law and that they pose a significant threat to the safety of the community, we reserve the right to contact the proper authorities. While we would never take such action lightly, we feel it is important to be clear that we will contact the proper authorities if we feel it is necessary. As with other sanctions, this decision will be made in consultation with the person submitting the report.
The revised code of conduct we are implementing today reflects the lessons we’ve learned to date and our best judgment in how to make OpenCon a safe, welcoming environment. We will continue working to strengthen both the code itself and its implementation. We welcome your feedback on this revision and will carefully consider the community’s suggestions when making future revisions.
Comments and suggestions on the code of conduct should be sent to joe(at)sparcopen.org or commented on our public Github issue regarding the OpenCon Code of Conduct. As with previous codes, we encourage others to reuse and remix our code of conduct for their purposes if helpful.
The safety of the OpenCon community is always our top priority. If at any time you need to make a report, you can submit one through our reporting form, or if you would prefer to remain anonymous, please use our anonymous form. Alternatively, you can make a report by email to either of the addresses below:
Nick Shockey: nick(at)sparcopen.org
Nicole Allen: nicole(at)sparcopen.org
At its core, OpenCon is a community, and healthy communities are only possible when the individuals within them feel safe. Because of this, we have been working continually to strengthen the OpenCon code of conduct—both the code itself and the guidelines around its enforcement. We feel it is essential that the code make clear the expectations of community members, provide a variety of options for reporting, and effectively address incidents when individuals don’t live up to the values of the community and others are harmed as a result. Like broader efforts around equity, diversity, and inclusion, improving OpenCon’s code of conduct and our policies to make the community as safe as possible is a continual process, not an end point.
Following the 2016 OpenCon meeting, we became aware that OpenCon’s code of conduct was not supporting the community in the way we feel is necessary. We heard informally that behavior that violated our code of conduct and negatively impacted participants had occurred, but we were unable to confirm key details surrounding the specific behavior and the individuals affected. No reports were filed by participants that year (or previously). This made it very clear to us that simply having a code of conduct was not enough and that a code of conduct could only help keep our community safe if people felt comfortable using it. It is our responsibility as organizers to use all of the tools available to us to support individuals in coming forward to report inappropriate behavior and to avoid incidents in the first place by making clear what is expected of participants.
Driven by these concerns, we focused on making improvements last year in how we communicate the code of conduct, in the options for making a report, in our process for responding to reports, and by attempting to reduce alcohol consumption at the flagship event. Those improvements include:
- Adding an anonymous reporting option to the code of conduct
- Revising the summary at the beginning of the code of conduct to more clearly explain what is expected of participants and what behaviors are inappropriate
- Adding more detail about our plans for supporting those submitting reports and potential sanctions for those who violate the code of conduct
- Highlighting the code of conduct and expectations for appropriate behavior both before and during the flagship meeting
- Establishing a code of conduct committee with representatives from the community to respond to reports
- Creating detailed internal guidelines for responding to potential reports in various scenarios
- Limiting free alcohol provided at social events
During and following the 2017 meeting, we received our first reports through this updated process. Actions were taken during the meeting to respond to incidents, support those making the reports, and address the inappropriate behavior with the individuals who violated the code of conduct. In the process of responding to these first reports and in follow up conversations with the human resources team at our fiscal sponsor, we identified areas for improvement in the code of conduct itself, in how we respond to reports, and in how we close reports and notify everyone involved of the outcomes and relevant actions taken.
Initially, we believed these updates should be in place before taking further action on reports and focused first on these areas for improvement. It became increasingly clear that we should be working through these two areas—improving the code of conduct and closing reports that were opened—in parallel rather than sequentially. Upon realizing this, we have worked, and continue to work, as quickly as appropriate to review actions taken, consider with our code of conduct committee if additional actions or sanctions were needed, and inform all of those involved of the result. We commit to learning from these challenges and continuing to improve how we handle any reports in the future.
We are consistently in awe of the positive impact that members of the OpenCon community have—locally, nationally, and internationally—and we believe that working our hardest to ensure participants’ safety and an environment free from harassment is fundamental to OpenCon and any efforts to build a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive community. As part of that commitment, we will soon release an updated version of our code of conduct, its enforcement processes, and a blog post explaining the key improvements in the new version. We would welcome your feedback on this revision, which we will consider when making future updates to the code.
The safety of the OpenCon community is always our top priority. If at any time you need to make a report, please contact us at the email addresses below or via our anonymous submission form here.