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NEWS · December 10th 2021

Where is your Code of Conduct?

It's common to attach a code of conduct for new community members. The intention behind this might be good. But for many, it also stops there. It becomes the “terms of service” that no one reads but everyone agrees to and isn't really followed up. So, what is the point of having a code of conduct then?

Lauren Etheridge

Lauren is a Developer Relations Specialist at Sanity.

It is time to rethink how we handle codes of conduct and become more action-based in our approach. It is not enough to show a document if we are aiming to set the overall behavior and communication tone for the organization or community. A code of conduct (CoC) should be a living document with realistic scenarios that reinforce the underlying organizational or community values. Community guidelines are not about making people follow rules but are the first step and introduction to what it means to be a part of a community that is attempting to recognize every member's value. After all, isn't the point of a community to grow, learn, and share with one another?

What is a Code of Conduct?

The common definition for code of conduct is a central guide and reference for members to support day-to-day decision making, communication, behavior, and actions. When was the last time you looked at the code of conduct of the company you work for or the community you are a part of? If a code of conduct is meant to set the ethical tone for how people should operate within an organization, we should do more than write them down and point to their location once. Ethical decision-making, mutual respect, and empathy are not only learned behaviors but they function as muscles; the more you use them the stronger they become.

It should be a living document

If we want employees or community members to communicate and behave in a certain way, it is time to stop storing the code of conduct in Google drive or GitHub and only refer to it when there is a problem after we show it during the onboarding process. When this kind of document is not readily visible, it communicates that its contents are not important. It needs to be integrated into your regular community interaction. It needs to be a living thing.

People are diverse and come into organizations and virtual communities having a wide range of life experiences. We know this is true. If we know that a person's background, life experience, culture, age, gender, ethnicity, and many other aspects can influence the way someone communicates and makes decisions; why would we assume that everyone holds the same knowledge or communicates and makes decisions in the same way?

It's not fair to assume that everyone learns from reading a static document of rules and guidelines. We can't even assume that everyone relates to it in the first place. There might even be good reasons too. Maybe they aren't super proficient in the language your code of conduct is written in. Maybe they don't have the time or attention to deal with it right then. Hence, it's on you to make the contents of the code of conduct accessible in different ways.

A practical example

Showing a written code of conduct to new community members without supplying foundational knowledge, scenario-based learning, and contextualizing the significance of the contents is making the assumption that everyone “gets it” from reading a document once (that assumption is wrong).

In practice, this could look like developing a framework for continuous learning that includes foundational knowledge, scenario-based learning, and impact. Making sure the community has a shared language for inclusive and empathetic behavior and communication is a great first step. This can look like regular messaging in your spaces about the concepts that reinforce the values of your community. Community: Code of Conduct Highlight

Hello Everyone! As we grow as a community, we want to build authentic allyship and an inclusive and welcoming environment. A couple of times a month, we will be highlighting an aspect from our code of conduct and talking about how it relates to expectations for communication and behavior in the community.

Mutual Respect

Mutual respect is understanding that we all don’t share the same beliefs and values. Respecting the values, ideas, and beliefs of others whilst not imposing our own on others.

It is the foundation for honesty, trust, and meaningful communication. In order for relationships to remain healthy, both partners must be equally respected and appreciated. Mutual respect is defined as a proper regard for the dignity of a person or position.

Everyone has value

We are a community, not a clique. This means that we understand that we do not share the same beliefs and values, but we embrace each other with inclusive actions and empathetic words. Seek out others who are different from you, and try to learn from and embrace their experience. You’ll meet folks of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, and experience than you. If it feels uncomfortable at first, that’s okay.

At Sanity, we lead with empathy and mutual respect, so it is up to us to make sure everyone who enters the community understands these concepts. Providing your community whether it's on Slack, Discord, or your social media accounts with brief and frequent messaging like the above greatly increases awareness about the expectations for behavior and communication in these spaces. Once you have a steady rhythm of this messaging, you can use the same bite-sized messaging to introduce scenario-based learning and impact.

Keeping it real

Scenario-based learning (SBL) uses scenarios to support active learning strategies such as problem-based or case-based learning. SBL works because learning best takes place in the context in which it is going to be used. In other words, providing real-world examples of the application of your values deepens the understanding of everyone in the community. Example scenarios also help you illustrate the impact and importance of expected communication and behavior.

Example SBL: Mutual Respect

A common scenario in text-based chat communities is when someone comes off as harsh or brutish in their interaction. Especially in community support contexts, this can be harmful because it increases the threshold to ask for help, especially for beginners who aren't confident in their discipline. Often, there is no ill-will behind a harsh tone, one is trying to chime in, but one may lack the self-awareness or perspective to understand how one comes off.

A way we deal with this in the community (we don't observe it often), is two-fold.

First, we model behavior when our community support team and developer relations interact with the community. We make sure to use supportive words ("no worries!"), relate and validate the problem ("oh, I've struggled with that too"), and we are inquisitive ("what are you trying to achieve") to make sure we understand what they trying to do before offering solutions and being more instructive.

Second, if we do observe that someone is being unreasonably harsh, then we will contact that person and give them feedback and let them know that they can be read as confronting. We do this in the context of also acknowledging that they're trying to help out and that's something we appreciate. In almost all cases, people have expressed gratitude for letting them know, and adjusted their tone immediately. Turns out, most people want to do well. If the situation escalates in the wrong direction, that's the point you can point to your code of conduct and the consequences for not respecting it.

Remember, the reason why you want a code of conduct is to create a welcoming space. It's to have a common point of reference for values. You can exemplify this by creating scenarios that emphasize action, behavior, and consequences. Keep your scenario objective so that you can focus on the behavior and the consequences of the behavior and the choices made in the scenario. This is how you introduce impact. After the scenario, provide a mini point of reflection that gives constructive ways to respond or communicate in the given scenario that reflect the values of your community.

A code of conduct is a necessary document to embody the values of your community, but it's your plan and ongoing repetitive initiatives that will actually impact how safe and inclusive it is when growing.

Have you done something to get your communities' code of conduct more relevant? Let us know!