I've been helping organizing events for almost 6 years now. I started at university where most of the students wanted to perform and attend workshops so we can teach each other things that we wouldn't learn in class. The free software office at the university used to help us with material, rooms and social media. A few years later I co-founded an association in order to focus on the "Privacy and digital rights" topic (Interferencias), and tried to drive the association out of the university to take safe and private tech advice to the streets. I kept going to events and helping organize others, whenever I had the chance. I focused on free software events, but eventually I realized: there are tons of problems which, as a pattern, I saw over and over in different events, cities and countries.
EsLibre is a very young event in Spain that aims to be a free software party, where people can feel safe and share information. This year we promised (the organization team) promised to start organizing the event early enough (many months beforehand) so we could pay attention to the details. We set a few goals in order to rethink the activities and the patterns, and we started from scratch. I decided to take care of the Code of Conduct and accessibility, as a priority. We had tons of goals and each one of us decided to focus in a couple of them. We wanted it to be refreshing, open and not strictly technical, as well.
First of all I decided my own experience wasn't enough to write the CoC, so I interviewed a bunch of women. The interviews were announced to be only for women and other minorities in tech events, and of course I received a bunch of messages from men saying they wanted to speak as well, ignoring my goals. I kindly told all of them their opinion was legit but wasn't of my interest for my exercise, to which I received mostly angry responses. Fortunately most of the messages were from amazing women telling their experience in regard of software and IT events. I spoke about that part in Spanish here.
After that I studied the common problems of these persons, so I could start thinking of solutions in the code of conduct. Most of the problems were:
- Harassment (verbal mostly, also physical)
- They weren't ready to be speakers but they wanted to participate somehow
- They were accepted but ignored in the event (ignored in conversations, or not taken seriously)
- Events didn't have a clear system for them to ask for help in case they needed it.
I decided the things I needed to add/rethink were:
- Different help channels including persons and not just general event accounts.
- A clear, straightforward non-harassment statement that protects the affected persons beforehand and is studied afterwards.
- An open statement so everyone knows beforehand the event aims to be as more diverse as possible and everyone will have a chance to speak in open-mic moderated rooms.
- Offering different types of participation, some of them more easy to access in case of neuro-diversity, lack of time, shyness, anxiety or lack of experience such as: projects board, call for collaborations or papers.
As the event was free software focused, the transparency in organization was a very important goal, so we decided to upload everything on a repository in Gitlab: every change had to be pushed only after a public poll where five different organizers had to give thumbs up; My CoC was merge requested and accepted publicly using this system.
A very difficult part followed this: looking for cool projects, paying attention to diversity and performing background checks so we could avoid people who received complaints of sensitive issues such as harassment in previous events or social media. During this very delicate process the Freedom of the software foundation/Stallman discussion appeared and we started having trouble with people who tried to publish presentations that violated the CoC (I was even told at that moment that if women didn't want to be harassed they should stay apart from the events). We handled the situation and started giving shape to the rooms and topics of the events.
Few days before the event, I had to handle another situation among volunteers that were supposed to participate in one of our activities. I tried to talk to a few of the persons involved, some of them decided to ignore me in calls, messages and related, and directly ask my male fellow organizers. Once this was solved as well, I was very worried about the event itself, but apparently this effort all my fellow organizers and me did made the event smooth!
In the end, it all worked fine, and a lot of people felt safe and confident to share their knowledge which we thought was the most important goal, as free software is just a tool for community growth.
To sum up: take care of your code of conducts, take care of your participants, assistants and organizers and take care of people. Pay attention to this and the content will grow amazingly and more diverse.