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John A De Goes

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FIOL Code of Professionalism (FCOP)

Code of Conducts are one of the most divisive issues in all of tech: some people vehemently reject them as unnecessary or even nefarious; others extoll their virtues and refuse to participate in communities without them.

Personally, I see COCs differently than most people. I view a COC as serving two functions that I find useful:

  1. Setting expectations for participants;
  2. Holding leaders of a community accountable to prior commitments.

When we participate in different communities that we don’t control, there’s always a possibility we’ll be thrown out because of who we are or what we do. A COC, then, can help inform people under what circumstances they will be allowed to participate in the community, so they can make informed decisions and aren’t surprised by whatever happens.

A COC is also useful to hold community leaders accountable to standards of consistency. Of course, community leaders can refuse to uphold their commitments, but most people do make a strong effort to act consistently with prior commitments. Getting those commitments out in the open for all to see does, I believe, help ensure their consistent enforcement.

For that reason, I’m a fan of COCs, which is why LambdaConf has had a COC since I first learned of them.

That said, not all COCs are created equal.

Many COCs are so vague, they do not create clear expectations for attendees. In fact, community leaders can use these vague COCs to kick out anyone they don’t like, under grounds their behavior is “offensive”, “harmful”, “not empathic”, or simply not “best for the community”.

Most COCs offer protection against discrimination, but only on certain dimensions. For example, the average COC does not protect against discrimination for political or philosophical views — which means that, for example, atheists like myself can be discriminated against or banned on grounds of their views, but Christians or Muslims cannot be similarly banned for their religious views.

Similarly, a Republican or Democrat could be discriminated against or banned for their political affiliation, which seems rather arbitrary to me (why protect a religion but not a political affiliation?).

These drawbacks are not insurmountable. I believe it’s possible to create a code of conduct that is not vague, and which offers uniform protections.

In fact, I and others have been working on precisely such a code of conduct, under the umbrella of Fantasyland Institute of Learning, a non-profit I help run that is dedicated to improving the way the world develops software.

The code of conduct is not designed for just any community. Rather, it’s designed for professional communities — that is, communities of individuals united by a shared professional interest, but otherwise quite diverse in all possible respects.

This code of conduct, called Fantasyland Institute of Learning Code of Professionalism (FCOP), is designed to help ensure productivity and inclusion within professional communities in a pluralistic society. As such, FCOP is not intended to impose any system of politics, morals, or values onto members.

This is useful in a purely professional context, but is wholly unsuitable for many other types of communities (support groups, churches, etc.).

The short-form of FCOP is shown below:

“We welcome all peaceful people to participate in the Community. We do not allow Discrimination, Stereotyping, Harassment, Judgmental Communication, or violations of privacy. We do not exclude any peaceful people from our Community unless they have demonstrated an inability to follow our terms and conditions.”

Notice the five pillars of FCOP:

  • No Discrimination. Everyone is protected from discrimination.
  • No Stereotyping. Everyone is protected from stereotyping.
  • No Harassment. All interaction requires mutual consent.
  • No Judgmental Communication. People must communicate without imposing their morality or values onto others.
  • No Privacy Violations. People aren’t allowed to dox, name & shame, pry, otherwise share personal details they learn about in the community.

FCOP is still under active development, but you can check out a draft version on the official repository.

When FCOP is complete, Fantasyland Institute of Learning will adopt the COC for all professional events and within all online communities.

It’s my hope that FCOP will see broader usage within the tech industry, both within open source projects, and within all manner of professional meetups and events like LambdaConf. While not appropriate for many kinds of communities, those with purely professional goals may find some value.

If you’d like to contribute, please dig into the draft and submit issues or pull requests to the official repository.