What is a code of conduct?

A code of conduct is a policy used by an organization such as a conference, workplace, open source project, or event venue. At a minimum it states what behaviors are not acceptable, how the organization will enforce the policy, who the policy applies to, and how to report a code of conduct violation.

Why do you need one?

Codes of Conduct 101

A Code of Conduct is a public statement that sets the ground rules for participating in an event. Our conferences boast attendees from all over the world, coming from many different backgrounds and experiences; our expectations of what is appropriate are not always in line with one another.

What does an effective code of conduct look like?

An effective code of conduct will cover:

1. A statement of intent

What values or goals does your organization have? How do those values relate to the safety of attendees?

2. Who are you working to include?

This is often given as a list of protected groups or categories: gender, race, religion, disability, and so on. Including this is a heads-up to people who have been excluded elsewhere, and your awareness of the details is one of the ways you demonstrate accountability. Skip flexible attributes like political beliefs or professionalism. Those are better handled as appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

3. A list of specific behaviors considered inappropriate

These need to cover common types of harassment and abuse. Specifics are important because they reduce the ambiguity of these requests: it’s easier to understand and follow ‘when someone says they don’t want to talk to you, stop’ versus ‘don’t be a jerk’.

4. An open-ended list of actions the organization may take in response to those behaviors

Participants need to know the range of things that could happen: Are you going to ask everyone to leave? Permanently? Open a mediation process? These details help everyone understand you take their safety seriously, and show people who might not be acting in good faith that there will be consequences.

5. Additional expectations about participation in the organization, event, or space

You have at least one expected behavior to emphasize: you want people to tell you when there’s an incident.

Some communities have other social rules that aren’t directly about harassment, like the Recurse Center’s “No feigning suprise” and “No well-actuallys”.

6. The scope of who the policy affects

Most of our events and groups have some aspect of open participation, so we need to be clear about who’s under these policies. Does it include sponsors? Vendors providing a service?

7. Who to contact to report a violation, and how to contact them

This needs to be specific and appropriate for all of the contexts where your policy is used. Giving the name of the lead responder is preferable to a general “Code of Conduct Committee” identification.

Optional items

If there’s anything else you expect people to do, more details you can provide about your process, or outside resources they can access, include them as well.

Example codes of conduct to use

How do you share it your community?

Make time at the start of your meetings and events to talk about the code of conduct. Particpants need to hear why it’s important and what they’re expected to do.

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