2011 OTW Elections Voting – The Process!

As we approach the voting period — polls open noon UTC 16 November (check the time in your area) and close 48 hours later, at noon UTC 18 November (check the time in your area) — we bring you one more resource: everything you ever wanted to know about the voting process!

We’re providing both textual and graphic explanations of the process, and cover how to cast your vote, how we tally the results, and plenty of examples. There’s a short version for those who just want the basics, and, below the cut, a long version for those interested in the details. Let’s go!

 


 

The Short Version

 

How to Cast Your Vote

  • You will be asked to log in with the password you chose for your voting account.
  • The ballot contains five candidates and a placeholder slot. Please leave the placeholder unranked! It is required by the voting software, but is not an actual candidate. For a more detailed explanation, check out the long version below.
  • Since there are only four available seats and five candidates, you will be asked to rank candidates in order of your first preference, followed by second preference, and so on.
  • You are not required to rank all the candidates — voters must rank at least one candidate, but otherwise can rank as many or as few as they wish.
  • Once you are satisfied with your rankings, click on the “Vote” button to cast your vote.
  • Warning: There’s no going back after you cast your vote, so please consider your choices carefully! 🙂

How We Tally Results

  • Vote tallies will be done by modified IRV (instant-runoff voting), also known as preferential voting process. (You can read more about IRV here at our elections website, or in the second half of this post.)
  • If there is a simple majority of first preferences for a candidate (i.e., the candidate is the top choice on more than 50% of the ballots), then that candidate takes one of the seats and is removed from consideration for all the other seats.
  • After a candidate is seated, the initial ballots will be recounted to fill the next seat, and the next, until all seats are filled, removing from consideration the candidates selected for the previous seats. Since each vote starts over from the original pool, based on voter preferences, each round is its own separate selection process.
  • In any instance where there is no simple majority, the following steps will be taken to determine the winner of the given seat:
    1. The candidate with the fewest first preference votes is eliminated from this cycle.
    2. The votes that would have gone to the eliminated candidate are replaced by each affected voter’s next preference, and the votes are re-tallied for the remaining candidates. This process is repeated until a 50% majority is reached and the seat is filled.
    3. Once that seat is filled, a new cycle of voting begins for the next seat, returning to the initial ballot. Any candidate already elected to a seat is removed from consideration, and all votes for those candidates are replaced by respective voters’ next preferences. After this cascade, first preference votes are re-tallied.
    4. Steps 1 and 2 are repeated until a simple majority is reached for each seat.

A Few Takeaways

  • This process lets us fill multiple seats with a single ballot and without any hierarchy among the elected candidates.
  • A candidate with the most votes overall may not necessarily get a seat if those votes aren’t as high-preference. Similarly, a candidate with few first-preference votes early on in the process may win a seat as candidates are eliminated and preferences cascade. See the graphics for examples!
  • A lowest-preference vote is different from leaving a candidate off your ballot entirely. A low-preference vote can still eventually cascade into a high-preference vote through elimination of other candidates in that cycle. Leaving a candidate unranked means they don’t get your vote at all.
  • Since, after the one required ranking, voters can rank as many or as few candidates as they wish, voters have many options for how to distribute their votes. But be careful — ranking only one candidate, for example, does not give that single vote any more “weight” and means you have no voice in ranking the remaining candidates — but it does mean none of the other candidates get any vote from you. Distribute your votes with care!

Pictures!

We’ve had several awesome contributors put together graphical representations of the process, as well as a text-based walkthrough and a step-by-step look at some sample voting data in raw tabular form. Take a look!

Below is a macro view of the process, representing votes by aggregate as slices in a pie chart.

Visual interpretation of text of this post: A graphic representing the OTW IRV process as flowchart in pie chart form

Visual interpretation of text of this post: A graphic representing the OTW IRV process as flowchart in pie chart form

Please note that Purple, who was last to be eliminated from the first cycle and had many first preference votes in the first round of that cycle, did not get a seat in this example. Meanwhile, Red, who had relatively few first preference votes in the first cycle, won a seat in the second cycle. Wondering how this can work? Check out the next set of images, which shows how the votes move around!

This next set of images provides a closer look, taking a very small data sample and showing the individual votes and how preferences cascade as candidates are eliminated. (Click on the images for full-sized versions.)

Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid

The rest of this set of images, as well as the long version of the IRV explanation, the text-based example, and the tabular example are all below!


Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual interpretation of text of this post: a graphic representing the OTW IRV process as colored tiles in a grid Visual

Please note that B had the most votes overall, but is the only candidate to not win a seat, because those votes were lower-preference.

 


 

The Long Version: IRV, a Closeup View

 

How it works

Instant Runoff Voting is an election system that allows a decision with a single round of voting by asking voters to rank their choices in order of preference. The biggest advantage of this system for our purposes is that generally, this eliminates the need for additional balloting to break a tie and elects an equal, rather than hierarchical, cohort of candidates.

We use Drupal’s decisions module, set to instant-runoff voting (aka preferential voting). Voters use a ballot that allows them to give a numerical rank to all candidates. Attempts to assign the same rank to multiple candidates are disallowed. Any candidate lacking a rank is given no weighting in the ballot. If a voter casts a ballot which ranks candidate A as fourth preference and candidate B as second preference, but lists no first or third preference, then the system represents candidate B as that voter’s first preferences, and candidate A as their next most preferred candidate.

IRV is a system that determines only a single winner, and as the OTW elections are meant to fill all available board seats without establishing a hierarchy or ranking for the incoming members, the decisions software is reset after each round of seat selection to determine each winner — but this time with elections staff editing the ballot to delete the winner of the previous seat. This removes the winner, and their rankings, from the results, leaving all of the other candidates, and their rankings, in place. Any gaps left by the eliminated candidates are filled by cascading each voter’s preferences for the remaining candidates, in the same manner as the example above where a voter picked only a second and fourth preference. The system then automatically tallies the votes again, returning a second winner.

This process nearly eliminates the need for tiebreaker votes. If there is a tie and there are enough seats available to seat all the tied candidates, then all those candidates are seated and, if necessary, the process can continue. If there are not enough seats for all tied candidates, then the number of second preferences votes for those candidates will be tallied next, and so on until the seats are filled. Only in the extremely unlikely event of a tie for insufficient seats where all preferences match exactly is additional voting necessary.

It is important to understand that this system revolves around relational voter preferences — all candidates in relation to each other, rather than absolutely. This is what is behind the cascade of preferences as candidates are eliminated, and also what allows this system to fill multiple seats with no hierarchy among the elected candidates. The cascade of votes makes it difficult (as well as undesirable) to draw clear hierarchies, even in the first cycle, where the candidate with the most votes overall is not necessarily the candidate who will end up with majority first preference and win a seat.

Here is the process across multiple cycles, step-by-step:

Cycle One (if there is no clear majority winner):

  1. First preference votes are tallied.
  2. The candidate with the fewest first preference votes is eliminated for this round, and all votes for that candidate are replaced by that particular voter’s next preference.
  3. The process is repeated, each time eliminating the candidate with the least votes and substituting the voter’s next preferences for the remaining candidates, until a clear majority of first preferences is determined. That candidate is seated.

Where things get tricky is in Round 2, where you return to the initial ballots, but then the election staff eliminates the winner of Round 1. Then, if there is no simple majority after votes are tallied, they eliminate the candidate with the least number of first preference votes:

Cycle Two:

  1. All votes for the candidate who won Round 1 are replaced by each affected voter’s next preferences.
  2. First preference votes are then tallied, just like the first round.
  3. If there is no simple majority winner, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated, and the process continues just as it did before until a majority is reached.

Cycle Three:

The third round also starts over from the entire original vote pool, removing votes for all candidates who have already been elected and substituting that voter’s next choice.

Since each round starts over from the original pool, based on voter preferences, each round is its own separate selection process.

More examples!

To see a full example of a single cycle with sample candidates and a many votes, check out this text-based walkthrough of the process, which shows the votes and winners for each step of the process: IRV Walkthrough. The link goes to a series of web pages that walk you through the elimination rounds of a single cycle.

To see an example of raw voting data in tabular form, check out this series of spreadsheets: IRV Spreadsheets. This works from the same data as the above example, but follows on from the first cycle through all four cycles. Click through the sheets, numbered at the top, to watch the process in action. This example also includes a tie, showing how the modified IRV process nearly eliminates the need for tiebreaker votes.

The placeholder slot

Wondering about the placeholder slot? Here’s how that works: our balloting system allows voters to rank all candidates, independent of the number of seats — so if there are 7 candidates, all 7 can be ranked. However, a recent security upgrade to Drupal’s decisions module — the software we use to run the election — changed this. The software now allows voters to rank all but one candidate — so if there are 7 candidates, you would only be able to rank 6 of them.

Despite the software change, we prefer to give voters the choice of opting into (ranking) or opting out of (leaving off the ballot) each and every candidate. Giving a candidate lowest preference is a different choice from leaving a candidate off the ballot altogether, since low preferences can eventually cascade up into first preferences as other candidates are eliminated.

For this reason, we have added one extra “candidate” to the ballot: a placeholder candidate that will take the unranked slot. You can still leave other candidates off your ballot, or you can choose to rank them all.

We apologize for this somewhat awkward workaround, and hope to modify the software before next year’s election so that it will no longer be necessary.

 


 

We’d like to thank the many contributors who have helped make this post possible, including Aja, Allison Morris, Candra Gill, Ira Gladkova, Kristen Murphy, Renay, and Seventhe Dragomire.

We hope this post has helped you understand the voting system and given you tools to help plan your vote. Happy voting!

2011 OTW Candidate Profiles!

We now have another resource available on the OTW Elections site: candidate profiles! These pages gather up all of a given candidate’s responses across all chats and questions, so voters can read everything from a particular candidate in one place. While no new information is contained in these profiles, and all responses are still available in their original contexts (see the initial and second chat transcript and linked overflow questions), we do hope that this additional style of organization will make it easier for voters to find the information they need.

While Lucy Pearson has withdrawn her candidacy, we are retaining her statement and candidate profile, as her presence and responses have been invaluable in this election and her words and ideas continue to be of interest. Thank you, Lucy!

The profiles are linked from the OTW Elections site candidates page, or you can look at them directly here:

OTW 2011 Board Candidate Withdrawal: A Message from Lucy Pearson

We regret to announce that Lucy Pearson has withdrawn her candidacy in the upcoming OTW Board elections. We are deeply saddened to lose her as a candidate, but also deeply glad for her to have a chance to take care of herself and her needs. Lucy: thank you for your candidacy; it’s been an honour.

Lucy requested that the OTW Elections Officer post this statement to OTW members on her behalf.

I am formally withdrawing my candidacy in the OTW Board elections due to personal reasons. As this election has progressed, I have realised that the challenges facing the incoming 2012 Board are more complex and considerable than I had initially realised (I was expecting this to be a year of change, but had not realised the full extent). At the same time, my responsibilities in my own personal life and career have increased more substantially than anticipated. In light of this, I feel that I will not be able to perform my duties as an OTW Board member as well as I would want, or as well as OTW members deserve. I want OTW members to have as full and reliable a choice of candidates as possible, and I don’t want to risk getting onto the Board and then finding that I can’t do what I promised. So, while I believe I have a lot to offer the org, and a lot to offer a potential Board of the future, this isn’t the year for me. Apologies to the many people who supported me – I’m sorry to have to disappoint you this time around.

Thank you, and apologies again.

Lucy

2011 Candidate Profile: Jenny Scott-Thompson

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 Jenny Scott-Thompson’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

I want to be on the Board to help the OTW in more ways than I can at the moment. The main things the board do are to get the bigger picture – taking a step back and thinking about a broader view than any one committee can. Part of my day job and my skills are around being able to see potential process improvements and get ideas for things we could do better. On the board, I can spot more of those and know which are worth pursuing and which would lose us more than we’d gain.

For me, the main thing I see at the moment is to work for sustainability, which is our biggest challenge as an organisation. After four years, we’ve got going, achieved some great things, and we now need to think about the long term – not just fire-fighting, but setting ourselves up well for the future. That means we need to facilitate better cross-committee communication, given how much the org has now grown, and we need better people management and care for our volunteers. A lot of people have been burned out by OTW work where they haven’t had proper support, and have had to leave the org as a result. That needs to stop, as much as possible.

And, of course, I want to support all the great work we’re already doing, and make sure that can continue.

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.

Specific, concrete things: I want to help Volunteers & Recruiting committee get the Code of Conduct finalised. I want to document the general role of a chair and role of a committee member – things like when you’re expected to communicate with your chair, board liaison, etc. and what comes under which committee’s area, so people are less likely to tread on each other’s toes by accident. I want to make sure we get more training, not just on doing your day-to-day job, but also on management skills, such as the personality types session that Kristen is doing next month.

I also have a ton of ideas related to fanart, vidding, and the AO3 that I’d like to do, as well as transparency, diversity and accessibility, but won’t bore you all with now – I’ll post a list on my journal later if you’re interested. My main focus would be sustainability of the organisation, by making sure we work efficiently and care for our people.

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.

