At the second Changing Worlds conference in 2015, we expected participants with a relatively wide range of backgrounds. These included not only demographic variables, but also individual biographies and socialisation in specific areas of life such as artists, activists, and academics (This list is not meant to imply that either of those three groups are homogenous in themselves). It meant that, in addition to questions of transgressive behaviour which we began to address in our ‘be nice’ policy, we felt that it might be helpful to make explicit that different participants might be used to different forms and formats of communication.
Conference participants playing with balloons. Closing discussion Changing Worlds conference 2015. (Photo: Mercedes Pöll)
In order to address both potentially problematic behaviours, and these potential differences in communication, we distributed a set of ‘Guidelines for Hybrid Spaces’ among participants. We both circulated it via email in advance, and had paper copies on the registration desk during the conference. In addition to asking participants to ‘contribute to creating a harassment-free, safe and inclusive conference’, it contained general suggestions for keeping in mind the different backgrounds and expectations of our participants as well as our email address and Twitter hashtag.
Our guidelines were based on those developed by the organising committee of the 1st Non-Monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies conference. You can download a PDF copy of our ‘guidelines for hybrid spaces’. Alternatively, you can find them below:
Guidelines for hybrid spaces
Changing Worlds is going to include a diversity of people, as both contributors and attendees. This includes their cultural, linguistic and generational as well as their occupational backgrounds (e.g. activists, academics, artists, …).
Therefore, we ask that you are mindful of the different backgrounds and perspectives of the attendees. To help in this, we’ve drawn up the following list of guidelines which we invite attendees to follow, both when preparing their materials for the conference, and when taking part.
- Please keep your terminology simple so that it can be understood easily by people from all of the groups listed above. If you use words which are specific to your academic discipline or professional world, please explain them for those who are unfamiliar with them. This might include, for example: statistical terms, specific theoretical ideas (e.g. feminist, anarchist, post-structuralist), or references to thinkers/activists/artists with whom others will not necessarily be familiar. You might simply consider stripping some of these elements out of your contribution if it would be difficult to explain all of the background in simple terms.
- Please don’t assume that people will be familiar with the norms and conventions of your world. We have very different ways of doing things across different kinds of spaces, and people will also have different cultural and generational norms as well as different levels of experience and expertise. Please be aware of this when interacting with others. For example, people may ask questions or make points which feel clumsy or ignorant to you, but – if possible – try to ‘call them in’ by explaining things gently rather than ‘calling them out’ by publicly dismissing or challenging them. If you don’t have the energy to do this yourself, then it’s fine to suggest that the person talk to one of the organisers who can explain.
- Please contribute to creating a harassment-free, safe and inclusive conference experience for everyone, regardless of personal and professional background, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, dis-/ability, physical appearance, body size, race, class, age or religion. Please try not to make assumptions about others, and to take people’s self-identities at face value, e.g. by using the names and gender pronouns that people provide on their badges. Please also avoid creating potentially uncomfortable situations by assuming, e.g., that they will be able to afford joing you in eating out, or that they will drink alcohol, or that they will be able to hear in a noisy venue such as a bar.
- Please help make presenters and other participants feel at ease. It can be very daunting to share one’s work in front of a group, and for some people this will be their first time. Please keep comments constructive, and bear in mind that people may make errors in their language under pressure.
- Please try to frame questions and discussion points in a way that leaves room for other people to contribute. It’s common at events to get excited about people’s contributions and to want to join the discussion. We really hope that you feel this way! However, it is easy for discussions to become dominated by certain individuals or views. Please keep your contributions brief enough that everybody present has the possibility of taking part. Remember that some people need a period of silence to consider what to say before contributing or putting their hand up, so don’t rush to fill the space. If you’ve already contributed, or tend to do so a lot, consider stepping back to give others space. If you don’t often contribute, think about stepping forward. (If you speak quietly or find it too daunting, you can write a comment on a post-it and give it to the panel facilitator rather than speaking.)
- Please provide content warnings if the material you are sharing has the potential to be upsetting or personally triggering. This counts both for scheduled contributions (which can have a brief content warning up front) and for comments in discussion. Please think first about whether your comment might feel too personally exposing for you afterwards, or triggering for others. For example, it is worth flagging up front if there is going to be any mention – or imagery – of sexual abuse, violence, mental health problems, traumatic experiences, or racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise derogatory sentiments. It is fine for people to decide to leave a session – temporarily or permanently – if they aren’t comfortable with the material.
- Please use social media generously. We very much hope that people will live tweet the event and blog about it. Our hashtag is #cworlds15. However, please don’t use these media to publicly criticise or condemn individuals.
- Dealing with problems/questions. If you encounter any problems at the event, please talk to the organisers invidually. We will do our best to support you and find solutions together. If you have any questions about the guidelines (or anything else), just drop us an email at [our email address].
This solution isn’t perfect
Of course, these guidelines don’t work perfectly, or equally well for all audiences. With anything like that, we had to make certain assumptions about our participants, and these are built into the guidelines. As a consequence, these guidelines are very specific to the context of our conference, and it was quite hard for us to decide what exactly we wanted to have in there, and how to keep it tangible while at the same time addressing a rather varied audience.
We do not claim to have all the answers, and for us this is an ongoing discussion. The guidelines above merely represent our attempt at addressing some issues that we thought might come up, and we’d be very curious to hear your thoughts.
- Do you have any suggestions or ideas for what could be improved?
- Would this work for your event? What might have to change for the use in different settings?