2011 Candidate Profile: Julia Beck

This page collects all of this candidate’s responses to questions asked as part of the 2011 Board Candidate chats. Questions not addressed during the chat session due to time constraints were sent to all candidates in batches for response within 24 hours of receipt; answers not received within that time were posted with timestamps. Addenda or edits were allowed within 12 hours of that deadline, and are marked inline with timestamps as well.

Read Julia Beck’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

Meddling, in a way 🙂 I want the mandate to go in and help, where I can, and make connections, because I have a pretty good understanding of what works between the committees, and what doesn’t, from “working my way up” as a total no-name fan and volunteer first (I understand feeling powerless, in a way? And I want to help change that.) So I’m very concerned with volunteer motivation, and making the volunteering experience better, because without volunteers, there’s no org.

But I also want to shape policies, and the direction of the org – I want us to be a radical truly panfandom experiment, which includes international fans, and that requires some transformation on our part, I think.
I also want the OTW to be a platform that helps fans realize their projects, but that’s a long-term goal tied to volunteer recruitment & retention, so we gotta fix that first.

(like the recent fan delicious idea? that sort of thing.)

what specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

Internally: pretty much what Lucy said: take better care of our people, and help them grow, which includes evaluating tools and processes and adapting them accordingly. This sound v. beareaucratic, but it’s really vital. We need to be healthy as an organization, and that includes giving our volunteers places to voice criticism. I want to help maintain an open, critical, but respectful atmosphere inside OTW. (I hold myself to that.) (Like the internal forums that I advocated for, but that’s just one step.)

Externally: working on outreach – that’s been a major criticism in the past, but it’s really tricky to get right. We absolutely won’t barge into a community and preach the OTW’s gospel, no way. My committee (Internationalization & Outreach) is laying the groundwork for more strategic outreach now with our community survey (coming to a weblink near you v. soon!), and I and I hope this will, well, fertilize the discourse on outreach internally and spill over into actual measures next term.

How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

Fanlore! \o/ Ahem. I’d like to say that at most I can suggest things to wikimmettee and support them in what they plan to do. But it’s their purview, they’re the ones putting in the work, and I need to respect that.

That said, two sides to Fanlore growth: first, increase Fanlore participation in the communities we are already reaching. Second, introduce Fanlore to groups we’re not reaching yet (i.e. outreach.). I’ll focus on the first, b/c that’s where we can start off right away.

To the first, the existing editors are key. I would like to thank Doro from the wikimmettee for opening my eyes to that. We have amazingly invested people who have a very good understanding of and passion for Fanlore who don’t fit into OTW’s usual volunteer/staffer scheme. And we need to give them places to build a community, to draw others in and keep them there. It’s why I’m so adamant about forums. They’re not a cure-all, but editors need to be able to connect and plan in a stable, asynchronous place, and the Fanlore DW community is not that place. (If you want my tl;dr thoughts on that: http://fanlore.dreamwidth.org/42832.html?thread=410960#cmt410960 (I’m the one with the 12:30 timestamp.)

What also helps grow communities is giving them support, so more Fanlore Open houses (hosted chats) would be ace.

In terms of scope: I think we need to find a way to reconcile the encyclopaedic nature of Fanlore (with citations and all) and its oral history part. Both are equally important, but wikis are not a format conducive to recording oral history, so I’d like to help make that clearer.

What do you say when asked ‘What does the OTW do?’

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

Heh, depends on who I talk to! To non-fans, I say that it’s an international, unique, female-dominated open source/open culture project-slash-lobbying group that’s both building tools and advocating for a specific subculture centered around storytelling. I also stress the emancipatory politics inherent in that. And that we’re unspeakably awesome, of course. To fans — well, usually it’s “the organization that builds the AO3/Fanlore”, but then I can go into more depth (excitingly panfandom, entirely fan-run, owning the servers! doin’ it for ourselves!).