I see it growing to be a main reference point for and about fandom. I’ve seen it being used by journalists and academics outside fandom as a reference, and by fans either as a reference or as a safe place to document our history. I see it growing to a wider audience, both within and outside fandom, and I see my role as advocating that by making sure it gets the profile and focus it needs, not getting swallowed up by larger or louder projects within the OTW.

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.

A lot of things! It’s a legal advocacy organisation for transformative works by fans, with a mission to protect and preserve access to fanworks and our history, shown by our flagship open-source projects AO3 and Fanlore and the academic journal Transformative Works & Cultures.

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.

I could talk for hours about transparency! It’s been a concern of mine since I first joined as a volunteer, and couldn’t see what was going on behind closed doors with the committees. I was the first candidate to start a legal-name journal for posting about my OTW work, and have previously posted about my work under my fannish name, both on my personal journal and on the official OTW blog. I’ve been doing the AD&T minutes (which are visible to all volunteers) for most of the year, enabling Lucy to post the Archive of Our Own meeting roundups publicly. I’ve also made several internal proposals about transparency, which I can’t really talk about until they’re agreed, ironically. I made the recent suggestion for staffers joining and leaving to be acknowledged in the monthly newsletter. I’d also like to make the OTW less “faceless” – let people see who is behind the anonymous committee names. Volunteers & Recruiting committee have some great plans for this currently being discussed, which I would support. I would also continue both posting to my journal, and working with Communications to get more public “Spotlight” posts and things like that. I’d facilitate the discussion currently ongoing around org-wide meetings and monthly newsletters, and how we can use those to improve communication, both top-down announcements and two-way feedback. One concrete step would be to make sure each committee does have something in the newsletter, even if it’s only “Still not sued!” The habit of having something there pays off as people writing it remember that actually there is more to talk about. I’ve also run public training sessions/open houses, and I’d like to continue and expand those – it’s a great way to let people see what goes on behind the scenes. There is a concern, of course, that communicating what you are doing takes time away from doing the work, but in most cases I think it more than pays off, partly because accountability makes for a healthier org, and partly for recruitment – people will only volunteer if they know what they’re getting into. I’m also looking forward to the website changes when we upgrade the software that transformativeworks.org runs on next year – that will be a good opportunity to make sure that all the currently public information is easily findable – there’s more there than most people realise.

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.

I think about 40 staff and about 300 volunteers, though I’d have to look it up to check

we don’t have any fixed limit on number of staffers – it’s mostly up to committee chairs, with final approval from board

I would anticipate the number of staffers increasing by a few, maybe an extra 5 or 10, partly as the org grows naturally

concrete steps to prevent burnout: clarifying roles of liaisons, chairs and staff, so people know who to ask for support, and making sure people can get a mentor to vent to if they want

to increase satisfaction – keeping an eye out for projects that languish – a major demoralising thing is when you put a ton of work into a project and then it never goes anywhere and you’re not even told why, which is a very different thing from a project being stopped for a sensible reason

to increase internal transparency – I’ve already talked about some stuff, but using the monthly newsletter more, and finding more effective ways for people to get to know each other socially within the org

/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.

tricky question

I see us as accountable to all of those on some level, and by “us” I mean several groups

i.e. board, staff, members and volunteers all have a role to play, board, staff, volunteers, members, wider fandom and general public all hold us accountable

a bit step to improve it will be the surveys that IO are working on

*big

though that’s not a catch-all solution

and improving communication generally is very important and not easy to solve, though there are some quick steps we can take that I’ve mentioned before

I think the biggest thing I’d like to do is be more honest about what we can and can’t do, and admit when we haven’t achieved stuff
Dreamwidth is a great role-model for me in that

it’s okay to say “I don’t know, I’ll look it up and get back to you” or “We made a mistake, and we’ll take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen the same way again”

which doesn’t answer your question very well, sorry – most of my thoughts are tied to stuff about the surveys which isn’t public yet

so feel free to prod me about it publicly in a couple of months’ time, or if you’re a volunteer or staffer, on the internal forums now

Addenda to in-chat response.

As I see it, the Board are responsible to the members who elected them, the staffers and volunteers who work with them, and the wider fandom community who fund the OTW. (We also have specific legal responsibilities as a non-profit registered in the USA.) I would expect any or all of these groups to call us out when we make mistakes.

Staffers and volunteers report to their committee chairs, and committee chairs are accountable to the Board. In contrast to some non-profits, people can and have been removed from staff positions for certain repeated issues. Chairs tell the Board what is going on in their committees, and get the bigger picture and approval for resource-spending (in both money and time) from their board liaison.

I think members have an important role to play in making as informed a choice as they reasonably can when voting, and to let us know their views throughout the year, in much the same way as I see a citizen of a democratic country getting involved in politics – using their right to vote, possibly getting into local politics or joining a party or standing for election depending on time and inclination.

As for what I would do about it on the Board, the first big step is the survey I mentioned, which is related to a wider discussion about goals and planning, and understanding our “stakeholders” as an organisation. There will be more details about that emerging over the next six months – at the moment it’s still in the internal stages. That will allow us to get a better view of what people think, particularly when considered alongside all the other channels of feedback, from AO3 support requests to blog comments, tweets and emails.

The next big step, which can done at the same time, is to improve communications – to give people the information they need and want. This means having the important stuff being obvious and first to view for those who don’t have much time, and having the details also being available for those who are curious. It also means showing not just the end decisions, but the process or reasoning that got us there.

I mentioned Dreamwidth being a model for me in this – I worked for them as a volunteer during closed and open beta, and was very impressed by the difference between their style and LiveJournal’s. I like the way things get discussed in dw_suggestions, I like the way the support board works, I like the tone of the news posts and the way we get advance warning of new features. I like the promptness of dw_maintenance and the twitter status, and the honesty and openness in all of those and in dw_biz. The OTW already has equivalents of many of those things, and some of them need to be different for the OTW, but I’d like to consider what else we can learn from Dreamwidth.

So the things I would do on the board, to get back to the question, would be to push forward with the strategic planning process and survey, work with Communications and with other committees to improve transparency, and ensure that we are listening to the feedback we already get.

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.

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?

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

These questions were 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.

A small but concrete thing: it was mentioned back in the server names discussion that some anime, manga and/or gaming fans are used to a lot more graphic design in their fannish sites. In response to that, I made some improvements to the skins wizard, but it got put on the back burner for a while. I’d like to bring that back up, and use the recent improvements to skins to make the AO3 more attractive visually to a wider range of fans by allowing people to customise it more to what they want.

Alongside that, the Webmasters committee has a project to revamp the transformativeworks.org website – I’d ensure we get feedback from visually-focused areas of fandom on that as well as all the other feedback we’re planning.

I would take the advice of the Internationalisation & Outreach committee very seriously for all outreach – they’re the best experts we have. I would also make sure we have a mix of making improvements we’ve already been asked for, building things to make our sites more welcoming to a more diverse range of fans, and also doing some proactive outreach where appropriate.

In some places, and for Fanlore in particular, I would work with Communications to post in some communities to tell them that the OTW exists and invite their feedback. This would, of course, need to be done sensitively, ideally by an OTW member who is also already a member of the community in question.

Our internal forum is a good step forward for areas of the community who are used to forums, which includes some underrepresented sections of fandom. IÂ’d like to see that succeed, and ideally be expanded with a version for the general public to discuss OTW and build community in a way that suits different cultures.

There was some discussion a while back about changing the fandom category names on the AO3 to make them more inclusive – IÂ’d bring that back up, and work with the committees involved to try and find an innovative solution that works for everyone, get public feedback, and get it implemented.

As I’ve already mentioned, I would help to get the AO3 interface translated, as well as continuing with our existing projects to translate the FAQs, news posts, and OTW blog posts. I would also discuss with the Wiki committee the recent suggestions to translate Fanlore policies.

But translation isn’t a catch-all answer to international outreach, though it does help. Even more important is just keeping in mind the assumptions we make without thinking. That means being willing to challenge each other when we say things that imply everyone is from our own cultural background, and accepting those challenges calmly and sensibly. My area of fandom has a great history of learning about and challenging various types of oppression and elements of the kyriarchy, and I’d like to see the OTW continuing that, without distracting from our core mission.

But at the end of the day, my concrete plans for outreach to underrepresented areas boil down to this: I have noticed that volunteers from those areas burn out and leave the OTW disproportionately often. I would listen to the reasons why, and I would do my best to improve things related to that. And I would continue to remind US-based fans of how things are different in the UK and Europe, from my own experience.

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.

Each of the proposals we’ve talked about in these elections would need to be discussed carefully, to consider how it affects each committee. There’s no point adding extra bureaucracy for the sake of it, for example, if a committee is already doing something else that accomplishes the same purpose. And some of the things mentioned are only relevant to certain committees, like the Open House sessions. We’d do this on a case-by-case basis, as the Board already does.

I’d also like to remind people that part of the job of a committee chair is to communicate with the rest of the OTW and manage the committee – if a chair is doing a significant amount of the day-to-day work of the committee, they won’t have time for that. So in those cases where a committee is overworked, I’d help them work with the Volunteers & Recruiting committee to find more staff. I know this is particularly difficult in the case of Systems, though, because of the specialised skills required, and we’d take that into account.

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.

I wasn’t involved in the discussion, and I think it’s dangerously easy to criticise others after the fact. Several of the people involved are well aware that they made mistakes and would do things differently with hindsight. There are a couple of general principles I’ve mentioned elsewhere that would apply in any similar future situation, though. Firstly, involving the committee(s) who are expert in an area. For example, involving Internationalization & Outreach from a diversity perspective at an early stage, and listening to their recommendations. Secondly, transparency – I would give more detail about the process and why we reached a decision in the official OTW post, invite feedback there, and demonstrate that we are listening to that feedback. I would love to post about a discussion before we reach a final decision, too, though in this case I know the timescales were pretty short, which compounded the problems. But that’s all easy to say now. I’m pretty sure we won’t make the same mistake again, but we will make new mistakes, and will need to keep those principles in mind.

On the topic of voting transparency, I’m not convinced it would help anything to post who voted which way every time the Board takes a vote on anything. It would invite personal attacks on Board members, and inhibit discussion. I would much rather post more things like general Board minutes and blog posts about particular issues, showing which topics were discussed and what options were considered and rejected and why. That would allow people to see what’s going on, and hold us accountable for the decisions we make jointly. But I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise if there are pros and cons I’ve missed.

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.

This advocacy is a really important part of the OTW’s mission as far as I’m concerned. I’d really like to give it more time in the spotlight. This could include talking more about the work that Legal does, expanding the FAQs and giving generalised case studies when fans are willing. However, I know Legal will be very busy next year with the DMCA exemption, so that might have to wait a while. I’d also like to show more non-academic fans that even if TWC isn’t their thing, the Symposium Blog has really interesting meta, which will increase the profile of it and encourage submissions to both that and the journal itself. I’ve read some great articles there. For the Board as a whole, we’d have to ask those committees and listen to their replies about how we can best help. I’d love to help TWC get more of the recognition it deserves in academic circles. I’ve also really enjoyed the recent detailed link posts by Communications, and I’d keep that up, with links to the EFF and similar organisations included. In short, I’m not a lawyer or an academic, but I’m enthusiastic about these projects and will make sure they get support from the rest of the OTW.

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.

First, I think it’s important to make the experience of getting involved as streamlined as possible for experienced coders. They can make a valuable contribution but right now they have too many hoops to jump through to make drive-by fixes. I would continue to work with the Volunteers & Recruiting committee and AD&T to do this – IÂ’d like to point people with prior experience straight at our Github repository at an earlier stage. As part of the website redesign, IÂ’d also like to automate more of the signup process for coders – keeping the human touch of being welcomed by a fellow volunteer, but making sure that you donÂ’t have to wait for them to get access to certain tools. For new coders, I would work with next yearÂ’s training lead to ensure that the support IÂ’ve set up continues, that they donÂ’t get bewildered by the options for experienced coders, and increase the amount of mentoring and guidance thatÂ’s available. I would also continue to help AD&T with the more frequent deploys to Test, and streamlining that process – seeing your work put to use is a huge motivation, and seeing it sit for months waiting for something else is discouraging for volunteers. IÂ’d also like to do more to build up the community of testers – this is something weÂ’ve struggled with for a while, as testing can seem unrewarding sometimes, but I think more frequent, smaller changes will help.

Org-wide there is no “one size fits all” solution – each committee has different challenges, though some things are common in multiple committees. IÂ’d like to encourage more committees to check in with their staff and volunteers one-c2-on-c2-one regularly, on a schedule that makes sense for their workload. It helps to have a place to vent, to ask silly questions and air ideas and frustrations, without having the intimidation-factor of raising things formally. IÂ’d also consider whether Volunteers & Recruiting and/or the Board could do this with more staff, possibly as part of the yearly feedback survey, “Still Willing To Serve”. In terms of long-term contribution, the other thing that helps is when staff are able to learn new skills and feel that they are gaining something as part of their role, so IÂ’d continue to work with the Development & Membership committee and with Volunteers & Recruiting to progress more training options. WeÂ’ve had several people get new day jobs on the strength of their OTW work, and IÂ’d like to see that grow and continue.

