This summer, I helped organize a two-day conference with a great group. One of the things we made sure to do was have a code of conduct. We thought it was the right thing to do.
As organizers, we volunteered our time to gather colleagues to build friendships and learn from each other. None of us are security experts. Balanced Team is a self-organized bunch without a legal team or much of a budget. We are like most meetups and professional communities. Hosting an event takes a lot of work. We focused on curating a good program and covering the necessities for a fun gathering of people. Making sure everyone felt safe was a part of that.
I have training in managing sexual harassment incidents as well as victim assistance. Something I’ve learned is that a healthy community requires a safe way for people who don’t feel safe to reach out to people who can help. If there is no readily available way to share concerns or get help, victims rarely report incidents. The likelihood of a victim to make a report is also impacted by the victim’s assessment of what may happen if they do make the report.
An attendee takes a risk trusting people with professional clout when reporting an issue with an attendee, speaker, or staff . If a person has already been put in a position of vulnerability, they need some commitment from those organizers that they will treat the reporter with respect and put safety first. Otherwise, that risk may be too great to report a threat before until it escalates into an assault or something requiring legal action.
As organizers, we set the standards for our communities. We signal the culture we intend to collectively cultivate, the behavior we value, and that which we discourage. A code of conduct is a tool for the group to consider these things in a way that hasn’t been commonplace in the tech industry’s past. Even when a CoC gets copied and pasted, someone has thought about these things more than was historically common. We are encouraging good behavior.
A code of conduct is a signal to everyone that the standard of behavior at an event is mutual respect and inclusivity. We know there is a problem with active discouragement, dismissal, and harassment in our workplaces. How could we possibly believe those same people do not bring those behaviors with them to events?
At our event, we didn’t have a rigid process set for handling reports but we did have a point person, security and police information and established communication streams within the team. We had an agreement among the organizers that if something was reported, we would address it. We communicated that we wanted attendees to tell us about anything that made them uncomfortable and err on the side of safety. We communicated to everyone that the culture we were cultivating was inclusive and supportive. Other behavior was not welcome.
We did have an incident, of a type we weren’t expecting. Someone actively discouraged one of our speakers shortly before their time slot. It wasn’t illegal behavior, it wasn’t sexual harassment. It was unmistakably malicious and violated the code of conduct. Our CoC gave us a thing to point to that told people, in advance, what would not be tolerated and what response they could expect from us. We could confidently confront the individual and administer a warning. We had a mechanism for actively discouraging someone being shitty to another person at our event.
Our code of conduct helped us as organizers. We used this increasingly common practice to prepare and then act to keep our event a positive, productive gathering. Without it, we would have felt terrible for that presenter’s experience but likely would have done nothing. We would have missed an opportunity to call someone out on the type of crap that makes good people leave our community. Our speaker would not have been supported. Instead, we proactively stopped intimidation and we had our speaker’s back.
That’s why I’m not going to attend a conference or speak at one that doesn’t have a code of conduct.
Recently, I had two great experiences participating in crowdsourcing exercises at local events. Both events were successful in getting a diverse population of unsuspecting individuals to generate tangible results within an hour. Amazing! I’ve had varying degrees of success trying to get non-designers involved in group design activities in the past. I want to take a close look at these exercises and how they were facilitated to understand why they worked. What made these events so successful and how can I apply that in the future?
The first event was at the Innovation in MiKE Council Meeting. This was a meeting of individuals all interested in developing the city of Milwaukee as a design, technology and innovation cluster. Consistent with this mission, Katherine von Jan spoke about RadMatter, a new platform for campus recruiting. RadMatter applies gamification principles to tackle the challenges of talent development and recruiting. Their goal for the event was to generate quality content for their beta launch and forge strategic relationships.
Tip: Select an audience that is invested in the topic or final outcome.
The lively presentation did a good job of grabbing the audience attention. Not only was it a tool that would address an issue in which the the group has a vested interest, there was a solid case made with research and data to explain why it could succeed. Companies represented by the attendees could also get fully engaged in the beta if and reap the benefits. By the end of the presentation, people were nodding their heads and smiling about this new, innovative idea.
Tip: Get the audience excited about your goals and the big picture.
After briefing the audience on the driving principles of the design, Katherine informed the crowd that they would be participating in developing some content. And there would not be much time to do it. In fact, the crowd had 20 minutes to self organize, brainstorm and distill a single idea into something actionable.
Having an incredibly small amount of time to work made people quickly assign themselves into groups and hit the ground running. Since there was no time to entertain social anxieties or analyze what we were about to do, people focused on doing.
Tip: Tightly time box the exercise.
I’m always fascinated by human behavior in groups. Anytime you get people together who need to make decisions, there are consistent roles that emerge. There is always someone who steps in and takes a leadership role driving the group forward. Someone facilitates, keeping the group on track, watching the time and making sure the rules are followed. And there are others who prefer to be scribes and the hands on people molding the group’s idea into the tangible. In my group, we had been given a theme. We explored several options before selecting the idea to pursue based on the time remaining.
Each of us had received a hand out with the instructions, guidelines and the principles that the result should embody. We all referenced these documents repeatedly. It was a lot of information, but it was laid out in a way that made each topic easy to reference. When questions arose, we were able to find the answer without seeking out the organizers or other groups. This event had over 60 attendees. It would have been disastrous if the organizers would have needed to provide individual guidance to each team.
