Codes of Conduct: The Devil’s in the Details

Some people may roll their eyes at the idea of needing a code of conduct in the organizations to which they belong, but let’s face it, we live in a world where lines are crossed and people don’t always behave as they should.

Codes of conduct ensure clear guidance on what behavior is acceptable and that there will be consequences for behaviors that are not. They also ensure that people will feel safe from unwelcome behaviors. These include harassment, intimidation, publishing private information about people without their consent, and incitement of violence. 

In this article, we’ll explain more about the importance of adopting a code of conduct and provide links to several examples.

Visible Values

“People get their knickers in a twist because you shouldn’t need them,” and they will often complain about how this will impede their right to free speech, says Vicky (VM) Brasseur, a corporate open source strategist. “People should be excellent to each other. But unfortunately, what’s excellent doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone … you have to set some guardrails.”

Codes of conduct began emerging around 2010 and, at first, were met with pushback and comments, such as “Surely, you can bury these in the terms and conditions” of a site, recalls Christopher Neugebauer, a vice chair of the Python Software Foundation (PSF) board. 

But having a code of conduct front and center and highly visible is a value statement demonstrating to people that the community they’re thinking of joining is a welcome and safe place and that certain behaviors won’t be tolerated, he says. That is an integral part of the decision-making process on whether to join a particular community.

The PSF, which implemented its first code of conduct around 2010 or 2011, now has a working group that “only got started in earnest last year,’’ Neugebauer says. The PSF issued a new code of conduct in 2019, because it wanted to have the same messaging across all of its operations. The hope is that this one will have some longevity, he says.

Continuous Improvement

Once such codes are implemented, organizations must also be prepared to enforce them – not simply have them be aspirational. If they are only in the latter category, Neugebauer suggests they be revamped.

They should also be transparent. For example, in 2019, PyCon published a Code of Conduct Transparency Report stating that staff were made aware of 11 incidents of behavior not consistent with its standards. They included unwelcome sexual attention or advancement and incidents related to inappropriate content and privacy.  Some of the incidents were resolved during the conference, one after the conference ended, and one was still awaiting resolution.

“The idea of doing regular transparency reports is not something I saw five years ago,’’ Neugebauer says, adding that he’s not sure what to attribute this to. “Now they’re at the leading edge of best practices.”

He adds that “you’d want the code of conduct to affect those people because you’ll run into them at the conference … someone might not be a drunken terrible person during business hours but that doesn’t make their behavior appropriate the night before.’’

Neugebauer was not involved in crafting the PSF’s new code of conduct but more in “getting it across the line” and making sure everyone on the board was amenable with the changes.


One of the areas that was revamped was making the language more inclusive to people who are not white, since the PSF community increasingly serves people in Africa and Asia, and their issues are not the same as those of people in the United States, Neugebauer says.

In a statement explaining why it crafted a new code of conduct, the PFS said they “undertook an intentional effort to account for the unique needs of an international community that spans all seven continents on Earth. Community members will now know that if they’re participating in an online space, a project, or an event facilitated by the PSF they will be subject to the same Code of Conduct and will be able to report incidents in the same way.”

Check out the following code of conduct examples to learn more.

Codes of Conduct to Consider

  • Contributor Covenant—A foundational code that is used by many projects, including Kubernetes. 
  • Django Code of Conduct—This list of dos and don’ts is not exhaustive but is meant to be a guide to enrich people and the technical communities in which they participate.
  • FreeBSD Community Code of Conduct—This is a guide to make it easier to communicate and participate in the community.
  • The Linux Foundation—The Linux Foundation has adopted this code of conduct for events and says its terms are non-negotiable.
  • The Linux Kernel—This code was adopted from the Contributor Covenant above.
  • The FOSS Governance Collection—An indexed collection of governance documents from FOSS projects. The project maintainers can remove, edit, or reject comments as well as contributions that do not align with its code, and they can also ban contributors temporarily or permanently.
  • The Python Software Foundation—Respect, empathy, encouragement, and an acknowledgement of people’s time and effort are among the pillars of this document. 
  • SeaGL Conference—This code of conduct is based on the Geek Feminism anti-harassment template. It applies to any conference space including, but not limited to, the conference venue, presentation spaces, exhibition hall, evening gatherings, and IRC channels. 
  • Wikimedia Universal Code of Conduct (UCoC)—The newly enacted code is detailed and lays out goals as well as expected and unacceptable behaviors.