Chat Transcript – September 10, 2016

Anna Temel
Hi everyone, and welcome to our candidate chats! My name is Anna Temel, and I’ll be hosting the candidate side today. On the audience/open_chat side, your host will be briar_pipe. We’re both members of the Elections Committee.

briar_pipe, can you wave so everyone can see you?

briar_pipe
o/

Anna Temel

Transcripts of the candidate side of the chat will be posted publicly on our website. The open_chat transcript will not be posted there, but both its transcripts will remain visible until after the election. During the chat, you may see candidates fix their typos; this is to make Elections Staff’s job easier later.

We have some pre-prepared questions that were submitted by OTW volunteers from other committees. We’ll start with those. As the candidates discuss each question, audience members can notify briar_pipe that you have questions for the candidates – either follow-ups or new questions – by raising your hand like this: o// (for follow-ups to the current question), o/ (for new questions)

(I’m very sad I don’t get to “are you done : ))))” anyone this year 🙁 ) Briar_pipe will pass me the questions, and I will ask them during appropriate pauses in the conversation between the candidates.

Briar_pipe and I welcome all questions, subject to the following restrictions: – Specify who your question is for, or if it’s for all candidates. – Refer to everyone in the room by their username in this conversation. Don’t use other names you may know them by. – Please keep questions reasonable and polite (these are our expectations: http://elections.transformativeworks.org/elections-process-behavior-expectations/). – Make sure your question is not a repeat of one already answered in the manifestos (http://elections.transformativeworks.org/category/2016/2016-bios-and-manifestos/) or the Q&A (http://elections.transformativeworks.org/category/2016/2016-qa/). If it’s a follow-up to one of those, please say so.

Ok, that’s it for the intro! Let’s start with the first question submitted by OTW volunteers. This is for all three candidates to discuss: What is your opinion on accountability and the current checks and balances for Board members, Chairs, and even Committees in their entirety?

James
I think each one of those needs to be answered individually.

Kristina
I am a firm believer of accountability, and I’ve actually propagated the unpopular idea that we might want to get back to a system (which I knew we did in journal in the beginning) of renewing staffers every year and doing so only if we were happy with their work. Said differently, I find the processes to dismiss absent or not-working volunteers and staffers incredibly laborious and I know that I’d personally just work around an absent staffer than start the proceedings VolCom devised. Then again, they may be useful for other committees, and I’d like to hear more from various chairs and staffers before even thinking about suggesting alternatives.

ok, took the last one first 🙂

Priscilla
I think our structure doesn’t have any substantial checks and balances on Board members, chairs or committees. I think that’s a huge problem for the OTW as a whole (in my opinion our biggest structural issue, since it includes so many others) and can lead to—and has led to—a lot of issues both internally and externally.

James
Starting at the bottom I don’t think I have worked in teams where any of the staff have been a problem but I am sure that this does occur.

Kristina
Right, Priscilla! I think we addressed some of the issues of the board nor being accountable in our written answers and about chairs not being accountable in the last chat. (Thus my focus on the last one)

James
About the Board, Do you two think my idea of having a system to allow the membership to have a vote of confidence is workable ?

Priscilla
Volunteers/staff can be a problem, and the tools chairs have to deal with this are very limited—we do have a procedure for handling, say, harassment, but that cannot really help a chair trying to figure out what to do regarding someone who is very unreliable or cannot do their work. For chairs, yeah, we touched upon this last time. And as for Board, that’s even trickier because just internal policy, even if we do change it, can’t really affect that, I think, since they’re elected by the membership.

I don’t think it’s doable in practice, James

James
My suggestion was a method for allowing the members to bring them to account

The chief medical officer on the Enterprise can remove the captain but they can not be a captain.

Kristina
Yes, I’m torn between, yeah democracy and thinking of the enormous effort it takes to even get members to vote. I’m not sure it could work in reality.

Priscilla
I don’t think the issues that OTW volunteers have had with Board members in the past are easily broadcast, and essentially only Board members (well, and during the elections, also candidates) have a wide-ranging platform to speak to OTW members.

