Wikimedia’s open source software community launches Code of Conduct for technical spaces

Photo by Tyssul Patel, public domain/CC0.

We are proud to announce that the Wikimedia technical community has approved a Code of Conduct (CoC) that promotes a respectful, diverse, and welcoming environment in Wikimedia technical spaces. The CoC is a policy that creates clear expectations for how community members should interact, encouraging respectful and productive dialogue. It also describes how people can easily report behavior that does not meet these expectations.
Codes of conduct have become more popular recently in technology organizations and online communities, which have long grappled with how to ensure that everyone feels safe and respected in technical spaces on and offline. Like many other online communities, the Wikimedia technical community has been affected by harassment and other toxic behavior.  Harassment harms individuals, limits the potential for creativity and open collaboration, and discourages new contributors. Many in the Wikimedia movement, including the Wikimedia Foundation’s Board of Trustees, have made a commitment to help create a healthier and more inclusive Wikimedia community. The new code of conduct is an important step in mitigating harassment and creating a space where everyone feels welcome to participate in the Wikimedia technical community.

How we built it

To address the problem, professionals and volunteers in the community developed a policy through an open, collaborative drafting process.  This took place both online and at events like Wikimania conferences and the 2016 Developer Summit.  In other communities, drafting a code of conduct often involves fewer people, and decisions might be made by a project leader or  governing board. We instead used a deeply participatory approach, as has been used for other policy discussions in the Wikimedia movement. More than 140 editors participated in the public discussions, collectively contributing 2,718 edits to the discussion page. Others provided anonymous feedback.
Work began at a public Wikimania session in July 2015, in Mexico City. Developing policies to address harmful behavior in this community was a daunting task. Although codes of conduct have become increasingly common in free/open source software projects, Wikimedia’s technical spaces posed several specific challenges. For example, the CoC needed to address the needs and concerns of volunteers as well as Wikimedia Foundation employees. It needed to be enforceable, to ensure that technical community members would have a safe and welcoming space to contribute.  Finally, those who would be enforcing it needed to be trained in commonly encountered abusive dynamics, so that they could address CoC violations effectively and without further escalating the situation.  It was important, for instance, to include language deterring false or retaliatory reports. This is part of how we sought to protect victims from potential misuse of the policy.
We benefited from existing work, building on policies such as the Contributor Covenant, Wikimedia’s Friendly Space Policy, and the Citizen Code of Conduct.  We also benefited from expert advice and the support of the Support & Safety, Talent & Culture, and Legal teams at the Wikimedia Foundation. We expanded on these existing policies in order to meet our community’s specific needs.  Through detailed conversations, we resolved complicated issues, while focusing on how to make the Wikimedia technical community a better place for everyone to participate.
The Wikimedia technical community approved the CoC this March, concluding a 19-month process.  The Code of Conduct Committee recently began their work, after a community feedback process.  The Committee’s job is to receive reports, assess them, and determine how to respond.  For instance, they might issue warnings or enact temporary bans.

Reactions and reuse

“For over a year, Wikimedia Foundation staff and volunteer contributors have invested time and energy to develop a code of conduct that meets the unique needs of Wikimedia technical spaces and reflects the value our movement shares in respectful, open collaboration,” said Victoria Coleman, Chief Technology Officer of the Wikimedia Foundation. “This work is critical to creating welcoming, inclusive spaces for participation across the Wikimedia projects.”
Community members have welcomed the new policy.  “I applaud Wikimedia for posting a Code of Conduct and appointing a Committee to handle concerns,” said Anna Liao, a MediaWiki developer and Outreachy participant. “If I am ever the target of unacceptable behaviour or I witness it amongst others, there is a pathway to address these issues.”
Moritz Schubotz, a volunteer developer working on MediaWiki’s Math functionality, added that some situations “require the creation and enforcement of this CoC, to keep our working space nice and pleasant.”
The CoC is meant to set behavioral norms and create cultural change.  It shows how we seek to grow as a community, and we hope it increases people’s comfort and desire to join and participate more.
“No matter how open the community is, it should have a code of conduct,” technical volunteer Greta Doçi told us. “It promotes moral behavior, prevents negative legal effects, encourages positive relationships, and acts as a reference for solving ethical dilemmas.”
We encourage others, within the Wikimedia movement or elsewhere, to consider how a code of conduct or anti-harassment policy can strengthen their own community.  The policy itself is also open source for anyone to reuse and adapt.
Matthew Flaschen, Senior Software Engineer, Collaboration, Wikimedia Foundation
Moriel Schottlender, Software Engineer, Collaboration, Wikimedia Foundation
Frances Hocutt, Wikimedia community member and former Foundation staff

Archive notice: This is an archived post from blog.wikimedia.org, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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The community didn’t approve anything, it’s not like there was a vote or a consensus discussion on enactment of the thing.