Tip: Write down and distribute the instructions and supporting information so that the participants can reference it when needed.
Each group was able to submit their work using the actual beta software. This was great because there was an invitation for continued engagement via the software. The interaction gave us a familiarity and head start working with it. In addition to the ongoing involvement, participants would have a way to keep up on the progress of the project through the software.
Tip: Provide ways to continue the participation and make the path to engagement clear.
Tip: Let people see the value that came out of their contribution.
Part of the continued engagement allowed participants to compete for $50 gift certificates to Kohls for each member of the winning team, and tickets to a Present Music Concert in Milwaukee. Who doesn’t enjoy a little friendly competition?
Tip: Reward participants for their time.
The other event was the Leap Day Event for the Creative Alliance of Milwaukee. This organization is in it’s beginning stages of development. The individuals gathered ranged from working artists to corporate recruiters all interested in developing the creative industries in the Milwaukee area. The goal of the event was to have attendees explore the vision and strategic plan of the organization. Facilitating the event, Bob Schwartz and were members of the GE Global Design team.
After a presentation of the vision and strategic plan, the team introduced themselves with great enthusiasm and the project in which we were invited to participate. Everyone had been given a number upon arrival that indicated the group with which they would work. Similar to the RadMatter exercise, each team was given a set of written instructions that clearly detailed the exercise instructions and goal.
The teams were given 20 minutes to complete their project using community stores of supplies. Magazines, newspapers, markers, glue, glitter…all fun things that most of us used as kids. This really helped set the mood and keep participants from worrying about achieving perfection. They even went so far as to disallow scissors. We were exploring abstract ideas such as vision and strategy through visual collage.
Tip: Use materials that focus participants on the ideas not perfect execution.
It was a fun exercise and I was surprised how well our little team of 3 worked together. We brainstormed, revised, distilled ideas, and compromised. We completed our project at the buzzer and felt good. All of the teams then placed their masterpiece in the gallery area and everyone was given time to mill about, network, and look at what the other teams created.
Tip: Make it fun
To wrap up, each team was asked to have a representative present their project to the entire group and explain what they did. It was fabulous to see the excitement and energy created by going through the collaborative effort in such a limited time. The organization was able to capture a wealth of information about the groups attitudes and ideas from this exercise while at the same time energizing those who will become the drivers of the organization. The GE team then created a mural showing the long term vision of the organization. It was a nice, although obvious, metaphor conveying that everyone there could contribute to making the vision a reality.
Tip: Give everyone an opportunity to see what the other teams created.
What did these two events have in common that made them successful?
Each event selected an audience that had common goals.
They began by reviewing those goals and getting people energized around the common mission.
The audience was quickly transitioned into the exercise. No time to belabor they whys and wherefores of what was about to be done. Just get to it.
Organizing into teams was quick and easy.
The events were so tightly time boxed that the teams weren’t sure they could complete what they needed to do in that time. This got people moving and removed any anxiety about perfection.
The directions and relevant information was printed out and the participants could refer to it again and again during the mad dash.
There was a final product completed at the end.
Everyone had great opportunity to meet others during the event.
People understood how their work would contribute to the overall vision
Invitation for engagement beyond the exercise.
The other factor which had a big impact on their success, was the confidence and enthusiasm of the facilitators. They were truly excited about what everyone was about to do. That energy was contagious. They also gave the teams room to figure things out and didn’t jump in when we had that initial “What are we doing now?” moment. The direction was clearly given, enthusiastically and they trusted the participants to do the work. Perhaps those were the most important factors to successful crowd sourcing.
Matt Friedel, of jam-mobile.com presented some good business background on the mobile market. His presentation Mobile Business: Strategy and ROI contained some nice stats on its ramp up over the past decade and forecasts for future trends. One of his main points was that you should look at the platforms of your particular user community when considering platforms and devices to target. Even though iOS and Android may be leading the market, your app may be targeted to an industry that mostly loyal Blackberry users. Once again, you need to get to know your users.
I also attended fellow UX guru, Gretchen Thomas’ presentation Mobile Design is for Mobile Users. It was a good primer to get people thinking about the contexts in which mobile users are interacting with the apps and sites that the audience is wanting to build. Like Matt, there was an emphasis on beginning with a mobile vision and strategy rather than modifying your current website to fit in a smaller format. I loved the fictional example she walked us through illustrating her point “Mob Buddy for Angry Townspeople”.
During the Q&A after Gretchen’s presentation, someone asked how she would approach Responsive Design. Her response was a traditional position that design should not be limited by implementation considerations. On this point, I disagree. As a matter of fact, I think that this approach is unattainable and also the main reason that designers encounter so much friction.
My theory is that a long time ago some designers had a difficult time coming up with creative web designs because they couldn’t think beyond pre-CSS HTML table layouts. So they were encouraged to sketch and design in Photoshop and think about the implementation later. That was back when the web was new. There were two major browsers and most websites were static. Today, interfaces are highly dynamic and computing is ubiquitous. To get a product to market quickly, designers need to collaborate with developers in order to get to the best design as fast as possible.
Designers need to understand the medium in which their designs will be built and the technical environment in which they coexist. How else can we create designs that are efficient and take advantage of the interface capabilities?If designers adapted to become better team members and let go of our hero designer egos, we would all make better products faster.