James
I am thinking about what happened last year

Priscilla
So in practice odds are you would have hundreds or thousands of people voting on, presumably, an internal squabble they’ve heard rumours about, and Board members having an official platform to refute everything. It’s—tricky.

James
I think if something like that reoccurred then people would be willing to vote

Kristina
I personally like the idea of having a chairs committee in the future that may have more responsibilities but also power in re to the board, and one of those might be a veto and vote of confidence power.

But James, who calls it? And how?

Priscilla
Last year was a very very extreme example. I definitely hope we don’t reach that far again ever, because it’s damaging for the OTW to implode that much. (Not saying it wasn’t necessary, but it’s not workable for us as an org to do that repeatedly.) We need internal policies to deal with this sort of thing before it reaches that level.

James
I did put in a straw man suggestion in the written answers.
( And I do agree that we want things to be better, and they have been )

Priscilla
If we need to implode before the membership every time we have an internal issue, fans and members and donors will have increasingly little reason to trust us, which is a critical risk for the org’s survival.

James
However I feel that having a proper route to a vote would make a rogue board think twice before enacting something like that.

Priscilla
Maybe not the one final straw, but everything before that? I’m not sure it would be a deterrent. I really think we need to figure out policies to improve things before that level. Ideally, before would-be problems even reach the Board, for example.

Kristina
I fear that there’s as likely an abuse of such a vote of no confidence right as there is of the board overstepping. Again, I think the checks and balances should be from within the OTW. (I.e., if there’s a supermajority of chairs calling for new election, or sth like that)

James
My suggestion made it had to get a vote of confidence and even harder to fail one.

Kristina
But like Priscilla, I look towards its abuse in politics and the way it reflects on the stability of leadership and would like it as an extreme case only

James
If you need more people to request a vote of confidence than normally vote by a factor of two and a factor of 4 to fail one….

Priscilla
(I completely agree we need to find a way to make it possible for the membership to vote out Board members, for the record, I just don’t agree that that is a workable solution for any of our internal issues.)

James
I do hope we never need to use it, but I think we need a method.

Kristina
Again though the very act is a huge indication of instability and should not have to happen. P. talks about all the ways to not get there, and I’m talking about potential rare ways in how it could be possible but very unlikely

James
I asked before the last elections how I could do it and I was told it was practically impossible to call the membership for a ballet on such an issue.

However I felt that calling for a vote of confidence last year was needed.

Kristina
I think it’s something we should look at going forward, but we’d need some internal restructuring to even get a group that could trigger a vote of no confidence

James
Elections seems like a group we have already ?

Priscilla
I agree, it’s something we should look at going forward—I know there were both legal and practical restrictions last year, so it would be good to have actual procedures should anything like that ever happen again.

Kristina
Oh, but who gets to decide? That’s why I said, supermajority of chairs group might be something…or an equally representative group that’s limited.

James
But it needs to be written such that a Board who wants to get rid of the rules has to survive a vote.

I think the membership gets to decide, they voted for the Board they should be able to remove them in an emergency.

Kristina
Sure, but these are all specifics we can’t really hash out here (and we need all the input from legal and election to help draw up rules)

James
( If elections become evil then the board have to survive a vote and can remove the elections as a side effect )

Priscilla
Yep

Kristina
James, it can’t work like that. Or rather, there needs to be a group that can TRIGGER the process, and that can’t be a randomly unhappy member or even staffer

James
Do you agree that the membership should be able to remove either the whole board or a subset.

Priscilla
Yes

James
I said for example 10% of the electorate.

or 15 if you want

Kristina
I agree that there should be a way that a vote of no confidence can be cast

I don’t think that’s doable. First, who’s electorate. Second, how would they organize.

Priscilla
Ah, I thought you meant a subset of the board. 😀 I think in case this happens all members should be called to vote and a majority of those who vote should decide.

James
The electorate is the set of people who can vote.

Kristina
It doesn’t work like that in democracies either, does it?

James
I don’t need to worry how they organise themselves I hope that they don’t need to, and if they do social media will do it.

