Training modules/Keeping events safe/Final draft

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Drafts: Keeping events safe (FirstSecondFinal) • Dealing with online harassment (FirstSecondFinal)

The content below is designed to be transcluded into the training dashboard, and not to be read here.

You can take this training module on the dashboard or help to translate these training modules.


Purpose of this module[edit]

The Wikimedia Movement has had in-person events as part of its core since its early days. Meeting your colleagues and others interested in working with you can be fun, rewarding, and important. Doing work face-to-face can not only be more efficient, but also help everyone involved connect better to those working alongside them and to the goals they share.

Real-life meetups and conferences can be very productive ways to bring contributors together; however, they can also provide opportunities for conflict, unwanted contact, privacy violations, or other forms of harassment.

  • This module is intended to help prepare event organizers to handle challenges around allegations of harassment and abusive behavior at events they host, organize, or attend.
  • It can be useful for event participants as it contains basic advice on how to prepare, avoid or deal with harassment, should they experience it during in-person events.
  • Additionally, it will help prepare contributors like you to host successful events by introducing you to best practices for preventing and handling problematic situations at your events.

This module promotes full adherence to several behavioral standards and policies, such as the Friendly Space policies, the Code of Conduct and the Event ban policy.

Basics: What do we mean by safety?[edit]

When we talk about safety for event participants, it is important to remember that this safety is both psychological and physical. While we want to ensure that users are physically safe at an event – whether that's from physical hazards or other attendees – it is equally important to ensure that the environment allows people to feel supported enough to participate and engage fully. When attendees feel harassed, insulted or abused, the effects can be serious. Not only could you lose them as event attendees, you may lose them entirely as contributors to the Wikimedia projects based on one of these incidents.

Basics: Who is involved in keeping an event safe?[edit]

It is important to remember that everybody is in a position to contribute to their own and others' actual or perceived safety during in-person events; this is not a responsibility that falls exclusively on a single person or team. Some key groups with distinct responsibilities are identified below:

  • The event organizing team will often run a risk assessment and review potential safety-related scenarios during the planning stages of the event. They will then ensure that there are appropriate protocols in place that can be implemented should a situation warrant it.
  • The hosting/paying organizing team will represent the entity funding (but not necessarily organizing and running) the event, and may not be involved in general operations as much as the event organizing team may be. They should, however, be involved at least on a meta level. For example, they can ensure there are policies in place to clarify what is expected of participants' behavior during the event.
  • Venue staff and security have a general responsibility for the safety of people using their space. They will often be involved in the event's organization and will work closely with the event organizing team to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to help assure participant's safety while on their premises.
  • Event attendees can also take proactive steps that can help safeguard their own safety, as well as the safety of others.

Situations you might encounter[edit]

Even though all efforts should be made to ensure that events are safe spaces for contributors to meet, congregate, and collaborate, there may be instances where you may experience or observe situations that may make you or others feel uncomfortable, in a minor or major way. All of these violations can and should be addressed. Such situations may include but are not limited to:

  • Unclear safe spaces violations. These consist of commentary or actions that are not inappropriate or abusive unless considered within a specific, existing context. They may also be things that, while unnoticed by some, can be quite alienating for others.
  • Minor to moderate safe spaces violations. These usually consist of inappropriate comments, on-wiki arguments becoming a hostile or heated in-person debate, or inappropriate content that may be displayed in a presentation. These violations, especially, may or may not always be intentionally designed to upset others.
  • Major safe spaces violations. These are situations where someone experiences a great deal of stress or feels threatened because of abusive conduct such as targeted harassment, explicit verbal personal attacks, implicit physical or sexual threats, or repeated unwanted actions after an explicit request to stop.
  • Locally or globally banned users. Some potential attendees are not permitted to attend events at all. This could be because of a local ban (for example people who have been problems at chapter events) or because of a global event ban which the Wikimedia Foundation has issued for any Foundation-supported or funded event. If you become aware of one being present at an event, keep in mind that the presence alone of a locally or globally banned user is considered to be a friendly space violation and should be reported to the event organizing team. Even if you don't feel immediately threatened by the individual, it's possible that there are concerns outside of your knowledge and/or other attendees who could feel significant concern.
  • Critical safety violations such as physical or sexual assault.
  • Medical emergencies. Even though a medical emergency may not necessarily be the result of altercations with another person while at the event, it also needs to be treated as a matter of priority by the event organizing team.

