Codes of Conduct

Flory, Justin W.

License: CC BY-SA 4.0

This Mission is a short exercise on understanding how Codes of Conduct fit into your Open Source community. In designing a Code of Conduct for a project community, we will explore these Requirements for this Mission:

  1. Quality of writing
  2. Clarity of expectations
  3. Defined structure for handling enforcement
  4. Two to four people responsible for handling sensitive reports
  5. Use an existing Code of Conduct instead of writing one yourself
  6. References

Quality of writing

A Code of Conduct is an international document. Unless you have equivalent translations by native speakers of other languages, the reader may not read or speak English like a native speaker. So, use simple, easy to understand language and keep your vocabulary clear and simple.

Consider this checklist when evaluating on evaluating quality of writing for a Code of Conduct:

  1. Few grammatical, technical, and semantic errors
  2. Seek feedback from diverse people who may not be native English speakers
  3. Avoids complex words or contextual phrases

Clarity of expectations

A Code of Conduct states how your community is expected to behave. But it also states expectations of how things are handled when that behavior is not followed. A clear set of rules paired with examples makes it easier to label certain categories of wanted or unwanted community behavior.

Consider this checklist when evaluating on how clear expectations are set for a Code of Conduct:

  1. Essential verbosity level (a behavioral goal could be no more than 2-3 paragraphs per section)
  2. Focus on broad identifications of negative behavior: Continually labeling toxic behavior is a never-ending rabbit hole. The number of combinations and permutations of bad/toxic behavior is significantly high. It is more rewarding of planning effort to define positive and welcoming behavior. This will make it easier to define examples of what acceptable or exemplary behavior is like in your community.
  3. Err on over-describing what you do want instead of what you don’t want: Aim on setting clear expectations for what behavior is welcomed and encouraged in a project community.

Defined structure for handling enforcement

Inevitably, someone will come along to your project who tests any thin lines in what your Code of Conduct is clear (or not) on. Publicly documenting how moderation and enforcement is reviewed builds trust and sets clear expectations. This does not mean you label out in great detail to the public on how a complaint travels through your organization. But it should be clear on who reviews complaints, when they see them, and why they see them. Even if someone does not know the result or outcome of every step, they should know what those steps are.

Consider this checklist when evaluating on a defined enforcement structure:

  1. Publicly explain how behavior complaints are reviewed and by whom: Identify how a complaint travels through your organization. Create a network or transparent map of how a complaint is reviewed, by whom in the organization, and who defines consequences for unacceptable behavior.
  2. Explain when someone is brought in or added to a complaint review: The consent of the reporter must always be sought for changes to view access of a private complaint. The reporter should know when they will be contacted and for what.
  3. Art. 17 G.D.P.R. - Right to erase (“right to be forgotten”): At any point, the reporter may request an end to an investigation where they are a reported victim. Their identity should be erased from official records. The complaint of behavior does not need to be erased nor of whom it is a complaint of. But the reporter’s contact information must be anonymized and disconnected from other data objects or representations. (Selling or sharing private data on behavior of specific individuals may be a different legal question altogether.)

Two to four people responsible for handling sensitive reports

Responsibility for handling sensitive reports must be explicit. Between two to four people should be included in handling first-contact reports. Having more than one person avoids bias if a report is about the person who handles reports. Sage Sharp has a more thorough explanation of why this is important.

Consider this checklist when evaluating on how sensitive reports are handled:

  1. Recusion in personal cases: If a complaint is about a person who oversees sensitive reports, they are immediately recused of any inclusion in the decision-making process. They are treated the same as a member of the community who was the subject of a report. Their role as a first-responder must not bias the first response for a complaint.
  2. Define elevation criteria: Determine what disciplinary action is available to the group of first-responders and (approximately) when additional elevation is required. This way, complaints don’t get stuck in indecision.

Use an existing Code of Conduct instead of writing one yourself

The previous sections focused on less-talked about, but equally important parts of implementing a Code of Conduct. But what about actually writing the “legal” text? A Code of Conduct is in effect a legal document. In the world of licenses, we are often told not to write our own licenses and instead use one already available and widely understood in our legal systems.

The same mindset is useful when evaluating a Code of Conduct. Avoid writing your own and use one that already exists and is more widely-used if possible. This way, you can focus on the more challenging questions of defining enforcement instead of also becoming junior policy authors.