What would you do to increase the OTW’s transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren’t currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

What I did/am doing as a staffer for transparency, concrete steps:

To fandom at large: support the return of the Spotlight series and the Open Houses initiative (Helka, my former IO colleague, headed both), lobby for Fanlore forums, make sure to invite non-c2-oTW people as advisors wherever appropriate (make the decision process more permeable, in a way), comm-wise: advocate for criticism to be met respectfully, not shut down, & with my committee, review projects & blog posts to make sure they include an international perspective.

Internal & external to the OTW: initiated & headed the OTW community survey (coming soon!). This is something that’s meant both as a basis for outreach and as an evaluation. Results will be shared with fandom at large. (it’s going to be so interesting omg.)

Internal to the OTW: lobbied for internal forums, initiated Translators’ Newsletter within Translation cmt, and connect people across committees where I could (like a head’s up “look, xy is working on/interested in that too, you should team up.”). Trying to foster an open and respectful culture.

Part 1: Off the top of your head: How many staffers does the Org have? How many non-staff volunteers?

Part 2: Considering the many comments I’m reading about understaffing and volunteer burnout, how many additional staffing positions on existing committees would you anticipate adding in your term? Additionally, what concrete steps will you work to implement to prevent burnout, to increase staff/volunteer satisfaction, and to increase internal transparency?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

staff: 60-something; volunteers: 200-something (this is actually hard to determine: active vs. non-active volunteers)

Number of committee members is up to chairs.

How I imagine it growing? depends on how many people we can recruit! definitely 10+ staff.

Concrete steps: support chairs in providing more feedback and training to them and trying to implement better accountability. Many chairs are inexperienced in leading people and have to learn to do so the hard way. (Hi! that was totally me! it kinda sucked!) This translates to mentoring, basically.

also, very important to me:

create an atmosphere of critical and honest, but respectful communication: many of the miscommunications and problems aronse b/c you don’t feel you can criticize someone internally: you can only voice dissatisfaciton in roundabout ways

we need to stop backchanneling so much. Externally: try and put a stop to our paranoia about fandom hating us if we are not anything but perfect. We’re not perfect — we shuold be more ready to admit that, and open up about it.

this is very glibly put — sorry. But we have a sort of siege mentality where we seem to live in fear of perpetual wank. It’s not helping.

/done

How do you see the OTW as being accountable to its assorted constituents–fandom at large; users of the OTW’s projects (AO3 and fanlore users; readers and writers of the journal; recipients of legal aid; volunteers; staff; etc.) What would you do on the board to make sure that all those groups have the information they need when they need it?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

I’ll prepend that I think this question is too complex to answer statisfactorily on the fly. As to the “how”: First, identify our stakeholders and agree internally who we want to serve. Not sure we are doing that right now.

Then, what Jenny said: being more transparent (external communications!), AND giving more options for engagement. Sort of: the barriers to volunteering/discussing/criticism atm are too high. (Example: use other channels more familiar to consitutuents, like blogs/forums rather than the journal/website format.)

However, I absolutely can’t answer you with concrete steps, because we need to a) identify b) survey these groups and their needs first to get this right. It’s like assuming we’re reaching everyone with the journals: assumptions aren’t particularly helpful here.

(by “journals” I mean our concentration on the LJ-sphere.)

/done

I was happy to hear some of the candidates specifically mention outreach as one of their concerns in the chat transcript. However, I’d like to ask /all/ of the candidates if they could detail any ideas they have for specific plans of action that can be taken in the upcoming year to help the OTW reach out to fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom.

This question was in the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

Narrowly put, here’s the exact action plan of my committee, Internationalization & Outreach, drawn up in 2010:

1. as a first step, we need to look at the org & its products and see where and how we can improve internally

2. that is, work with other committees to increase accessibility & appeal of OTW products to international fans (“international” here: shorthand for both ELF, crossover, and non-English-speaking fen)

3. only as a last step, devise & conduct targeted campaigns. Respect for and knowledge of our target groups is key here. We’re not keen to be seen as unwelcome ‘missionaries’.”

Why am I posting this? Because outreach is a long-term effort and the preparation of the previous years is key. We also just revised our scope slightly (hence the name change!) to more implicitly include fandom outreach, and we want to recruit accordingly for next term.