Bear in mind that event organizers and volunteers are equally entitled to feel safe at an event. Incidents involving those organizing the event should be treated just as seriously.

Before the event[edit]

All parties involved in an event can take proactive actions in preparation for handling a harassment issue that may arise: from staff and volunteers working together to ensure all necessary and proactive preparations are made, to participants planning to/and eventually attending the event. Some ideas on proactive actions are inspired by the actions listed under the procedures prescribed under the event ban policy.

Before the event: Event organizing team[edit]

  • Designate responsible parties who will handle an issue, should it arise. Who is the designated first responder? Who accepts reports? Who adjudicates them? Who handles the in-person situations like escorting someone out? Are there a sufficient number of team members, able to address a wide range of issues, before and after escalation into serious problems? This is one of the key tasks in preparation for an event and advance preparation can make a big difference to the way a situation is handled on the ground, in real time.
    • Set up an emergency response team that will be responsible for handling safety incidents and concerns. This can be done by the event organizing team in advance of the event. If the event is large, ideally the emergency response team members should be tasked solely with emergency-related responsibilities. If the event is small, the emergency response team members may have to wear other hats too.
    • Ensure the emergency response team is staffed sufficiently. In the unlikely event of an incident report involving an emergency response team member, having enough members on the emergency response team helps avoid conflicts of interest.
    • If possible, assign the emergency response team in groups of at least two team members: one person that may handle the incident and one person that will assume the key responsibilities of the main handler towards the event and the attendees.
    • Ensure diversity on the emergency response team. In small scale events, where there are too few organizers to form teams, the emergency response team should consist of at least two separate individuals from different backgrounds (whether cultural, ethnic or simply different schools of thought). This will help ensure there are sufficiently diverse report-takers so that if a concerned party feels uncomfortable contacting one with their concern, they can contact another.
    • Assign tasks/responsibilities to designated parties. Whether in the form of an emergency response team or not, each person should know what they are supposed to do if an issue arises.
    • Establish a chain of command. Ensure everyone is clear on what to do, under what circumstances and who they should notify.
    • Decide on an escalation protocol. Consider an expedited/rapid reporting method for outreach to more members of the event organizing team or venue security. Consider mobiles phones with hands-free headsets in terms of hardware. Consider use of code words for when communication has to be performed in public areas, to ensure privacy is respected and panic among participants is avoided.
  • Advertise the emergency response team to the rest of the event organizing team. There should be a well-publicized way to contact them in case a safety threat is identified. If the event organizing team is large enough to assign an emergency response team, it is important they know who the emergency response team are. Awareness of the reporting structure is essential in successful handling of issues.
  • Make the emergency response team or event organizing team members easy to recognize. This can make handling of an issue faster and save affected individuals from added frustration. Options for this include different colored t-shirts (than other attendees), special badges indicating team assignment, different prints on a unified color t-shirt, or different hats. If different color coding is used, ensure that colors are friendly to visually impaired participants.
  • Get adequate training. Being ready to react quickly and appropriately is crucial to the handling an issue while on the ground. The event organizing team should ensure that the designated emergency response team members receive sufficient training in advance of the event so that they are better prepared and nerves do not take over. It may be a good idea to hold a refresher session on the day, with brief reminders of processes and key information. Though focused on online interactions, the Training Module for handling online harassment has good materials on working with harassment victims and handling reports that apply to in-person issues as well.
  • Assess venue security needs. Prior to booking the venue:
    • If the event and therefore the venue is not large enough to already have designated security, it may be worth the event organizing team to perform a risk assessment to determine if additional security service should be considered and outsourced for the duration of the event.
    • If the venue already offers security, discuss security issues with the event coordinator on the venue's side to ensure that the space and policies match the needs of the event. Involving them in the early planning stages, before and after the venue booking, allows for proactive reviewing of things like escape routes, and fallback plans. This can in turn greatly assist at a later stage during the event.
  • Prepare important information so it is readily available to organizers and to attendees during the event. This can be a variety of information, such as details on the venue's security, escape routes, police contacts, and hotlines. This can help the emergency response team deal with an issue faster than it would be if this type of information is not readily available. The Wikimedia Foundation friendly space policy may contain more information on what specifically to share.
  • Plan event/room use layout (for instance, a quiet room or washroom assignment to ensure gender inclusion). Make sure there a safe space with reasonable sound insulation or barriers from the rest of the event space that can be used for the harassment target to regain composure. There, they can calm down, and feel comfortable sharing important details of the incident they experienced.
  • Review sign up list. Sometimes participants not permitted to attend an event may be detected as early as the registration phase. Keeping an eye on the registration list can lead to early action where needed, and avoid difficulties arising at a later stage. More details can be found under the event ban policy and relevant processes.
  • Request agreement to behavior standards and policies (Friendly Space policies, Code of Conduct and/or equivalent policies in local projects) during registration process. This can act as a reminder of the standards participants are expected to adhere to.
    • It may also be helpful that printed safety material that includes a copy of the Friendly Space policies applicable to the event is prepared. This can be handed out to the attendees as they receive their event information pack or ID.
  • Notify in writing and with at least two people CC'd, any prospective attendee who is refused registration and participation to the event.

