2011 Second Board Candidate Chat Follow-Up Four

The second 2011 Board candidate chat ended with questions pending — both those submitted live by chat attendees, and a queue of emailed questions submitted by OTW members, volunteers, and staff that had grown throughout the live chat period. Those questions were delivered in batches to the candidates following the close of the chat, and they were asked to submit answers within twenty-four hours of each email so that those responses could be publicly posted. Responses are posted in the order that they were received by the OTW Elections officer.

For any questions addressed to a specific candidate or candidates, only the addressed party/parties were required to answer. However, if anyone else so chose, they could also submit answers — the questions are open to all.

Fourth batch: Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

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?

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.

Lucy Pearson

I guess I already answered this, but as it was probably a bit of a tl;dr I’ll summarise some of my main goals here:

1. Work on Board communications so that people inside and outside the org have more idea what the Board is up to, and work with committees across the org to improve communications generally. I’m modelling this on my work with AD&T and the Archive.

2. Work on promoting an agile, lightweight set of procedures which help make things work smoothly within the org and give people an idea of what they are doing (especially in areas where we need to think more consciously about things like outreach and diversity which can fall by the wayside without conscious effort), without bogging the org down with too many rules or becoming too inflexible.

3. In terms of things I have never been involved with before – I can see my professional skills (as an academic) being important to support Journal. TWC is quite a specific OTW project which would probably benefit from having (another) Board member who works in the field, I don’t have many specific plans in that area (I talked about my dreams in a previous question), but rather see myself as someone with skills and understanding of the academic world which will be useful in supporting whatever the Journal team see as important.

4. Mentor, support, cheerlead. Really, if I can do three years on the Board and come out the other side with the committees I worked with saying ‘Lucy was an awesome Board liaison who helped us achieve our goals’, I will be satisfied. The org is nothing without the hard work of the committees and volunteers; the Board looks at the big picture and also (or as part of that) works to support that amazing initiative and energy.

Betsy Rosenblatt

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 OTW’s current activities as well as other items of interest to the OTW’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 don’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 aren’t doing well; doing more of what’s working, and changing what’s not. From that process, concrete plans emerge.

Naomi Novik

The initial question came as a follow up to my saying that my first priority was to have a functional and effective Board; maybe it helps if I clarify that though my answer was framed as “this is what a team needs,” that I think that each item on that list demands good faith effort from each and every member of the Board to achieve each item? So for instance when I say that you need people who will step back from an argument, or that you need creative people to invent solutions, what I mean is that as a Board member, I make the effort myself to do each of those things. Also, I know these questions had to come in by the end of the second chat; since then I’ve also described a bunch of concrete ideas in my various other follow-up answers that hopefully will have given some idea of some other specific things that I would like to do: opening the internal wiki, adding 1:1 meetings where feasible, adding a monthly report from the Board down, reducing our gatekeeping and streamlining our internal procedures in general, and maybe putting on a con. 😀

I’m thinking how to answer further, and here is my best shot.

If you read the earlier questions about the server name poll, you probably gather that it was really a tough and unpleasant situation to live through at the time. And I can say that my experience from this year is there is still tension from that lingering throughout the org, which has still not been resolved, which I feel is slowing the org’s progress and also just making a bunch of our staffers and volunteers unhappy, including several of the Board/candidates.

And the highest priority thing that I want to do if I am elected is find a way to resolve this. How exactly, I can’t tell you, because it is going to depend on who else gets elected, what kind of relationships we can form when we’re in a room talking with one another, how open we are to one another.

But I have built and run teams many times and in many ways, and I am good at coming up with creative solutions, and I can also give you one specific thing that I would really push for: at our first meeting, I would suggest that everyone on the new Board come up with one concrete thing that they want to do which we can all agree, unanimously and without arguing, would at least not be hurtful for the org, and which we can reasonably accomplish in say the first month or two of the term. Whether that’s something like, successfully recruiting X volunteers for project Y, a new tool for Fanlore, a new org procedure, a new archive feature, OTW t-shirts — anything, just something doable that we can agree on without pain. And then, that we work as a team on getting each one of those concrete things to happen.

I think there is not a lot better for making people happy and feeling like a team than succeeding at once together and individually — for everyone to be able to say, OK, I wanted that, and I made that happen, and you helped! And it can really help to break down existing tension and unhappiness.

That wouldn’t be a panacea — I mean, no one was really arguing about server names by the end, I don’t think; there were some real differences underlying that were exposed, and we’d still have to work to resolve those. But I would really argue for first doing some repair work just to clear the air, and I would personally work on each and every one of those concrete things that I could contribute on as much as I could.

Three:

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.

Jenny Scott-Thompson

The most obvious things all come under my role as training lead, which I’ve held for the past year. Before that, I also did work on the Volunteers & Recruiting committee, but that doesn’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. I’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. I’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 I’ve been helping the testers do the same for theirs. That’s almost all on the technical side. On the non-technical side, I’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 I’ve been mentoring for coding.

One thing I’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 I’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.

Lucy Pearson

(I’m going to talk about a bit beyond the past year, as following my term as AD&T chair I took a little bit of a rest, and i feel like I could do that partly because of the work I’d done previously to promote sustainability!)

