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