IÂ’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 donÂ’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? IÂ’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.

Before we go ahead with any of these ideas, they would need to be sent as proposals to the appropriate committee or to the Board. Each one would be considered with the pros and cons, including if it makes more work for people, before we decide to put it into action. IÂ’ve been through that a few times, and some of the things IÂ’ve mentioned are going through the process now. However, most of the reasons IÂ’ve heard for burn-c2-out are not due to sheer volume of work – more often, itÂ’s due to feeling that the work they do is not valued or not effective. Improving support for volunteers makes more work, but also gives us more volunteers to do the work. WeÂ’d need to choose from these ideas carefully, to go ahead with the ones that improve things for people without adding too much of a burden, but that kind of evaluation is a normal part of the BoardÂ’s job. To give a tiny example of something we already do, saying thank you to people takes a small amount of effort on the part of senior staff, but makes a big difference to many volunteers – it helps to know that your work is appreciated, and most people respond by doing more.

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 will be handing over my role as AD&T training lead to a new person at the end of the year anyway, so that will free up a significant chunk of time. Committee chair positions are appointed by the Board in December, and staff roles are chosen by chairs in discussion with Board and the Volunteers & Recruiting committee in January, so I canÂ’t yet say what committees I will be invited onto. I will definitely continue as a coder volunteer, but I will probably scale back the amount of time I spend testing, tag wrangling and running training sessions. I would hope to stay on AD&T as well as getting involved with whichever committees I liaise with, but not leading anything within AD&T. I am also committed to two internal workgroups (I canÂ’t remember how much has been publicly announced about either of those yet, so I wonÂ’t go into detail), but neither of those take up much time.

lack time to keep up with commitments so long as theyÂ’re fun rather than draining. IÂ’m used to balancing a hectic schedule and prioritising to make sure that the important things still happen, and I enjoy working in the OTW.

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.

The most obvious things all come under my role as training lead, which IÂ’ve held for the past year. Before that, I also did work on the Volunteers & Recruiting committee, but that doesnÂ’t count as “recently”. I am currently mentoring a coder intern, which means sitting in chat for about 5 hours every Tuesday to walk her through our training and help her with a project. IÂ’ve also run several training sessions for coders over the past few months, from the public session advertised on the OTW blog to more informal sessions with both new and returning coders. IÂ’ve been mentoring one of our mid-level coders for several months as well. And earlier in the year I led a big project to revamp all our coding training materials, and IÂ’ve been helping the testers do the same for theirs. ThatÂ’s almost all on the technical side. On the non-technical side, IÂ’ve been chatting informally with various friends in the OTW, sharing my experience and skills, as well as giving some non-technical support and advice to the people IÂ’ve been mentoring for coding.

One thing IÂ’d love to set up if I get elected is more cross-committee mentoring on “soft skills” – having someone outside your committee to bounce ideas off has been a big help for me over the past year, and IÂ’d like to pass that on to others. The biggest thing that I think will help build future board members is giving more people in the OTW the opportunity to get cross-committee experience if they want. Part of this will come naturally as we improve internal communication – people will be more aware of org-wide trends and things that affect other committees outside their own area – and partly it will be a culture of mentoring and encouraging our staff to gain experience in team-working, mediation and other useful skills.

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.

Some of this is already the job of other committees, and in those cases, the job of the board is to support them as needed and then keep out of the way, and also listen openly to what they find. For example, Volunteers & Recruiting committee now does a yearly survey of all staff and volunteers, including confidential feedback, Internationalization & Outreach committee is putting the finishing touches to a public survey, Fanlore and the AO3 regularly ask for user comments on their news posts, Journal have space for comments on their articles, Support and Abuse do a great job handling AO3 feedback, and Development & Membership and Webmasters and Communications get a ton of feedback via various channels. I think the Board’s role is looking at the bigger picture, taking input from all these sources and organising the strategic planning process. IÂ’d prioritise it by making sure that the strategic planning gets all the Board support it needs, and incorporates all that feedback. IÂ’d also consider how we can use all of this more efficiently, so that no feedback falls through a gap and gets ignored, so people can give feedback in a way that suits them, and so we donÂ’t have too much extra work to collate feedback from more sources than necessary.

(IÂ’ve mentioned strategic planning in other places – for those who arenÂ’t familiar with it, itÂ’s the term in non-profits for getting input from all stakeholders – the people mentioned in the question – on broad initiatives and goals, and then turning that with the help of the board into a plan for the next 3-5 years which can be agreed and posted publicly.)

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.

Like many organisations, we have a lot of people who are very good at their jobs and don’t tend to delegate much. Of course, we also have people who are good at delegating. I think the biggest challenge is to have more of the OTW culture be about the job that needs to be done, not the person doing it, so that it can be passed on to someone else if the original person needs a break, and so that others can learn. Every person brings different things to a role, but itÂ’s helpful to recognise when someone is doing two jobs at once, and actually that could be done by two different people in the future if we needed, or indeed when two different jobs would be more efficient if they were done by the same person. This will set us up much better for the long term.

IÂ’ll work towards it both by demonstrating good practice in my own work, and in encouraging others to do the same. IÂ’ll also support Volunteers & Recruiting committee in the training they run, and all the committees I liaise with in making sure that staff can move around roles if they want to.

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.

It means you’ll hear about major new features earlier, so that you donÂ’t get big changes sprung on you as a surprise. It means we get feedback while things are still in progress and we can more easily make changes, so that once changes are complete, they can be even better! It also means that there will be more volunteers working on the AO3 behind the scenes, so the site will be better and faster, with more of the features that users like you have suggested, tags getting wrangled more quickly, and so on.

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.

I think some of the barriers to participation could be lowered, yes. It would need to be done carefully, to ensure we are still supporting our volunteers sufficiently – there are examples in Fanlore where people have contributed edits for years, but this has not been recognised outside of the Fanlore community, whereas similar levels of work from AO3 coders or tag wranglers get recognised by the whole OTW. I’d like to make it easier for volunteers to drift in and out without feeling guilty for being busy, and I’d like to make the difference between staff and volunteers clearer to everyone, and make sure both are valued for their different contributions.

As far as concrete steps, the AO3 already made a big step forward this year in moving to Github – this means that in theory casual coders can drift in and out, but we haven’t yet seen anyone do it. I’d like to take that another step forward by working with the Volunteers & Recruiting committee to see what steps of the coder intake process can be automated – e.g. letting people add themselves to the mailing list. I’d like to look at ways of providing developer environments to casual coders more easily – the webdevs are great, but are a fair amount of work for Systems, and other open source projects have had success with providing Virtual Machine images that coders can download and install themselves, so I’d like to explore that option.

For testers, again, I’d like people to be able to add themselves to the mailing list, and get added straight to Google Code at that point, but also revisit the discussion of letting people comment in Google Code and help out with testing without signing up.

Support’s barriers to participation will be drastically lowered when the new support board goes live, and I’m really looking forward to that – thanks to Sidra for all her hard work on it.

Most other committees either already accept casual participation – e.g. contributing an article to Symposium blog doesn’t require the full sign-up process – or have good reasons not to – such as Finance or Systems. But I would keep the option open, and discuss with those committees if people had ideas to improve things.

I’d like to explore other options to make the perceived barrier between volunteers and wider fandom lower, too, at the same time as building community – some of the discussions about transparency, such as the proposal for public forums, have touched on this. Moving the coder tutorials to a public wiki would be another step that could help.

On the other side of the equation, I’d like to help Fanlore promote frequent editors to become gardeners more often, and proactively invite people to join the committee – they’ve done this a couple of times recently, and I think it’s a great way to recruit staff, from people who are already involved.

I would like to ask both Betsy and Naomi why they seem to think their respective committees are so particularly special that they require representation on the Board – why shouldn’t that also be true just as much for, say, DevMem or Wiki or Support? Or rather, untrue for all: I assume that healthy board-chairs relationships would solve the issue of representation.

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.

I agree that healthy board-chair relationships solve most of the issue of representation. IÂ’d also like to consider in the future if committees chaired by a Board member could have an alternative liaison as well, to provide a second point of contact and point of view. At the moment, we donÂ’t have enough people to cover this, but if we have fewer committees chaired by Board members in the future, it might become possible.

I do think, however, that Board should have people with a range of skills, backgrounds and committee experience, in a broader sense. For example, I have technical experience, having worked as an AO3 coder for the past two years, and in my professional career; Lucy and Naomi both have broad familiarity with our technical needs and a great overview of coding from their respective histories as AD&T chair; Ira, who is remaining on the board, contributed design work for the AO3 and developed the Support board proposal during her time on AD&T, and is also a professional web developer in her day job; and Kristen, also staying on from the current board, has served on the OTW Webmasters team since 2008, which has kept her involved in the Drupal and CiviCRM open source communities, and well as working closely with our Systems team. Similarly, Julia, Lucy and Betsy all have different types of academic experience, and so does Francesca from the current board. Sanders has a ton of non-profit experience, which includes the kind of legal things any board needs to know, and she knows when to ask a lawyer for more information. Francesca also has an accomplished record of building alliances on legal issues with other organizations, such as the EFF. Happily, this means that whomever gets elected, we will have people on the board with overlapping experience and expertise, and we also bring a good mix of other skills.

2011 Candidate Profile: Nikisha Sanders

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 Nikisha Sanders’ candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

my answer is short: I’m running for the board for several reasons; primarily to be in a better position to help ensure the financial viability of all of OTW’s projects and the organization as a whole in the long term; to help bring stronger nonprofit management skills to the upper levels of the organization; to provide perspective from a fan of color.

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.

Clarifying the budgeting process and means by which we provide financial reports to our membership, and putting into place a strategic plan for the next three years at minimum are two of my priorities. I have almost two decades worth of nonprofit experience to bring to bear on both of those, and my overall goal is to internally strengthen the organization and provide greater accountability both internally and externally.

I also want to put into a place a clear structure for mentoring and committee turnover, as well as the ways we make use of our communications tools. done.

That’s a great answer, Jenny, with some very specific tasks that we can realistically accomplish.
[see the referenced response —ed.]

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.

I admit I’m still learning about the scope and possibilities of Fanlore. I’ve fallen into the trap of interacting primarily with AO3 and not as many of our other visible projects. That said, I see Fanlore as a project that needs serious boosting in terms of visibility. We need to remind our members and fandom at large that it’s there, first, and I think we can accomplish that by first making sure all of our board, staff and volunteers are encouraged to contribute. Whether it’s through editing an entry, adding a new bit of information, or posting to one’s blog or journal about Fanlore, we all should be doing something toward building the visibility of the project. A targeted month of promotion would be my second suggestion, possibly in conjunction with the next membership drive, where we invite people to donate to support Fanlore and to explore the pages already there as well as adding to them as a proactive act of membership.

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.

I love this question because I just had to answer it for a dear friend. I told her that we, broadly, work with fans to protect the right to creating transformative works—fan fiction, videos, meta essays, anything exploring the movies, TV shows, books, anime, etc that we enjoy. We work on several fronts, from working on legal challenges (I usually give an example of YouTube yanking fanvids here, or Anne Rice prohibiting fanfic), to creating an archive run by fans for fans to collect fiction from a variety of places. The project I always make a point of discussing is the physical archive and working to collect tangible materials from fans, artifacts, really, because most of the people I tell about OTW are from anthropology backgrounds and archives to sift through excite them (and me). Usually, from there, I talk about our structure, that we have *no* paid staff, we’re all volunteers, and cover well over a dozen committee areas with staff from around the world, many of whom work to translate our sites into languages other than English. My answer from there depends on my audience; with Charlotte, the dear friend, we started getting into the specifics of how we function as a nonprofit and why it was important to incorporate that way and what it means to have literal fan buy-in. Other conversations have focused on the academic journal and the kinds of topics we get into when fans produce meta, and others have directly to explaining how someone can join as a member and/or volunteer.

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.

My first project as a prospective board member, and as the incoming Finance Committee chair is clarifying for our board how we can more effectively create budgets for our committees and projects. From there, I’ll be working with Fincom to provide monthly reports to the board with more explicitly detailed breakdowns of monthly expenses and income, and I intend to work with the board to ensure every board member has the basic accounting and financial management skills to step in to work closely with Fincom and/or fill the role of Treasurer for a short time in case of emergency. Along with the highly detailed monthly reports, I’ll be working to make sure a simplified version of those reports are available on our website for member review, and with the agreement of the board, provide the detailed statements by request. I would also create a detailed statement quarterly for the membership/general public.

Away from the finance issues that are near and dear to me, I would like to see committee meeting notes made available beyond staff and volunteer access. I understand that some issues need to be discussed internally and kept confidential, but I also think we could be doing a much, much better job communicating with our membership base. Keeping everyone informed not only of what committees have done (via the newsletter) but what is on the horizon is key to that, and in order to accomplish that, we need to strengthen our Communications Committee. We also need to make clearer the avenues for passing on information internally and externally, starting, perhaps, with a clean up of the contact information on the website, making sure all of the contacts are current and that staff are responsive in a timely manner.

