The Anatomy of a Code of Conduct

February 17, 2019

In 2017 I was part of a small team of people responsible for running Frankie in Dublin, a three day dance event commemorating the 80th anniversary of Frankie Manning visting Dublin with the Cotton Club Revue.

I took a break from organising events after it, and came to a realisation that hadn't struck me before, despite organising events in different capacities for years. Your responsibility as an organiser is not booking venues, or teachers, or advertising, or answering emails.

Your responsibility is shaping your community's culture.

Everything else is everyday minutae - and you could direct someone else to do it from the role of a coordinator, which was a lesson I also learned from the event. But that's a separate thing to discuss.

Early on I decided that I wanted a code of conduct to be part of the event, as although it was an uncommon artefact at Irish events at the time, I felt that it was a non-negotiable requirement for me to continue being part of the team, and I have since refused to work with or for anyone that does not have one.

Thankfully, nobody had any reason to object, and I got to work adopting an existing document, namely the one from Fair City Blues, another local event. I think if someone were to trace a family tree for codes of conduct most would share the Mobtown Ballroom's Code of Conduct as an ancestor.

I set out the following requirements for the code:

  • It needed to be thorough
  • It needed to be easily understood
  • And it needed to be concise

Some of this probably sounds contradictory, but it's not: write everything as simply as possible in plain English, and cover only what is absolutely necessary without compromising on the parts that are important.

This is the code that came out of the effort. It's hosted on github, so you can browse through the commit history to see how it has changed over time. It is designed to be easy to follow, but also to adopt - as part of my research, I saw some very specific requirements in other codes of conduct I disliked.

The only real mention of floorcraft in the code of conduct is at the end of the document, but it isn't explicitly named - a new dancer might not know what the word floorcraft even means, and it is a skill largely taught by teachers and drilled from experience, so trying to ban it provides no wiggle room for accidents or inexperience. Instead, it simply asks for politeness.

Other codes of conduct I've read included caveats about personal hygiene (Nearly all of which are implicitly a given), or include inane attempts to police how people dress, which I think is simultaneously disrespectful and completely unnecessary.

The one thing I've been unsure about the code lacking is any kind of clause for outside-event activity. Although it's not currently visible, I spotted something on the London Lindy Exchange's Code of Conduct about online harrassment.

As an event organiser I would take steps to ban someone if I knew they were harassing others online, and I think the code is comprehensive enough to cover out-of-venue breaches, but it could simply be a case of re-wording something further for additional clarity.

Since the codes' conception, I have brought it with me to other events I have been involved in, and locally it has been adopted by other organisers. The second hurdle I've come across after convincing people to take it on is encouraging them to put it somewhere people can actually see.

If the explicit purpose of a code of conduct is for your event attendees to feel safe, then they need to be aware it exists. The two simplest ways I know to make this happen are to either print out copies for people attending your event, or to include it on its own page of your website.

Unfortunately, I have seen them hidden solely in the depths of registration forms or their terms and conditions - if I'm making a decision on whether or not to attend your class or workshop based on if you have a code or not, by making it harder to find, I will never see it at all.