( I mean members of the org )

Kristina
So you need access to the membership rolls. Who’d have that? How would you get people organized? That’s why I was suggesting a way to trigger a vote from within the org

James
No you need to be able to spread a message that things need to change.

You convince the membership that you are right, the membership emails an address to ask for a vote of confidence.

If that email gets over a certain number of emails in 30 days check they are all members and then….

Kristina
I disagree. Members have a way to vote in their candidates and staffers have a say in the day in day out. I’d think it incredibly disruptive to allow a group of members to disrupt the regular board terms like that.

Priscilla
I really don’t think it’s practical to discuss the minutiae without knowing from Legal what we even can do. Be it 15% of members, volunteers, anything.

Kristina
Agreed, P.

James
I don’t believe it will come in to effect unless there is an emergency

Priscilla
There are legal limitations to consider, it can’t just be whatever procedure we think best

James
I understand that the board can not tie the future boards hands.

Anna Temel
We’ve got a follow up! Lady Oscar says, “How do you contact the membership?”

James
For what purpose ?

As someone who feels something is going wrong ?

Priscilla
That’s part of the issue. Even if you find a way to broadcast clearly that something is wrong, you need to reach a lot of people in non-overlapping circles to even reach anything close to a substantial percentage of the membership.

James
I don’t want to make it easy, I want to make it possible.

Priscilla
And it’s obviously impractical, on the other hand, to use official OTW platforms as venting spaces to gather support for that kind of thing, because where to draw the line?

James
I really don’t think this will be used, I want it to be possible.

Anna Temel
The author of the follow up question doesn’t want further answers, so I think it’s time to move on!

Kristina
I’m still not sure why the political analogy doesn’t work. A vote can only be called from within parliaments, right? And if it fails then it’s can lead to re-election. But the electorate can’t call for it. (Thus my thought of chairs supermajority or even if one wanted, staffer supermajority.) And then it’d fall to election to see if the electorate agrees. But I do not think it feasible or useful to let the membership try to organize and call for a vote. (And I have heard too many stories of groups taking over nonprofits that I’d be very careful to let minorities disrupt the system at will and make the org look bad even if they keep their majority easily)

Sorry. Had been typing 🙂

Anna Temel
Our second one for today is: The current format for Board meetings seems to need an overhaul, since its members are unable to meet regularly due to time zone conflicts. Do you have any ideas on how to reinvent these meetings or provide alternative ways for the Board to communicate its decisions with members and volunteers?

Priscilla
I don’t think the problem is just timezone conflicts—I think it’s at least in part kind of a natural issue deriving from spending a lot of time making decisions in an asynchronous/synchronous chat platform. You end up doing a lot of things on the fly and there’s very little to do in actual meetings. (We have this problem in Translation.)

Kristina
Did we not talk about that at length last week? We had this entire newsletter and how best to disseminate issue. As for the first, I think board is already moving to asynchronous communication, and the big thing now is how to share their decision with us, but I think that’s in the works and happening.

James
Having people in lots of non overlapping timezones will always make synchronous meetings hard. I get the impression that there are moves afoot to make more decisions asynchronously which does take longer.

Kristina
Personally, I would just like to see weekly or bimonthly notes, just like we used to publish the minutes. Heck, as a member, I think a monthly account might even be enough, and we could potentially merge it with the newsletter. It’s not that I need an up to the minute of what’s going on wit board, and I bet most members feel the same. I just want to know that things are happening and what’s going on.

James
The disadvantage of making decisions on the fly is that not everyone can be a part of it.

Priscilla
I’m not sure how best to broadcast Board decisions to members and volunteers—yeah, we talked about the first part last time, but the second is trickier. We have internal newsletter blurbs (which make their way outside), but that’s obviously short. Maybe a twitter account feeding into a channel or something like that, then people can raise questions there if they like?

Kristina
James, I’m not even sure it takes longer, because the issues get discussed when they come up. The only problem atm has been to share the updates with everyone, but I’m sure once the system settles, it’ll be easier. (Really, updates every couple of weeks on the decisions and discussions should be enough for members and doable, right?)