This year: Mentored and supported current AD&T chairs Amelia & elz, drawing on my previous role as AD&T chair; worked with awesome coder mumble to produce Archive release notes, gradually shifting more of the task onto her (in order to distribute communications for the Archive; this is ongoing); worked within AD&T and Support to share my knowledge and generally mentor and support new staffers worked within AD&T and Support to share my knowledge and generally mentor and support new staffers (Support totally don’t need me now, which is awesome – Matty, the current chair, deserves a huge shoutout for her work on sustainability). I also took a bit of a rest and thus sustained myself, which is actually the bit that is the easiest to overlook!

2010: Was AD&T chair, mentored and supported my whole team (which helped ensure there were chairs to come after me!); mentored the new Tag Wrangling chairs as the new committee formed; helped out with the new Support committee.

2009: Set up new training procedures for coders, rewrote the training docs, mentored and supported several new coders.

For the future: My biggest goal is to be a good support for committee chairs, ensuring people have the training and mentoring they need to do an often difficult and demanding job! I think having a good Board liaison who really supports the chair can make the difference for a whole committee. Mentoring chairs is really a great way of building future Board members – I don’t think it’s essential to be a chair to be a Board member, but there are a lot of related skills and it’s also a nice stepping stone. Being closely involved with a chair and their committee also helps you to identify other people who have skills can be used, and to encourage chairs to use them (or connect them with another place in the org if you can see they would fill a gap) – again, encouraging people to build on their existing skills and to take on more responsibility is both good in itself and helps ensure there’ll be more Board candidates in the future.

One specific thing I’d like to set up is a regular review of staffing needs to help chairs look at what’s happening in their committee and see where people or projects need more support (it can be hard to remember to do this kind of review when you’re in the thick of it). I’d also like to pass some of my specific skills on in places where they are needed, especially in terms of communications. Apart from that, I plan to be responsive to the committees and help ensure they get what they need when they need it!

Betsy Rosenblatt

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-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.

Naomi Novik

Actually, over the last year I have been taking a leisurely break as just an ADT member and only coding autocomplete replacement, tag sets, nominations, new skins system, and helping on an overhaul of the front end. *g*

What I’ve done in the past: building the builders specifically referred to training newbie coders within our organization. There was debate about this in the early days of the org; some Board members felt (reasonably) that it would be better for us to just recruit a team of senior coders and get the archive up quickly, because that’s the project people were urgently expecting. I was the one who argued for a model of actively trying to recruit newbies and train them up internally, even though that meant a longer initial ramp-up.

How to do that — you tell people they don’t need to know code, have good docs, try and make getting started easy, welcome and cheerlead and help. It follows pretty obviously once you decide that yes, you’re going to be a newbie-friendly, actively training team. (What’s depressing is how few open source projects in general do this.) The biggest thing is to have a culture of hanging out in the chatroom so there are people to be welcoming.

Oh, and I have just remembered I did do something towards this that I’m pretty psyched about this year! Unfortunately it is a little technical to explain: I came up with the idea of hooking up dropbox to our webdev environment to mirror code between the two, so we can edit code on our local machines and see the results running on our webdevs live without having to manually upload, and Sidra ♥ made it happen. The result is, people can now potentially do archive coding without even a webdev — all they need is dropbox and a text editor, and we can share them a folder that is on say a senior coder’s webdev, and they can do some archive coding right there. Lim and I have been working this way experimentally the last few months and it’s been going really well, and hopefully ADT can now generalize the process.

As I type, in fact, I’m envisioning we could use this to do something like a “make your archive!” day where we basically invite people to sign up for a bunch of slots throughout the day, have them install dropbox beforehand, and then walk them through doing an actual piece of code for the archive right then and there (something small obviously). Because how cool and addictive would that be, to actually get your hands right in there and then see the results even if you’ve never written a line of code before!

For growing Board members, it’s key to touch base every so often with other current Board members doing liaison work and try and identify people in committees who are doing great work, particularly as chairs. (One of the things I’m thinking a Board monthly report would help with is making the Board do this more regularly.) And then honestly the single most important thing to do to build candidates is to reach out and tell those people, hey, maybe think about Board. Because frankly a lot of people in our community undersell themselves and don’t think about it.

Nikisha Sanders
Response received 1 November 2011 4:38pm UTC. Added to document 1 November 2011 4:50pm 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-on-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.

Julia Beck
Response received 1 November 2011 7:49pm UTC. Added to document 1 November 2011 9:03pm UTC.

I’m going to talk about this in terms of my actual work with OTW colleagues, because I’m translating your question as “how do we make people stay, and help them grow?” My role’s not technical, which is why I won’t address this part of your question except to say: my approach is to know my limitations, trust other people’s expertise and strengths and enable them to do their job well, not try and do their job for them.

I have a pretty organic understanding of “building the builders”, a sort of trickle-down effect from Board to to chairs to staffers to volunteers — I’m giving you a fair bit of tl;dr here, because regardless of which strategies Board may end up adopting or not, my core understanding of volunteer work won’t change.

My underlying belief is not to ask more of volunteers that they can or want to give, and to be grateful for anything they do give, no matter how small. That sounds like a platitude, but I think it’s easy to grow resentful when other people don’t do as much as you do, so it’s super important to not hold everyone to the same standard. (I learned that the hard way during my university radio time… plus, you need to take into account that other people on your team might grow resentful of those with seemingly “lesser” workloads, so you may need to defuse tensions.) Often, it’s the most dedicated people who carry increasing amounts of guilt over not doing enough, or for having to step down, and if they leave without that resolved, they forever associate volunteering with that awful, negative emotion (and never come back when they have time again, ack!). So it’s important to resolve that and let people leave graciously.

