Developing a culture of consent at code4lib

two letterpressed greeting cards, left one "yes way", right one "no way"

I love code4lib. code4lib is not a formal organization, it’s more of a loose collective of folks. The culture is very DIY. If you see something that needs doing someone needs to step up and do it. I love that part of our culture is reflecting on our culture and thinking of ways to improve it. At this year’s conference we made some improvements on our culture.

Galen Charlton kicked this discussion off with an email on the code4lib list by suggesting we institute a policy like the Evergreen conference (which was informed by work done by The Ada Initiative) where “consent be explicitly given to be photographed or recorded”.

Kudos to the local organizing committee for moving quickly (like just over 3 hours from Galen’s initial email). They purchased coloured lanyards to indicate to participants views on being photographed: red means don’t photograph me, yellow means ask me before photographing me, and green means go ahead and photograph me. This is an elegant and simple solution.

Over the past few years streaming the conference presentations has become standard as is publishing these videos to the web after the conference. This is awesome and important—not everyone can travel to attend the conference. This allows us to learn faster and build better things. I suggested that it was time to explicitly obtain speaker’s consent to stream their presentation and archive the video online.

At first I was disheartened by some of comments on the list :

  • “This needs to be opt out, not opt in.”
  • “An Opt-Out policy would be more workable for presenters.”
  • “requiring explicit permission from presenters is overly burdensome for the (streaming) crew that is struggling to get the recordings”
  • i enjoy taking candid photos of people at the conference and no one seems to mind
  • “my old Hippy soul cringes at unnecessary paperwork. A consent form means nothing. Situations change. Even a well-intended agreement sometimes needs to be reneged on.”

The lack of understanding about informed consent means a few things about the code4lib community:

  1. there’s a lack of connection to feminist organizing that has a long history of collective organizing and consent
  2. the laissez-faire approach to consent (opt-out) centres male privilege
  3. this community still has work to do around rape culture. 

It was awesome to get support from the Programming Committee, the local organizers and some individuals. We managed to update the consent form we used for Access to be specific to code4lib and get it out to speakers in just over a week. Ranti quickly stepped up and volunteered to help me obtain consent forms from all of the speakers. As this is a single stream conference there were only 39 people so it wasn’t that much work to do. 

Here’s the consent form we used.  A few people couldn’t agree to the copyright bits, so they crossed that part out. I’m sure this form will evolve to become better.

At code4lib 2015 in Portland it was the first time we were explicit about consent. The colour coded lanyards and speaker consent forms are an important part of building a culture of consent.

Thanks to my smart friend Eli Manning (not the football player) for giving me feedback on this.

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