Priscilla Del Cima 2016 Q&A: Group 2

[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]

5. The org and its projects have been exponentially growing the last couple of years. So much so even, that it seems no longer feasible for it to run on 100% volunteer efforts. Do you agree with this? If yes, and there was room in the budget for a paid contractor for a year, where and in what capacity do you think someone would be most useful?

Yes, I do. This is certainly a structural change we’re going to have to devote more time and effort to in the next few months and years—it’s vital to the survival and improvement of the Archive and the OTW in the long run. A contractor would be most useful in one of these two (preferably both, if we had room in the budget for that) very overworked and understaffed teams: Accessibility, Design & Technology (the AO3 development team) and Systems (sysadmins for AO3, Fanlore and the OTW’s various internal tools). AD&T already has some experience with contractors, and I hope we see this increase significantly in the future so that it brings us major improvements for the projects and in our volunteers’ workload and atmosphere.

6. Do you plan to increase communication with the ordinary members who aren’t involved with the inner workings of the OTW?

It would be great to raise awareness of the OTW’s existence and accomplishments in general—not just among members (though certainly that as well), but also among the wider public. I’m not sure how many people are actually interested in the OTW’s inner workings and where the line is between sharing excessive minutiae and being overly opaque; I reckon finding out is a matter of trying different approaches and learning by trial and error. The OTW’s monthly newsletters, for example, don’t have a wide readership; should we try emails in addition to it? What content would people like to hear about and in what format? How often should we send them to avoid spamming people’s inboxes? I don’t have any clear answers to these questions, but I would be happy to discuss them with our Communications and Development & Membership teams.

7. One of the worst issues plaguing fandom right now it racism – many fans of color feel unsafe and unwelcome when faced with the constant degradation and exploitation of characters of color in fanworks, and the way the voices of fans of color are ignored when raised in critique, and downright harassment and racial violence from white fans. This isn’t specific to one fandom, it exists across ALL of them. When fans of color do critique authors in response to painful racism in their fics, one of the most common responses is a to essentially declare us bullies who are harassing authors in an attempt to censor them. In fact in some cases they even suggest if we don’t like fanfic that continues to alienate us from fan communities, that we should simply be the ones to go elsewhere, as if we aren’t regularly driven out of fandom spaces already.

That being established (unfortunately I’m not able to cite sources in this format, so hopefully my lived experience and that of my fellow fans of color will suffice), I’d like to know if the candidates are prepared to address the needs of fans of color who are tired of running across blatantly hateful and racist fics across an endless supply of fandoms, with no warning and no tags, as well as accusations of bullying when critique of such fics is offered? Where do you draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Would you consider attempting to ensure that more fans of color are specifically sought out to be part of various committees of AO3 in particular to help make it more welcoming to ALL fans? And lastly would you make such demographics available publicly for the sake of transparency?

There are certainly a lot of racist fics out there, as there are transphobic fics, misogynistic fics and fanworks that are extremely offensive for a myriad of reasons—works that I myself avoid and don’t approve of. I completely agree, discussing these issues is crucial in fandom, and while thankfully they have become more visible in the past few years, there’s still far too much room to improve.

That being said, one of the AO3 and the OTW’s foundational values is to protect even works we don’t approve of, even those with content we personally find repulsive or offensive, provided that they contain the applicable mandatory warnings and no illegal content. That is at the core of our Terms of Service. Censorship, however well-intentioned, is a slippery slope: how does one define exactly what is and isn’t okay? What happens when the lines shift over time? Who are we to say a work where someone may be working through their negative or traumatic experience isn’t legitimate? The AO3 was founded to avoid giving anyone the right to decide what content was or wasn’t appropriate here. That kind of power is dangerous to the free exchange of ideas in fandom: it’s much healthier for fandom to have discussions than to forbid content. Discussing problems is how more people become aware that there are problems.

We don’t collect demographic information about OTW volunteers. If we did, given how spread we are around the world, it’d be difficult to even define what the term fans of colour means in each of our cultural contexts. (I’m Brazilian and race discussions here, for one, are quite different from the traditional US discourse.) Regardless, I do believe we need to do better with regards to outreach. And more hands and voices in the OTW are always welcome!

8. You mentioned in your bio that the OTW needs to start changing its mentality of “this is volunteer work, so any kind of work is good work” in order to work more efficiently and effectively. What concrete actions would you take – or do you think the OTW should take – to achieve this?