Additionally, a work group is currently being formed to encourage Open Houses for each committee, an informal chat in the public room on basecamp where each committee would be available for questions. I think that is a huge step forward in getting information out, but we can go farther still as individuals. I would encourage staff to talk more openly about the work they’re doing in their own spaces, journals, blogs, etc, and invite discussion in those spaces.

As a staffer, I haven’t done a great job of promoting transparency. I admit it, and I believe part of it comes from the area of the organization in which I’ve worked. Fincom is more insulated than other committees from both public interaction and interaction with other committees. We aren’t interdependent in the way International Outreach, Translation and Communications are, for example, and while it doesn’t excuse my own lack of outreach, it is part of the foundation for it. I’m working to turn that around now with simple networking, having a lot of one-c2-on-c2-one conversations with other volunteers, staff, board members and committee chairs to get a fuller view of the state of the organization internally and externally, and I plan to continue doing so through next term and as a board member. I think the single biggest step towards transparency we can take is through building up trust between our leadership to create safe spaces to challenge each other over organizational issues and to be able to reveal those challenges to our membership in a way that doesn’t harm the organization.

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.

My very quick answer is that I believe we’re a staff of around 80 and about 300 volunteers, active to varying degrees. The numbers are a little hard to pin down because of the turnover/burnout rate.

I see adding two to three people to most committees over the next year, and possibly more or less depending on need. Strong conversations with committee chairs and Volcom would be needed before naming an exact number.

Concrete steps: Implementing stronger internal communication; clarifying the paths for passing along information as well as resolving grievances (passing the Code of Conduct would help greatly in this); providing more staff and volunteer training and mentoring, starting from the top down, in that Board Liaison roles and the roles of Chairs need to be clarified; instituting a monthly all chairs meeting; creating a resource library covering more issues related to working with nonprofits; and finally, working with chairs on how to delegate and evaluate staff and volunteers.
sorry for the mild tl;dr.

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.

Accountability is hugely important to me, and it means, bluntly, being open to being called on our BS as well as much as being open to accepting praise. I feel like we’ve maybe erred a bit too much on the latter side of that, and responded in ways that ignore or dismiss the criticisms of the organization internally and externally. I would like to see us able to engage, productively, both sides of the feedback to strengthen our work. In order for that to happen, I believe we need to create more pathways for dialogue. The answer isn’t necessarily to deluge people with more information but to make sure the information we put out is accessible (by language, ability, and location) to all of our stakeholders in logical and clear ways without obfuscation. To that end, I would love to see more org-wide emails; a mailing list for our base; open discussion posts for members to engage our staff via DW, LJ, forums, etc, with board supporting each other; our Communications committee with a clear communications plan being implemented. I also, more directly, intend to work with Fincom to provide more and clearer financial reports. I’ve talked elsewhere about providing quarterly reports to our membership and more regular and in-depth reports to the board. To me, financial accountability—showing our base exactly what we are doing with the donations that come in and where we stand—is a cornerstone to being a responsible and lasting organization.

/fin

[Question One] 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.

[Question Two] 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?

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

These questions were 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.

I am choosing to tackle all three questions in a single answer because of the overlap between them.

I think that with regard to reaching fandoms outside of Western media fandoms and anime/manga fandoms my role as a board member would be to leave the outreach to the committees that best know how to do it—International Outreach in conjunction with Volcom, Devmem, Translations, and AD&T, at minimum.

I’m aware that it may sound like I’m passing the buck on the questions, but my basic idea is rooted in believing the role of the board is to set the broadest of organizational goals, communicate those to our staff and volunteers, and then leave space to those who best know how to reach those goals—c2-our specialized committees—to do so while the board ensures they have the tools and resources they need to carry out that work.

To address the third question, I think that first we have to clarify what’s meant by underrepresented sections of fandom. The two previous questions ask specifically about communities outside of Western media fandom and particularly those in anime/manga fandom, but I do not believe they are the only sections of fandom that we have failed to significantly reach.

My personal concern is, and has been, with looking at the demographics of the fans we represent in the US, particularly in getting a read on how we’re doing in terms of reaching fans of color. To be perfectly honest, I spent a year in fandom before interacting with another fan who identified themselves as African American. I was seriously starting to wonder if I was the only one and feeling incredibly isolated in the fandom where I was active at the time. So the issue of under-representation is one that hits home for me, and one I very much want to look at in both broad and very specifics terms, and that I tend to frame for myself as a question of how do I facilitate OTW representing the interests of fans of color involved in Western and journal-based fandoms.

My plan for outreach would still resemble the ideal situation outlined in my answer to the first two questions; identifying the priority and delegating to the committees best suited to reach the fans with which we wish to form relationships, and providing support from the board level to facilitate conversations between committees and ensure that the committees have the tools needed to implement their plans. Each area of under-representation would require tweaks to that plan and greater or lesser involvement from a variety of committees but would still, to me, be an area where the entirety of OTW’s committees could and should weigh in and incorporate targeted outreach into their plans.

In all three cases, there is also an individual responsibility I feel to educate myself about the fandoms involved in the first two questions and to foster dialogue where I can (within OTW via the forums and with my current committee, as well as through my journals on DW and Livejournal and the communities of which I am a member, to start) with people who feel OTW does not adequately represent their interests as fans. In turn, it’s important that I relay what information I already have and gather in the future back to the leadership of OTW.

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.

With regard to the monthly all-chairs meeting, I would strongly advocate for the meetings to be firmly capped at one hour, with a clear agenda provided ahead of time. My thought in suggesting the meetings was to provide a regular space for committee chairs to give a heads up to each other about any upcoming projects where other committees may need to become involved, to give quick personal check-ins as needed (i.e. if a chair were going to be taking time off and someone else would be serving as their committee point person for a time, or if someone had a big life event coming up), and also space to acknowledge if their committee is becoming overloaded or is free to take on more projects. I think, in the latter case, it’s perfectly appropriate for a chair to say to our peers that our committee needs a little breathing room or a little help, and it goes to my interest in all of us being able to name our limits and have them honored by others in the organization. While many of these things can be communicated from chairs to their board liaisons and then from liaison to liaison, direct chair to chair communication in a forum with a provided transcript would potentially help cut down on miscommunication.

To be perfectly honest, and perhaps even a bit impolitic, I find the org-wide meetings burdensome as well, and believe they would benefit from streamlining. Steps are already being taken in that direction, as well as to cut down the time required for them. I would like to see any all-chairs meetings kept as focused and quick-moving as possible, so as to be kept relevant and as painless as possible.

As for the discussion posts, I would like to see space for people who are interested and have the time and energy to host these posts. I know that it isn’t everyone’s preferred activity or where their passions lie. On the other hand, there are people who would love the opportunity to engage in this way, and I believe we can find solutions to offering that ability without overly burdening Systems, or any other committee. The most immediate concern I could see for Systems, and I could be mistaken on this, so please do feel free to let me know, would be where the discussion posts would take place. Internally, we do have the forums in place and encouraging their use would be one possibility. Externally-facing, we could use a journaling platform to begin, with something like an otw_discussion account cross-posted between LJ and DW. This would, of course, take a dedicated workgroup to monitor discussions, moderate, and post topics, and I believe we already have volunteers who would willingly and happily take on those roles. This also would buy us time to consider, carefully and intentionally, how to further integrate these kinds of discussion forums into the websites we directly design and host.

Finally, in the interest of complete disclosure, I am now—thanks to this question—mulling over how we might retool the org-wide meetings to combine them with the idea for the all-chairs meeting while still keeping them short and relevant. I haven’t a concrete plan on how that might happen, but it’s something I’d like to open discussion about and will be continuing to think over.

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.

\o/ Oxford comma.

I was not involved in the discussion at any level. If memory serves, I did vote in the public naming vote, but I won’t swear to it. The subsequent discussion and debate around the naming process passed me by, largely because, as part of Fincom, I was just relieved we’d finally made the purchase and I pretty quickly got involved in the process of making payments to ensure the servers were set up and exchanging emails with the physical center where the servers live.

As such, I can only assess the situation in hindsight and, without access to the full discussion, I can only make suppositions about where I would have liked to have stood. This is a position that makes me intensely uncomfortable.

My retrospective take on the vote leads me to think that I would have encouraged the board, as some members of the board and of the organization did, to take into account the need for diversity in the names in terms of gender, race, ability, sex, and source fandom. I would like to think that from the outset, I would have suggested that we break down the possible names differently, using given categories for each machine to guarantee one machine would be named from an anime/manga fandom, one from a Western fandom, one from a list of female characters, etc. As we acquire more servers in the future, that’s a method I would like to see instituted and will push for. I also would have liked to have seen a limit to one representative name from any given source fandom; I believe it is highly problematic to have three from a single fandom as we stand now, although I do understand that Spock and Kirk were presented as a pairing to cover two machines. In the future, I think we have to prioritize balancing the representation of Western fandoms with non-Western ones, and possibly, for a time, bar consideration of Western fandom names for any subsequent servers.

I do not think there is a way to absolutely guarantee a similar situation won’t arise, not to a one hundred percent certainty. I think I can only work to try to avert such a situation, and then to minimize the damage should it happen. From the outset of any project in which I engage, in OTW and my life away from the organization and fandom, I question what kind of representation we need; who is already present? What voices are missing and how do we bring them in? What will this project ultimately look like as it’s currently laid out and how can we improve it in the planning and implementation stages to better represent all of us? Posing those questions means also working to find answers to them, both individually and as part of a team. In order to do that, first, the entire planning team, whoever they may be, has to be aware of the potential problems. That means me speaking up about them as I see them, and identifying others who are also seeing the same problems and are willing to work with me on them, as well as being open to hearing others’ concerns. In some instances, moving forward will mean settling things internally, within a committee. In others, that will mean going to a wider forum to solicit input from the whole organization, and likely using a variety of means to do that, from emails to our Basecamp system to public posts with commenting enabled.

I am of the opinion that any decision that affects the entirety of the organization should be able to be questioned. Further, decisions that affect only small segments should also be open for explanation. If we can’t provide a valid and reasoned argument for proceeding in a certain way, and are unwilling to defend or discuss that decision, then we have a problem and likely should revisit the issue at hand. As an organization funded by donations, we should be able to provide clear documentation about any decision making process to our members and be willing to engage in dialogue about how we reached various outcomes.

I also believe that an accounting of any vote taken by the board should be available, including, but not limited to, a breakdown of who voted in favor of a given issue and who voted against. The blunt reality is that no matter what decision is made, there will be disagreement. Someone’s needs will not be met, and we will not get everything we desire in the way we desire it, but we should be able to know who has stood with us or in opposition on a given issue, and have the option of engaging in additional dialogue.

If I’m elected to the board, I fully expect to be held accountable for my actions by the other members of OTW and by potential members. I try to operate with that view in my personal life, that I should not act without consideration and certainty, and that any action I take which impacts another should be one I am willing to have open to scrutiny.

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.

I’m going to start with the question of experience, because it frames my thoughts on our advocacy issues and TWC. I come from an academic background that includes an undergrad degree in Sociology and Anthropology, where I extensively examined issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and the intersections of those identities. Alongside being a So/An major, I also spent most of high school, college, and the first several years post-college working for agencies that advocated for civil rights and workers’ rights on local, national and international levels. My experience of fandom came as a sort of simultaneous awareness of fanfic and meta, sharing both with my partner at the time, and engaging in some pretty spirited and academic debates about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the racial and gender implications of the show. I also became aware pretty quickly of the issues surrounding copyright and the ability of a network to shut down websites with cease and desist orders when some of my favorite BTVS fansites vanished overnight. All of these things set me on my path to joining online fandom and to eventually joining OTW.

From an academic standpoint, I absolutely love that we have TWC and the symposium because they provide a formal space for framing critical questions about fandom from the source materials to who, collectively, we are as fans. My inner sociologist finds it absolutely fascinating and, frankly, reassuring that there are other people watching and reading canon with a gaze similar to mine. Finding company in fandom is a huge part of the fun to me, and finding others who are ready to take apart a show, book, or piece of music that we collectively love to see how it works and how it can be read in terms of broader society is an opportunity TWC provides and that I feel is invaluable.p>

With regards to our advocacy work, I value our place in providing a voice for fans in the process. Honestly, we’re easy to dismiss, to lump together as a single monolithic group, and place under a given stereotype of weirdos who just don’t matter in broader society. OTW gets to say that, in fact, we do matter and we are not who you think we are. We are a group of diverse individuals who will fight for our right to creating transformative works, to engage and challenge canon materials, and to fully participate in any discussion about those rights. I value any organizational work that empowers under- and/or mis-represented people to define themselves and their interests, and our Legal committee in particular has provided a means for many fans to do that.

I think the board can best and most simply support these two areas by enabling the stellar people we already have working on them to continue leading that work. Our role as a board, as I see it, is to get our committees the resources they need, whether it’s materials, people, or funding. We also have a responsibility to make sure these two key projects are represented equally with our others in any official materials, and that the interests of those involved are given fair consideration in decisions by the board. Additionally, we have a responsibility to give serious consideration to and provide pathways for submission of any proposals of expanding our existing advocacy work and the journal, and to proposals of new projects in those areas. Beyond these things, I think we also have to be proactive in asking our staff and volunteers engaged in advocacy work and work on TWC (and all of our other projects) what they need, rather than possibly waiting for them to make needs known or simply not asking.