All the above can be considered for larger scale events. If you are holding a smaller event, some of the above steps may not be applicable or may not be possible. Make a reasonable effort to have practical processes and protocols in place should a harassment incident occur; you can only do what you have the capacity for.

What would you do?: Repeat offenders[edit]

This module will periodically present you with "what would you do?" scenarios - hypothetical accounts of difficult situations. The goal in these sections is not to test whether you arrive at an objectively "correct" single answer, but rather to give you a chance to think about the different types of situations you may encounter, and the many issues and decision points that affect any eventual outcome you settle on.

While you are reviewing the event registration list as part of your responsibilities on the event organization team, you notice a username you recognize. After some thought and research, you realize that not long ago this contributor was brought to the English Wikipedia's "administrators' noticeboard", where administrators discuss things like user conduct, for alleged off-wiki harassment with details of a particular incident they appear to have been involved in.

(For the purpose of this exercise you should think what actions you can take, considering the fact that you are reviewing the registration list when you become aware of this.)

If you were in this situation... what would you do? Leave your thoughts here.

Before the event: Participants[edit]

  • Keep an open mind. Do some research on the culture you are about to enter and consider cultural differences. Something that is considered normal in your city/country may not be standard practice in the city/country where the event is held. Since you are the guest, a level of respect should be shown towards the local culture, even if you don’t personally agree with it. Preparation for dealing with harassment does not exclude preparation of how to avoid (unintentionally) becoming the harasser yourself.
  • Read the behavioral guidelines applicable to the event you are attending. Those may sometimes vary from one event to another, and from one culture to another. It’s of great benefit to be aware what standards are expected of you before you enter the event.
  • Be ready to report an issue. In some cultures, reporting harassment or abuse issues is not always received well, and victims are deterred from reporting in general. There is zero tolerance for abuse at Wikimedia events, and you don’t have to put with abusive behavior towards you. There is no shame in reporting witnessing or being subjected to harassment and your report will be handled confidentially to the extent possible.
  • Be an ally. Be willing to speak up and stand up when you see something happening that may not necessarily require reporting but is testing boundaries of what is appropriate.
  • Identify the event organizing team and response team members, so you can easily spot them if you need to report a safety issue or concern to them.

During the event: Who may report?[edit]

Even though harassment is defined as a certain type of activity, the extent to which the person on the receiving end is affected may vary from one individual to another. Some people may not consider harassment worth reporting. Other types of harassment are less obvious, and perhaps only someone who has sustained long-term harassment would be able to identify it as part of a behavioral pattern that is not acceptable.

Either a target of harassment or a witness may report a violation of the friendly space policy. Witnesses will generally not be kept updated, for confidentiality reasons.

During the event: Ways to accept reports[edit]

Reports can be accepted verbally and in writing.

Having an official written record of the incident that can be referred to, followed up on and reviewed at a later date, is very important. However, an immediate typed or written report may not be possible or practical.