As was stated, “This is the last section under consideration, so after it is approved, the Code of Conduct will become policy.”. It was then approved as such by the community, with strong support: https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Talk:Code_of_Conduct#Finalize_.22Amendments.22_section.3F

Hm. Each section of the Code of Conduct was discussed, revised based on concerns and suggestions, and approved independently. This isn’t substantially different from reviewing the whole thing all at once, and had the benefit of gathering specific and making changes to each section as needed.

Unfortunately, i have to agree with Nemo. There was no vote or a consensus discussion whit widely community participation.

As the title of the section says, that was a vote on a part of the text. Sure, some people tried to claim it’s something different, but the fact is there wasn’t any vote on the complete code.

Community member here who also works for the foundation. There are many voices in the discussion from across the technical community. It followed a very open process. Nothing in the movement is ever perfect, but having this _is_ an important step to having an open and inclusive technical community. Surely we all agree that’s more important than kibitzing over process. Let’s move forward on improving it and our community, not beating each other up on what shoulda happened.

I was one of the contributers to the discussion mentioned in this post. In my view it is not correct to describe it as a community creation. The main participants in the discussion were WMF staff members, the process was micro-managed by WMF staff who set arbitrary cut-offs and took it upon themselves to declare sections approved or not approved, A WMF staff member unliterally reversed the initial concensus to submit the completed code to the community for approval. The WMF hired consultants to work on this code, who held discussions restricted to WMF staff and who never released any… Read more »

I’m proud of this policy, created by the community (staff and volunteer), with many contributors, including yourself (which you acknowledge in the very beginning). That’s why we wrote a blog post about it.

Rogol, so good to see you chiming in from the sidelines. I hope this means you’ve decided to come back from retirement and contribute once again. Perhaps even in our technical spaces. >The main participants in the discussion were WMF staff members, Well, yeah. I mean WMF staff makes up a decent percentage of the technical community. Folks at the foundation do write a sizable amount of code for the projects, run the infrastructure of every wiki, and you know, try to shepherd a thriving and inclusive community for volunteer developers. To not be a part of such an important… Read more »

Why to focus on process: if you want a policy people *respect* daily, rather than a piece of paper to apply sanctions with force when it’s too late, the policy must emerge from a *respectable* process.
The fact that the proponents didn’t want to put the entire code up for vote or discussion strongly implies that they believe there is no consensus for it, which makes the entire effort moot. It would be quite easy to fix otherwise!

That comment doesn’t make sense.
You say it’s necessary to “focus on process”, and the goal should be “a policy people *respect* daily”.
But you tried to block the draft at the very beginning, saying “Stop it, just stop it.”, trying to prevent there even being a process: https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Talk:Code_of_Conduct/Archive_1
It doesn’t seem like *you* want “a policy people *respect* daily”.
And it seems like your (new) focus on process is a pretext to avoid attention to that fact.
As for myself, I respect the policy and the people who helped develop and approve it.

Chris Thanks you for such a personal reply. It seems however to miss a few points. You suggest that referring to “the Foundation” is a “silencing tactic”. This is the Foundation’s blog, one of the Foundation’s websites. The Foundation employs an entre communications team, 12 strong. To suggest that using the term “Foundation” here is a silencing tactic” is manifestly absurd. You gave an incorrect link to the WMF Legal mandate: the correct link is https://www.mediawiki.org/w/index.php?title=Talk:Code_of_Conduct&diff=2318454&oldid=2312411 and the salient phrase is “As a requirement from Legal, this change is not up for community discussion” from Jacob Rogers, one of the… Read more »

For those confused by code of conduct. In the end very short abstract is:
BE NICE
Or you get banned.
Yes that simple.