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.

Finance actually hasn’t had much of a problem with retention or burnout related to the committee’s work. We currently still have three of our five original staff (one having left for personal reasons, and another who left after suffering burnout from her time on the board combined with forming and chairing Fincom). Another of our members has been with us for two years, a fifth joined us at the start of the current term, and we have one new member who joined us over the summer, all of whom are committed to serving through at least the next year. We also have at least one possible new member for next term.

I think we’ve been able to manage our numbers in relation to our workload because of how we distribute the workload. Our current chair has been more than willing to delegate tasks, and as a committee we’ve made a point of breaking down any given project into manageable pieces. We’re also a very vocal group about when we have time conflicts, low energy, or just aren’t interested in something. Because Cat, Sheila and I have been around for a while, we have a solid idea of what an average term looks like and have been able to tell our new members what to expect. Also, because of our history in working together and who we are as people, we tend toward the sort of touchy-feely style of managing things, doing regular check-ins, starting meetings by asking about everyone’s week since our last meeting, and generally keeping the committee atmosphere casual. We want the work to be fun, not draining, and I think we’ve managed that over the years.

In addition to the social culture of Fincom, we’ve also instituted a policy of tackling projects, or segments of projects, in pairs. What that looks like has depended on the pairing, but for me, that’s meant doing the Delaware state filing with Sheila (who had previously done the filing with our prior chair, Susan) by splitting the preparation tasks and then meeting in our Campfire chat room while I filed in the document and Sheila answered any questions I ran into. More recently, when compiling a complete list of tasks Sheila’s been responsible for as Treasurer and committee chair in preparation for the end of term turnover, and during the process of Sheila moving houses, it meant getting on the phone with her while she commuted between work and home, and taking notes while she talked through the list. To bring it back to Fincom, I typed up the list, distributed it to the committee, and now we’re in the process again of dividing up the tasks to make sure someone with experience in the area is mentoring someone with less experience.

So, to sum up the wordy answer that’s wordy so far, delegation, mentoring, and social support have been key in keeping Fincom staff engaged, as well as being open to taking some creative approaches to the time crunch we can all experience. Those are all things I would bring with me to the board. I’ve already been engaged in a number of conversations to get a better idea of what to expect in terms of workload as a board member, and with other committee chairs and staff to get a clearer view of what some of the committees will have on their plates going into next term. Having those one-c2-on-c2-one conversations have been invaluable to me and it’s a practice I would encourage other board members and chairs undertake, because it’s given me a clearer understanding of where assistance from the board or from me as an incoming committee chair/Fincom member will be needed or could be offered.

I am aware that the way I approach my committee work isn’t a solution that will fit every committee. We all have different needs based on our areas of specialization and being short-staffed is a huge concern, particularly for our more technical committees. In these areas, I think being mindful of what can be realistically accomplished in a given timeframe is important, and giving each committee the means to, as Fincom does, identify and articulate their limits will be vital as we continue to grow.

None of us wants to let anyone down, and we want to do the very best work possible, and that means being able to take a step back when needed to take care of ourselves without fear of negative repercussions. Knowing when you’ve hit your limit of energy isn’t a weakness, as an individual or as a committee, but all too often, when the stakes seem high, it can be treated as one. Being honest about those moments, being able to say, “I am worn out. I need a break,” and taking responsibility for our own self-care is something I want to build into our organizational culture, and to do so without it turning into a situation of resenting or blaming our colleagues for our failure to identify our own limits.

To reach that point, however, we need to model it for our new(er) volunteers and staff, from the board level, from chairs, from senior staffers. We can best do that by delegating tasks when we can, planning early for projects, asking for help and training when we need it, and giving reasonable advance notice of times we know we will not be able to participate fully in the work. We also must be mindful of how much we are asking people to take on and whether they have the tools and knowledge they need to complete the work, as well as whether we ourselves have the ability to take the time to train those who need it and if we are willing to ask for the training we need to grow in our positions.

IÂ’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 donÂ’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? IÂ’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.

My quick and dirty answer is to compile all the ideas, evaluate them, and then prioritize implementation. My longer answer is that we need to look carefully at each proposed project and weigh them in terms of time commitment, staffing needs and availability, anticipated benefit, and how/if they advance our mission and/or our internal goals. As I said above, we have to be mindful of what we’re asking of our volunteers and staff, and of what we can realistically accomplish in a given timeframe.

There are some projects, such as taking the wiki public, that would require a tremendous amount of backend work, and the payoff value in the short term and compared to that work, may not be worth it. Other projects, like developing an emeritus board of former board members and committee chairs to serve as mentors to the acting board and chairs, would take less time overall, require fewer organizational resources, and provide more immediate benefits. As a board member, and as a regular staffer, I would want to see detailed proposals on both ideas, and any others, before we committed to act on of them.

The demand, real or perceived, for a project can often exceed our ability to take on that project, and we are in a position now that we must be more intentional in how we grow OTW as an organization and each of our individual projects. In addition to detailed proposals for all of the ideas brought forth during the election process, I would like to see a general survey of all of our committees to determine what the real needs are and where the strongest interests in new projects lie. It’s easy to make assumptions from the outside about what a committee or group needs based on what you can provide, such as Naomi’s idea of automation for Volcom systems or mine of all-chairs meetings, but it does no good to act on creating a solution the people involved may not actually desire or find useful.

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 anticipate serving as a board member, liaison, Fincom chair, and the treasurer next year, particularly given I’m currently the only candidate (and would be the only board member) qualified for the last and am already committed to chairing Fincom. It’s a lot of work to take on, and I expect to be the liaison for Fincom and one other committee at minimum. To be honest, it’s already been a lot of work to go through the beginning of the election process on the heels of just tracking the membership drive while preparing for committee chair transition and trying to pack in as many one-c2-on-c2-ones with other staff as possible alongside keeping up with my regular life. Scheduling things in advance, as much as possible, has been highly important. Keeping fairly detailed notes about commitments, ideas, and conversations has been another major step. In the bulk of my work with Fincom, and with other staff over the past several weeks, I’ve made a point of being clear about when I will be able to respond to emails and phone calls (sometimes immediately, sometimes needing more time to consider a response), and I’ve been mindful about deadlines that impact other people and tried to meet them in advance when possible. I’ve also regularly made a point of setting aside a limited timeframe to handle OTW work that doesn’t require immediate action or response in each day; generally two to four hours, which I spend answering any lingering emails, reading documents, working on proposals, checking in with other staff, etc. All of these things are habits I’ll continue in my myriad roles next term.

I’ve talked openly in my Dreamwidth and Livejournal accounts (sanders and sandersyager, respectively) about my previous struggles with maintaining balance in my life, particularly when working with a non-profit agency. Having been through the crash and burn of taking on too much, too fast, and lacking support, it’s not an experience I have any interest in repeating or creating for anyone else. So far, I’ve been able to avoid doing so with OTW because I have found a strong support system in my fellow Fincom members, and I’ve intentionally been reaching out to current board members, other candidates, and other staff to lay the groundwork for the kinds of relationships that will allow us to lean on each other when its needed and to be open about our successes and frustrations as we move forward. I’m also starting from a place of being as genuine and honest about who I am—strengths, limitations, neuroses and all—and working to create spaces for my colleagues in OTW to do the same.

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 4:38pm UTC.

In the past year, my focus has been small-scale in promoting sustainability, contained within the Finance committee and gradually expanding to network with other staff and volunteers. With my fellow committee members, I’ve worked on instituting committee policy that has us delegating, or breaking down, tasks into small chunks and then working in tandem to complete them. As I’ve said elsewhere, we’ve tried to pair someone with experience with someone learning the new skill so there are always and will always be at least one person on the committee capable of carrying out a task and ready to pass on that knowledge to another. We were also able to identify early who would be taking on Sheila’s role as committee chair in the next term, initially planning to have a co-chair structure to keep the responsibilities of the position manageable and to allow for either chair to take breaks as needed. By knowing that Cat Meier, currently on hiatus, and I would be co-chairing, I have been able to ask for and receive more in-depth mentoring for the position from Sheila and foster discussions with the committee about what to expect in the next term as well as begin planning for new projects and continuity in our existing workload.

I’m realizing now that I’ve talked a lot about how much I adore and value my committee and how we, as a group, work. It’s hard, because we do have a good team dynamic, to separate my own work from the whole. I think this is actually one of the strengths I can bring to “building the builders” and building a sustainable organization, lacking an ego about the work I take on and having a strong preference for working collaboratively.

The process in which I am currently independently engaged may be a better example of how I have been able to and intend to support emerging leaders in the organization. Over the past month, I have reached out to and been contacted by a number of staff and volunteers from a variety of committees and project areas to discuss their experiences as part of OTW. A large part of each of these conversations has focused on anticipated, current, and desired projects. I have tried, when ideas have overlapped, to act as a conduit for those interested to identify and contact each other for further discussion and brainstorming.

When I have a bit of breathing space from the election process, I will be compiling online resources related to some of the new ideas I’ve heard and needs that have been expressed. I believe that sharing knowledge is an essential part of building sustainability in an organization and in empowering staff and volunteers to take on greater roles and responsibilities. One concrete example of how I will be moving forward is that questions have come to me as part of Fincom about standard practices for general non-profit financial management. I have a wealth of information in tangible paper form and will be working to scan and make available those resources, as well as providing links to online sources. I’ve also emailed a fair bit with Megan Westerby, the current DevMem chair, about future fundraising plans, and again have paper resources, training materials and online resources collected through my professional life that I will be sharing with her and the committee. Conversely, when I’ve encountered areas where I lack experience, I have asked for recommendations of background and reference materials, and will continue to do so.

As a member of the board, I would like to continue the process of one-c2-on-c2-one conversations by email, IM, and phone, and encourage my colleagues on the board to do the same, both for purposes of generally checking in with individual members and to ascertain if there might be support we can offer outside of the existing organizational resources. Basically I’ve started every encounter with four questions in mind: Who are you (meaning what experiences and skills do you have from across the life you’ve lived)? What are you interested in? What do you need to do it? How can I help? I think these are things we need to continually ask of ourselves, with the latter being a question of who else can provide assistance, and things we need to actively ask of our colleagues across OTW. More than that, we need to listen to the answers and let them inform how we work together.

Another thing I am committed to seeing happen are the all-chairs meetings. As I said in answering an earlier overflow question, I am still thinking over how to structure these meetings to keep them useful and do them in a way that doesn’t create additional stress for staff already feeling over-burdened. I do know that I would seek to use the meetings as a means of connecting committees and new chairs who may not be aware of overlap between projects, and to open communication between committees who may not have direct contact. I think the latter would help in building a feeling of greater cohesion within the organization, and that both actions will help in building stronger interpersonal relationships between staff and volunteers that can only benefit our work.

Overall, I want to help foster a philosophy and environment that allows us as volunteers and staff to feel we’re working in a space where leadership says, simply, “You can,” and that new ideas and energy are welcomed and encouraged. I want all of us to have people we can readily reach out to as mentors, and colleagues we can call on for support whether it be in relation to organizational work or more personal issues.

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.

This is a tricky question because I see it two ways. I think the board as a whole absolutely *must* seek input from users, members, staff, and volunteers in making decisions, and has a responsibility to ask for and respond to both positive and negative feedback given directly to the board. However, there are times when it isn’t appropriate for the board to have a hand in the process of gathering or responding to feedback because it’s better delegated to a given committee. The role of the board in this second instance is to back up the committee and allow the committee members or chair to take the lead.

As for how I will prioritize soliciting feedback, I think keeping lines of communication open between myself and the committee(s) to which I serve as liaison will be a hugely important factor. I intend to do that with a regularly scheduled check in over email, IM or phone as is preferred and possible, with the committee chair, and I also would like to be able to attend committee meetings as an observer if the committee is open to it so the committee chair isn’t my sole point of contact.

In reaching other parts of the org, I plan to make it clear from the beginning of my service as a board member that I, personally, welcome feedback and want to be in conversation with people about OTW. I’ve tried to do that throughout the election process so far, by the means mentioned above and by engaging in relevant comment threads, as well as by opening a post on my journals for people to ask questions and leave comments.

I think the board as a whole will have to take a proactive stance in making users, members, staff, and volunteers aware of what issues we’re handling and when. Publicly posting agendas before meetings and notes after the meetings, both with an appointed contact person for that meeting date, would be one step in doing so.

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.

The biggest challenge to sustainability I see is time. First, there’s relative time, meaning that we are a young organization in the grand scheme of advocacy organizations and fan-run projects. However, we function nearly entirely online, and internet time works differently than regular time. Everything is more immediate in a virtual environment, and situations can completely reverse course in the time it takes to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen. I think we sometimes struggle to balance those two pieces; the speed at which we need to get things done to keep up with an online membership base and the speed at which we as an organization, with certain policies and regulations we must follow, can reasonably move.