As chair, I care about volunteers feeling appreciated, no matter their contribution; and I’ll continue to do so as a Board member, especially by talking with chairs about a good balance between encouraging volunteers without accidentally guilt-tripping them. (I don’t want to pretend I’m flawless at that! I’m pretty good about talking one-on-one and mentoring and being gracious, but I need to do better with consistent encouragement and celebrating achievements — hat tip to Lucy Pearson for giving me some good ideas here.)

Inside my own committee(s), one thing we’ve tried to do with varying results is to offer different levels of engagement, that is, try and find individual modes to contribute for people who don’t fit into the committee-based staff system.

I’m also pretty keen on establishing liaison roles, that is, making sure I’m not the only point of contact to other committees, so other committee members can build relationships inside the organization. That works pretty well.

That said: while not everyone has the time, inclination, or energy to get involved on a committee level, it’s important to actively recruit promising people from the volunteer pool, not wait for them to make that move themselves. (Actually, actively recruit people regardless of whether they’re already volunteers or not! We need to work on that.) Approach someone directly to make them aware of open committee positions or other opportunities inside the org that they might be interested in; and, I feel this is really important: let them know why you think they’d be a good fit. My experience is that we have many amazing people with impostor syndrome, and clear feedback about strengths and weaknesses helps with confidence issues.

I suppose confidence in your strengths (and a healthy awareness of your weaknesses) is the most important aspect for a Board candidacy, so building confidence is crucial for building candidates. (I don’t believe that people become magically confident by taking on and mastering challenging work and after a while automatically consider running for Board; impostor syndrome may still apply.)

Speaking of challenging tasks: I don’t think every candidate needs to have chaired a committee, but I do believe that chairing is invaluable preparation. So in a sense, I’d like to encourage promising people to consider Board candidacy early on, so they have time to accumulate relevant experience like leading a committee or task group. Right now it’s very… I don’t know. As if people are either magically ready for Board or not. (I certainly wasn’t — it took a great deal of mentoring to get me there, so I want to pay this forward.)

I think we should make it more obvious what the expectations for Board members are: demystify the job, so to say, and train more people up for it.

Board Candidate Chat Two Follow-Up Questions: Third Set

We’re ready to share our third batch of questions from OTW members and responses from our candidates! You can read those questions and answers here, on the OTW Elections website. Answers are listed in the order they were received, and any responses that are received after the deadline will be added to that page as soon as possible, with any post-publication changes noted.

Again, the emphasis in these responses is on immediate answers rather than polished essays — just as in the chats.

With this post, we have hit the halfway mark. You really did have a lot of questions for them (which is awesome!), so we’ve concluded that our hard-working candidates deserve a breather! We’ll be taking a very brief break, and will announce here when the fourth batch of questions and answers are ready.

2011 Second Board Candidate Chat Follow-Up Three

The second 2011 Board candidate chat ended with questions pending — both those submitted live by chat attendees, and a queue of emailed questions submitted by OTW members, volunteers, and staff that had grown throughout the live chat period. Those questions were delivered in batches to the candidates following the close of the chat, and they were asked to submit answers within twenty-four hours of each email so that those responses could be publicly posted. Responses are posted in the order that they were received by the OTW Elections officer.

Third batch: Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

One:

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?

Jenny Scott-Thompson

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 – I’d like to point people with prior experience straight at our Github repository at an earlier stage. As part of the website redesign, I’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 don’t have to wait for them to get access to certain tools. For new coders, I would work with next year’s training lead to ensure that the support I’ve set up continues, that they don’t get bewildered by the options for experienced coders, and increase the amount of mentoring and guidance that’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. I’d also like to do more to build up the community of testers – this is something we’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. I’d like to encourage more committees to check in with their staff and volunteers one-on-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. I’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 I’d continue to work with the Development & Membership committee and with Volunteers & Recruiting to progress more training options. We’ve had several people get new day jobs on the strength of their OTW work, and I’d like to see that grow and continue.

Betsy Rosenblatt

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.

Julia Beck

(I’m going it interpret “committees you work with” as the ones I serve in, because I wouldn’t tell another committee how to conduct their affairs.) For I&O: Number one would be re-focus on our core mission, and for more general projects like the community survey form cross-committee task groups. We also need to position ourselves better as the go-to people to approach with concerns about diversity, who will amplify and convert them into action internally; I’d like to think that successful recruitment and volunteer retention also hinges on our credibility in that regard.

For Translation: apart from trying to make the overall translation process smoother, we are committed to making translators feel part of the organization (if they want to!), because it’s way too easy to feel detached and out of the loop as a volunteer.

But to veer back to a more general perspective: My educated guess is that volunteers don’t differ all that much in what they want out of their OTW volunteering experience. They want their work to be acknowledged, they want it to be meaningful, and they want a degree of agency. So if we consistently fail to deliver on these fronts for some people, they leave (– or they don’t volunteer at all, if they suspect that the threshold to getting things done is too high). So: acknowledgement or praise, work that connects meaningfully to a larger whole, and agency. Board can make a difference in all these areas. Pragmatically, we’re also trying to learn more about volunteer motivation and the gap between expectations and reality in the internal survey. My hope is that it’ll help us get a better grasp on the issue in general.

Nikisha Sanders

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-on-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.

Naomi Novik
Response received 30 October 2011 02:16 UTC. Added to document 30 October 2011 02:31 UTC.

