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Re: Results of the Antiharassment Team Survey

Hi Sam,

Thank you for sending this analysis and the clear effort and thought
that's gone into it.  I'm very glad that you gathered some partial data,
which is a useful addition to the normal mailing list discussions.

I do have some significant concerns about the conclusions you've drawn,
and around the feasibility of what you have identified as the project's
goals for the anti-harassment team.  Maybe they're off-base, but I'll be
frank about them and see where the discussion goes.

First, although I've snipped all those parts of your message, I completely
agree with the concern about responsiveness and with finding some way to
prioritize that.  There is often a time limit on being able to effectively
respond to harassment or related problems in a project, beyond which a lot
of the value is lost.

That also makes the job very difficult, which leads into my concerns.

Sam Hartman <leader@debian.org> writes:

> The second is that we need to do better at actually engaging in
> mediation.  By that I mean helping people understand what changes in
> behavior we're looking for and how to accomplish their goals within our
> standards.  I do not mean the AH team should routinely engage in debates
> about whether particular conduct is consistent with our standards.  My
> hope is that by addressing these concerns we can build stronger trust in
> the team.

Maybe I'm reading too much into what you're saying, but I'm troubled by
these statements.

First, to me this feels like Geek Social Fallacy 1: Ostracizers are evil.
What it feels like you're saying is that, as a project, we should invest
even *more* time and energy in those people who are making Debian a
hostile and negative experience for others.  I believe this sends a clear
if entirely unintentional message about who we value.

Second, I don't understand how organized mediation can possibly be on the
table at this point given our available resources, particularly since
you've identified lack of responsiveness as your other serious concern.  I
know there are multiple factors that go into the question of
responsiveness, but I can see no way in which adding a requirement of
mediation could possibly improve response times.

Third, I believe that requiring mediation expertise on top of the other
(quite challenging) requirements for the AH team will mean that the role
requirements are defined into impossibility.  At that point, we're talking
about a set of skills that people go through intensive multi-year training
to acquire, and yet somehow we expect to staff that role with volunteers?
This feels entirely unrealistic to me.  I think instead we need to start
with what sort of action is realistic for the type of project we are and
our available volunteer pool, and then reset project expectations

On that front, I will advocate strongly for prioritizing stopping the
behavior that is in violation of our Code of Conduct (on a timely basis)
over making people who are violating the Code of Conduct feel heard and

I'm very sympathetic to the folks who are trying to navigate different
cultures and different cultural expectations.  We can approach this with a
base standard of empathy, and we can start from an assumption of good
intent, and hopefully that will soften the occasional difficult moment.
But if we let empathy turn into paralysis, we're not doing the community
any favors.

Put another way, providing mediation is graduate-level work in AH.  I
don't think we have the 101-level AH work in a predictable and sustainable
state.  Let's start there.

> However, what I find more significant is the comments made by people who
> expressed support for the AH team.  At least from a number of
> participants, this support clearly envisioned an AH team that was
> responsive and that effectively helped members of our community be
> effective in their communication while following our standards.

The conclusion that I personally would draw from this is that a number of
people in the project have unrealistic expectations for what is possible
for a voluntary anti-harassment team in a project like ours.  I believe
any attempt to add mentoring, coaching, or mediation to the duties of the
anti-harassment team would have the effect of dooming the team, and thus
significantly undermining our ability to maintain a reasonable project
response to harassment.

Russ Allbery (rra@debian.org)               <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>

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