Secondly, there’s personal time. No one in OTW gets paid for the work we’re doing, which means most of us have jobs or school to attend to. Some people have children and/or partners at home or other family obligations, others have illnesses that limit the organizational work they can do in a day, and we all have plain old bad days from time to time. All of those things impact our ability to work on OTW projects. They also cut down the time we have to mentor other people in the organization, and when combined with the relative internet time, it makes the work of keeping OTW going from day to day a pretty large task.

The single biggest thing I can think to do individually is to be realistic in what I set out to accomplish in comparison to the time I have, and to encourage and enable others to do the same. We also have to be willing and able to make time to take a good, hard look at where we are in our work for OTW and where we want to be in the future. As an organization, I think we have to do the same things on a bigger scale; recognize where we are, identify where we want to go, and be honest with ourselves about how long or short a time it may take to get there.

I’ve already been working toward those goals by having conversations with board, staff, volunteers and members about their current involvement and what they would like to see themselves and the organization doing in the next few years. I’ve indicated in other answers that I intend to continue those conversations and, hopefully, introduce a more formalized space for committee chairs to engage similar dialogue. It’s a priority for me to keep building connections on an individual basis and to be able to make introductions between people who have shared interests in areas of OTW work so no one has to take on a project in isolation and so no idea is discarded based solely on a fear of a lack of support.

I also understand that Internationalization & Outreach is working on a survey that will give us a better idea of what interests and ideas there are about the future of OTW, and I have already had several conversations with Julia about how those results can form the foundation for a strategic plan for the organization. The strategic plan itself would serve as a road map for the next several years, identifying organizational goals and objectives from every committee with input from current and past members, staff, volunteers, board members, and those actively engaging our projects like TWC and AO3. Having a clear and fully articulated idea of where we’re going will let us better set priorities and make use of the time and volunteers we have, and hopefully minimize the amount of burn out people experience. I am completely committed to seeing this happen during my time on the board, or to, at the very least, have the process well underway.

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.

I really appreciate this question because I’ve been where you are, and I continue to be in a number of contexts. One of the struggles of both non-profit work and participating in fandom is that both seem to require a whole new set of language skills and shorthand, and once you’ve got it down, you don’t notice you’re using it all the time.

To me, transparency breaks down to operating openly and simply, and better communication means making information available to anyone who seeks it, insofar as is possible without compromising confidentiality. Transparency also means being able to explain and provide rationale for making a particular decision or the way a given issue has been handled. Having written policies and procedures that are widely known and shared will help with that, but we also have to have a means of questioning and/or commenting on those decisions. That’s where better communication comes in, by making it clear who to contact about a given issue to start, and making every effort to respond with as much information as is reasonable.

Basically, I want other people to be able to easily see and understand how we’re working as an organization and on our various projects, why we’re doing things a certain way, and who is involved. If they can’t, they should be able to easily ask those questions, know they will reach the right person/people to give an answer, and receive a prompt and clear response. I would like to make sure we are documenting everything we should be, making that documentation available in appropriate locations, weeding out materials that are no longer useful, and updating things as needed. I would also like to see us be direct and concise in how we talk about the organization and our projects, without getting bogged down in specialized language that can act more as a barrier to participation than an aid to it.

For you and other casual users of AO3, or any of our other projects, all of this means OTW having the internal structure it needs to keep those projects going, even if lead staff on a project leave, take vacations, or catch flu. It also means making it easier for volunteers to participate, donors to give, and feedback to reach the right eyes and ears, giving us the means to improve the projects you value.

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.

I believe that, yes, there are barriers to participation for voluntary staff (by which I mean anyone who chooses to get involved, not only those with Staff designation). The process of joining through Volcom is a necessary one, and not something I would characterize as a barrier. It’s a step we have to take as a formal organization for reasons of accountability. We need to know, and be able to report, our general staffing numbers. We also need to be able to identify who has been responsible for a given bit of work, both in the event a problem arises and to give praise for the successes.

What I do see as challenges to bringing in greater participation are things like not having a centralized public listing of volunteer openings on various projects; not having a clear list of goals and needs from every committee, or even a general work plan that’s widely available; and a lack of clear communication internally and externally with regard to what each committee does. I think we’re also stunted in our attempts to reach volunteers of any kind by not having a clear and consistent communications plan. All of these things make it harder to see where help is needed and how to give it. I absolutely think this is something we need to address.

At this moment, I only have a few concrete plans, and they are, admittedly, more wet concrete than anything. The first is to look at where I, personally, can promote OTW and opportunities for participation, and then do so. I think that’s a small bit of work we all can do, to build a general pool of voluntary staff. The second is to work with Volcom to get a better sense of what they need from the rest of us. I know that the Still Willing To Serve survey gives them information on who will be returning and who won’t, and this year the survey has been retooled to give better information on why someone might choose to stay or leave, and what projects they would like to pursue. Closely associated to SWTS is a request that goes to each committee chair about staffing & volunteer needs, asking chairs to give an idea of whether they need new people and how many. I would like to support Volcom in getting responses to both the survey and the committee chair requests. The third thing I see that I could do to help in lowering the barriers for participation would be to assist with an org-wide assessment of which projects are suited for casual contributors and support chairs and project leads in drafting calls for service for smaller projects.

I believe we need to work on better rewarding and acknowledging everyone who participates in OTW. Members get a note thanking them for joining, and Volcom thanks us for signing up and continuing to serve, but not a single time in my years with OTW have I seen the board pass on praise or gratitude or any kind of reward to my committee or any of us individually as a full body. I cannot say if this is true of every committee or not, only what I personally have seen. I’ve also seen projects that take a ton of underlying volunteer and staff work be accredited to single people. I’ve seen the whole organization dismissed that way, and it’s something I think we need to fix.

I would like to see more public acknowledgement of the people behind the work. I like the model Dreamwidth has set with their newsletters, naming the specific people involved in projects, from large to small. I think, once we get it together on the communications front, that’s something we could easily do, and should be doing in the newsletter we have now. Recognizing contributors in the org-wide meetings would be another important step. As for other incentives and forms of recognition, I’m not sure. I think it depends on what staff, volunteers, and casual contributors want, and I can only speak for myself, where a simple ‘Thanks for your work,’ would go a very long way.

Balancing the needs of three levels of staff, as well as non-contributing members, will be difficult. It is already difficult. From a board position, I think the largest piece of the work will be actively asking voluntary staff what they need and being responsive to it, whether they’re long term staff or someone coming into work for an hour. Gathering and listening to feedback, and addressing critical staffing issues as they’re brought to the board is a central responsibility of board members, and one OTW has struggled with since its founding. For myself, I want to continue working in a way that asks people what they want to do, what they need to do it, and how I can support them, and I would like to see other staff commit to doing the same, without privileging staff over volunteers over casual contributors.

I would like to ask both Betsy and Naomi why they seem to think their respective committees are so particularly special that they require representation on the Board – why shouldn’t that also be true just as much for, say, DevMem or Wiki or Support? Or rather, untrue for all: I assume that healthy board-chairs relationships would solve the issue of representation.

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.

Even though I’m not required to answer this question, it’s one I’ve given a lot of thought to. To be perfectly honest, I was perturbed to have two candidates approaching the election with a sense of entitlement based solely on their committee membership when any one of the six of us could have legitimately made the same claim. Only two of us did, and I think that’s telling when it’s the core response when asked why they’re running for the board. The implied expectation of being held to lesser and different standards than other staff or committees seems to run counter to serving the best interests of all of us.

I don’t think, however, it’s untrue for every committee. Fincom and Devmem together would have a reasonable claim to a board spot because the role of Treasurer is tied to the board in our by-laws and, ideally, requires a financial management background. The thing is, neither committee has asserted that claim, in this or any of the prior elections. It’s something I’ve shied away from this time because I would rather be elected to the board based on voters feeling I could represent the best interests of the entire organization, not only one segment of it. I found the idea of campaigning largely on the fact that we won’t have a qualified, experienced Treasurer with a relationship to Fincom unless I’m elected distasteful and disingenuous –I’m cringing to even say it now– when there are far more qualities and experiences that a board member should have than a single, specialized area of interest.

In most cases, I do think that healthy board-chair relationships would solve the issue. In the instances where a committee feels their liaison is insufficient in representing their interests, perhaps lobbying to serve as an appointed, rather than elected, board member with limited involvement in decision making would be a better solution. There is also, I believe, the option to request a different board liaison should the relationship fail to meet the needs of the committee. Barring those options, direct communication from a committee to the whole of the board has always been available via email. In other words, there are many ways for a committee to have their interests represented other than by having a seat on the board.

2011 Candidate Profile: Betsy Rosenblatt

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 Betsy Rosenblatt’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

I want to be on the board primarily because I believe every board should contain a lawyer – particularly when the organization includes in its mission legal advocacy. I am also looking forward to taking a greater role in all of the OTW’s projects, but since my professional specialty is law, I see that as the unique niche I bring to the board. More generally, I want to be a board member because I believe that transformative works make the world a better place!

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.

I plan to work on maintaining and growing the organizationÂ’s position as a public voice for transformative works. So much of what we have done has been internal to fandom: the OTW has done a great job of creating a comfortable space for creators of fanworks, and is improving on that all the time. I want to do everything I can to help with that. I share many of the candidatesÂ’ interests in keeping the organization sustainable, technically smooth, and inclusive, and I see myself as a “utility player” in that regard. But as a matter of central focus, I want the Board to have its eye on legal advocacy risks and opportunities, and I am particularly interested in bringing that to the table. I am also interested in growing the organizationÂ’s profile outside fandom, maintaining our alliances with other advocacy organizations, scholars, and the like, so that we are not lonely voices for our organizational agenda.

I agree with Naomi! (about the Board process, that is)
[see the referenced response —ed.]

question for betsy — since we have an independent legal committee that works on legal strategies and advocacy (e.g. the dmca exceptions), what unique advantage is there to having a lawyer on Board that Legal doesn’t already provide? also, Legal Chair has access to board discussions and can serve as advisor as necessary

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

The org needs both a legal committee and a board with its eye on legal issues – partly so that the org can move on a dime in instructing the legal committee. We have committees for everything the org does, but we still have a board for larger steering matters. I’m on the independent legal committee, and while we do very well dealing with individual inquiries, I think we can feel like we’re a bit isolated sometimes. In the past, the chair of the Legal Committee (Rebecca Tushnet) has been on the board, and I think that has brought a sense of continuity to the relationship between the board and the organization’s advocacy mission. Otherwise we’d be two different organizations – one for web content and another for advocacy. I want us to be one organization that does both, and although I know it’s a lot of commitment, I want to be the bridge between those things.

In a follow-up to the question What specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?, Naomi and Betsy were asked, in relation to their answers, Any concrete steps within that, or how do you plan to achieve it? (This question was re-c2-opened optionally to all candidates.)

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

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 04:44 UTC.

I was asked to follow up on my response to the question about specific things I intended to work on while on the board. My initial answer (abridged) was that, in addition to being a “utility player” where needed, I intend to work on maintaining and growing the organization’s position as a public voice for transformative works, to keep the Board’s eye on legal advocacy risks and opportunities, and growing the organization’s profile outside fandom (such as maintaining our alliances with other advocacy organizations, scholars, and the like). To answer the follow-up question: I am active in intellectual property scholarship and academic circles, I keep aware of legal developments relevant to the organization’s mission, and I am active in the work for, or friendly with colleagues who are active in the work for, organizations with missions consistent with ours (such as the EFF and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund). As a Board member, I would bring that awareness and (dare I use the word) synergy to the group.

In addition to my initial answer, I also agreed with Naomi that (to paraphrase), among the specific things I wanted to work for on the board was making the board work smoothly and collaboratively to facilitate the work of the organization without getting in the way of the organization’s overall ability to be flexible and get things done. I suspect this was the real point to which the follow-up question was really directed. I have to break my answer down into two parts – first, about making the board work smoothly and collaboratively, and second about allowing the board to facilitate the work of the organization without getting in the way of the organization’s overall ability to be flexible and get things done.

As for the first, I have every reason to think that the board is a smooth and collaborative body already, and I want to slide right in to that spirit. IÂ’ve been on a lot of boards and committees over the course of my career, including for nonprofits, for my former firm, and for my school. I feel comfortable with the flexibility and balance required to make a board run smoothly. That includes offering the benefit of my experience in my areas of expertise, offering creative suggestions in areas outside my expertiseÂ…and knowing when someone else knows more than me on a given topic!

As for the second, I think itÂ’s mostly a matter of management philosophy: as the OTW grows, the board canÂ’t be involved in every operational detail, but has to set larger-scale policies and be available to provide guidance at all times. That means listening to the membership, being in close contact with committees, coming up with initiatives, setting priorities, resolving larger-scale issues…and delegating a lot of material – especially implementation and operational decision-making—to the organizationÂ’s amazing committees.

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.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 04:44 UTC.

Fanlore is a source of endless information and an educational resource for me! I can get lost in there. But I know my enthusiasm doesn’t exactly answer the question –nor does the fact that “add material to Fanlore” is currently on my to-do list. But the fact that it’s on my to-do list does say something about how I see Fanlore continuing to grow. Fanlore grows organically as people learn about it, use it, and are reminded of just how much is in there (and how much isn’t, yet!). I think the wiki committee has done an excellent job recently of reminding and encouraging fans to contribute on topics they might not even have known were included; I love the Wish List, as well. Of course, more is always possible. I’d like to see outreach to specific fandom communities, to the extent possible.