Actually, on the archive, 47 coders have committed code to the archive over the life of the project, 22 have committed in the last year, we have 15 committers with more than 100 commits and 3 with more than 1000 commits. Ohloh ranks the archive team in the top 10% of open source projects. We do have a limited amount of highly active senior coders, who are the ones best able to take on a major project that integrates with a lot of other things, but this too has been creeping up at last where now we have 3-5 active senior coders as compared to 1-3 at the beginning.

So honestly, I wouldn’t change a ton there; I think ADT is doing great at the slow-and-steady building of a resilient project team, for which btw I give enormous credit to Maia, Lucy P, and Elz and Amelia for creating the kind of atmosphere where people want to come and work.

That said, more broadly I feel that the way that the org retains volunteers long term is, you accept that people are going to come and go — you have generous policies to support it, and a culture of respect for people’s free time and wanting to do other things, so people feel like they are not chaining themselves to a wall if they do sign on.

You keep in mind when recruiting that this is effectively an unpaid second job. It’s easy to feel disheartened from a recruiting perspective when people show up, poke around a bit, and drift away — but we are in fact asking people to work for free! So it is not that surprising when someone who is all for the org and our projects and likes us and thinks they might want to do some work, turns out to not really be up for sinking in large amounts of their free time. You don’t take that drifting-away personally, and you don’t let it make you give up on recruiting and welcoming, and you welcome BACK with open arms and visibly so people know that any time they might come back, even if they’ve vanished previously, they’ll be welcome.

You make the work as much fun as possible, you keep procedures lightweight and unobtrusive, you eliminate as many sources of frustration as possible, and you try and create hospitable environments for people to come into.

And for a more detailed specific thing — the Coders chatroom is a great example, people are always hanging out there so it’s easy for people to drop in. Our off-topic Water Cooler chatroom hasn’t really worked the same way for our other staffers/volunteers, probably because it’s not actually geared for stuff to happen in — it occurs to me one thing we might do to enable a similar experience for people in other parts of the org would be to sort of cluster committees that have some related projects and work going on, and give them shared chatrooms for anyone from those cmtes to hang out in and get work done. It would also be a great way to let people mingle with other volunteers across committees and build more org-wide relationships.

I’ve also mentioned previously that I’d like to see us lower the gatekeeping in general to empower basically any volunteer who wants to get something done, and that I’d like us to expose our internal documentation so (among other good effects) prospective volunteers could see what they would be getting into even before they have shown up.

Lucy Pearson
Response received 30 October 2011 13:01 UTC. Added to document 30 October 2011 14:47 UTC.

(Just as a prefix here: I had some computer problems and am writing on one where I can’t really see most of the screen, so there will be some mistakes in this -I hope it doesn’t make it too hard for people to read.)I’d like to start by saying that while volunteer retention is a concern, it’s not the case that (at least in the committees I have worked closely with) we’re in a terrible position right now. I think the fact there are six people running for Board this year is a testament to the fact that the org as a whole is growing and developing. So, while there are some specific problems to address, and there’s an overall need for any volunteer organisation to keep thinking about volunteer retention and satisfaction, I think that we’re doing a lot of things well already and the real concern is continuing and improving.

To talk about coders specifically, since that was mentioned in the question & it’s a subject dear to my heart – about 47 people have contributed code to the project since we started allowing for the fact that some people contributed under more than one name) and our last code release had code from 14 different contributors. This is not a small number of developers – in fact, according to ohloh, which tracks open source projects, we count as a ‘large, active development team’. It is true that there are a few people who are responsible for big chunks of code – this is because when a big new feature is being developed, it needs someone who is experienced and able to do the high level work that requires. This does mean we sometimes say ‘we are still waiting for x feature because it needs y person to be free’, but on the whole this mostly just dictates what features come out when. All the people who have contributed a lot of code to the Archive have also had extended periods of time away from the project, and development has continued happily without them, which I think bodes well for sustainability. And even in that area we are gradually building a larger coohort of people who can take on bigger things; for example I’m totally thrilled we now have a wonderful coder rebecca working on translations (I could actually ramble a lot more about the way coders has developed, but i might save that for a journal post!). . In terms of improvements, I think that our recent move to using git to manage our code will enable us to reach out to some people who have been active in the Open Source community and who are comfortable wih a different way of working – for example, git allows people to sumbit code to the project without ever joining formally (and we can review it and decide if it works for us), which might suit some people and might give us some extra ad-hoc help.

I actually wrote on my journal about my experiences of wokring within AD&T and its subcommittees, where I analysed in detail why I hadn’t burnt out and what was working. If you’re interested in my thoughts on these issues, this sets out a lot of what I think. In brief, I would say that having a warm, friendly working environment in which achievements are valued is key: Naomi worked hard to creaate that ethos at the beginning, and subsequent AD&T chairs have done an enormous amount to maintain it (it was certainly something that was important to me as chair). I think burnout tends to happen most in roles where the goals are longer term or where the work is more likely to be overlooked, and where people have less control over their own workload: for example, we tend to lose a lot of testers (who do awesome, amazng work btw) because there work goes on in the background (although we try to push it to the forefront, e.g. by doing shout-outs in the AD&T reports I write) and because the fact that we build up a bunch of code and then it needs to be tested for it to be out in the world tends to make for erratic spurts of work at times not of their choosing. We’re working on addressing this – we recently introduced a new system where we put new code on our Test Archive every Friday, so there’s more chance testers can drop in and do a bit of work every week (this also makes them feel more part of the day-to-day life of the org).

