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Developing Guidelines for Community Participation

The Event Fund at Code for Science & Society hosted an interactive workshop entitled “Developing Guidelines for Community Participation'' in mid-2022. This virtual event aimed to provide support for Event Fund grantees as they developed their guidelines for community participation. Shannon Dosemagen, a CS&S board member with extensive experience designing event protocols, led the session. Following a brief presentation, participants had time to reflect, and put what they learned into practice. Participants were divided into groups to discuss the values and practices to keep in mind when creating an event protocol.

This article summarizes key points from the session and we hope will serve as a resource for others developing their event’s community participation guidelines. Slides used in the workshop can be accessed here.

Why do you want to have an event protocol in place?

An event protocol that explicitly articulates the expectations for those participating can improve the experience for all attendees. The accessibility of any event is determined in part by how safe it is to attend, and safety is tied closely to one's gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, and other factors (Favaro et al. 2016). Clearly articulated values, principles, policies and processes can foster an environment where participants feel safe and participate more fully. In the case where action is needed, having a predetermined transparent plan and responsible team can ensure efficient and effective resolution of any incidents that may arise.

What are community participation guidelines? How are they similar/different from a Code of Conduct?

Community Participation Guidelines are a broad category of guidance that outline expectations for those that elect to participate in a particular community. Such guidelines may include codes of conduct, accessibility statements, media release forms, and others.

Codes of conduct (CoCs) have become an increasingly common way to outline community norms and practices, making sure that community members understand their responsibilities, and the consequences if a violation occurs. These codes became popular in North American corporations and government institutions in the 1980’s and are often linked to ethic codes in professional associations and fields (Metcalf 2014). Today, CoCs have been repurposed from their early use within corporations and governments, and are now often applied in very progressive spaces. There remains a notable North American usage and the geopolitics of CoCs has become a more recent topic of discussion as groups outside of North America begin to adopt and adapt the practice.

How do you go about designing an event protocol?

1. Determine your core values and principles

When starting a new project or organization, it’s important to first determine what your core values and principles will be.

Values provide purpose and direction to your work. What is the goal of your project? What do you hope to accomplish, and why?

An exercise that can help you to establish core values is to give every member of your team the assignment of considering the cultural markers of your work. From there, your team can collaborate to craft a simple statement embodying the values of your organization.

Principles, on the other hand, can be thought of as tiny algorithms that help you and your team make choices which support your core values. Is this decision moving your organization closer towards reaching your goals? Could this task be set aside in favor of something which moves your organization forward?

Principles are typically created by the leadership of a project, although it’s important to incorporate input from your team members.

2. Build your code of conduct

Once you’ve determined your values and principles, you can start designing your code of conduct. Codes of conduct are created to outline community norms and practices, making sure that community members understand their responsibilities, and the consequences if a violation occurs.

To create a code of conduct, you can task a small team with crafting the initial protocol. It’s important to create a means for those closest to the project, organization and/or community (e.g. team members, community members, volunteers, advisory board members, etc.) to give feedback on the code, as they are the ones who maintain the culture of your community, and understand what values and principles are important within the community. You can incorporate this feedback to strengthen your code of conduct.

When creating your code of conduct, it’s important to include the following.

  • An explanation as to why you have a code of conduct. Ensure that readers understand its importance in creating a comfortable environment for all members of your community. Also clarify the purpose of the code- will it be used during a specific event, or will there be long term implementation within your organization?

  • A short statement on what the organization expects from its members.

  • A summary of actions that the organization does not tolerate from its members.

  • The measures which will be taken if the guidelines are broken.

  • The rights the organization has in regards to the code of conduct. Can the organization change the code depending on the information it receives?

  • A space for participants to indicate that they agree to the terms stated in the code of conduct.

Longer codes of conduct can also include some of the following.

  • Examples of what a member of your organization should do, and what they should not do.

  • Clear instructions on how to report a problem, whether it be technical in nature, or interpersonal. This may change depending on whether your event is virtual, or held in person. It can be helpful to have a specific individual or group of individuals participants can reach out to if they run into any issues. It’s important to give participants a way to privately make reports.

  • if you’re in an in-person space or virtual space, identify who the person is who you should reach out to, whether it’s technical nature, or w/another participant

  • Details on the consequences for violating the code.

  • Citations of other codes of conduct from which you drew inspiration. A resource Dosemagen mentioned includes the GOSH community events framework, which includes a section on codes of conduct and event facilitation.

3. Keep in mind...

It’s important to remember that your event may have participants from many different cultural backgrounds. Know your attendees, and take into account cultural norms when designing your event.

One example, from an event where people from over 30 countries were in attendance, is to include a description of pronouns, and an explanation as to why respecting pronouns is in the code of conduct, as not all people are familiar with the concept of pronouns. It’s important to have a space to be receptive to any questions participants may have in regards to the code of conduct.

Provide the code of conduct ahead of time, so attendees aren’t seeing it for the first time at your event. You can also go through the code section by section at the beginning of the event to make sure participants fully comprehend the code, along with its significance.

Besides a code of conduct, there are other additional guidelines you may want to design for your internal team, audience, or both. This can include accessibility statements, or a media release form. Make sure to consider if there are any other guidelines you believe should be included in order to promote an environment conducive to your event.

Finally, remember that these documents are not static documents. Your guidelines can be improved as your community and community needs shift and evolve. It is important to revisit and improve your guidelines regularly to ensure they stay aligned with your community.

Featured Image by Athira adhi on Unsplash