According to plan, we reviewed many OTW projects to make them more inclusive in the last two years (and will continue to do so), and the other committees have been amazing about taking up and implementing our suggestions (just two examples: language browsing at the AO3 with *lots* more language functionalities forthcoming, and the revision of the former Vidding
project pages to the vastly more inclusive Fan Video project resources). So that was step one: we feel more confident about promoting the OTW to other fandoms now because we have can show that we will change accordingly, where we can.

Preparation for step three, actual outreach campaigns, includes gathering data via surveys: currently, we’re planning one external community survey and one internal one. With the internal one we want to find those volunteers who are connected both to OTW and their fandoms, who can act as advisors to the question “what can we offer fandom xyz specifically?” and/or as agents to carry that message to their communities.

Put more broadly, however, the general aim is to make the OTW a go-to place for realizing big-scale projects, regardless of whether we already have something that appeals to you/your fandom.

That can only succeed if we make the overall OTW framework more open. I’m hopeful we will get
there (so many awesome discussions and initiatives arising from elections talk!), but I don’t think we’re quite prepared to fulfill that promise yet, which is why I am hesitant to go into other fandoms without other fans acting as ambassadors and invite them *right now*. First step is to open our communication channels (or implement new ones: see the forums idea!), so it’s no longer so relentlessly one-way, because it’s no use if we go talk to communities and they can’t talk back at us *as* a community. But I’m getting way to tl;dr (what can I say, I am passionate about this!), so I’ll close by saying that it’s all interconnected: it’s not just a matter of getting the message out, it’s also a matter of being prepared to productively deal with both criticism and feedback from outside, and of offering better opportunities for involvement.

The OTW still seems to have trouble connecting with large numbers of people outside of Western media fandoms, particularly anime/manga fandoms. Do you have any concrete ideas about how the OTW should improve outreach towards anime/manga fans?

This question was in the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

“But some of my best friends are anime/manga fans!!!” well, it’s true! 😉

There are TONS of anime/manga and gaming fans both inside OTW and at its periphery. (see Franzeska’s post at http://franzeska.dreamwidth.org/151707.html or the comments in my journal at http://julia-beck.dreamwidth.org/2584.html?nc=51#comments that deal explictly with the concerns of anime/manga fandom.)

They are already (or still, hah) talking to us, even though we lost a lot of goodwill, and have very productive suggestions that I’m extremely grateful for. One example that I believe we should very, very seriously consider is opening OTW community forums, because our current communications channels (journals; website) are a) not conducive to community building b) unfamiliar or uninviting to vast swaths of fandom. Another suggestion was to make our sites more visually appealing; both the AO3 people and the website committee are on that already and are listening attentively.

So, the fun thing is: I don’t even have to think up things myself, I just have to listen to what fans are *already* telling us — and make sure they are heard inside the org.

for all candidates: what are their concrete plans for outreach to underrepresented sections of fandom?

This question was in the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

See my answers above, but I’d like to take the opportunity to go off on a tangent: I don’t believe we have a moral duty to serve any and all fans in the abstract. It’s perfectly fine if a fandom doesn’t have need of the OTW or its projects, so there’s a difference between “collect ALL the fandoms under the OTW umbrella” vs. “be welcoming to all fans that WANT under the OTW umbrella.”

For anime/manga fandom the latter is absolutely true as witnessed by the fact that fans have repeatedly said that they *want* to use and like the OTW’s products, but they can’t fully do so at the moment. (The same is true for non-English language fans.) So, while I think we need to work on making fans from all corners more aware of the OTW and its opportunities, this doesn’t translate into trying to be representative of fandom. We’re not, we will never be, and that’s okay. It’s a tricky balance to get right, though, because it can translate into complacency and lack of outreach: we’re certainly not in danger of overextending ourselves right now, quite the contrary!

