Balancing Accountability and Compassion in the Drupal Community

“For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”

–bell hooks

One of the questions that we hear regularly at the Drupal Community Working Group (CWG) is how we handle people who have been banned from various spaces in the Drupal community for violations of our community Code of Conduct.

As our conflict resolution policy and process states, one of the potential actions that the CWG can take is to impose permanent or temporary bans from some or all Drupal community spaces, which may be both physical (DrupalCamps and other meetups) and virtual (community Slack channels, Drupal.org, etc.).

While we work to avoid bans whenever possible, sometimes they are unavoidable as an individual's behavior can have impacts that go far beyond just those individuals who may be directly involved. While the CWG’s original charter focused on interpersonal conflicts, the updated version we adopted at the end of last year makes it clear that the group’s primary responsibility is for the overall health of the community, which means that we need to consider the impact of a person’s ongoing participation on others in the community, not just on those who may have raised concerns.

In those cases where an individual is banned, we keep records in case they need to be reviewed in the future or additional action is required. However, we do not maintain a comprehensive “master list” of banned individuals.

If and when the CWG needs to issue an indefinite ban (or when an individual chooses to leave the community on their own, rather than working with us), we always let the individual involved know that they can reach out to us at any time. We generally try to avoid using the term “permanent ban”, as we recognize that people can transform and change over time; however, we are clear that indefinite bans remain in effect until such time as we agree to lift them, and that any attempts to circumvent bans may result in additional action.

On those occasions when a banned individual reaches out to us expressing interest in rejoining the community, we begin an established process where we start by examining the situation very carefully before agreeing to proceed. This involves reviewing the individual’s past history and the interactions they have had with other community members since their ban, as well as reaching out to those who have filed past reports and/or others who we are aware may have been impacted by this person’s past words and actions to get their feedback. If we are aware that the individual has already taken action in both public and private settings to address their past behavior before coming to us, that is a very positive sign.

To be clear, however, what we are looking for is for the individual to not just show remorse or regret for their actions, but also demonstrate a commitment to address and repair the damage their past behavior has caused. They need to be willing to take responsibility for their words and actions and the impact they have on others. In addition to demonstrating the ability to hold themselves accountable, they must also agree to allow others in the community to hold them accountable. If the CWG is not confident that these conditions can be met, we will not proceed further, instead recommending that the individual engage in additional reflection before coming back to us.

If and when we agree that the individual is ready to move forward with reintegration into the community, the next step is to collaboratively develop an action plan with clear goals and milestones. This plan must not only satisfy the questions and concerns that have been raised by others, but also include safeguards to address any potential for relapses in negative behavior, such as regular check-ins with the CWG and/or others and limitations in access to various Drupal community spaces. As the individual continues to demonstrate consistently positive behavior and is able to re-establish trust with more members of the community, they may gain additional access and privileges over time. However, if they engage in behavior that violates the Code of Conduct at any point in the process, they remain subject to immediate reinstatement of previous bans and/or other actions.

This process is difficult and hard, and it’s not for everyone. We understand that, and we don’t blame anyone who chooses to walk away. For those who are willing to be open and vulnerable, face their mistakes head on, and learn from them, we’re there every step of the way. As our values and principles state, “The expectation of leaders is not that they are perfect or have years of experience. The expectation of leaders is that they learn from their mistakes, rise to the challenge, support others ahead of their own needs or ego, and continuously work to improve themselves.”

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