This is especially true for the more extreme incidents where outright Terms of Use or other applicable policy breaches occur, such as direct and explicit threats of harm, actual physical violence, and so on. In such situations, a verbal or in-person report is not only acceptable but highly encouraged. It is also possible that participants affected by or witnessing harassment do not feel comfortable compiling a written report to voice their concerns due to a number of other factors (for example, language proficiency, cultural norms). They may instead raise their concerns verbally.

The lack of a written report should not be a reason to turn a concerned participant away. A report of harassment should be taken seriously, regardless of the medium used to communicate it.

A verbal report can be submitted by reaching out to an emergency response team member on the ground. While response team members should be easy for participants to visually identify, one may not be present at the time an incident is taking place. In that case, the reporter can alert any member of the event organizing team on sight, who should also be easy to spot. The event organizing team member can then find an available emergency response team member to take over, and handle or escalate as appropriate.

While the responsibility of handling a report primarily falls on the emergency response team, a member of the event organizing team should be prepared to accept an urgent report if necessary in order to provide some level of immediate relief to the reporter. They can then involve the emergency response team as soon as possible, according to internal communication and escalation protocols.

In cases of verbal reports, a written record should be made by the emergency response team as soon as the issue has concluded, ensuring that their account of the report is accurate by having the reporter review and sign off the outreach part of it.

During the event: Dealing with incident reporters in general[edit]

Determining whether a report is valid or not can be a tricky task as it may not always be evident right away that the harassment report is valid. This may become clear later on, as more details are made available unless the report handler is aware of extenuating circumstances that allow them to make that judgment call instantaneously.

  • Be fair and objective. It is important that all incoming reports are treated fairly, with an equal amount of objectivity, respect, politeness, kindness and understanding.
  • Don't handle a report alone. You will ideally be set in teams of two so that you can support each other in this process.
  • Make yourself available. Dismissing people who approach you with a report of possible harassment can be devastating to them. Making the time to sit down with them right away helps establish initial rapport and allows some of their stress to be alleviated.
  • Find a private or quiet space where the reporter can feel comfortable and safe enough to share details; this can help you gather all important information on the incident before you can determine validity or next steps. This applies even for public reports as it can help calm the parties involved.
  • Give the reporter an option as to who they want to report to. Establish if they feel comfortable speaking to you. If they don't, give them the option to speak to another member of the emergency response team. This is especially helpful to the reporter in situations involving a great deal of stress.
  • Be present. Ensure that you are not only physically present but also mentally. This helps establish communication, sharing, understanding and then helping.
  • Listen. Really, listen. Avoid arguments, value what the reporter has to say. Allow them time to say it.
  • Understand. Once the reporter has expressed a full thought or emotion, let them know you understand it. You can rephrase what the reporter has told you, in your own words, allowing them the opportunity to affirm whether your understanding of the issue reported is accurate or needs clarification or modifications.
  • Show empathy. Try to identify how the reporter feels. This can lead to better understanding, which helps establish trust. This can, in turn, lead to setting yourself and the reporter up for better handling the reported problem.

During the event: Dealing with valid incident reports[edit]

Reporting a legitimate harassment incident may require for the reporter to muster a lot of courage. It is important to remember that the person coming to you is likely experiencing an array of negative feelings. They may feel hurt, embarrassed, upset, threatened, unsafe, discriminated against, or angry. On top of the advice listed in the previous section:

  • Take notes. You are not expected to remember every detail of an incident you have not necessarily witnessed. You’ll be surprised how helpful notes can be for review, especially if other event organizing team members are involved in the process of handling a situation. You don’t need to take notes the very moment the reporter has approached you (as you may need to take immediate actions once you are aware of the details), but making a record of the report while the memory is still fresh is important. It also helps reassure the reporter that their report is taken seriously.
  • Stay calm, think rationally. Being overtaken by emotions is okay for the reporter but not very helpful for the person expected to deal with the issue.
  • Be ready to react. In some cases, the team’s timely intervention may be necessary. It may be that you have requested further support or inform venue security of a situation that calls for their action.
  • In a medical situation, ensure the victim(s) receives medical care. If the report comes from the person immediately affected, you may need to make sure the receive appropriate medical attention, if they’ve been physically hurt, and may need to accompany them to the nearest hospital.
  • Help the victim consider actions. Depending on the severity of the incident, it may be appropriate to help or encourage the victim think about their immediate and long-term options that may help them recover (for example, the immediate collection of medical evidence in the case of a rape, can make future reporting or other actions possible).