I don’t know how appropriate a question this is, but sanders was suggesting having monthly chair meetings and discussion posts manned by volunteers, and already in Systems we are finding it burdensome with our load to attend to some of the administrativa demanded of us, such as the two-hour org-wide. There were, at some point, chair meetings that were occurring that we found burdensome and, truthfully, irrelevant to us, and we were grateful when these dropped off. I don’t doubt the above would be helpful for transparency, but how would sanders propose to ameliorate the increased overhead to the various committees, some of which aren’t perhaps prepared for it?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

I’m jumping in on this because I had a similar conversation with someone expressing concerns about administrative bloat (“spending too much time talking that could be spent doing”). I do believe we should assess each committee to see where we can communicate better — but individually, not as a top-down directive. Chairs, of all people, have really…little…time for additional meetings (I used to be a big proponent of chairs meetings, but realized that the main purpose that they should have — support — is more effectively served by mentoring.)

Inter-committee, I found that having liaisons for the closest collaborators worked very well, but that’s still not something every committee needs.

Regarding external & internal communication, Communications committee had the idea of adjunct Comm staff liaising with a particularly committee and taking on the brunt of its comms work (credit goes to Lucy Pearson, who is on that committee). It didn’t work out back then — we need more people for that, for one — but I think it’s worth looking into and recruiting for. Again, not every committee needs that, but I’d be interested to hear what you think of this, if it’s not too much trouble (Brainstorming topic in the internal forums?).

Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW’s priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. (Take a pause to appreciate my Oxford comma.) If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

Oh, server names. (I’ll probably associate regret with that poll forever.) I was involved in the final name selection task group, but contributed relatively little to the document-in-progress because I felt we had a solidly diverse shortlist.

Where I personally failed was the final selection chat, when the options “Kirk” and “Spock” were put onto two different servers, (effectively sealing the Star Trek over-representation). I felt that couldn’t be right, but I was unsure and didn’t object. I should have, and I’m very sorry that I didn’t.

I also assumed that the end result would, like the shortlist, be altered according to a principle of diversity; others assumed that we would honour the final vote, because to do otherwise would be unethical.

My believe (that I asked Board member hele to represent in the final decision) is that we should have admitted that we messed up and scrapped the poll or adapted the results (there were some good suggestions of allocating servers according to media type). I very firmly believe it wouldn’t have lost us much goodwill in our core support group, but it very definitely did lose us people who already felt marginalized.

What we can do to prevent this from happening again: The problem wasn’t a lack of diversity — our shortlist was pretty awesome. It was in the final selection & results discussion that we — that I — failed.

So to prevent something similar from happening, we need to create an atmosphere where a) all relevant information is available to the people involved and b) everyone feels they can speak up without fearing that they’re ruining (internal) relations forever. At its core, it was a charged communicative situation that was hard on everyone involved and effectively barred us from reaching a better compromise. On the outside, and because of the final decision, it looked like we didn’t care enough. I regret this immensely.

Voting transparency: Tricky. My spontaneous reaction was: YES, let’s have it! but… no matter the individual vote, the Board has to present a cohesive whole, and even if they disagree, Board members have to uphold the collective decision. Personally, I’m prepared to justify both my individual vote and the end result; but I haven’t made up my mind if it would be beneficial to make this a binding requirement — I’d need to discuss this with fellow Board members (nevermind that the bylaws don’t state anything about recording voting behaviour, so Board would need to adopt it). Regardless, I’d prefer it if Board were more open about its decision process, where it can, and Board members more transparent about their individual positions. (I find it confusing, too, when the majority on the Board seems to be in favour of postion X, but the result is position Y. Why?)

The copyright (fair use) advocacy issues that the OTW works on and the TWC journal are two of the aspects of OTW’s mission that are near and dear to my heart and a significant part of the reason why I have volunteered for and donated to the OTW. How do you think the OTW board as a whole can continue to support and further encourage these and similar projects? What about these projects do you personally value and what relevant skills/interests/experiences will you bring to your term on the Board that can help in this area?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

How the Board can support both projects: by letting them set their own agenda, by facilitating collaboration (like the Fan Video & Legal cooperation for the upcoming DMCA exception case), and by helping recruit volunteers to keep them sustainable, where it can. Both projects need experts, are driven by lighthouse personalities and benefit most from personal recruitment, but even so, making the OTW more broadly visible will help both with recruitment (for example, to reach more non-US lawyers) and with positioning it as an attractive enviroment for facilitating high-profile projects.

