Code of Conduct, Friendly Space Policy and "safe spaces"
Code of Conduct, Friendly Space Policy and "safe spaces" are three major interventions that have been widely adopted by open knowledge and open technology communities across the world. The purpose of implementing these policies is ensuring that events are conducted in a conducive manner while being safe and welcoming spaces for all participants and organisers.
We find that Code of Conduct and Friendly Space Policy are often used interchangeably. The Friendly Space Policy, as its name suggests, is a policy that reflects the values of a group or community and delineates the expected standards of its members' behaviour, especially in their interactions online and in person. The Code of Conduct is a more actionable set of rules that contains specific descriptions of common but unacceptable behaviour, a redressal mechanism for those who may wish to report a violation, and details about what non-compliance may entail. A good Code of Conduct/ Friendly Space Policy for an event may state the measures the organisers have taken to make the event mindful of the needs and requests of its participants. All in all, Code of Conduct (CoC) is an older and better-known term. Friendly Space Policy (FSP) is newer and sounds less officious. Both lay down general expectations of conduct. Neither is meant to preach 'how to behave'. Like any policy or set of rules, the CoC/ FSP may be open to interpretation to some degree. (For the sake of brevity and ease of reading, we have only used the term CoC hereafter in this module.)
A "safe space" is a "physical or metaphorical place for people, usually of marginalized identities, to feel free of judgment or harm", as defined by Dictionary.com. Geek Feminism refers to "safe space" as "a term for an area or forum where either a marginalised group are not supposed to face standard mainstream stereotypes and marginalisation, or in which a shared political or social viewpoint is required to participate in the space... Safe spaces may require trigger warnings and restrict content that might hurt people who have strong reactions to depictions of abuse or harm or mental illness triggers". A "safe space" thus has stricter rules and barriers to entry than spaces where the CoC or FSP are applied. The participants in a "safe space" necessarily have one or more common attributes such as the same political or social point of view or lived experience (of abuse or violence, of belonging to an oppressed or marginalised group, etc.)
Concepts such as 'safe space', 'brave space' and 'friendly space' are being actively discussed and implemented across Wikimedia events. It is a positive development. Individuals, communities and institutions that are starting to embrace these concepts need to take into account:
- How to determine and implement the optimal CoC for an event
- How to support underrepresented groups beyond and after an event held for targeted outreach
- How to be empathetic and civil to another person/ participant
- How to determine and implement the optimal code of conduct
The foundation of the idea of the CoC or FSP is to enforce the basic social tenet of not causing intentional harm to others. Thus, the underlying thought is to make the event welcoming and safe for all participants, especially those who are marginalised or at risk, and to minimise the possibility of harm. Several factors affect the dynamics of an event and, in turn, the rules of acceptable behaviour that govern it. The following points are of extreme importance while drafting and implementing a CoC for any event:
- Scope and profile of the event
- Resources and support structures available to the organisers before, during and after the event
- Plan for implementing the CoC before and during the event. Follow-up measures to be taken after the event
Scope and profile of the event
- Invite-only or public event: The purpose of an invite-only event is usually specific and defined. The participants are selected in advance and the number of participants is known. This information may lend itself to the drafting of the CoC. The dynamics of a public event, such as an edit-a-thon that anyone can attend, are different. Because of this the CoC needs to incorporate provisions addressing a wider range of possible incidences and behaviour.
- General event or event restricted to certain demographics or communities: Examples of the latter are events intended for speakers of a certain language and events for women and gender-diverse individuals. In the case of such events, the CoC may be tailored to the needs of specific demographics or communities, such as providing interpreters. As for an event not targeted at a specific group, community or demographic, the CoC should includes rules and measures for the inclusion of marginalised and underrepresented communities.
- International, national or regional event: This affects the drafting and implementation of the CoC from the perspective of diversity of race, language, culture, place of origin, ethnicity, et cetera. For more, refer to the subsection below titled "Diversity among participants".
- Number of participants: Wikimania, for example, is an annual movement meeting attended by more than a thousand people. WikiConference India 2016 witnessed nearly 250 participants. WikiWomenCamp 2017 held in Mexico City, an event for women and transwomen, had approximately 50 participants. The number of participants determines the kind and amount of resources needed to implement the CoC. In a large conference without hundreds of participants, it is highly unlikely that every participant will be in the position to interact with everyone else. In that case, most people are in a different setting or a part of a different discussion group in every session or day of the event. In a smaller event, say, a three-day workshop attended by 15 people, the number of interactions of each participant with every other participant are higher. Thus, smaller groups of participants are likely to experience more friction.
- Physical event, online event or both: An online event or virtual event is one in which all the participants meet online, interact and do their activities remotely, such as an online edit-a-thon. These activities usually have a trail by virtue of the medium (edit history, IRC logs, IP addresses, et cetera), which makes it easier to record, establish and investigate an incident. The CoC in an online event does not need to have provisions for violations that are possible only in someone's physical presence, for example, inappropriate touching or physical assault. However, the same rules of verbal communication apply for online events as well as physical/ on-ground ones.
