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Forming a Community-Developed Code of Conduct: What we learned.

This post originally appeared on the Data Carpentry website

Codes of Conduct are important because they define behavior expectations for a community and encourage positive relationships, and because of their importance, care must be taken when they are being developed. Defining the standards to which people will be held when they act as part of a community is inherently difficult. Everyone has slightly (or sometimes radically) different ideas about what counts as acceptable behavior, and most people are surprised that their idea of “acceptable” isn’t shared by all. On the other hand, some people reject the notion that any (legal) behavior should preclude them from being part of a community. In a group like the Carpentry community, with a fluid membership and a culture of co-operative, consensus based decision-making, the development of these standards must be a community process that can handle this complexity. How does this collective ‘you’ decide on behavioral rules for the community that reflect the diverse voices present? And how does this ‘you’ balance the need to provide clear boundaries without writing a comprehensive rule book?

The Code of Conduct has always been important to the Carpentries, but a few incidents this past spring made it evident that we needed clearer guidelines and processes for handling incidents. There was significant discussion around these issues and some community members were also concerned about the way incidents were handled, calling for a closer look at how reports of Code of Conduct violations are adjudicated and what sorts of penalties are appropriate.

In response to this community conversation (here, here, here and here), Software and Data Carpentry staff began looking into both how to improve the wording of our Code of Conduct to more clearly communicate our community standards, and how to make sure our process for handling reported violations is fair and in line with our community’s needs.

After some research, we found that simply revising the Code of Conduct itself was not enough, we also needed to develop specific guidelines for reporting and adjudicating potential Code of Conduct violations that were appropriate for all Carpentry spaces, both in-person and online. We also needed to make sure that these guidelines were developed, approved and enforced by the community they were intended to serve. The Software and Data Carpentry Steering Committees approved a community-based process for revising the Code of Conduct.

In August, Carpentry staff put together a draft of a new Code of Conduct, reporting guide and enforcement manual and sent these around to the community for input. We also put out a call for volunteers to serve on a Policy subcommittee to help finalize the language of this and related policies. After receiving a lot of community feedback, we hosted two Community Calls (previously Lab Meetings) to discuss the new language and further ask for volunteers to serve on the Policy subcommittee. The call for volunteers also went out on our blog. We asked volunteers to share with us how they’ve been involved with the Carpentries in the past and how they plan to be involved in the future, what sort of experience they might have that would help them form this new policy, and how they felt they would contribute to the diversity of the Policy group. Three community members volunteered and were accepted to serve on the subcommittee. We are happy to have Pauline Barmby, Chris Hamm, and Simon Waldman on the committee, along with staff representation from Jonah Duckles and Erin Becker. Tracy Teal and Karin Lagesen also contribute to the Policy committee by serving as liaisons to the Data and Software Carpentry Steering Committees.

The new Policy subcommittee met virtually starting in September to iterate on the draft of the new Code of Conduct language. They worked to incorporate thoughts from the community that had been shared on GitHub discussions, the Discuss list, and comments left on the initial Google doc of the drafted policy. After a series of conversations incorporating feedback and comments, the group reached consensus and presented the new language to both the Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry Steering Committees.

Throughout this process, we knew that it was important to us as a community to have an open conversation about these issues, both to provide everyone an opportunity to make their voices heard and to promote community ownership of the final policy. We hope that we’ve met this goal and helped our community ensure that Carpentry spaces are welcoming to all and that any potential violations of community standards of behavior are handled fairly and transparently. If you have any questions about the Code of Conduct, please email the Policy subcommittee at policy@carpentries.org.

We are incredibly grateful to our volunteer community for their input and to the members of the Policy subcommittee, for their dedication to ensuring that our community remains welcoming to all. Please join us in extending a warm thank you to the Policy subcommittee and to our community for engaging in this important work.

Dialogue & Discussion

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