Setting specific expectation thresholds for each team, depending on their team’s workload and reality. For example, if it isn’t acceptable for someone not to reply to emails (or complete tasks or attend meetings) for X weeks, or whatever thresholds are applicable for that team, we should make that clear from the start, and when contacting them about work progress. If someone is hostile or passive-aggressive and alienating others, or if the quality of someone’s work is poor and causing others to have to work double to make up for it, actually bring it up with them—don’t walk on eggshells and let it linger, creating a much worse atmosphere for everyone and driving away other collaborators.

These aren’t steps that the Board itself can take alone—it’s primarily up to committee chairs. And for chairs to be able to do that, we need to share knowledge of past difficult situations, how we approached them, and how we could avoid them happening again in the future. Chairs are often so bogged down by the tasks they have to do that they don’t stop to think about their staffers’ performance and interpersonal dynamics; that is definitely something I would try to help improve (and already do, if I can) by discussing some cases I’ve been through and listening to others’ to see if I could help in any way.

Kristina Busse 2016 Q&A: Group 2

[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]

5. The org and its projects have been exponentially growing the last couple of years. So much so even, that it seems no longer feasible for it to run on 100% volunteer efforts. Do you agree with this? If yes, and there was room in the budget for a paid contractor for a year, where and in what capacity do you think someone would be most useful?

While there certainly is an ideological appeal in an all-volunteer organization, it has become obvious that we are outgrowing our current structure. And yet it is difficult to select whose work should be paid and whose shouldn’t. Unlike most established non-profits that have paid and unpaid workers, our staffers often work at least part-time jobs for the org, which makes choosing whom to pay difficult. And yet as a feminist organization that employs a majority of women, the issue of unpaid labor is certainly of vital importance.

I was extremely pleased that we hired a contractor for the Archive, because it is clearly the one org project that is the most used by fans and, for many, the central purpose of the OTW. Where some of us do quite similar work in our paid and org work (Legal and Journal) and others enjoy fannishly contributing when they can, Archive coding certainly profits from having a dedicated coder for an extended amount of time. Going forward, I think we need to consider our finances and needs but hope we can move into the direction where we can hire more necessary contractors, if not employees. This is particularly crucial in areas where we may not have volunteers who are professionals in a given field (say, Finance) but which we need for the org to remain sustainable.

6. Do you plan to increase communication with the ordinary members who aren’t involved with the inner workings of the OTW?

The OTW Board has two functions as I see it, (1) to assure the long-term goals of the organization, which requires that it interacts extensively and productively within the org, and (2) to represent the organization and its mission to the public. In both, the Board is supported by various committees: Volunteers & Recruiting is vital to our internal organizational structure, and Board needs to work closely with them when helping for struggling committees. Given our focus on establishing and implementing org-wide goals, this may also include the events when two or more committees are asked to work together closely to assure project success.

The latter is even more multi-faceted and the Board is helped by both the Communications and the Development and Membership committees. The former is our official voice that mostly is geared toward fans and, as such, includes OTW members that are neither staffers nor volunteers. The recent Board has sped up the process by which all minutes are released, and the monthly newsletter has updates of nearly all projects. Personally, I’d like to ask committees to expand their individual contributions to increase awareness of the different committees and their achievements–both for staffers and for all members. The latter has been working on clearer guidelines and support for fan conventions and conferences, which will be yet another way to connect members with one another and, potentially, the Board.

7. One of the worst issues plaguing fandom right now it racism – many fans of color feel unsafe and unwelcome when faced with the constant degradation and exploitation of characters of color in fanworks, and the way the voices of fans of color are ignored when raised in critique, and downright harassment and racial violence from white fans. This isn’t specific to one fandom, it exists across ALL of them. When fans of color do critique authors in response to painful racism in their fics, one of the most common responses is a to essentially declare us bullies who are harassing authors in an attempt to censor them. In fact in some cases they even suggest if we don’t like fanfic that continues to alienate us from fan communities, that we should simply be the ones to go elsewhere, as if we aren’t regularly driven out of fandom spaces already.

That being established (unfortunately I’m not able to cite sources in this format, so hopefully my lived experience and that of my fellow fans of color will suffice), I’d like to know if the candidates are prepared to address the needs of fans of color who are tired of running across blatantly hateful and racist fics across an endless supply of fandoms, with no warning and no tags, as well as accusations of bullying when critique of such fics is offered? Where do you draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Would you consider attempting to ensure that more fans of color are specifically sought out to be part of various committees of AO3 in particular to help make it more welcoming to ALL fans? And lastly would you make such demographics available publicly for the sake of transparency?

