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On Codifying Conduct

Thu May 9 19:00:00 2013

On Codifying Conduct

Time and again I've been in discussions about conference codes of conduct that end up with somebody saying:

All we really need is to say "reasonable person principle required".

At which point the conversation tends to peter out because it's quite difficult to respond to that point without it devolving into a silly partisan argument where everybody's shouting past each other.

So having spent a few months pondering this, I think I have an explanation that works:

Yes, in theory.

No, in practice.

The crucial thing to remember here is that, yes, the vast majority of people are already going to be reasonable - but the people who aren't are the problem, and they're likely to not think they're unreasonable.

Once, some years ago, I was walking from a bar to a club. Somebody was kind enough to run up to me in the middle of the street and punch me in the head. Seriously. The thing that stuck with me, though, was that when they went back to the group of people they'd been walking with they were genuinely surprised that their friends didn't think what they'd done was funny.

So given that people's definitions of reasonable can stretch that far, we really do have to have a baseline standard of what our definition is. After some consideration, I think the code of conduct that we have isn't a bad baseline.

If you read through it, what it basically says is:

  1. Don't be an asshole
  2. If you are, expect people to point it out to you.
  3. If that doesn't work, expect an organiser to explain it to you.
  4. If, after all this, you still haven't worked it out, consequences will ensue.

Which, realistically, is exactly what I think most of us think is what we've always done. The point here is to make sure that we're on the same page of "this is what we were always supposed to have been doing" and to give anybody who hadn't entirely realised that a heads up so that they can cease being part of the precipitate.

It's also essential to have this so that people know it exists. A significant percentage of attendees to any given YAPC haven't been to one before - usually because they're geographically closer to this one than previous venues. This means that there are going to be a bunch of people who have no way of knowing what we've always done, so it's important to offer them a baseline set of expectations.

Finally, we need this so that people know they can speak to an organiser about unreasonable behaviour. That way problems can be solved before they spoil somebody's conference - and there's a clear path to solving them that doesn't involve twitter lynch mobs, so it's far less likely that somebody will accidentally invoke one.

So, from my point of view, the code of conduct exists to convey the following message:

  1. Don't be an asshole
  2. Here is a baseline definition of how not to be one.
  3. We as a community care about this, and the organisers will express that.
  4. Got all that? Good.
  5. Now stop worrying about it and go have a good conference.

All things considered, I think that's a pretty good message to convey.

Roll on YAPC!

-- mst, out.

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