Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: OTW Culture and Communication, Group 2

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

What in your opinion are three key aspects in which the Board needs to improve with regards to its interactions with OTW volunteers? What would you personally do to improve them?

Communication – I think sometimes we all get too close to an issue and we think we are being clear, but because of all our knowledge, it comes out confusing. I know I am guilty of this, but I try to do better. I think board sometimes just needs to focus on how they communicate and make sure all the info needed is there, so committees can move forward with what they need.

Planning – This one is tough because board has, for a long time, been going from fire to fire and putting them out. I think board has been stabilizing as time goes on, and there is less of this now, but because of its nature as more of an executive committee than a traditional board, it still happens. This will be helped with the hiring of executive staff to do much of the day to day work, which is one of the next logical steps for the org.

Transparency – The board moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes it has to because of confidentiality or whatnot, but this ties in with communication. I feel that we need to demystify the inner workings of board, and will work to do so if elected.

For the past several years, candidates who were later elected (or allowed due to uncontested election) have outlined several goals to improve the environment of the Board, the dynamic between the Board and staff, and other aspects of the OTW environment. But reports are that, despite this, things are not improving. Why do you think this is, and what steps will you take to stick to the goals you’ve outlined in this area if elected to the Board?

I do think it has gotten better, over all. There are still times when I look at board and wonder what is going on, but I understand that their hands are often tied and they can’t speak of certain things and they know more then I do.

I think a lot of the disagreements come down to personalities. People clash and fight, often not over OTW ideals or issues, but because they don’t like each other, and have a history.

I can work with anyone and I will do so, even if we do not get along. I do not have a ‘nemesis’ in the org, or anyone who I can’t stand so much I refuse to work with them. I like most people I’ve met and worked with, and I probably don’t know many of folks out there well enough to dislike them.

I approach this process with an open mind and an open heart and I willing to work with anyone, and I think it will be a grand adventure to do so. As I’ve said in other questions, my philosophy is that we can disagree without being disagreeable and I’ve found that people living by this creed often can get a lot done. I hope to help bring that attitude to the board and to the org as a whole.

There have been reports from past directors and from both current and past volunteers and staff that the Board spends more time on petty disputes with each other and on targeting staff and volunteers who question their decisions than actually caring about the welfare of the organization. Whether it is true or not, the perception is there and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the organization or the Board. How might you work to change this perception (or reality) and begin rebuilding trust between the Board and relevant constituencies?

I think the best way to move past this perception is to live the words you speak. I am willing to work with anyone who wants to help the org and be productive. I will be open and accepting of others and their ideas, especially those I disagree with. I will disagree without being disagreeable. I will not lie. I will break down the walls that separate us. I won’t betray trusts. If we’re all just excellent to each other, even when we disagree, the world and the OTW will be a much better place.

It will take time, but you need to live by the words you speak. Your focus determines your state of mind and I will focus on working hard and doing right by the OTW, its mission and volunteers. I will live by these words.

Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Goals and Vision

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

The Manifestos tell us some of each candidates’ ambitions of what they want to achieve if elected. I’d like to see that made more specific and SMART. In other words: what’s going to be the first action you’ll undertake/the first project you’ll tackle/first thing you’ll do if elected?

Good question. If elected to board, my first action would be to make sure we had a budget for 2016, or to work on it with the treasurer if there was not one finalized. The budget is so important to an organization and I want to see the OTW working towards having one ready near/at the start of every year. After that we would start talking very seriously about an audit.

What is your five year vision for OTW? AO3?

In five years, I see the OTW as bigger, better, and more vibrant than ever. I see us in a strong financial positon, with paid staffers doing a lot of the work of the current board. (Giving the board more time to vision and plan for the future, conceptually as opposed to being tied down by day to day activities and fires.)

I think it will be a great time to be involved with the OTW. Of course there will still be problems, but I think our experiences will prepare us to better address them and a support structure will be well in place to

I see well over a million users of AO3. I see more fanworks than ever before being posted across many fandoms, some of which we can’t even imagine yet. I see the site better than ever, with the help of paid contractors and the ever continuing efforts of our amazing volunteers. I see it open and free as ever, and still an awesome place to be.

The future of the OTW is very bright indeed.

If you could change something in the OTW’s bylaws, what would it be?

I am not a fan of changing the bylaws lightly. They are not meant to be changed often, which is why they are bylaws and not plain policy. There’s very specific things you want and don’t want in your bylaws. I would tread carefully here.

Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: General Management

How would you describe your management style? Your communication style?

To start, I can say that I am INFP on Myers Briggs. I am often more intuitive than thinking and base many of my decision on feelings. I can get stressed out sometimes but generally internalize as opposed to lashing out. I am also sarcastic sometimes, but it’s part of my charm. I am generally a very calm and nice person, and it takes a lot for someone to get a rise out of me.

I am very easy going when it comes to management. I get along with mostly everyone, and I have friends on many sides of org issues. As a chair of DevMem, I like to run my committee in the classical ‘first among equals’ kind of way. I feel that this encourages dialog and free exchange of ideas, which is important in this setting. As a chair, there is the occasional idea that needs to be vetoed, but I will always explain my reasoning. I do not force my will on the committee, and if staffers have valid points with differing opinions, I always listen. DevMem mostly moves forward by consensus. This will not always be possible on board, and I am able to make hard decisions when the need arises.

You all described your thoughts on “the key responsibilities of a/the Board” in your manifestos. However, with the exception of the bylaws, which are legally rather than functionally focused, there isn’t a clear publicly available list of the duties and responsibilities of the board. Would you be interested in changing that?

Sure. I think it would be a good idea for everyone to see what a board members should be doing, and what they are or could be doing better. It would be a good thing for all board members to be able to look to as well, to better guide their hands.

There has been a lot of mention of Board micromanagement and workload. What are two things that you would like to see immediately shifted off of the Board agendas to both decrease micromanagement of the organization and free up Board time for focusing on more strategic issues?

I am very much looking forward to joining the board of directors because I think I can help contribute to the org. While I know what they do generally (and understand what a nonprofit board normally does) I think it’s very hard to really understand the day-to-day mechanics of how Board functions from the outside. I imagine a lot changes every time there is an election as well. Finding out how everyone meshes together and who has what strength, etc.

I am not 100% sure what micromanagement you are referring to in the question I am happy to answer in one of the open chats if you provide more context. I think a real discussion for the next few years is going to be discussing the need for executive staff. This person or people would be able to take over the day to day things like approving staff, drafting correspondence, providing counsel to chairs, and many of the other day-to-day things Board does. This would allow board more time for having a strategic focus on the future.

The OTW has now spent over 3 years developing a 3-year strategic plan. This seems extremely long based on practices in other organizations and raises concerns both about the relevance of such a plan due to organizational shifts and, from the outside, raises questions about the ability to find consensus in the organization. What are your thoughts on how long it has taken to develop the strategic plan, and what steps would you take as a Board member to improve or streamline the process of both finishing up the current plan and setting up the development of the next iteration of the strategic plan?

Strategic planning is a big process. Especially for an org the size of OTW. There are so many moving parts and so many volunteers. (Plus everyone working on SP is also a volunteer!) There are companies out there that charge a lot of money to develop strategic plans, and the fact OTW has been doing it internally is a testament to that committee.

Having reviewed various drafts of the plan, I still feel it is relevant to the organization. I do not think that the time it has taken raises questions about finding consensus in the org.

I think a lot has been learned in the process of making the SP, and much of it has been documented so the next iteration of this project will be completed easier.

Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Retreat

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

In 2013 and 2014, the Board had in-person meetings in North America, and there will be another this October. What is your opinion on Board retreats and their outcomes so far?

I think they are very valuable to the org, and help plan for the future. I was not at any previous meetings, but I will be attending 2015’s as one of DevMem’s chairs. From everything I heard from participants, it was a very good experience and much was accomplished. Email and chat are great, phone calls are better, but doing in person meetings is often the best way to get things done quickly, and to cover a lot of issues. I also find that when I do things via email, I can get distracted by the internet or other things. At an in-person meeting, you are focused on the matter at hand and you figure it out.

Most orgs have in-person meetings all the time, because of their setup at brick and mortar locations. The OTW is different and so has to operate differently. From most of the reports I heard from the previous retreats, everything went well and a lot was accomplished. Further, it’s much easier to hate someone you are not in front of. These kinds of meetings in person can be healing in relationships.

You mentioned North America as a location, and I would not be averse to seeing it elsewhere, as long as cost is keyed into it.

How would you as a Board member, go about choosing who and what committees are invited to the annual retreat?

