Probably the most important aspect of conducting a Speaking in Code event is bringing together participants. You may choose to put on an event open to anyone, and just see what develops. But because we had support for a limited number of participants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we put a great deal of thought into what kind of discussions about DH software development we wanted to provide a platform for, to encourage, and to amplify.
We took seriously the rare opportunity of our NEH grant to attract deeply-experienced humanities computing developers, and so wanted to indicate that we had not planned conversations suitable for programming novices. And yet we were aware that the barriers to participation in technical conversations are already too high. "You are Welcome Here," publicized as part of the Speaking in Code call for participants, encapsulates our thoughts on this.
"You are Welcome Here"
This statement was important for several reasons. First, it expressed the kind of discussion that we wanted to take place. It set the tone for all of the participants, both for developers from traditionally under-represented groups (women, people of color, members of the queer/LGBT community, and others) and for the cisgender white males who make up the largest percentage of software developers inside and beyond DH, and whom we accurately predicted would be likely to apply.
But most importantly, the statement went beyond a guarantee that we would make our event a safe space. It was an invitation. We wanted to clarify that the organizing team was actively seeking out voices that can be absent from other software development settings—and to attract participants eager to listen and to hear what their often-marginalized colleagues had to say.
This invitation is important enough that we'll reproduce it here:
This is a small planning and problem-scoping meeting, meant to provide an opportunity for advanced software developers to address shared issues in DH and tacit knowledge—on their own terms. Participants are therefore expected to have contributed to digital humanities software projects at an intermediate or expert level, committing code or with responsibility for aspects of design, architecture, and technical project management that indicates past experience can be brought to bear. However, because software development—even in the more intellectually diverse and welcoming digital humanities—is a predominantly white and male profession, we are particularly committed to amplifying the voices of developers who are women, people of color, queer/LGBT, or otherwise under-represented among programmers, and to creating a friendly and respectful environment for collaboration at this event. Don't let impostor syndrome stop you from applying to Speaking in Code! If you have questions about your application, would like to nominate other participants, or have advice to share, please get in touch with us directly.
In that last sentence, we provided an email address for the entire organizing group and a way to contact the event's primary organizer, a woman, privately. Both options were used.
Applicants submitted simple information via a Google form. This included name, title or role, contact info, current projects or institution, whether they were requesting travel funding, and some brief prose on what they felt they would bring to the discussion and what they might hope to learn. The form was prefaced with this statement:
Speaking in Code participants will be selected on the basis of their demonstrated experience in digital humanities software development, their interest in advancing solutions to the problems raised by the summit, and the disciplinary and cultural diversity they bring to the conversation. We particularly encourage and will prioritize applications by women developers, people of color, LGBT developers, and coders from other under-represented groups.
The statement led several participants to volunteer information that helped our selection committee create a highly diverse group. After participants for the event were selected, we edited the initial "You are Welcome Here" statement to remove info directed at applicants and left the following:
This is a small planning and problem-scoping meeting, meant to provide an opportunity for advanced software developers to address shared issues in DH and tacit knowledge—on their own terms. Because software development—even in the more intellectually diverse and welcoming digital humanities—is a predominantly white and male profession, we are particularly committed to amplifying the voices of developers who are women, people of color, queer/LGBT, or otherwise under-represented among programmers, and to creating a friendly and respectful environment for collaboration at this event.
You may use any of the text we have provided here verbatim, edit it to suit your event or local community, or amplify it by developing and sharing a proper anti-harassment policy or Code of Conduct. Resources on statements and codes like these are available at Geek Feminism and the Ada Initiative.
Another important consideration is the group of speakers or facilitators to invite. They can offer immediate provocations for conversations at the event. In our model, they are not lecturers, but rather make brief presentations that start a discussion, which participants then take over. They should be asked to make some personal observations or plan an open-ended activity from which conversations can move outward. We found it useful to bring facilitators together for a Skype call to discuss overall goals and ethos of the meeting beforehand. We were also careful to invite speakers with a strong track record of teaching and working with diverse communities of developers and student-developers, and who showed a strong commitment to inclusivity. For our inaugural event at the Scholars' Lab, two of our six named speakers were women, but none were people of color.
What makes for a "productive" event?
Above all, a Speaking in Code discussion is meant to be productive. But productive here isn't related to typical metrics of production like lines of code or items on a burn-down chart.
Instead, to be productive is to create a sense of meaningful communication and community-building. There may be action items that emerge from your Speaking in Code summit, and we strongly encourage you to find ways to share outcomes and results, but the fundamental product is the richer, more thoughtful community that we co-create through discussions, informal working sessions, and continued conversation in social media.