Alex Tischer, DrMedVet: Is an ECC veterinarian. Grew up in Germany and currently lives in the UK. Has been in fandom since before the millennium and has migrated through more fandoms than can be listed here. The most current ones include Rivers of London, Person of Interest and Mad Max: Fury Road. Has been a member of the OTW pretty much continuously since 2008, volunteering in some capacity for the same amount of time. Apart from media fandom has also somehow ended up in the weird and wonderful world of sports – which are very niche groups that resemble fandoms in surprising ways. When not dealing with sick pets, Alex can be found doing assault courses, climbing and trail running nearly as often as consuming media.
1. Why did you decide to run for election to the Board?
The current Board has met some structural and internal problems that it has not yet been able to solve in a satisfactory way. On the contrary, it’s reflecting these issues towards the rest of the organisation in its many interactions with our committees. There is a lack of vision, communication, and prioritisation that I find worrisome. Some committees are so bogged down by their own documentation and procedural debt that they cannot make steady progress on their day-to-day tasks, or even define goals for their future. Instead of empowering committees, the current Board is looking to make the situation worse.
We’re still suffering from high volunteer turnover and from serious org-wide structural problems, like a lack of solid financial oversight that doesn’t rely on one sole person to do all of our bookkeeping. I believe that by joining the Board, I could offer and implement reliable changes that would go beyond procedural changes for their own sake, and allow us to truly step into the future instead of constantly trying to reinvent the wheel.
2. What skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?
Over the years, I have been an active member of quite a number of organisations and committees. There, I served in various capacities, ranging from treasurer of a Student Union to member of the Web committee and Health and Safety committee of my professional organisations. All of these experiences have taught me quite a lot about managing people – I remember my days of drawing up the rotas for 40+ clinical postgrads and/or interns. They have also allowed me to learn how to approach a task in different ways, and how to come up with creative solutions to a problem. I believe that the Board severely lacks these problem-solving skills, and I wish to fill that gap.
As for my history within the OTW, I became a Translation staffer over a year ago, after volunteering in various other committees for six years. It has allowed me to truly discover the everyday challenges we must face, and to help overcome some of them at the scale I could work on. It has also allowed me to connect with our other committees, and to get a taste of their ambitions for the future, but also of their limitations. I would bring with me the vision that Board so desperately needs, as well as the knowledge of how our largest committees function and thrive.
Board also suffers from frequent miscommunication problems with our volunteers, staffers and chairs. Straightforward and efficient communication is something my work as a vet, and in the Translation committee itself, with its 170+ volunteers, has taught me how to handle, and I am sure I can help foster a good working environment in the organisation.
3. What goals would you like to achieve during your term?
If I could end my term having moved the org towards more open communication and broken up the siloing of committees in just a small way, I would count it as a win. We really need to strive for more transparency and in-org cooperation, in order to give our users what they truly deserve: a well-oiled machine that can focus all of its energy on bettering its projects instead of losing steam on internal squabbling.
If we’re talking big dreams here, a better framework for providing adequate support to the OTW’s projects would be high on the list. For example, the Journal committee is a group that have mostly been left to their own devices, supported by the Board when needed but otherwise trusted to make their own decisions. They have had minimal turnover in the past five years and are publishing their 20th issue this September. While not every committee should or can be as independent, the Journal committee is an example of how the Board can constructively support a committee by trusting it.
Another good example is the Archive: Board’s focus for the OTW has tended to shift from the AO3 for reasons I cannot understand. Considering how dear this project is to us all, it would seem natural to provide it with the best care and nurturing possible. I would particularly like to bring some of the executive spotlight back on it, so we can truly give our small team of volunteer coders the means to improve the Archive even more, and never again leave them scrambling to maintain it due to lack of funding or tools.
4. What is your experience of the OTW’s projects and how would you collaborate with the relevant committees to support and strengthen them? Please include AO3, TWC, Fanlore, our Legal Advocacy work, and Open Doors, though feel free to emphasize particular areas you’re interested in.
I joined the OTW in 2008, which means I’ve seen the OTW and its committees come into being from the beginning. Over the years, I’ve helped out in a number of committees: as a tester, a wrangler, a Support staffer and a translator. More recently, my work as a Translation staffer has allowed me to learn how to interact with most of our current committees in order to provide them with the support they need while learning more about their individual styles and atmospheres. I’ve found that communicating clearly, answering emails as quickly as possible, and generally staying open and flexible to every possibility are key requirements. The way we approach each committee has to be tailored to their specific needs: collaborating with Legal is necessarily different from working with Journal, just as Fanlore and Open Doors have their own challenges.