What I personally value about both committees is that they help contextualize the high-context culture “fandom” to their respective areas. Yes, having advocates who speak “outsider” language can feel alienating to fans, and I understand that representation and legitimacy are thorny issues; but while fandoms as a community and transformative works as creative endeavours are legitimate in and of themselves, that doesn’t mean they are perceived as either legitimate or valuable by academia or in legal practice! I’m perpetually excited that we have the audacity, the expertise, and the language to advocate for fandom and fannish creativity ourselves.

As for my personal input, I have no experience whatsoever in legal matters, but I’m in media studies, and I weirdly enjoy arguing for transformative works (I co-wrote a Symposium article, Playing Sue, with Frauke Herrling), so I’d absolutely be open to attending relevant conferences and doing just that (with the caveat that I’m just a student and don’t have an ounce of the academic weight of the TWC editors et al.!)

A current known challenge of the organization seems to be volunteer retention and burnout. For example, the majority of the Archive of Our Own’s coding is done by a small number of developers. For all candidates–what practices would you change in the committees you work with to bring in more volunteers and empower them to become long-term, regular contributors? How would you use a board position to do the same org-wide?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

(I’m going it interpret “committees you work with” as the ones I serve in, because I wouldn’t tell another committee how to conduct their affairs.) For I&O: Number one would be re-focus on our core mission, and for more general projects like the community survey form cross-committee task groups. We also need to position ourselves better as the go-to people to approach with concerns about diversity, who will amplify and convert them into action internally; I’d like to think that successful recruitment and volunteer retention also hinges on our credibility in that regard.

For Translation: apart from trying to make the overall translation process smoother, we are committed to making translators feel part of the organization (if they want to!), because it’s way too easy to feel detached and out of the loop as a volunteer.

But to veer back to a more general perspective: My educated guess is that volunteers don’t differ all that much in what they want out of their OTW volunteering experience. They want their work to be acknowledged, they want it to be meaningful, and they want a degree of agency. So if we consistently fail to deliver on these fronts for some people, they leave (– or they don’t volunteer at all, if they suspect that the threshold to getting things done is too high). So: acknowledgement or praise, work that connects meaningfully to a larger whole, and agency. Board can make a difference in all these areas. Pragmatically, we’re also trying to learn more about volunteer motivation and the gap between expectations and reality in the internal survey. My hope is that it’ll help us get a better grasp on the issue in general.

I’ve been hearing a lot of interesting ideas from the candidates, but at the same time, some of these ideas make me worry. For example, the suggestion to open up the wiki to the public: something like that is not at all simple and is absolutely extra work and a matter of extreme effort; it would require, as an absolutely key part of the whole proposal, volunteers across multiple committees to review the entire wiki. When I hear this and other suggestions tossed out right next to statements about volunteer sustainability and burnout, saying we don’t have enough people for various tasks, this is really troubling to me and I fear that a lot of these great ideas create more work that results in losing more people. As a candidate, how do you plan to balance these needs? I’m hearing a lot of ideas, but how do you plan to incorporate these into an approach that helps our sustainability?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

We can only balance this by talking *with* other committees and respecting their needs and limitations. I appreciated arrow’s question from the last batch, because we need to acknowledge the anxiety that this current flurry of new ideas causes — I intimately understand that volunteers are weary of additional work piling up, so we need to consider the cost-benefit balance for each individual committee.

Basically, if we want something from someone, our approach needs to be “what help can we give you?” instead of “hey, do this!”. So I always try to get a handle on the ramifications of a suggestion by checking back with the people involved before I initiate something; we need everyone’s cooperation, after all, and I’ve seen what havoc the best-intentioned ideas can wreak if they’re not integrated into existing discussion.

