Our process for reviewing Sunlight’s history

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Following the publication of a May 4, 2018 exposé on the behavior of Clay Johnson, a Sunlight Foundation employee from 2008-2010, the Sunlight Foundation outlined several specific steps we will take to prevent harassment and abuse in the workplace, build a staff culture that prioritizes inclusion and respect, and ensure the organization’s procedures allow us to respond appropriately if those values are not adhered to.

The first step of that process is a Board-overseen review of Sunlight’s history. As members of the Board of Directors of the Sunlight Foundation, today we are sharing our framework for that review.

The full plan for our audit of Sunlight’s history will include six steps:

  • Interviewing current staff
  • Interviews with any victims and witnesses of harassment, as well as past staff and stakeholders
  • Creating an independent channel for reporting issues
  • Reviewing existing mechanisms and policies for preventing harassment and exclusion
  • Reviewing the organization’s current governance, and
  • Reviewing the current Executive Director’s performance and conduct, as appropriate

This review will seek to identify and address the organization’s deficiencies in past policies and practices, culture, and staffing, understand the experiences of anyone who may have been victimized by a culture that failed to prevent or adequately respond to harassment and exclusion, and propose an appropriate path forward. For the purpose of this review, we are focused on the issues of harassment, abuse, and exclusion as unacceptable elements of an organizational culture. We are committed to creating an inclusive working culture at the Sunlight Foundation. The definition of an inclusive workplace culture is one that prioritizes and enables equity and respect for all staff and stakeholders, and maintains a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination.

We recognize that, due to Sunlight’s past role as a convener in the civic technology community, the scope of this review must address not only current and former Sunlight Foundation employees and contractors, but extend to those in the broader civic technology space.

The first step of this review plan is already complete. Last week we met with current Sunlight staff to consult with them about this plan and incorporate their feedback.

Our next step will be to invite former staff, contractors, and those in the broader civic tech community for interviews. Participants will have up-front agency to set terms over how their experiences are shared, ranging from anonymous reporting, to background information, to full attribution. We plan to begin this process by May 31, 2018, and will aim to complete all conversations with external stakeholders by June 15, 2018.

In addition to the proposal by the Board, the staff of the Sunlight Foundation have expressed a strong desire to taking additional actions to foster a healthy working culture, including creating a Code of Conduct, reviewing and updating the staff handbook, convening staff trainings on inclusive culture, holding staff accountable to culture drift and reviewing culture annually. More information about the timeline for these goals will be forthcoming.

We’ve made the decision to publish this plan for the broader world for a number of reasons. We want to receive feedback and constructive review from any interested stakeholders. We also want to hold ourselves accountable to the proposed actions and deadlines. We want to live our stated commitment to transparency and holding power to account. And finally, we will (hopefully) learn through this process, and want to offer that learning to others.

You can find our proposed plan of action here. We welcome your thoughts.

Mike Klein, chair
Katherine Maher
Craig Newmark
Zoe Reiter
John Wonderlich

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