The committees are usually quite aware of their weaknesses and strengths, and I think it is important not to try to impose help from above. On the contrary, we need to make sure that the collaboration and support provided are actually wanted and needed. Of course, to ascertain this we need more interpersonal contact than pro forma documentation, which is where our prospects for a productive future seem rather bleak.
It would be particularly difficult for me to emphasise one of our projects, as they all cater to specific and essential needs in fandom. I am happy to see them all thrive, and will keep doing my best to provide any help I can to the committees that nurture them. Being on Board would simply put me in a position to do more for all of them, while solving some immediate concerns such as the lack of mutual respect and understanding in their relationship with Board.
5. Choose two topics/issues that you think should be high priority for the OTW, both internally and externally. What do these topics mean to you and why do you value them? How will you make them a part of your service?
I think sorting out our administrative structure should be a priority. It’s telling that we don’t have a functional unit dedicated to finances. This is an embarrassment to the org externally, and a constant source of worry internally. The fact that people are still willing to donate to our organisation without a reliable finance committee or auditing structure is a testament to the importance and the usefulness of our projects. However, it would be irresponsible to keep relying solely on users’ trust in our good faith; we owe them more than that. The current administrative architecture is holding together through sheer force of will, and thanks to the unwavering dedication of some of our more active chairs, staffers, and volunteers. The least we can do to repay their services is to streamline cross-comm processes and reduce the administrative burdens on user-delivery committees. This would allow us to reduce our volunteer turnover rate, smooth out our production processes, and encourage the release of more content and new features for our users’ enjoyment.
As a more outward-facing goal, we need to work on internationalisation. It’s one of the OTW’s most important aspects for me – connecting fans all over the world in their passion for fandom. Translating all of our projects and acquiring the resources to maintain our Legal Advocacy project outside of the US are wonderful goals, but we can’t achieve them with our current limitations, and so far the solutions Board has put forth haven’t helped. Concentrating all internationalisation thinking in one committee or workgroup with large ambitions but no means to achieve them is not working out in a useful way. I would like to shift the focus of our strategy on this topic, and instead give each committee the freedom to work on these concerns efficiently.
6. What do you think the key responsibilities of a/the Board are? Are you familiar with the legal requirements for a US-based nonprofit board of directors?
Yes, of course I am familiar with the legal requirements. It would be very ill-advised to run for Board without reading the necessary documentation and laws!
Aside from its legal duties, I believe that our Board’s key responsibilities lie in having an operational overview of the OTW. Directors are the ones responsible for keeping financial constraints and strategic goals in mind while overseeing our committees and providing them with the support they need. They have to be the vision of the organisation, but also its driving force.
More concretely, this means Board members should show up to meetings, and do so on time. They need to answer emails in a timely manner, and to foster good relationships with our professional partners (from both other organisations and any companies we have contracts with—we should pay our bills on time, for one), as well as with our volunteers. They are required to stay up to date with the latest major developments in each of our committees, but not to be so involved as to lose sight of our long-term missions. Last but not least, they should ensure that they are accountable for their work, as they are the one true window our users have into the working members of our organisation. This means that Directors must strive for more transparency and honesty, and make a constant effort to make their work, discussions and decisionmaking more open to the membership and to OTW volunteers.
7. How would you balance your Board work with other roles in the OTW, or how do you plan to hand over your current roles to focus on Board work?
I am generally efficient and good at managing my time, which is why I see absolutely no reason to hand over my current seats in the Translation and Support committees if I am elected to the Board. Over the years, I have worked out a productive way to allocate my time to complete my daily tasks, and more. I presently manage to juggle my professional and personal lives with my work in the OTW’s committees with absolutely no difficulty whatsoever. It would be no trouble at all to add a set amount of time for Board work to my schedule, complete with a good margin left to handle unexpected and urgent tasks.
It all comes down to having good organisational skills, and really, what kind of Board member would I be if I couldn’t even handle a bit of timekeeping? It seems like this would be the bare minimum required to sit behind the wheel of an international organisation, considering that dealing with timezones and constraining schedules is an everyday reality for all of us.