Fandom has provided a haven for outsiders in all kinds of ways, but it has never been immune to racism. Even with fans speaking up and sharing their experiences, it has taken too long to make race and ethnicity a central issue and to address the ways white fans can help create an environment that does not make fans of color feel unsafe or unwelcome. It’s important to create a more inclusive community where people are heard and understood, where fans can share their fannish interests without fear of attacks on their identities. Fandom and academic fan studies have finally begun to talk more about race and become more conscious of the casual racism existing in our communities in order to create safer spaces, but we still need to do much more.

OTW was founded by a group of primarily white US women, and it can only serve all of fandom if it recognizes and challenges the biases that come with that. AO3 launched in the aftermath of some major rounds of fannish debate over warnings and over racial bias (RaceFail09). Concerns over warnings were reflected in the infrastructure of AO3, where the combination of mandatory warning labels and free-form tags allows both free expression and informed consent. The issues that surfaced in RaceFail haven’t been similarly addressed, but perhaps they could be. Fandoms often establish common tagging conventions, such as spoiler tags on Tumblr or podfic lengths on AO3. We should come together as a community to establish best practices for tagging problematic content, and OTW should support those within the scope of the AO3 TOS. As an organization and as members of fandom, we should strive for a genuinely diverse community within the org and in fandom, making decisions and working through conflict with openness and without defensiveness.

8. You mention that retention of volunteers should be a key focus for the OTW. I know you said there isn’t an easy fix to this problem, and that it is something that will need working at, but do you have any preliminary ideas for things the OTW could do to tackle it? Do you think the solutions to this problem need to be implemented on an Org-wide level, or at an individual committee level?

Retention is an org-wide problem but specific causes and solutions may differ widely among committees. Where a larger committee may need to optimize its recruitment process (as Translation has done) in order to remain viable in the face of natural depletion, a smaller committee might need to foreground interpersonal contact so as to assure a good work environment. Where one committee may need to specify and delegate specific jobs, another committee may need to create sufficient redundancy so as to allow one volunteer to easily substitute for another. Different committees in the OTW have very different organizational structures and needs, and any plan for volunteer retention must take these into account.

At the same time, none of this can work if we do not have the org-wide structures in place. Thankfully, Volunteers & Recruiting has worked hard to establish unified guidelines so that all staffers and volunteers have similar access to tools and information regardless of which committee they volunteer for. Likewise, it has streamlined the recruitment process to allow committees to easily put out call for volunteers. Also, our new communication interfaces has allowed org members to more easily talk to one another and meet others across the org. Part professional, part social, the tool allows members to participate more easily but also to share fannish interests and get to know others as fans and not just as OTW staff or volunteer. Feeling part of a community and being able to easily reach Board members and members from other committees can keep members more engaged and involved, which should help retention.

James Beal 2016 Q&A: Group 2

[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]

5. The org and its projects have been exponentially growing the last couple of years. So much so even, that it seems no longer feasible for it to run on 100% volunteer efforts. Do you agree with this? If yes, and there was room in the budget for a paid contractor for a year, where and in what capacity do you think someone would be most useful?

I definitely agree that we need to supplement our volunteer effort with contractors and as soon as feasible, employees. I am a member of Systems and Accessibility, Design and Technology and I am aware that both of these groups need more effort than we currently have available. I do know our Finance committee needs additional help. However, I don’t know the state of all the other committees in the organisation.

I believe that we do need, in time, to have full time employees. To do that, we need to have significant reserves to ensure that we can pay their salaries, server hosting, buy new hardware and pay other expenses for at least a year. When AD&T’s first contractor was announced last year, a few people had an unreasonably low expectation of how much they should be paid. To pay two senior developer salaries and pay for hosting and refreshing hardware I think we need to be raising about $400,000 a year with at least the same amount held as a reserve.

Employing people is also significantly more complex than hiring contractors. However there are advantages in having the expectation that the only paid work people should be doing is for the OTW, particularly having guarantees as to the number of hours worked. However, with those advantages come obligations, and we need to prepare to meet them.

6. Do you plan to increase communication with the ordinary members who aren’t involved with the inner workings of the OTW?

As a volunteer, I do think that in general that the communications are pretty reasonable. I would be interested to know an example of some information that came to light at a later date that should have been made public sooner, so that we can improve on those areas.

