Process is culture and values

A truism in software engineering, and I think engineering in general, is that your process IS your values. If you value code correctness your process will require the creation of unit tests. If you value UX then your process will involve user testing and feedback and the inverse is true. In my reading about racism, CRT, and anti-racism, time and again I find paragraphs, pages, chapters, and whole books about racist and damaging processes, procedures, and policies.

What I find difficult, however, is that in discussions with folks people are very comfortable identifying these bad processes and policies but are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of crafting good ones. It is maybe not surprising that this happens but I remain annoyed by how quickly people seem to run from attempts to craft antiracist policy. We would rather talk about how things went wrong, instead of crafting rules to attempt to guarantee that they will go right next time. I understand this fear – what if the process or policy we create is ineffective or counterproductive?

A problem with this, however, is that when we educate and change hearts and minds it is largely a one-by-one process. What’s worse is that antiracist research and behavior asks a lot of each person who undertakes it and puts them at a comparative disadvantage to those who do not. This work often requires the creation of large networks that are hard to maintain. They require not using populations of convenience in your research and more work before and after your research to make sure you are properly giving back to your participants.

Additionally, when people join your community, how are they to know that it is an antiracist one if they missed last years trainings, readings, and meetings? How will you transmit to them the shared understanding, the implicit rules that were set when the community put time and effort into thinking about how to do better?

The answer to all of these things is to turn implicit rules, shared understandings, and values into explicit rules policies and procedures. Give them some wiggle-room and update them regularly but make sure that they are explicit and required. Have your new members read and understand them. Use confusion and discomfort with these rules as signals and opportunities for teaching and self-education.

p.s. I wrote this post rapidly and out of an immediate sense of annoyance. Let me know how I can improve it?

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