During the event: Dealing with invalid or malicious reports[edit]

Not every report you receive will be valid. Sometimes people may make a report just to get attention or may report something that turns out to be a non-issue. Other times, reports may be intended to intimidate another attendee. Here are some tips that may help you recognize invalid reports:

  • Stay informed. You are not expected to know the background behind every interaction between participants, but awareness of long-standing conflicts or differences of opinion may provide additional context.
  • Separate the fact from the emotion. While emotion should be acknowledged, focus on the facts reported or presented by the reporter.
  • Use common sense. Are the reporter's statements making sense? Are you aware of information that outright proves the report as invalid?

If you realize that a report is invalid:

  • Be patient. You may have to spend some time explaining errors or misunderstandings to the reporter, but you must deal with them compassionately.

During the event: Dealing with the subjects of reports[edit]

Whether a report is valid or not, the subject of the report – the person being reported – may still experience frustration or anger. It is, therefore, important that you:

  • Stay calm. Remaining level-headed will help the subject of the report calm down.
  • Make sure you are not alone. Handling the subject of a valid report may be a tense process. It’s good to have another person with you to help. Having witnesses while you proceed can also protect you against future claims on inappropriate handling.

Valid reports[edit]

  • Remove the subject from the premises. You may not always be required to take such drastic action as a removal, but be prepared to do so should the situation require it.
  • Make sure you are always polite to the subject, even if what they did is unacceptable. There is no justification for treating anyone badly.
  • Ask for help if the subject refuses to comply with your request. This can be venue security, venue management or even local law enforcement.
  • Report out. Let the event organizing team or whoever is in charge know that the issue has been handled as per applicable policies and protocols. Keeping the team updated allows them to address further concerns that may be brought to them regarding the incident and prevents panic from spreading to other event participants.

Invalid reports[edit]

  • Be fair and understanding. Nobody enjoys being accused unfairly. The subject may be upset and you may be called to calm them down and reassure them that there was a false alarm. Depending on the nature of the invalid report, it may be necessary to open disciplinary action against the reporter.

What would you do?: Dealing with the public[edit]

This module will periodically present you with "what would you do?" scenarios - hypothetical accounts of difficult situations. The goal in these sections is not to test whether you arrive at an objectively "correct" single answer, but rather to give you a chance to think about the different types of situations you may encounter, and the many issues and decision points that affect any eventual outcome you settle on.

Your relatively small-scale event is taking place in a conference venue with multiple spaces, that can be made available to different conferences at any given time. While your event is ongoing, another Wikimedia event is hosted in one of the venue’s spaces, adjacent to yours. During breaks participants of both events are able to wander through communal spaces of the venue.

You are notified by one of your event participants (person A) that they met another person attending the other event (person B) when they spent time in the communal spaces with other participants of your conference. Since then, person A has been receiving unwanted invitations to hang out by person B, despite politely declining them and explicitly stating they are not interested. Those invitations never happen when other participants of your event are present; only when person A is at a relative distance from others.

If you were in this situation... what would you do? Leave your thoughts here.

After the event: Following up[edit]

It's good practice to follow up with reporters who were immediately affected by a harassment incident. You are not expected to provide care or counseling, but there may be important developments between the people involved after the event that may be worth recording, reporting or considering for future events. This includes further instances of harassment on the projects.

You can also consider following up with reporters who were not immediately affected as a matter of courtesy, though there is no obligation or expectation to do so. If you chose to follow up with them, you should make sure not to disclose private details regarding the incident or the people involved.

After the event: Conduct a post-incident review[edit]

Review. Once the event has concluded, it is important for the emergency response team to conduct a post-incident review.

  • Were you able to handle the reported situation effectively?
  • Could you have done anything better?
  • Which actions or steps worked?
  • What did you learn that you could share with the community in some way?
  • Is there a need to follow up with any of the people involved in the incident such as the reporter, the person reported, the target of the harassment, other volunteers, participants or attendees?