This is a complicated question. Ideally all chairs would attend because all committees deserve to be represented, but there’s only so much time in a day and a weekend. I like how each retreat we’ve had so far has kind of focused on various things. This is how they’ve been done in the past. In 2014 it was about the strategic plan and this year will have SP as well as some other things, like building development and budgeting. So as it stands, when the meeting’s theme falls under the purview of a certain committee, then they would be invited.

Last year the board’s in person meeting cost $18,355.21, 17% amount of the OTW’s total expenses. Do you have any ideas how to do this meeting a more cost effective way going forward?

If you couldn’t tell from my previous answers, I think the retreat is pretty important. Costs seem high, but when you think you have people coming from all over the world, it could be worse. A lot of people give up their time to be there, and none of the board or volunteers made money on it. So, I do not have any ideas on how to make it more cost effective, but if anyone does, I’d be happy to talk about it.

Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Conflict of Interest

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

How would you define the term “conflict of interest” and how might it apply to you while serving on the Board?

A conflict of interest in regards to the OTW could be putting self-interest over the common good, or putting one committee (that I am involved in) over the good of the org as a whole. Since I intend to continue serving on DevMem if elected, it very well could be an issue for me. I will discuss this fuller, and my reaction to it in my next answer.

Given that some of you intend to keep your other Org positions, how do you intend to deal with conflicts of interest when matters arise which impact your committee?

a. For example, if your committee wants to implement a change which requires Board approval, but is not necessarily in the OTW’s best interests, or would have an impact on another committee, how would you ensure that your contribution to the Board’s decision reflected your position as a Board member and not your personal opinion as a member of the committee?

b. Conversely, if another committee sought Board approval for something that would impact your own committee, how would you ensure that you were giving their arguments a fair hearing?

I plan to continue serving on Development and Membership after being elected.

a. Several things DevMem does, require board approval. Some of it is simple, day to day stuff—please approve the drive theme, please approve the drive goal, etc. In this instance I see no real conflict to say I support various things. If the issue is money related—such as an upgrade to our donor management software, I would abstain from any votes or discussing the matters unless specifically asked a question. The proposal would need to speak for itself. In either instance, I would make my opinion known at the committee level, and the consensus of the committee will be what is brought forward. Other board members may ask for specifics or elaborations, which if I am able, I’d be happy to give.

b. I would have no problem hearing another side’s issue in circumstances related to DevMem. Thankfully DevMem doesn’t come into conflict with other committees very often. If it were to happen, I would certainly listen, I can’t promise I’d agree, but I would try to set aside any preconceived notions I had on the issue and move forward. I would also disclaim any ex parte communication that may be involved (for example, if I wrote the counter-proposal, or whatnot.)

As a board member, you have to look out for the best of the org, not just your committee, and sometimes what’s best for the org is not always helpful to certain committees. I may not be popular in DevMem meetings for a few weeks, but I would sleep easy feeling that I did the best I could to move the org forward, even if I had to vote against DevMem’s current interests.

Withdrawal of Candidate Dan Lamson

Effective September 27, Dan Lamson withdrew his candidacy for the Board for 2015. His withdrawal letter is reproduced below with his permission:

“To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is to acknowledge my withdrawal from the race for OTW’s Board of Directors in 2015.

I want it to be known that I do not do this because of the current board of directors or because of their actions. I further do not do this because of any actions against the current board of directors. I did this solely because I feel like this is a not win situation for me personally. Thus, I cannot in good conscious continue to run for board of directors at this time. I feel that the friendships I have cultivated in the org are more important to me than my possible election to Board of Directors, and are not worth sacrificing to win.

I support the hard work that the board does, and I wish it all the best in the future, no matter who wins this election. Running for board are many very talented and committed volunteers. They all deserve respect and attention. Their positions may be varied but their hearts and ideas are all to move the OTW forward. I wish them all the best of luck in the election and hope that the board of directors comes out stronger than ever after this contested election.

I still plan to continue to serve the Development and Membership committee as a co-chair for the next several months and then as a staffer as a new generation comes to take the lead.

The Organization for Transformative Works serves a wonderful and vital purpose for fandom. I will continue to support its good works and look forward to serving it every way that I am able.

Thank you for all your support during this time,

Daniel Lamson”

Since Dan had already completed the Q&A process before withdrawing, his Q&A answers will appear on the site with the other candidates. However, Elections will add a note that his candidacy is withdrawn.

The Elections Committee wishes Dan all the best in his continued work for the OTW.