Overall, to improve volunteer retention generally, I think that a warm & supportive environment is essential, and that the Board can have a lot to do with creating that because if the Board support chairs effectively and make sure they are happy and have what they needs, the chairs are better able to support their committee members, who are able to be more supportive of each other & of volunteers, and so on. And where there are some specific problems, the Board can help by working with committees to come up with solutions for those committees: every situation is different, and it should always be committee-led, but the Board can provide their experience and also have some distance from the situation which can be useful.

Two:

I’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 don’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? I’m hearing a lot of ideas, but how do you plan to incorporate these into an approach that helps our sustainability?

Jenny Scott-Thompson

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. I’ve been through that a few times, and some of the things I’ve mentioned are going through the process now. However, most of the reasons I’ve heard for burn-out are not due to sheer volume of work – more often, it’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. We’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 Board’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.

Betsy Rosenblatt

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.

Julia Beck

We can only balance this by talking *with* other committees and respecting their needs and limitations. I appreciated arrow’s question from the last batch, because we need to acknowledge the anxiety that this current flurry of new ideas causes — I intimately understand that volunteers are weary of additional work piling up, so we need to consider the cost-benefit balance for each individual committee.

Basically, if we want something from someone, our approach needs to be “what help can we give you?” instead of “hey, do this!”. So I always try to get a handle on the ramifications of a suggestion by checking back with the people involved before I initiate something; we need everyone’s cooperation, after all, and I’ve seen what havoc the best-intentioned ideas can wreak if they’re not integrated into existing discussion.

Nikisha Sanders

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.

Naomi Novik
Response received 30 October 2011 02:16 UTC. Added to document 30 October 2011 02:31 UTC.

I find it’s generally more problematic and stressful (and less stable) to add things that require sustained long-term effort, even if relatively small, than things that need an initial burst of work but then are over. So for instance, if we’re looking for a solution that increases transparency, I would lean towards spending the initial time and effort to open up the wiki as opposed to put an ongoing burden on committees to create an initially smaller but ongoing increase in their outward communication to achieve similar levels of transparency.

Of course, the answer for this or any such idea that when the Board sits down with it and looks in detail at what would be involved, you realize that it’s either just not feasible, or not enough payoff for the work involved. Then you consider how possibly the idea might be scaled back or trialled in a less painful way. For instance, the opening of the wiki could be trialled by say opening up just the ADT section of the wiki (nearly all technical stuff, basically nothing confidential or needing review) and seeing how much it’s used, what if any issues arise. If it really proves effective, then you could gradually move one after another committee in that direction.

(BTW, although I get you are using this just as an example, in this case, the internal wiki is already open to all our volunteers — that’s hundreds of people many of whom have just volunteered in passing. If there is anything in there that is actively confidential, it shouldn’t be there anyway, and we can still keep the wiki non-googleable for the very real distinction between “readable by someone who comes and dives in actively” and “findable for typing your name in google”.)

Addenda received 30 October 2011 03:31 UTC. Added to document 30 October 2011 14:47 UTC.

and copracat@DW has just told me that actually that’s not the case anymore, on volunteers able to see the whole wiki, and there are different access levels set up, which I had remembered being something we wanted but didn’t have. So I am all wrong on the absence of confidential information, but on the bright side it should be pretty easy to do the opening up by sections. 😀

Lucy Pearson
Response received 30 October 2011 13:01 UTC. Added to document 30 October 2011 14:47 UTC.

I think one of the valuable parts of the elections process is encouraging people (not just the candidates, but everyone interested) to be creative and explore ideas for change. Obviously, once the new Board meets, they will need to review those ideas andd talk with committees, thinking about what is sustainable, what is a great idea but not right for now, and what isn’t actually workable. As a Board member, what I’d be looking for is ideas which are either small and simple to implement (like a formal plan for one-on-one meetings with Board liaisons & committee chairs – having had a similar mentoring relationship with a new committee chair when I was chairing, I can say that this can actually be a lot of fun!), or things which involve short-term work now but will mean less work for everyone in the future. For example, the wonderful YShyn on Support has just put a vast amount of work into improving documentation & setting up a system for Support staffers to document their knowledge. This is something that never got done before because everyone was to busy – but it will actually make everyone’s work much easier and take the stress off in the long term. Board can actually be in a good position to identitfy that kind of work (whereas when you’re on the front line, it can be hard not to think ‘BEARS!’) and encourage committees to implement it, even if it actually requires a temporary slowing down of their day-to-day work.

Also, even though I think Board can be helpful in giving an outside perspective, I would emphasise that ultimately, sustainable solutions come from the people on thr the ground. I would like to maintain an ‘agile’ organisation that doesn’t have a ton of set-in-stone procedures, so that committees can keep coming up with creative ideas, change as their situations change, and feel confident saying ‘this won’t work for us’. So I would be looking to ask the committees how we can best help them, rather than having the process go the other way round.

Three:

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?

Jenny Scott-Thompson

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 can’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 can’t remember how much has been publicly announced about either of those yet, so I won’t go into detail), but neither of those take up much time.

I’m expecting to spend more time on OTW work next year than I have this year or last year, but I also know from experience that I don’t lack time to keep up with commitments so long as they’re fun rather than draining. I’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.

Betsy Rosenblatt

Here, again, I’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, I’m fortunate that my life in academia allows me some flexibility about when I do my work. As a result, I don’t expect to have trouble managing my workload for both the Board and the legal committee.