- Duration of the event: The longer the event, the more will be the number and kinds
of interactions among the participants. It also increases the number and kinds of
places where these interactions will happen. Those drafting and implementing the
CoC for events of longer durations need to consider these different possibilities.
- Additionally, the CoC usually comes into force before the start of the actual event. For example, the CoC is applicable to emailing lists for registered participants and to planning activities held among the event's organisers. The CoC stays in force till the end of the activities related to the event, such as the debrief meeting among organisers.
- When organisers plan and conduct pre-workshop, pre-training, or pre-work sessions, they need to be mindful that the interactions among the participants build up from this point and might play out during the actual/ main event. The CoC should ideally be implemented for all pre-work sessions as well.
- Format of the event: Unconference, conference, monthly meetup, edit-a-thon, hack-a-thon, thematic workshop for novice editors, et cetera. Events with a free-wheeling format open up possibilities for spontaneity, creativity and fun. However, the content and topic of the sessions and sometimes even the activities that will happen at the event venue cannot be predicted. This makes it harder to formulate and implement a CoC that covers all the possible instances of unacceptable behaviour that can happen at such an event. AdaCamp was a popular series of global unconferences for individuals who predominantly identified themselves as women and were associated with open technology and culture. Take a look at AdaCamp's policies. Other examples of free-wheeling events are BarCamp and Chaos Communication Camp (CCCamp).
- Type of venue: Public place, cafe/ restaurant, hotel ballroom, office building, educational institution, et cetera. The type of venue has a bearing on its physical security and, in turn, on the implementation of the CoC. It also implications for the format and kind of sessions that can take place and the security and privacy of the participants and organisers.
- Amenities available to the participants: Amenities such as a childcare room,
a playroom and nanny for infants and young children, and wheelchair ramps make a difference
to the quality of participation and everyone's experience of the event. Without them,
some people may not able to attend the event at all. However, arranging for these
amenities costs money, time and humanpower. The event policies may be drafted in
view of the availability of such amenities (or lack thereof).
- A relatively low-cost provision worth mentioning here is the " quiet room". It is a quiet space within the event venue for participants to take a break from heated discussions or any other occurrence that might overwhelm them. The space may have cushions and comfortable seating. Participants with mental illness, autism, sensory overload and certain conditions/ disabilities may find the quiet room especially useful. (A word of caution: At no point should it be implied that the quiet room is meant only for people with conditions or disabilities of the physical, psychological, neurological or intellectual kind.)
- Character of discussions/ proceedings:
- If the event is likely to have intense, heated discussions, it is a good practice to make time for an adequate number of breaks and provide a "quiet room".
- Organisers of events must make arrangements for expert facilitation of such discussions rather than depend on 'expert' voices in the room/ discussion.
- Diversity among of the participants: This includes but is not limited to language, religion, caste, culture, race, place of origin, age, economic status, gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, neuro(a)typicality, physical or mental health conditions, and dietary preferences.
- Large in number and homogenous
- Large in number and diverse
- Small in number and homogenous
- Small in number and diverse
- Official or unofficial avenues for communication and interaction before, during and after the event: Such avenues include, among others, the event wiki, event website, mailing lists for the event, social media channels, designated instant messaging channels (WhatsApp group, IRC channel, Facebook Messenger group, Telegram group or channel), after-conference parties, conference reception/ dinner, and places of field visits or excursions. The CoC should encompass all such locations and spaces.
The nature of the participant group at an event may be broadly categorised as:
The more homogeneous the group of participants, the easier it is to formulate an all-encompassing CoC. Linguistic diversity among the participants necessitates that the CoC be translated into multiple languages for the benefit of those who are not well-versed with English or whatever the lingua franca of the event is. Similarly, some practices or gestures that are acceptable or even encouraged in some cultures may be taboo in some others. Some participants may not be aware of the privilege they enjoy over others belonging to a different caste, race, sexual orientation or identity, gender, and so on. One way of tackling the difficulties in drafting a CoC useful for and acceptable to various groupings is to peruse tried-and-tested CoC of events that are appreciated for their inclusivity. Some of these are mentioned in the section entitled "Useful references".
As is evident from this list, it is not prudent to implement a template CoC, even if it has worked well for another event. The nature of an event, its purpose, the participant group and other granularities need to be factored into an effective CoC.
Resources and support structures
The resources and support structures available to organisers before, during and after the event play a major role in determining the efficacy of the CoC and its allied frameworks. Such resources and support structures include but are not limited to:
- Team for drafting the CoC and its allied frameworks
- Diversity and inclusion team
- Dedicated volunteers
- Staff and contractors hired for the event
- Physical safety arrangements (For example, by local security staff or law enforcement)
- Trust and Safety team/ Incident Response team
- Local emergency services (medical and non-medical)