James
A decision agreed over 24 hours will take less time than one that has to wait a week for a meeting, but it means that board members are more “on call” all of the time.

( on the how to tell the membership, I would be happy with a report every so often say once a month ?)

Kristina
True, James, but I think it allows everyone to do organize their own workload. (I know academics who set a day aside for answering email and hold firm to not respond until that day. I’ve started doing that with nonemergency TWC work and try to keep to my one morning a week.)

The newsletter! It can be multipurposed for so many thing 🙂

James
But some board questions do have some urgency.

Kristina
(Can anyone tell, I am really really unhappy with how many committees don’t post anything most months, including there for too long a time the board?)

James
And if we can only get decisions once a week it is not that practical.

Priscilla
The newsletter does contain Board updates nowadays, it’s just not terribly interesting (sorry, Board :D)

Kristina
James, I’m not suggesting the board members go once a week. I was only illustrating that asynchronous conversation doesn’t mean being on 24/7.

Anna Temel
Okay! I think it’s time we move to the next question! How would you foster a working culture within individual committees? Also, how can we equip our Chairs with the skills to foster a working culture in their committees?

James
I think this is hard. Thinking about how this happens at work, managers go on courses to learn how to manage.

Priscilla
I think it depends a lot on the committee, but overall setting clear expectations from the moment people join is a start—have it stated clearly, here you’ll do x tasks a month, we expect you to participate in meetings and discussions, which happen every y, if you don’t respond to our emails in z weeks we will remove you—and from there, you have to feel your way around and see what works to motivate that specific group to do things. Is it setting a time to work together on separate tasks, is it setting goals for the team and lots of pompom-ing, is it having a strict schedule and feeling the pressure, etc.

James
Are our chairs willing to learn ?, how much time does it take? , are there free resources ?

Management is harder than it looks to do well.

Priscilla
And as for the second, training and exchanging tales of what has or hasn’t worked in our various teams. And before that, to some extent, actually finding chairs who do want to do that kind of people work and are available for it, which can sometimes not be the case for any number of reasons.

(We have a shortage of chairs in the OTW and not a whole lot of people who want to be trained for it. But that’s improving, thankfully!)

James
( I think finding people who are willing to chair has always been hard )

Kristina
Right, Priscilla. We are not a company and our staffers and volunteers aren’t paid. So I think we need to work with what we have and make what we have work, which means listening and adjusting to everyone’s needs and abilities while still making certain our tasks get fulfilled. And that’s the crux and conundrum, right? 🙂

James
Even though we are not paid we are bound to work professionally and that should include the chairs in their role as managers. And the org has a responsibility to provide tools and training to ensure that happens.

Priscilla
I think even acknowledging that chairs are managers is something that hasn’t been established culture in the OTW for very long, even if it mostly is now.

James
( I speak as one who has worked hard not to be a chair )

Priscilla
Acknowledging we do have that kind of responsibility is an ongoing first step. And yep, agreed 100%, James.

Kristina
And yet, I’m not sure all of the managerial training tools translate, because everyone is a volunteer. (Trust me, I’m the last person to think that we shouldn’t treat is as a job, but that’s why I’d like, for example, the ability to renew staffers/volunteers, instead of having to go through the CCAP to remove anyone.)

James
Do you know how hard it is to get rid of an employee in the uk?

Kristina
Probably as hard as in Germany 🙂 I must have lived in the US for too long 🙂 (I think only showing up once a month and then not doing the work might be sufficient, though, right?)

James
You might think so….

I think a compromise agreement might be found.

Kristina
I think so too 🙂

Anna Temel
Thanks for the answers to this one! Let’s move to the last question! What does ‘participatory governance’ mean to you and what is your opinion on its uses for the OTW? What roles do you believe different types of personnel (e.g. volunteers, staff, chairs) should have in strategic decision-making, and what is the best way to ensure access for those who should play a part in big decisions?

James
Strangely I am going to say that an electorate votes in a set of people to make the hard choices for them and we shouldn’t go running to them all the time when difficult decisions come up.

I think talking to personnel and ensuring that you make the right choices is sensible.