Julia Beck

I’m relieved I found a likely successor for chairing Internationalization & Outreach, and I hope to take a step back in general, because regardless of whether I’m elected to Board of not, I believe in trusting the “next generation” with carrying on the mission. I hope we can do the same with Translation committee soon; I’d feel uneasy (okay, streched way too thin) occupying a central role in two committees *and* serving on Board. I’m not going to just stop serving on either committee, it would feel like callously abandoning my mates! But I would encourage any chair who wants to run for Board to hand over the baton, if they can (it’s often simply not possible, I know!).

Nikisha Sanders

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-on-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.

Naomi Novik
Response received 30 October 2011 02:16 UTC. Added to document 30 October 2011 02:31 UTC.

The way I have from the beginning. 🙂 I do have less free time than I did before baby, but I also wouldn’t be chairing again and the full scope of the challenges code will finally be in after this year, so I think it will be manageable. (The first year when I was chairing both Board and ADT and having something like 2-4 weekly meetings was tough, I will say!)

The thing is, you need productive people on Board. Productive people are usually already doing stuff in their RL, and already doing stuff for the org. And often the work they’re doing is work they enjoy. I love coding; if I wasn’t doing it for the archive, I’d be doing it on something else. So for myself, I will still be coding if I’m on Board, I’ll probably just focus more on smaller and more discrete chunks of code and more bugfixing instead of new features, which would also not be a bad thing for the project as a whole to have a senior coder on.

Lucy Pearson
Response received 30 October 2011 13:01 UTC. Added to document 30 October 2011 14:47 UTC.

One of the things I learnt the hard way as AD&T chair is that when you step up to a new role, you have to lt some others go. So, while I would want to retain a connection to the committees I have worked with, I would anticipate realy scaling down the amount of responsibility I had within those committees. I think in a lot of places this will be easy – for example, Support started the year as quite a small committee which was still developing its procedures, but it’s now really thriving and has a good community and it has acquired new people who have taken on some of the roles I used to fill. (Thanks in no small part to the quiet but extremely effective work of Matty the current chair.) So, the continuing growth of the org makes it easy for me to know that when I stop doing certain things, someone else will be there to pick them up. I anticipate the main thing I would keep up if I get onto Board would be some of my communications work, which I love, but I anticipate scaling that down too (I actually have two different plans for how to proceed with that depending on whether I get on Board or not). On the whole, though, I am someone who likes to be busy, and after juggling being AD&T chair with finishing a PhD and writing a book, at a time when AD&T and its sister committees were much less developeed, I feel confident I will be able to find ways to balance my Board committments with everything else.

Board Candidate Chat Two Follow-Up Questions: Second Set

We’ve passed our second 24 hour response period for our chat overflow questions, and have another batch of insightful questions and thoughtful answers from our candidates, posted now for your review. You can read those questions and answers here, on the OTW Elections website. Answers are listed in the order they were received, and any responses that are received after the deadline will be added to that page as soon as possible, with any post-publication changes noted.

To reiterate, these questions are being delivered in batches to the candidates, and they are being asked to submit answers within twenty-four hours of each email so that those responses can be publicly posted. The emphasis in these responses is on immediate answers rather than polished essays, and as previously, candidates were also asked to keep to the question topics.

The third batch of questions was sent to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers are due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011, and will be posted for public review in approximately 24 hours.

2011 Second Board Candidate Chat Follow-Up Two

The second 2011 Board candidate chat ended with questions pending — both those submitted live by chat attendees, and a queue of emailed questions submitted by OTW members, volunteers, and staff that had grown throughout the live chat period. Those questions were delivered in batches to the candidates following the close of the chat, and they were asked to submit answers within twenty-four hours of each email so that those responses could be publicly posted. Responses are posted in the order that they were received by the OTW Elections officer.

Second batch: Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

One:

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?

Lucy Pearson

This question is for sanders specifically, but as I’m also in favour of facilitating more contact and discussion across the org, I thought I’d weigh in. I do think it’s very important to make sure that attempts to improve one area (in this case transparency & communication) don’t wind up causing another problem elsewhere. For this reason, I think it’s important to be flexible and responsive: it’s good to have some documented policies and procedures, but they have to be broad enough to allow for changes on the ground, as it were. So, I’d want to start by talking with each committee about what would work for them, and how they would need to be supported, then go from there. For example, it might be that Systems would benefit from having a liaison (maybe their Board liaison, maybe someone from Communications, maybe something else) who would support some of this type of activity and so prevent it taking time away from the (essential!) sysadmin work. Or maybe monthly chair meetings aren’t the right approach – or aren’t right for all committees – but we can come up with another solution to the same problem. So, flexibility and creative thinking is key here, I think.

Jenny Scott-Thompson

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.

Julia Beck

I’m jumping in on this because I had a similar conversation with someone expressing concerns about administrative bloat (“spending too much time talking that could be spent doing”). I do believe we should assess each committee to see where we can communicate better — but individually, not as a top-down directive. Chairs, of all people, have really…little…time for additional meetings (I used to be a big proponent of chairs meetings, but realized that the main purpose that they should have — support — is more effectively served by mentoring.)

Inter-committee, I found that having liaisons for the closest collaborators worked very well, but that’s still not something every committee needs.

Regarding external & internal communication, Communications committee had the idea of adjunct Comm staff liaising with a particularly committee and taking on the brunt of its comms work (credit goes to Lucy Pearson, who is on that committee). It didn’t work out back then — we need more people for that, for one — but I think it’s worth looking into and recruiting for. Again, not every committee needs that, but I’d be interested to hear what you think of this, if it’s not too much trouble (Brainstorming topic in the internal forums?).

Betsy Rosenblatt

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.