There’s been some discussion since the first chat about the time commitment required for serving on the Board, and what that means for Board Members who also have other roles within the OTW. How will you balance your role as a Board Member and committee liaison with your other commitments within the organization?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

I’m relieved I found a likely successor for chairing Internationalization & Outreach, and I hope to take a step back in general, because regardless of whether I’m elected to Board of not, I believe in trusting the “next generation” with carrying on the mission. I hope we can do the same with Translation committee soon; I’d feel uneasy (okay, streched way too thin) occupying a central role in two committees *and* serving on Board. I’m not going to just stop serving on either committee, it would feel like callously abandoning my mates! But I would encourage any chair who wants to run for Board to hand over the baton, if they can (it’s often simply not possible, I know!).

Hi again, I wanted to pose a question that is similar to one that was asked previously: can the candidates talk about the specific things they have done while working in the OTW over the past year that have promoted organizational sustainability? I’m interested particularly in something I’ve seen in OTW materials before: “We’re building the builders.” How have the candidates carried that out recently as applied to volunteers and future leaders of the organization? I’d be especially interested if they could talk about both technical and non-technical roles, and about how they expect to “build” future board members once they join the board.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 1 November 2011 7:49pm UTC.

I’m going to talk about this in terms of my actual work with OTW colleagues, because I’m translating your question as “how do we make people stay, and help them grow?” My role’s not technical, which is why I won’t address this part of your question except to say: my approach is to know my limitations, trust other people’s expertise and strengths and enable them to do their job well, not try and do their job for them.

I have a pretty organic understanding of “building the builders”, a sort of trickle-down effect from Board to to chairs to staffers to volunteers — I’m giving you a fair bit of tl;dr here, because regardless of which strategies Board may end up adopting or not, my core understanding of volunteer work won’t change.

My underlying belief is not to ask more of volunteers that they can or want to give, and to be grateful for anything they do give, no matter how small. That sounds like a platitude, but I think it’s easy to grow resentful when other people don’t do as much as you do, so it’s super important to not hold everyone to the same standard. (I learned that the hard way during my university radio time… plus, you need to take into account that other people on your team might grow resentful of those with seemingly “lesser” workloads, so you may need to defuse tensions.) Often, it’s the most dedicated people who carry increasing amounts of guilt over not doing enough, or for having to step down, and if they leave without that resolved, they forever associate volunteering with that awful, negative emotion (and never come back when they have time again, ack!). So it’s important to resolve that and let people leave graciously.

As chair, I care about volunteers feeling appreciated, no matter their contribution; and I’ll continue to do so as a Board member, especially by talking with chairs about a good balance between encouraging volunteers without accidentally guilt-tripping them. (I don’t want to pretend I’m flawless at that! I’m pretty good about talking one-c2-on-c2-one and mentoring and being gracious, but I need to do better with consistent encouragement and celebrating achievements — hat tip to Lucy Pearson for giving me some good ideas here.)

Inside my own committee(s), one thing we’ve tried to do with varying results is to offer different levels of engagement, that is, try and find individual modes to contribute for people who don’t fit into the committee-based staff system.

I’m also pretty keen on establishing liaison roles, that is, making sure I’m not the only point of contact to other committees, so other committee members can build relationships inside the organization. That works pretty well.

That said: while not everyone has the time, inclination, or energy to get involved on a committee level, it’s important to actively recruit promising people from the volunteer pool, not wait for them to make that move themselves. (Actually, actively recruit people regardless of whether they’re already volunteers or not! We need to work on that.) Approach someone directly to make them aware of open committee positions or other opportunities inside the org that they might be interested in; and, I feel this is really important: let them know why you think they’d be a good fit. My experience is that we have many amazing people with impostor syndrome, and clear feedback about strengths and weaknesses helps with confidence issues.

I suppose confidence in your strengths (and a healthy awareness of your weaknesses) is the most important aspect for a Board candidacy, so building confidence is crucial for building candidates. (I don’t believe that people become magically confident by taking on and mastering challenging work and after a while automatically consider running for Board; impostor syndrome may still apply.)

Speaking of challenging tasks: I don’t think every candidate needs to have chaired a committee, but I do believe that chairing is invaluable preparation. So in a sense, I’d like to encourage promising people to consider Board candidacy early on, so they have time to accumulate relevant experience like leading a committee or task group. Right now it’s very… I don’t know. As if people are either magically ready for Board or not. (I certainly wasn’t — it took a great deal of mentoring to get me there, so I want to pay this forward.)

