For some years, I’ve been moderator of an email list of several hundred activists interested in democratizing tech. Despite our shared interest, though, we couldn’t figure out our own democracy. A single list member’s misbehavior occupied weeks and weeks of controversy. I didn’t want to act unilaterally, but we had no shared framework that I could act on either. A member mentioned a code of conduct called Contributor Covenant, and with an overwhelming vote of the group we adopted it. The next time the problem came up, we resolved it in a week, apparently for good.
Contributor Covenant is intended to be a simple and universal social contract, designed to make open source communities safer and more welcoming for people who have been chronically underrepresented and undervalued.
In the early 2010s, when Coraline Ada Ehmke joined the chorus of people calling for codes of conduct in tech communities, she faced sometimes overwhelming opposition, pushback, and a steady stream of abuse and harassment that continues to this day. But after just a few years, her Contributor Covenant has been adopted by thousands of communities, from the Linux project to Creative Commons. Its widespread adoption represents a growing commitment to creating safe and inviting spaces where everyone is welcome.
Today, this historic document enters the next phase of its evolution. Coraline has transferred stewardship to the Organization for Ethical Source. This milestone marks its “exit to community,” as Contributor Covenant graduates from a passion project into a community-owned asset.
Contributor Covenant, the Ethical Source Principles, and a growing number of Ethical Source licenses are key components of an “ethical stack”—a set of tools for technologists to help ensure their creations are a force for good in the world.
The Organization for Ethical Source is a diverse, multidisciplinary, and global community that is revolutionizing how tech culture works. We are investing in tools like Contributor Covenant as part of our commitment to creating a better future for open source communities around the world. If you’d like to help us shape that future, consider becoming an OES member.
Nathan Schneider is an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he leads the Media Enterprise Design Lab. His most recent book is Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that Is Shaping the Next Economy.