The minutes from the board meetings are available to everyone. I do understand that there are moves afoot to reduce the number of synchronous meetings given the various timezones. However I do expect that decisions from the board to be broadcast however they come about. The monthly newsletters have a summary of the work each of the various committees are doing. I would be open to suggestions as to what information people would like to hear more about.

7. One of the worst issues plaguing fandom right now it racism – many fans of color feel unsafe and unwelcome when faced with the constant degradation and exploitation of characters of color in fanworks, and the way the voices of fans of color are ignored when raised in critique, and downright harassment and racial violence from white fans. This isn’t specific to one fandom, it exists across ALL of them. When fans of color do critique authors in response to painful racism in their fics, one of the most common responses is a to essentially declare us bullies who are harassing authors in an attempt to censor them. In fact in some cases they even suggest if we don’t like fanfic that continues to alienate us from fan communities, that we should simply be the ones to go elsewhere, as if we aren’t regularly driven out of fandom spaces already.

That being established (unfortunately I’m not able to cite sources in this format, so hopefully my lived experience and that of my fellow fans of color will suffice), I’d like to know if the candidates are prepared to address the needs of fans of color who are tired of running across blatantly hateful and racist fics across an endless supply of fandoms, with no warning and no tags, as well as accusations of bullying when critique of such fics is offered? Where do you draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Would you consider attempting to ensure that more fans of color are specifically sought out to be part of various committees of AO3 in particular to help make it more welcoming to ALL fans? And lastly would you make such demographics available publicly for the sake of transparency?

As a white, middle aged male this question is going to be hard for me to answer. I and the other candidates do not condone racism.

The issue as I understand it is one in a conflict of core values. The OTW was set up partly as a reaction to censorship of fanworks on other platforms and therefore freedom of speech is one of its core values.

My understanding is that you strongly value “not giving racist people a platform to spread their content” and given your position I understand that. However, others may wish to ensure that other minorities that they find reprehensible do not have a platform. And so I am in the position of defending the publication of content including some that is to you offensive.

What can the OTW do to help: Promote tools that help ensure that you do not see content that you find offensive. To answer the question of why this is not core code: it needs to be done client-side (on users’ computers) because the more we specialise a page for each user the more resources that takes. It may be possible to move some of that functionality into the core code. However we would need significant amount of work to be implemented and maintained.

Regarding demographics: the org deliberately knows as little as possible about its members and volunteers.

Some last thoughts as I have run into the wordcount limit:

8. In your bio you wrote that you think the OTW needs to have a way of recalling Board members. What do you mean by that? As in forcing an end to their term? Would this be in the event of a vote of no confidence, and if so, how do you see that working?

The ideas here are controversial and will not find universal support. We will be constrained by what is possible under Delaware law. However, the following would give a flavor of what I am trying to achieve. The basic steps are:

  1. Triggering a vote.
  2. The vote taking place.
  3. Resolving the vote.

Some sample details of each step:

  1. 5% of the membership request (within a 30 day period) a vote of no confidence either in an individual or in the complete Board.
  2. A vote of no confidence would be announced and one email of a set length from each side of the argument would be sent to every member of the OTW. After 30 days a vote requiring a simple majority and greater than 30% turnout would be required.
  3. In the case of the whole Board being recalled, a new interim Board would be formed from the chairs and members of the Finance, Legal, Strategic Planning, AD&T and Volunteers & Recruiting committees. A new election would be held within 4 months.

The Elections committee must be independent from the Board. The Board must not have the power to remove a current Elections committee chair without automatically having to pass a vote of confidence in the whole Board. The Board must not have the power to remove the independence of the Elections committee without passing a vote of confidence.

The Elections committee must be able to run an election without the consent of the Board. One way this could be done is by obliging the Board to deposit with our elections service provider an amount sufficient to run two elections at all times, and that the Elections team has access to the voter rolls whenever they’re needed.

9. You talked about how the Archive needs to move from a purely volunteer-based organisation to one that employs contractors and staff members. Do you think there is a risk that doing so would cause the Archive to lose its “run by fans, for fans” focus?

I do believe that there is a risk to losing it’s “run by fans, for fans” focus. To mitigate this I would point out that only committee members can be elected to the Board and that becoming a contractor or employee removes eligibility to be a committee member (although they can be invited to attend meetings as a guest).

I additionally said that “current volunteers if they have relevant skills and experience should be given consideration in preference” and I believe that this can help ensure that we are still “run by fans, for fans”.

I am proud all that has been done by all the volunteers in each of the various projects. However, I feel that the time is right to have dedicated people who are paid by the organisation to spend concentrated time on our projects.