Who experiences code of conduct violations?

As far as I'm concerned, the heart of what makes information architecture a discipline is the focus on the needs of users as they navigate an information space. Here, I break down the point of view of the grievance procedure for Information Architecture Foundation events.

Who visits a page on a conference website about a grievance procedure?

The way we as information architects approach our work is by trying to understand the audience for a given piece of information or task. Any communication should be designed to meet that reader or user’s needs.

The audience for this particular web page is the person whose has experienced a violation and their next step is filling out the form to make a report an assault. This person is the reporter. Understanding the process for reporting a code of conduct violation is the goal of this page.

Violator-first thinking

Whose perspective does this procedure reflect? The text puts the focus on the needs and the protections given the accused violator.

Some examples of putting the violator first:

The point of view of the accused violator is the heart of the introduction once you get past all the throat-clearing (paragraphs 3 and 4.) Here you see the point of view of the expected reader — the person who may have committed a violation.

All accused persons are considered innocent until proven guilty. Each individual has the right to a fair hearing, to understand what they’re accused of, and to have a chance to respond. Out of an abundance of caution, serious allegations may result in an individual being removed from an event while an investigation is being conducted, but this will not remove the presumption of innocence.

Who feels their concerns are front-and-center after reading this perspective — the reporter or the violator?

The IAF will not act on or tolerate rumors or unfounded allegations. Knowingly making false accusations will be considered a violation of the code of conduct. We expect all attendees to demand that serious and credible allegations are handled within the appropriate channels.

How is the IAF expected to evaluate false accusations? Why is the risk of wrong accusations taken more seriously than the needs of the people who are here because they have a real grievance?

The process places the burden on the reporter to resolve the issue clearly and vocally first. People familiar with the reality of sexual assault understand why doing so may be even more risky for the reporter.

Conference attendees who believe they are being subjected to offensive behavior are encouraged, when appropriate, to ask the person engaging in the behavior to stop.

Anyone who feels they are the target of unwanted or inappropriate behavior are encouraged to immediately inform the alleged instigator that the behavior is unwelcome.

This is such an awkward way to say “If you are currently being physically or sexually assaulted, it is your responsibility to speak up immediately. If you’ve already been violated and are here to figure out what to do next, we want you to know you might also bear some responsibility for not speaking up right in the moment.” That additional burden of responsibility is not what any person going through this would want to hear.

In many instances, the person is unaware that his/her conduct is offensive and, when so advised, can easily and willingly correct the conduct so that it does not reoccur.

It’s equally likely that the person is perfectly aware that their conduct may be offensive and/or just does not give a fuck. In any case, it shouldn’t be the person on the receiving end of even minor issues to have to do the emotional labor to correct it.

If you fear for your physical safety then the only place you can go is the police. People who have experienced sexual assault may not go the police. Reporting to “the authorities” carries specific fears and risks for non-white communities.

The process for assault specifies:

Any incident of unwanted physical contact or verbal abuse to the extent that a reasonable person would fear for their life or safety.

The safety of individuals is paramount. Assaults will not be tolerated and should be reported to the appropriate authorities immediately, and to the conference organizers as soon as is reasonable after that.

This process creates a loophole where the event can claim it is not able to respond to any assault without a police report.

The reporting process is entirely a black box on the receiving end. The form goes to the organization, with no information about who will be dealing with your case. That could be used to protect a violator and reflects a desire to keep proceedings secret. If nothing else it puts the reporter in an even more insecure place — who will know about this? All of these non-answers don’t help:

This form will be reviewed by the appropriate IAF representative/s.

Complaints will be reviewed by authorized IAF representatives.

Do not directly email the IAF directors, event chairs, or staff, as we can’t guarantee the proper procedures will be followed.

Authorized IAF representatives are never named.

Oh, and the form has an edit link, which, you know.

Reporter-centric design

What would a grievance procedure say if it put the needs of the reporter first?

Imagine the reporter being treated like they deserve to feel secure and respected as they learn more about the process of making a report about a traumatic experience. What would make the reporter feel comfortable taking the next step in filling out the report, if that action is warranted.

I would expect any organization and especially the Information Architecture Foundation to be able to answer these questions.

The person who needs this web page, this form, this process is a person in the IA community who has been violated. They are someone I know personally. They could be me. They are me.

The whole point of #metoo and #yesallwomen and the movements even before that is that you, yes you, know women have experienced sexual harassment and assault. Even if they’ve never told you about it. Especially if they’ve never told you about it.

I personally can speak to my own experience and my desire I have to maintain some agency and security when navigating a professional public space. I am not the only one in the community who might say that, although I would never speak for any other person on this subject.

Speaking for myself here, I do not feel secure in a community that would address my fears this way. I would not be comfortable lending my name to events where other people might be made to feel the way I do when reading this grievance procedure.

The missing stair.

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