Evaluating the efficacy of fieldwork codes of conduct

Seeking your feedback on the impact of codes of conduct in enabling courageous responses to harm and harassment…

Teaching and Learning in Archaeology 25th March 2020It’s International Women’s Day today and the moment seems appropriate to seek your advice in relation to matters of prevention of, protection from, and institutional action around, harm and harassment in field-based projects.

Several years ago, after a series of challenging experiences overseeing fieldwork teams on local and international projects, I drafted a code of conduct – or Six Fieldwork Expectations – to use with my collaborators. The Expectations were inspired by various other contemporary initiatives (e.g., Dig Ventures’ Learning Agreement), and focus on creating respectful, safe, secure and non-threatening working and living environments for all project contributors.

Since publishing the Fieldwork Expectations document, it has been adapted and elaborated by different individuals, institutions and projects in various parts of the world. Some have instigated evaluations of its effectiveness through surveys and other assessment methods. These data are critical, especially as I’ve been asked several times about what proof I have that codes of conduct make a difference to safety and dignity in the field.

Seeking your help to evaluate effects

Right now I’m gathering and collating this evidence to present in a variety of contexts over the next six months (data anonymised, as requested by all contributors so far). I will discuss at least four case studies of the Code of Conduct in action in different projects/institutions, and I am keen to solicit further data from those who’ve used the Six Fieldwork Expectations document or created their own specific codes of conduct. 

My interest is in speaking empirically about the efficacy of these codes of conduct. What do I mean by ‘efficacy’?

I have been looking recently into how an organisation or project responds ‘courageously’ to instances of harm and harassment. Per Jennifer Freyd, this includes: 

  • sensitively reacting to victim disclosures
  • being accountable and apologising
  • encouraging whistleblowing
  • educating your leaders
  • being transparent about policies
  • self-reflecting and self-evaluating

I’m thus seeking evidence of successes and failures in applying codes of conduct, especially data that testify to whether such codes actually enable or otherwise hinder ‘courageous’ behaviours.

Adapting the code of conduct to enable courageous responses

Like most people I know who have adapted the Fieldwork Expectations document, my own teams have changed it over time and buttressed it with different support mechanisms. For instance, inspired by an amazing scholar who approached me a couple of years ago about her experiences, my teams now take turns reading parts of the code aloud before a project begins in an effort to create a common bond between the group. We’ve also created a simplified version of the code to use with collaborators whose language and reading needs mean that speaking aloud the key ideas and providing common verbal acknowledgements are more meaningful than reading then signing the document.

I also know from my own applications of the code that it can be

  1. overly wordy and too intellectualised
  2. needs translation and adaptation for different contexts
  3. is only meaningful when supported by other initiatives to encourage openness and education
  4. is currently not very effective in relation to minimising harm through social media, especially use of WhatsApp or FB Messenger among team members

I would be very grateful for your help in identifying case studies where empirical evaluation of the Fieldwork Expectations document has been undertaken. If you could spread the word or contact me directly with information, I’ll be incredibly appreciative.

I’ll be presenting my preliminary findings first in Manchester (see poster above), hosted by the incredible Hannah Cobb. But if you are not in a position to travel, I’ll keep you posted as I continue to gather evidence. All feedback and data are very much appreciated!

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