Priscilla
I don’t know to which extent volunteers on various levels of the OTW want to be involved in its governance or even in knowing much about how the sausage gets made; but I think it’s important to give them ways to do so (creating avenues for feedback, for example, even as you share the content of a decision that got made). Literal participation-wise, it’s tricky for all kinds of practical reasons to involve all 600 volunteers in a decision. However, I don’t think this necessarily means that Board should have all the power to make decisions on its own unchecked. For one, volunteers can have very different outlooks on what a given problem is and what solutions can be tried, and hey, it might just be the perfect solution. Opening an issue for discussion among relevant groups (say, getting staffers from two committees in a chatroom to discuss something instead of emailing a decision from on high) can be incredibly helpful and productive. For another, chairs tend to have a good view of their committees’ weaknesses, strengths and goals, but if they don’t talk to each other and with Board, they won’t necessarily work in harmony with anyone else. So Board being in communication about strategy and progress with chairs is pretty much essential for the org to go anywhere.

James
Communication is very rarely wasted.

Priscilla
But at the end of the day—with the current structure we have, the buck stops with the Board. They have to do what they can to make the best possible decisions, and that includes reaching out to everyone they can in various ways.

James
I do agree.

Kristina
I wonder if that term and question is actually appropriate and relevant for OTW. From the literature I’ve read, the term applies to political involvement of citizens, which would mean our members, but they have the option of becoming part of the actual projects by volunteering. As for volunteers and staffers being more involved in decision making–I think the above mentioned issue to get chairs and the repeated difficulty to find people to stand for the Board (excluding last year for obvious reasons), suggests that most people do not want to engage in that way. So. agreeing with P.

Anna Temel
Thank you! That was our last prepared question, but don’t worry! We have a new, special one! 😀 “If you had no restrictions, what is one dream project you would love to see the org undertake.”

Priscilla
AO3 internationalisation in all the languages. Including Latin. Latin very much non-optional. dreams a dream

James
If I had no restrictions I would employ people to help the volunteers we have.

I believe we will get internationalisation eventually but its going to be hard work.

If I have to choose an Archive thing and Priscilla has given us internationalisation I think I would then have to choose storing other media types on the Archive.

Kristina
Proper categorization for podfic, vids, fanart etc. (And the ability to host those, esp since the audiofic archive is still not back up and vids are moving from platform to platform)

Ha James, I had already been typing, but yes!

James
Sorry ( I have been learning about ceph at work and I suspect it will be useful in the future )

Kristina
As for non-archive projects: I’d like our outreach to be more properly formalized, because I think our public role could be much more important and more formalized (right now it’s often individuals who happen to connect with media).

James
If you are going to say outreach I would try and help legal 🙂

I have no idea how to make them more awesome than they already are …

Kristina
Yes, I was just doing research today for an essay and they are so awesome!!!

Priscilla
They really are <3

If we could have actual employees we could have full-time Systems people and James might even actually sleep, imagine that. *hugs James*
James
Sleep would be nice.

Kristina
I think maybe it’s more on the sharing their awesomeness side. Like how I had to track down that On the Media interview with Rebecca last week and there’s no place in the OTW that collects and shares them? If a legal expert speaks on NPR and no OTW member and AO3 user knows…. (I was trying to do a tree in the woods thing here 🙂

OMG yes. sleep for James. top 3 priorities!

James
We can hold small hand collected media if we have a recording

Anna Temel
Talking about sleep! I think we can say that we’re wrapped for tonight!

I’d like to thank our candidates for the answers and the discussion!

Priscilla
Thank you for hosting!

James
Indeed.

Kristina
thank you!!!

Anna Temel
And, obviously, thanks to everyone who submitted a question/attended the chats! This was our last one for this year!

James
\o/

Kristina
\o/ indeed!

Priscilla
\o/

Anna Temel
A reminder: OTW Election is held September 23 – September 26 from 12:01am UTC on Friday to 11:59pm UTC on Monday. Here are the voter instructions: http://elections.transformativeworks.org/voting-instructions/2016-voter-instructions/

I wish everyone a good day/evening and thanks again! 🙂