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.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 04:44 UTC.

Great question! The answer depends on who IÂ’m talking to – for those who are looking for places to find great fanfic, I send them to the AO3; for those who are looking for fandom resources I send them to Fanlore; for those with a scholarly bent I send them to Transformative Works and Cultures…and so on…But hereÂ’s the “logline” that I tell most people: The Organization for Transformative works is an amazing community, archive, online resource, and legal advocacy organization for creators and appreciators of all kinds of fan-created works.

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.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 04:44 UTC.

First, I would encourage people to volunteer – but that doesn’t address the question, exactly. As a member of the Legal Committee, I’ve generally worked in favor of transparency by consulting on member inquiries about the organization’s policies and helping to resolve disputes when those policies haven’t been clear; but most of the transparency concerning the Legal Committee involves communicating with the membership (through the blog, newsletter, and such) about what we’re up to, so we can get member input. Overall, the Legal Committee’s interactions with the membership are largely inquiry-based, and it’s true that leads to a pretty low level of transparency. As for creating additional transparency, I think the key is providing windows into what the org is doing and opportunities for member dialog whenever possible – that can be achieved partly through the newsletter, blog, twitter, and the like. I am also a big fan of the Candidate chats and the committee open house chats that have been happening over the last few months, and would encourage regular open house chats featuring Board members as well.

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.

IÂ’ll be honest: I donÂ’t know exactly the number of staff and volunteers the org has – off the cuff I suspect itÂ’s upward of 60 staffers and hundreds of volunteers — but although I know thereÂ’s a distinction between staffers and volunteers, I think of everyone as a “volunteer,” just with different types and amounts of work.

I agree that regarding additional staffing positions on existing committees, we should leave that up to the committee chairs, who know more about the needs of each committee, but if weÂ’re getting complaints about workload we should feel free to suggest to the chair that a particular committee grow.

Concrete steps to prevent burnout, increase satisfaction, and increase transparency – I would want to ensure that the committee chairs know they have the discretion to increase the size of their committee as called for, and provide opportunities for them to consult with other committee chairs about management strategies. I would also like to make management materials available to committee chairs. This may mean mentoring or it may mean soliciting suggestions about what the best materials are out there, and making them available.

Also, very important is something that’s already happening now, and can grow more– make sure that staffers and volunteers have people other than their committee chairs that they can address complaints to, so they don’t feel trapped or uncomfortable if they have conflicts with their chairs, workload, or the like. Every chair should be fostering open communication, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, and we want to provide ways that chairs can learn what they’re doing that they may not know is making people unhappy or overburdened.

Those are the things that come to mind off the top of my head, although I’m sure there’s more if I think about it!

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 do see the OTW as accountable to all of those constituencies, although we should remember that they’re not monolithic. Although the OTW might like to be all things to all people, we probably can’t be, and there will be groups within each constituency that disagree with other groups within the same constituency. Since the OTW is an umbrella organization for them all, the only way we can really be accountable is to know what those groups want and need, and provide as much of it as we can. When the interests conflict – as I hope they seldom do! – we will have to apply our own judgment about which route to take and which priorities to devote our energies to. Ditto for when our resources are just too small to do everything we may want to do. So for me, accountability means listening.
How do we listen? ThatÂ’s tougher. Surveys, feedback forms, paying attention to how people use the orgÂ’s resources, outreach to groups we want to include who may not yet feel includedÂ… IÂ’m open to more suggestions, as well, as part of my own accountability! I am the first to admit that I donÂ’t know what the priorities of all of the OTWÂ’s varying constituencies are, and I want to learn.

How do we make sure that everyone gets the information they need, when they need it? The newsletter and the OTW blog are good starts (and we can make them even more informative, especially the newsletter), but I feel like one of the challenges with any organization like this is that people don’t always know that they need information – they might be able to find it if they looked, but they don’t know that it’s out there. I think the more we have our voices in the places our members inhabit, the better. From there, we can get a better sense of what our various constituencies want and how – and whether – we will be able to provide it.

I could go on and on! but to be reasonable, /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.

I agree with the questioner that outreach is an important goal. We need to make sure that we do not stretch beyond our capacity to serve, but at the same time, we also need to be inclusive and inviting. If we do not strive to reach beyond Western media journaling fandoms, then we will never fully satisfy our mission as an organization. I have a few concrete ideas, which IÂ’m sure will grow into many as I think more about outreach.

Job one, from my perspective, is finding out where the gaps are – what areas of fandom are we missing? I think this is one of those questions that may managed through crowdsourcing—ask the membership and the volunteers what fannish communities they think we should be reaching out to and how we can find them. Some are barely even online. The Board needs to do its own research, as well, but we should trust that the knowledge of the population is great!

Then we can reach out to underrepresented communities to see what they need and how we can help them. As I see it, outreach isn’t just about growing our roster and archive – it’s about providing fandoms with helpful resources and advocacy. I may not know what a given fannish community might need…but I bet they do! Find the moderators of online communities, leaders of clubs, con organizers, etc. and ask them what they need. Invite them personally to take part in the Archive, to describe their fandom in fanlore, to preserve their group’s works using Open Doors, and invite their friends.

This is small, but I think significant: we can reach out to academics who study other fannish communities by publishing articles about them communities in TWC. This can only help bring members of those communities to the OTW door. There will be a whole upcoming TWC issue on BoysÂ’ Love; this is a good start and one that may be repeatable for other fandoms outside the Western media journaling sphere.

Finally, and this is a more general desire but I think it fits here: IÂ’m very enamored with the idea of a monthly e-mail newsletter that goes from the Board to all OTW members, discussing what the organization is up to and identifying items likely to be of particular interest to the membership. This is a transparency measure, but I think also a great outreach tool, as the newsletter can be forwarded to those outside the current OTW roster to create interest in the org.

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.

To some extent, my answer to this question is the same as the previous one regarding communities outside Western media journaling fandom more generally. In addition to those strategies—here, too, I think that communicating directly with leaders in anime and manga communities is central to building momentum—I have a few additional ideas specific to anime and manga:

Link and/or create resources for fansubbing and scanlation (as we have for viding)

Seek out anime and manga fandoms for Open Doors treatment

Add information as appropriate about the OTW to relevant Wikipedia pages that address anime- and manga- fandom related topics

Include an expert on Japanese law on the legal committee

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.

My answer to this is similar, in a general sense, to my answer about outreach to communities outside Western media journaling fandom: job one is figuring out what sections of fandom are underrepresented. Find out from the membership: who feels like theyÂ’re lonely in the OTW? How do we make them not-lonely? From there, I think itÂ’s a matter of concerted communication and finding out what those sections of fandom want and making sure that (a) we provide it and (b) they know we provide it. Create task forces or new tools if we donÂ’t have them; invite members of those underrepresented sections to participate directly in the process of making the org better for them.

I listed some concrete outreach ideas in my earlier answer regarding fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom, but those dealt principally with figuring out how to import fannish communities into the OTW. Knowing how to develop representation from underrepresented communities is even harder, because we may not yet know why those communities are underrepresented. I want to make clear that I’m not dodging the question of concrete steps—It’s just that, beyond identifying underrepresented groups and inviting direct participation, I don’t feel like I can predict the next concrete next steps until we really know what these underrepresented sections need and want.

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.

As a general matter, I think regular meetings are good things. They increase communication, keep interest and enthusiasm high, facilitate easy information flow. I’ve been on a lot of boards and committees, and run large litigation teams, and most of the time when those have had regular meetings they’ve not only worked better, but also had better morale, because everyone has felt like they had a voice. So I do agree with sanders that coordination among committees and frequent, easy communication both to and from the membership are important, and meetings and manned discussions are ways to achieve that. But it is incumbent upon those holding regular meetings and discussions to make sure they’re not burdensome. Make them efficient, share responsibility, hold them no more often than necessary, and such. If regular meetings are an undue burden on Systems, then something should be done to address that—for example, spread out the responsibilities among committee members, make them optional depending on what’s on the agenda, provide opportunities that don’t require presence at a particular time…—the exact right approach depends on the situation. Everyone working for this org is a volunteer and the work shouldn’t start to feel like an obligation.

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.

I am not familiar with this particular situation or its history, so I don’t feel qualified to address its specifics. I will say that from my experience on various boards, committees, and teams, this sort of thing is usually the result of lapses in communication—the Board not providing information to stakeholders, and not providing avenues for stakeholders to weigh in. This is particularly true when stakeholders are working hard, with their boots on the ground, and may have information that the Board doesn’t have. Outcomes are not always ideal—in some situations it is not possible to please everyone. But if communication is good, even if someone doesn’t like a particular outcome, they can understand why it came out that way. When communication is bad, the person who doesn’t like the outcome just walks away upset. Naturally, I prefer the former to the latter! Since I don’t know the story, I don’t know what specific steps I’d take to prevent it from happening again. But I do think that disrespect leaves a mark, whether it’s intended or not. In this organization, as in any community (and even more with this one, because it is a labor of love for so many) it is crucial to treat everyone with respect, to communicate, and to recognize that everyone is doing their utmost to make the organization succeed.

As for voting transparency, I do not yet know this BoardÂ’s internal procedures (such as what matters are voted on and what matters are determined through a process of consensus), but as a general matter I am in favor of voting transparency.

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.

Get ready for a tl;dr. Sorry in advance, but this is my stuff. As a legal scholar, the legal advocacy issues and TWC journal are near and dear to my heart, as well. They are what drew me to the OTW initially – they and the archive, which I use as both a creator and consumer – and I am passionate about them. What do I personally value about them? The journal opens up the worlds of transformative culture to an audience that may not already be familiar with them, and does so in a thoughtful manner. I have long thought that one of the greatest challenges fandom faces is its “in the closet” nature, which means that people who participate in fandom are often not its spokespeople. TWC provides a crucial legitimizing window into fandom. As for legal advocacy, not to go too far into a flight of fancy, but the relationship of creativity to the law is a particular interest of mine. The law can help foster creativity, or stifle it, and too often it does the latter while purporting to do the former. We live in a world where people are often afraid to express themselves for all too many reasons: social, cultural, personal…legal reasons shouldn’t be among them. (None of them should! But legal problems are solveable; the others are harder.) As creative people it is our responsibility to make sure that the law reflects, permits, and even encourages the wide and free expression that brings us, and so many others, joy.

It sounds flippant to say that I think the board can support them by…supporting them, but I mean it. Here’s what I mean: Because the legal mission and the journal are both, mostly, self-sustaining without input from large populations of volunteers, they can easily get brushed aside as things not to worry about. I know that our committee’s regular update of “still not sued!” helps perpetuate the notion that all we do is sit around and wait for a lawsuit, and that’s not true at all. We field inquiries from fen, we work with the board and other committees on developing org policies, we write materials for public and political consumption…right now members of the legal committee are working on the org’s official support for a continued DMCA exemption for transformative works. This work is crucial to the org’s mission, but it’s mostly in the background. The same is true for the journal: from the point of view of many of us, it just magically appears, with its amazing content, and although I am sure a huge amount of work went into it, it was all in the background.

So, what can the Board do to support them? The Board can view the various components of the work—each inquiry, each draft, each article—as an accomplishment in itself and not just a background item. With legal, it may be tough to promote all of that work because of confidentiality concerns, but when there aren’t confidentiality concerns, one key type of support is cheerleading: “look what this amazing group of people just did!” The other kind of support is the support that brings in some of my personal skills/interests/experience, which is building connections outside of fandom, with other academics, scholars, lawyers, public interest groups, and the like. I am active in these communities—I work with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is a First Amendment advocacy group; I go to conferences of scholars on intellectual property law; I am a member of the Los Angeles Copyright Society (a group consisting largely of entertainment studio lawyers!); I have a relationship with other advocacy organizations, like the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I can work to develop relationships between the OTW and these (and other) groups with common interests, to build the respect, legitimacy, and legal understanding that these segments of the organization work toward.

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 fortunate to be a member of the legal committee, which has a more manageable workload than others. The legal committee hasn’t had much difficulty handling its workload while I’ve been on it – there’s always someone to step in and help when someone else is busy. On an org-wide basis, I think that committee chairs should be able to expand the size of their committees to meet workload demands. As for retaining volunteers, I think that recognition goes a long way to keeping morale up, so I’d encourage the org to recognize individual staffers and volunteers when they contribute—via the newsletter, the blog, or some other mechanism designed to make sure the membership knows just how much our awesome people do and how well they do it!! I also think that in-person contact can help keep morale up, so I’d encourage meetups for staffers and volunteers who live near each other and want to get to know each other. Of course, one of the few downsides to being such a fantastically global organization is that we have staffers and volunteers all over the world, and often far away from each other! But regardless of where people live, community is important; when people feel invested in each other, they are more likely to stick around to contribute. For that reason, I would encourage each committee to get to know each other as more than just names on the screen.