Nikisha Sanders

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.

Naomi Novik
Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 UTC. Added to document 29 October 2011 14:04 UTC.

Actually, I think I talked about this a bit in the previous round of questions, but to add, I think we need to be open and flexible to the needs and working styles of different committees just generally, and in particular committees that are either perennially or temporarily time-strapped.

Two:

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?

Lucy Pearson

I was involved in the discussion, since the poll originated with AD&T and I took the lead on setting it up. It was originally intended as just a fun diversion during AO3 downtime, but it did become the focus for some broader issues and discussions, so it’s those issues that I’d more like to address.

So, first my input into the discussion. When we initially set up the poll, AD&T consulted with various people about how to make it work. People on DevMem with experience of running competitions advised us to post clear rules for the competition and to make it explicit that at the shortlist stage, we would have an internal panel who would choose the final shortlist. We posted about this and noted that we would be giving consideration to fannish diversity in the shortlisting process (which we did, and a huge amount of work went into making a balanced shortlist). In the same set of rules, we also stated we would post our shortlist as a poll and the seven names with the most votes would be the winners (you can see the full set of rules at http://transformativeworks.org/archive-our-own-server-naming-festival). So, when the results came in and they didn’t reflect fannish diversity quite as much as we’d hoped, I was disappointed, but I felt strongly that for the sake of transparency we had to stick to the rules we had publicly set out at the beginning of the competition. It didn’t seem fair or respectful to the people who had voted to change the rules after the fact, and I felt that not sticking to our published process in this instance might undermine confidence in our processes more generally (for example, in Board elections).

I wouldn’t change my take on the basic situation; however, I think the way the whole thing played out wound up being not too much fun and not very good for the OTW as a whole, so there are a lot of things I would change to ensure similar things work better (especially in the case of issues with a more long-lasting impact).

* Faster decision making on practicalities. Because this issue turned into a focus for some different ideas about org needs and priorities, it wound up taking loads of everyone’s time and dragging on for months. This seems crazy when the immediate issue was actually about server names! When an issue brings up unexpected dimensions, I think it’s valuable to sometimes make a quick decision about the immediate issue (providing it’s not something that’s going to bind you to a certain outcome down the road) and agree to take the real, important issues forward.

* Better internal communication & consultation. I think it is very important that communication within the org is always maintained, and that if a decision is taken to a different group of people (for example, in this case the decision about the servers was taken from the shortlisting committee up to Board), then that needs to be clearly communicated to the original group of people and they should have the opportunity to give their input. In this case, there was bad communication about what was going to Board and why, which meant that the Board didn’t have a chance to get input from committee members, and people were left feeling hurt and excluded. Sometimes it is appropriate to take an issue up the line for discussion, but clear communication about that is really important.

* Live discussion about controversial issues. This is something that Naomi has brought up: when feelings are high, email discussion is a terrible way to deal with something. I know that everyone who was involved in this discussion was well motivated and sincerely concerned with fairness, they just had different ideas about how to achieve those aims. Discussing in chat (or maybe even Skype) would have helped everyone remember that this was true and prevented tensions escalating.

* Better external communication. Because passions ran high about this issue, it took a long time to resolve and everyone involved felt sensitive about talking about it in the meantime. With the benefit of hindsight, I realise this was a mistake. Once it became apparent that we weren’t going to get a quick decision, it would have been better to do a public post talking honestly about why this had become tricky and giving the different perspectives. Maybe we would have found that people had different solutions, or saw things differently; in any case, we wouldn’t have been left talking about hypothetical possible responses to whatever decision we made. I think it is hard to do this kind of external communication, because if something is controversial you really don’t want to open the can of worms even wider! But I think it would be worth it, because leaving everyone with no news and wondering what was going on meant that a. we lost the fun and excitement from the competition and b. we looked very nontransparent. It also meant that by and large, people outside the immediate discussion only knew about it from posts by individuals, which by their very nature were, well, individual perspectives. I like to think if we had been able to all work together on a public post we could have presented all the different perspectives honestly and neutrally. This would have been facilitated by asking someone not involved in the immediate discussion to put together that post, so that’s a procedure I would like to put in place for any future posts which deal with issues that there isn’t a consensus on within the org.

* More forward planning. With hindsight, we probably could have anticipated this decision. I (naively) assumed that if there was a reasonably diverse shortlist, the final results would reflect that. Even though staff from AD&T, IO, Communications & DevMem were all invited to contribute to the initial planning of the poll – this included input from several people passionately committed to fannish diversity – none of us forsaw that we might end up with the outcome we did. In fact, we could have set up the whole competition with inbuilt diversity – for example by saying in advance that each server name would be assigned to a different fannish category. That would have been fair to everyone and would also have made the competition much easier to administer! So, that’s a lesson I’d want to learn for next time – think more about what we’re trying to achieve and try to build that in.

I think there are lots of ways we could have handled this specific issue better, but I also think it’s important not to get too bogged down in specific failures. We’re all volunteers, we all have varying levels of experience, and to a large extent we’re figuring things out as we go. No single issue should be a deal breaker. So, my philosophy is ‘try again – fail better!’ We can look to this to make better processes and better interaction in the future.