I think we should make it more obvious what the expectations for Board members are: demystify the job, so to say, and train more people up for it.

What do you see as the role of the Board in soliciting user, member, staff and volunteer feedback? How will you prioritize this during your term as a Board Member?

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 4:13pm UTC 2 November 2011.

Simply put, two aspects: one is to open more avenues for conversation about the OTW, and make it easier to find them. There has already been excellent conversation about both; for example, there is a lot of conversation in private journals, but journals tend to be hard-to-find bubbles of friends (and for finding linkspams, you need to be *in* the journalsphere already). A relatively simple first step could be a opt-in directory of OTW staffers’ journals; and a bigger might be centralized external forums that provide a more level, less top-down discussion space. (To go all meta, let’s have feedback about that! What would make you more willing to talk to us?)

The second aspect is to change our communication style (both internal and external) to be more open and honest, while remaining respectful. We can implement all the avenues in the world for our members and users to talk to us; if you don’t feel you can be candid and that we will listen, you won’t use them. There is a perception that the only mode of communication we accept is squee, and while I understand and, to a degree, defend the up-beat tone of most OTW communication, it’s setting a tone barrier for feedback. Not productive.

(One thing I feel we’re already doing well is feedback rounds for in-progress projects. I loved the way the Fanlore committee solicited several rounds of heavy feedback instead of implementing their new category scheme straight away. Massive kudos to them — I know it was extremely exhausting for the committee, but worth it, and worth emulating.)

Internally, I helped advocate for internal forums and do hang out there when I can, and while I understand that not everyone can or wants to interact there (completely optional space!), I’ve been thrilled (and, admittedly, gratified) to see interesting and productive conversations between volunteers and staff that couldn’t have happened elswhere. I hope we’ll change the org-wide meeting to a more open, discussion-centered format soon.

How I’ll prioritize both aspects: by lobbying inside Board and among committees, recruiting communications-related personnel, putting in the work (draw up proposals, form work groups etc.) and by trying to lead by example. I’ve written a couple of “that thing you did was not okay, here’s why, can we talk?” emails internally, and while it was hugely, hugely stressful to do so, I really hope I can encourage people to talk to each other directly more, so that this sort of candid feedback becomes normalized (and you don’t need to be a 2+ years chair or Board candidate to dare write them).

I understand feedback as growing out of conversation. I want us to have more, and more honest conversations both internally and externally, and I hope my ideas will help us have them.

Julia and Jenny both mention sustainability as one of their priorities for the Board in their candidate statements, and I’ve seen the term also mentioned in other discussions of the election by both members and staff. My question for all the candidates is what do you see as the biggest challenge to sustainability within the OTW, and how will you work towards ensuring a sustainable future for the org during your time on the Board.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 4:13pm UTC 2 November 2011.

Hmmm, the single biggest challenge. It depends on the project, honestly, so I need to pick two interconnected challenges: the first is making our potential volunteer pool larger, that is, getting the word out about the OTW to communities who are skeptical about OTW, or don’t know us at all yet (i.e., communication & outreach). The second is making the OTW the sort of environment where people stay, not leave in frustration because they run into invisible barriers, or get tangled up in up in opaque structures. I talked about outreach in the first batch of questions (http://elections.transformativeworks.org/2011-second-board-candidate-cha…) and to my answer re. feedback above, because I honestly believe that communication is key here (both talking to the public, and for volunteers talking amongst themselves).

Many candidates are talking about transparency and the need for better communication. I am a casual user of the AO3 and have no idea what these buzzwords mean in a ‘real world’ context, why they’re important to someone like me, and what the candidates are actually planning to change.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 4:13pm UTC 2 November 2011.