IÂ’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 donÂ’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? IÂ’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.

Every new idea has to be considered with an eye to feasibility and benefit – whether it will create extra work, and if it will, whether the benefit justifies the extra work. If the benefit does justify the extra work, then we have to figure out how to get the work done without creating an undue burden on staffers and volunteers. This may involve bringing in more staffers and volunteers, or relinquishing other projects, or passing up/postponing ideas that we might otherwise like. Not every new idea may be possible or advisable—but we should keep having ideas! As for Naomi’s specific idea of opening up the wiki, I’m not sure whether it’s something I’d support. It might be—I can see the benefits of opening up at least part of the internal wiki—but I’d have to hear more about the logistics and workloads before I could make a decision.

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.

Here, again, IÂ’m fortunate to be on the legal committee, which has a more manageable workload than others. Although Board service does add a significant time commitment and may require me to adjust some of my other work, IÂ’m fortunate that my life in academia allows me some flexibility about when I do my work. As a result, I donÂ’t expect to have trouble managing my workload for both the Board and the legal committee.

[Question One] Hi, I was reading the answers to the question Betsy and Naomi were asked about concrete plans that were posted in the follow-up to the first chat, and I still didn’t see specific, concrete plans that they expect to initiate, carry out, or guide from the Board. Maybe I misunderstood the question? I would like to hear their concrete plans and priorities, though. Naomi’s answer seemed to be meditations on how to work in a group, which I thought was a very small-scope perspective on the question. Betsy’s seemed to answer the question, for me, but it was still vague and nebulous. Could they both expand on this, please?

[Question Two] With regards to Naomi Novik’s answer in the last chat and in the follow up: As one of the two who asked for follow up, I want to clarify that the question was what, specifically will you be working on as a board member and how. The original question was also aimed at what, individually, we are seeing as priorities, not at our philosophical approach. I think the list you’ve presented is absolutely great as a set of guidelines for how we all go about the general work of the board. However, it still doesn’t address what you, as an individual, intend to bring to the table. Will you focus on building communication in the organization, helping to put in place a long term strategic plan, work on increasing the transparency of the organization by finding means of actively using member feedback? Are you offering yourself up as someone who will work with the board and staff to set ground rules for how we conduct business? In short, what will you actually be doing as a board member?

I am continuing to push at this question because I haven’t had the chance to work closely with you before, and I really do want to understand where you’re coming from and what your priorities are in terms of concrete work we would be doing as board members. The philosophical standpoint is, of course, immensely important, but so is the ability to articulate the steps needed to fulfill that philosophy.

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.

I feel like my answers to this question are necessarily a bit vague—not because I don’t have priorities and plans, but because so much of being part of a Board is knowing how to work with other Board members, working to build consensus, and doing whatever the group as a whole requires. I have a lot of experience on boards and committees, and one of the many things I’ve learned through those experiences is that marching into a deliberative body with an agenda of concrete demands is often a recipe for tension and dissension, and that’s not an environment I want to create. I agreed with Naomi that one of my concrete priorities is to facilitate the smooth and collaborative working of the Board; the reason for that agreement is my experience on boards and committees that have run smoothly, and those that haven’t. My concrete plans for keeping the Board collaborative and effective are, frankly, very similar to Naomi’s—it seems like we have had similar board experiences!—and include being responsive, volunteering creative ideas, acknowledging and praising the good ideas of others, recognizing when discussions are getting tense, stepping forward for my priorities and back for things I am less attached to, and other fundamental cooperation-type approaches.

I also, naturally, have concrete ideas and priorities that I want to guide from the Board. These relate broadly to goals in the legal arena, improved communication, and outreach/inclusiveness. I want to note that at least some of these can be described as “more/better of what we already do.” This shouldn’t be mistaken for complacency, but rather a sense that concrete ideas don’t always have to be ideas for drastic change.

*acting as a liaison between the Board and the Legal Committee;

*reaching out to and coordinating with other copyright advocacy organizations and legal scholars. We do some of this, but we can and should do more;

*seeking out opportunities for legal advocacy not only in the judicial and legislative sense (which we do currently, and should continue avidly) but also in the context of encouraging and assisting legal scholars, since legal scholarship is often influential in shaping copyright policy around the world;

*instituting a regular e-mail update from the Board, much like those used by the EFF and the Citizen Media Law Project (among others) that describes the OTWÂ’s current activities as well as other items of interest to the OTWÂ’s mission. I envision this as being similar to the newsletter and links roundups that we currently do, but as reaching a wider audience of people who may not regularly check the blog, including members and non-members whose interest we want to foster!

*researching what areas of fandom (be they fan communities, or segments of fan communities) we are underserving, and reaching out to active voices in those areas to determine what we can do to make the OTW more inviting, welcoming, and functional for them. As the other candidates noted (especially Julia, in her discussion of what I/O is doing), this is something that the organization is doing already; I hope to bring fresh eyes to the problem to help with the effort.

By singling out these concrete plans, I donÂ’t mean to imply that those are the only things I want to do on the Board. But I see my chief concrete goal as a very broad one: help the organization fulfill its overall goals. That means reaching out to the membership with open ears to see what we are and arenÂ’t doing well; doing more of whatÂ’s working, and changing whatÂ’s not. From that process, concrete plans emerge.

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.

I like this question, because it’s something I have been doing without thinking about, and it’s good to think about how I can improve. I’ve done two things: first, I’ve worked together with others on the Legal committee on collaborative projects like responding to fan inquiries and updating the Wikipedia page on Legal Issues in Fanfiction. I think of this as fostering sustainability because each of these projects has involved being responsive to how much time and experience the other people on the projects have to devote, and trying to keep them happy with their level of work and involvement. The other thing is word-c2-of-mouth recruitment. I joined the OTW, and then the Legal committee, because friends suggested it would be a good fit; now I’m paying that forward. I am naturally pretty effusive about the OTW, and encourage friends—lawyers, legal scholars—to get involved when they share my interests in fair use and fandom. This is the sort of gradual process that I expect will, eventually, yield new Legal committee members.

But this is something I can do more of, and do better. I like the idea of “building the builders,” and as part of my role on the board, I foresee myself not only continuing to bring people into the organization from the outside, but also communicating directly with volunteers and staffers and encouraging them to take on leadership roles they seem suited to.

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.

I see soliciting feedback—either directly or indirectly, through committee-based surveys, site use analysis, or other tools—as an important responsibility of the Board, and I see that responsibility as having, in the most general sense, three aspects. The first is solicitation of internal feedback from volunteers and staffers, to maintain an open working relationship between the Board and the committees. The second is solicitation of feedback from users and members, to stay aware of the ways in which the organization as a whole is serving these constituencies and how it can improve. The third, which may seem elementary but is essential, is listening to the feedback and making decisions based on it.

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.

The biggest challenge I see to sustainability within the OTW is that the OTW has a lot of moving parts, and each part requires a lot of work and attention to run smoothly. Making those parts run is a labor of love for many, but even a labor of love can start to feel like toil if itÂ’s too demanding or under-recognized. I plan to work toward sustainability by promoting retention and programs that do not require constant attention to continue operating.

Re: Retention- Naturally, people will come and go from any organization, but I see one key to sustainability as maintaining a steady core of staffers and volunteers as much as possible. The more happy people stay with the organization, the more institutional memory it retains, and the more smoothly it runs. Each committee will know best how to manage its workload, but I see the role of the Board as setting priorities and facilitating that management in a way that doesnÂ’t overburden workers or push them away. This requires vigilance in maintaining a manageable workload for staffers and volunteers (and proposing adjustments to staff size and project priority as necessary to maintain these things); and public recognition of the hard work and accomplishment of the scores of staffers and volunteers that make the organization function.

Re: program supervision- One key to sustainability of any organization is creating frameworks that allow projects to continue without constant attention. This doesnÂ’t mean that any of the organizationÂ’s projects can or should be ignored—quite the opposite—but in the best world, we can focus our energy on improving our offerings, rather than maintaining them. I think some of our programs do that very well already, but IÂ’d like to take a good look at how we can improve in making our programs “run themselves” so we can offer as much as possible without the need for an even larger battalion of volunteers.

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.

Good question! ItÂ’s easy to get caught up in buzzwords without getting to what they mean. HereÂ’s how I see transparency and communication working for a casual user of the AO3:

– For you to get all you want out of the archive, the organization needs to be able to know what aspects of the archive work really well for you, what aspects you think can/should be improved, what you use the archive for, and what you would like the archive to do that it doesnÂ’t yet do. Getting that information from you, using it to improve your archive experience, and making sure you know everything the archive has to offer, is the essence of communication.

– Now letÂ’s say thereÂ’s a decision made about the AO3 that you particularly like or dislike—rules about what it allows or doesnÂ’t allow, for example—and you want to understand why the decision came out the way it did. Being able to know how the organization came to its decision, and the reasons for the decision (so you can celebrate it or argue for change, depending on your preference!) is the essence of transparency.

– What am I actually planning to change? I think we can do an even better job of getting feedback and applying it, getting information about the OTW and its offerings into the hands of users, and making interested members feel like they are included in the organizationÂ’s deliberative processes. I donÂ’t think these things require huge changes, but rather refinements in process and attitude.

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.

I think the questioner is right that some projects are better suited to casual participation than others, and I love the idea of lowering the barriers to participation for tasks that might allow people to participate more casually. I don’t know, myself, which projects require a lot of dedicated time and which can be done modularly—the individual committee chairs undoubtedly have a lot more knowledge on that front—but I’d love for the organization as a whole to keep casual participation more in mind. I have one significant caveat, however: I’ve discussed before what I see as the benefits of community-building to sustainability, and I support making volunteering and committee work a community-creating, social experience whenever possible. The more we distribute tiny tasks to more people, the less sense of community and dedication to quality they may feel, and the more errors our more devoted staffers and volunteers may end up having to fix. So as a general principle, I like the idea, but before deciding on concrete plans I’d want to consult more with each committee to find out how often it’s feasible and how often it results in errors.

As for acknowledging and rewarding casual participation, I think attribution is very important. The more we can acknowledge our volunteers (casual or otherwise) the better; we can do this publicly on the blog, on the web pages for various projects, on twitter (etc.) and internally in places like the internal wiki and internal meetings (such as the all-c2-org).

I would like to ask both Betsy and Naomi why they seem to think their respective committees are so particularly special that they require representation on the Board – why shouldn’t that also be true just as much for, say, DevMem or Wiki or Support? Or rather, untrue for all: I assume that healthy board-chairs relationships would solve the issue of representation.

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.

As a general matter, I believe that every nonprofit board should include at least one lawyer. Legal considerations (What rights does the org or the board have? What duties and responsibilities are borne by the board or the org as a whole? What rules govern a given situation? Are we doing something that could get us sued?) are a constant background presence—and sometimes a foreground presence—in board deliberations and decision-making. If there’s a lawyer in the room, so to speak, there’s someone looking out for these issues, who’s more likely to spot them when others might not, and who can address them in real time. Without question, the Board can (and sometimes does) ask the Legal Committee a particular question about a particular policy. But there are a thousand little moments when the Board wouldn’t even know to ask. For as long as I’ve been involved with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, it’s made a point of having an attorney serve on the Board, even though it has its own counsel that serves the purpose of our Legal Committee. The same is true for other nonprofits I’ve been involved with, such as Lambda Legal, which has many attorneys on its Board. To quote someone I respect a great deal: “a good lawyer helps her client do what it wants legally and ethically by being part of the client’s projects from the beginning,” and being on the Board would allow me not only to do that for the Board, but also for the various committees and projects; I can worry about the law stuff so they don’t have to.

So I think of the matter of having a “resident lawyer” on the Board as serving a different purpose from the Legal committee, although both are important. I do think that there’s an added benefit to having a member of the Legal committee on the Board, to serve as a bridge between the Board, which steers the organization’s legal advocacy mission as a whole, and the people who carry out that mission (the committee). It’s possible that the relationship between large-scale steering of that mission and the nitty gritty work may be closer for Legal than for other committees, since Legal splits its time between carrying out the advocacy mission as directed by the Board and carrying out the discrete project of responding to queries (much like the other committees carry out discrete projects such as operating a journal, wiki, archive, etc.). In the past, the Board has generally included a member of Legal (the chair, Rebecca Tushnet), but I wouldn’t say that makes Legal “special”; certainly, good Board/committee communication is crucial for the success of all committees, and for the success of the organization as a whole.

I want to emphasize that I support having Board members representing as many of the different committees as possible, so that we can learn from each othersÂ’ experiences. As it happens, I have more personal knowledge and experience with the orgÂ’s legal advocacy activities than with the activities of the other committees. I am really looking forward to getting more involved in the Journal, the Archive, Communications…all of the committee roles. I look forward to learning more about what a Tag Wrangler does, and how the Archive works inside. The more the Board is comprised of people who have personal experience in diverse roles, from my standpoint, the better. So while I believe that itÂ’s beneficial to have a member of Legal on the Board of an organization that counts legal advocacy among its missions—and beneficial to have a lawyer on the Board of any nonprofit—I certainly wouldnÂ’t want a Board of all lawyers or all legal committee members.