Answers to these questions can help you assess your performance individually or as a team, identify possible gaps where you can improve, and handle any items that still need action. It is up to the emergency response team what setup they use for their review: it can be an in-person meeting, a phone conference or even notes in a collaboratively produced document.

Document. Once your review is completed, you should produce a report. The report's format is up to you, though since it will be shared at later date, choose whichever format offers the most flexibility. They key contents of the report should be:

  • identifying the issues or bottlenecks that you faced
  • describing how those issues were handled (if at all)
  • sharing lessons learned in the process
  • making suggestions for improving or mitigating those issues moving forward

If the report needs to be made public, it should be as anonymized as it can be. The full version should be kept to a small group, and reported as appropriate for future actions.

Disseminate. Your report should not be used as an excuse to blame specific individuals. Treat your report as an opportunity to communicate issues you experienced, help create processes where there is a lack thereof, help improve existing processes and disseminate the new knowledge gained. As your report will be shared with the event organizing team, it should be anonymised to ensure that no private information is shared and confidentiality is not breached. The event organizing team should then publish the report through appropriate channels, either as part of their own overall event report or separately, to ensure other organizers in the Wikimedia movement can access and benefit from it.

After the event: Get self-care[edit]

Handling an incident of harassment can sometimes feel overwhelming for somebody who doesn't do this for a living, and they may be subject to secondary trauma. Whether through professional counseling or through an informal discussion session where members of the event organizing team can talk about their experience, sharing the emotional burden associated with handling high-stress situations can be beneficial.

After the event: Reporting incidents[edit]

If there was a harassment incident that took place during your event, especially one where things escalated, this should be reported (by the event's emergency response team) to the Foundation's Support & Safety team, for their records. They can be reached at ca@wikimedia.org. It may be that they follow up with further actions, or simply consider the reported incident in the future should they receive other reports about the same perpetrator.

For technical events (such as hackathons), incidents should be reported to the Code of Conduct Committee at techconduct@wikimedia.org. This allows them to consider as much of a person's history as possible (including low-level and severe incidents, in person and online), when assessing reports. This will help them detect patterns.

Things to think about: Affiliates & long term groups[edit]

When a harassment incident involves an Affiliate member, apart from following standard process and protocol for handling it on-site, the issue should also be communicated to the Foundation as well as the respective Affiliate. Although the Foundation may review the situation, responsibility for taking further actions (if necessary) may fall on the Affiliate, subject to the nature of the incident and specific details.

If both/all people involved in the incident are Affiliate members, the incident should be communicated to the Affiliations Committee (AffCom) as well as the Foundation, on top of following standard protocols for handling it on site. Similarly, the Foundation or AffCom may take further actions, if needed, subject to specifics.

What would you do?: User group members[edit]

This module will periodically present you with "what would you do?" scenarios - hypothetical accounts of difficult situations. The goal in these sections is not to test whether you arrive at an objectively "correct" single answer, but rather to give you a chance to think about the different types of situations you may encounter, and the many issues and decision points that affect any eventual outcome you settle on.

On the first day of your event, you receive an in-person report from User A, detailing a heated debate between them and User B that took place while both users were on the same train, traveling to your event. The two users happen to be also booked in the same shared accommodation for the duration of the event. User A is very upset and insists that they were harassed. Both users are members of different User Groups within the same language project.

If you were in this situation... what would you do? Leave your thoughts here.

What would you do?: Board member behavior[edit]

This module will periodically present you with "what would you do?" scenarios - hypothetical accounts of difficult situations. The goal in these sections is not to test whether you arrive at an objectively "correct" single answer, but rather to give you a chance to think about the different types of situations you may encounter, and the many issues and decision points that affect any eventual outcome you settle on.

Some time after the end of an event, User A reports having received repeated unwanted attention from User B, who breached the boundaries of their personal space and made them feel uncomfortable. User A is a community member, who has frequently brought in accusations of harassment against other contributors. User B is a board member of a User group and does not have a history of being sanctioned for misbehavior at events.

If you were in this situation... what would you do? Leave your thoughts here.

Things to think about: Limits of your ability[edit]

You need to remember that you may not always be able to resolve a situation to everybody’s satisfaction. Sometimes the information you have may not lead to any actions other than filing it and or informing other parties, as per protocol, yet you may still have to let the reporter know about the outcome.