Transparency means that you, as a casual user, can find out what’s actually going on inside OTW, if you want to, and that you know what we did with your feedback. As a fan-driven organization, we depend on our users’ trust and involvement (we can’t think of all the ways you might want to use the archive ourselves, for example). It means that you can easily find accessible and relevant information and ways to get involved. (The recent Open Houses are good examples for measures that help improve transparency.) Right now, only a couple of people on a committee level have the sort of broad overview to know why something is happening, or not happening, and when and what is in progress, or being planned; and volunteers are often just as confused and intimidated as casual users are. (You shouldn’t have to sign up as a volunteer to get access to that sort of information, anyway.)

It doesn’t have to be important to everyone, and the admin posts and spotlights on AO3 are doing a good job of keeping users up to date and informed. That’s not true across the organization as a whole yet, so we need to do a better job to get people involved and invested by reaching out, and by actively soliciting feedback.

I’ve been hearing a lot about volunteer retention and burnout, but I have a question about the flip side of the sustainability issue. It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the OTW right now is lowering the barriers to casual participation, to the small, bite-sized things people can do to help sustain the org. Right now, submitting a bit of code or wrangling a tag requires a whole process for anyone who just wants to help a tiny bit, as they can (by contrast, contributing to Fanlore is significantly easier, and I know that committee has done a lot of work to lower barriers). Some OTW projects don’t seem like they would lend themselves as well to casual participation, but it seems like a lot of our work could benefit from this, and I feel like I’m not seeing enough focus on this from the org as a whole. I feel like we’d have less burnout if we had more people to spread the burden, in bits and pieces. What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now? Do you think they need to be lowered? If so, what concrete, specific plans do you plan to pursue to do this? How do you plan to acknowledge and reward casual participation without devaluing the work of the more “official” volunteers? How do you plan to balance the needs of casual contributors, volunteers, and staff?

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 4 November 2011 08:41am UTC.

Hah, oh yeah. This is a great question, because I (rather, we!) struggled a lot with finding answers for my own committees. First off, yes, I agree that generally speaking, the barriers are too high. But what makes this such a tricky issue is that it’s different for each committee. That’s why I can’t in good conscience give you any concrete measures apart from: the Board needs to initiate an evaluation process, ask each committee to poke its processes and give at least one suggestion each. (Seeing as it’s something that most committees already do, I don’t believe an initiative like that would be controversial.)

This doesn’t sound like much, I know, but I can’t stress enough how valuable it would be to have Board say “you are not only allowed, but encouraged to question this process. Yes, you, the volunteer who just got started. Yes, you, the long-term committee member who’s become used to things”. Because right now it’s more, “this is the process. Deal.”, and even if people have suggestions, they’re not sure if those are welcome, and they don’t want to be disruptive. So I see it as Board’s task to facilitate an open culture of feedback.

Okay, since you prompted me, trying my hand at a couple general, actual measures for this initiative after all: sorting the tasks in each committee according to commitment/expertise required; then set up a noticeboard with low-commitment jobs on the website where people with little time can nab something (honestly, I can come up with 4 jobs like that spontaneously for both I&O and Translation… Hmmm. Brb, writing a proposal to our Volunteers committee~)

I’m not actually all that worried about balancing the value of regular vs. one-time work. Maybe that’s naive, but there’s the fact that a committee is also a social group, and that community spirit is both a powerful motivator and a reward in itself. (Conversely, since you mentioned Fanlore, I see the lack of community-building as Fanlore’s Achilles heel at the moment.) Another reward (simultaneously, burden) exclusive to being staff is responsibility: you make/shape decisions (you deal with the fallout).

As to balancing temp volunteer/volunteer/staff needs, I’ll repeat what I said in the third set of answers: “My educated guess is that volunteers don’t differ all that much in what they want out of their OTW volunteering experience. They want their work to be acknowledged, they want it to be meaningful, and they want a degree of agency.” Agency becomes more important if you are staff, though.

With regards to acknowledgement, my quick & dirty suggestion would be to have a (opt-in!) “Thank you” section in the official newsletter (like the AO3 release notes already do), but more pragmatically, I’d ask both temp volunteers & volunteers themselves what they want (Newsletter acknowledgement? AO3 invite? handshake? Graphics? Nothing?). Actually, let me include that as a question in the internal OTW survey (see, I know why said it was a great question: very thought-provoking.)