Safe Conferences Are Deliberately Designed

Jared M. Spool
26 min readDec 22, 2014

Creating safety is not the same as creating a feeling of safety.

TL;DR Summary

In writing this, I ended up with more than 6,000 words to express my thoughts. For those who want to get the essence without plowing through all that, here are the quick points:

  • Safety is the primary job of anyone who produces events.
  • Attendee harassment is a safety issue.
  • Bad behavior isn’t just the responsibility of an errant attendee. Event producers own some of it too.
  • Event producers make design choices that change attendee behaviors, either to be more professional or less professional.
  • While “Jerks will be jerks” and we can’t eliminate all instances of harassment, we can design our events to minimize them.
  • A strong Code of Conduct promises remedies that are likely to be costly and constraining to event producers.
  • Many Code of Conduct documents are weak in their remedies, to avoid delivering any actual promises, because it makes the events cheaper and easier to produce and removes risk and liability from the event producers.
  • A weak Code of Conduct is a placebo label saying a conference is safe, without actually ensuring it’s safe.
  • Absence of a Code of Conduct does not mean that the organizers will provide an unsafe conference.
  • Creating safety is not the same as creating a feeling of safety.
  • Things organizers can do to make events safer: Restructure parties to reduce unsafe intoxication-induced behavior; work with speakers in advance to minimize potentially offensive material; and provide very attentive, mindful customer service consistently through the attendee experience.
  • Creating a safe conference is more expensive than just publishing a Code of Conduct to the event, but has a better chance of making the event safe.
  • Safe conferences are the outcome of a deliberate design effort.

(I’m guessing many folks will have issues with what I’ve written here. That’s great and I look forward to engaging in a productive and constructive discussion. All I ask is you read the entire essay before telling me how wrong my point of view is.

Jared M. Spool

Maker of Awesomeness at Center Centre - UIE. Helping designers everywhere help their organizations deliver well-designed products and services.