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