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.