Regarding the final part of the question: voting transparency for the Board. I have to say that in general, I’m not sure exactly how Board discussions work in general, so I don’t know how applicable that would be. I would agree with Naomi (in her recent post) that in general, actual voting should be a last resort, and that discussion and creativity are often more effective ways to respond to a situation. What I can say is that I am definitely in favour of more public information about what the Board is talking about and what decisions they are making. This would also enable individual Board members to talk more honestly and openly about their specific input and views on any given issue. I do think, however, that Board does need a certain amount of space to talk about things privately, so while I’m cautiously in favour of the idea of giving some specifics of Board voting, I wouldn’t want to come down and say ‘we should definitely do that’ before I have been able to talk to Board members past and present about how appropriate that would be.

Jenny Scott-Thompson

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.

Julia Beck

Oh, server names. (I’ll probably associate regret with that poll forever.) I was involved in the final name selection task group, but contributed relatively little to the document-in-progress because I felt we had a solidly diverse shortlist.

Where I personally failed was the final selection chat, when
the options “Kirk” and “Spock” were put onto two different servers, (effectively sealing the Star Trek over-representation). I felt that couldn’t be right, but I was unsure and didn’t object. I should have, and I’m very sorry that I didn’t.

I also assumed that the end result would, like the shortlist, be altered according to a principle of diversity; others assumed that we would honour the final vote, because to do otherwise would be unethical.

My believe (that I asked Board member hele to represent in the final decision) is that we should have admitted that we messed up and scrapped the poll or adapted the results (there were some good suggestions of allocating servers according to media type). I very firmly believe it wouldn’t have lost us much goodwill in our core support group, but it very definitely did lose us people who already felt marginalized.

What we can do to prevent this from happening again: The problem wasn’t a lack of diversity — our shortlist was pretty awesome. It was in the final selection & results discussion that we — that I — failed.

So to prevent something similar from happening, we need to create an atmosphere where a) all relevant information is available to the people involved and b) everyone feels they can speak up without fearing that they’re ruining (internal) relations forever. At its core, it was a charged communicative situation that was hard on everyone involved and effectively barred us from reaching a better compromise. On the outside, and because of the final decision, it looked like we didn’t care enough. I regret this immensely.

Voting transparency: Tricky. My spontaneous reaction was: YES, let’s have it! but… no matter the individual vote, the Board has to present a cohesive whole, and even if they disagree, Board members have to uphold the collective decision. Personally, I’m prepared to justify both my individual vote and the end result; but I haven’t made up my mind if it would be beneficial to make this a binding requirement — I’d need to discuss this with fellow Board members (nevermind that the bylaws don’t state anything about recording voting behaviour, so Board would need to adopt it). Regardless, I’d prefer it if Board were more open about its decision process, where it can, and Board members more transparent about their individual positions. (I find it confusing, too, when the majority on the Board seems to be in favour of postion X, but the result is position Y. Why?)

Betsy Rosenblatt

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 Board’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.

Nikisha Sanders

\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.

Naomi Novik
Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 UTC. Added to document 29 October 2011 14:04 UTC.

I only heard about it pretty much after the fact because I was busy with new baby, so I start with the caveat that any situation is much easier to kibitz from the sidelines when you’re not involved in the decision and also don’t have all the pieces, so you have to take my after-the-fact thoughts with that very large helping of salt, and I offer them with apologies to the folks I know who struggled through it at the time.

My ideal public solution would have been to have the Board swiftly post an apology to let people know hey, we didn’t think this all the way through, it’s not worth anyone being sad or feeling unwelcome, so we’re calling the whole thing off (in some way, whether by changing the names or just canceling the whole thing). I would have wanted this post to explicitly center the blame for both the original mistake and for the subsequent disruption on the Board rather than the organizers, and also to try and shift focus to the much happier aspect of the situation: awesome new servers for everyone to benefit from no matter whether their fandom was gigantic or tiny.

Internally, I would have had the Board apologize hugely to the organizers, ask them to understand that the Board has to make the final call and sometimes override, and if there were lingering bad feelings would have done a change of liaison to give the committee a fresh start to their relationship with the Board.

I know that some of those involved were concerned about overruling the results being unfair to the participants, who had known the rules in advance, and that it would also cross a line in terms of violating our own procedures and creating a sense of uncertainty among users about whether we would stick to our own announced rules in future. And I get that, absolutely, and find it a compelling argument.

But the thing is, in this case the actual server names themselves were not user-facing and would never be seen outside of a sysadmin browsing our files if then. The poll was intended only to pass the time while the machines were installed — to produce good feelings. If it wasn’t producing good feelings, the whole thing was a bust anyway. So given that, my overall feeling is as long as we were fully open and honest about cancelling and why, it would be okay.

That said, I also feel strongly that the server names were too minor an object to allow the debate to drag on. Any decision is better than no decision when either way the end has no significant consequences and the arguing is both eating time and burning bridges throughout the org. So fundamentally in this case I would have been working for a quick resolution, and prepared to “lose” on my ideal solution.

Which leads into the second part of the question for me, where if by voting transparency you mean tallies of Board votes, my answer is no. At least in my experience there weren’t a ton of votes — we mostly did a round of “ayes” when we had to officially approve a new slate of chairs or a financial expenditure or something else that for legal reasons we needed to approve formally. I believe a lot in working by consensus and resorting to votes only when an intractable situation is developing. And so that is exactly the case where I wouldn’t want the process to be exposed, because that’s when it’s really hard and you need people to be able to communicate honestly within the team, and when you need people to be more and not less willing to lose.

And I also feel pretty strongly that this idea sets up the wrong model for the Board. For the health of the org, the Board needs to be a team and not a legislature, and IMO decisions should come out as united Board decisions. Of course it’s good for Board members to disagree and debate, to have different priorities and different groups that they intuitively think of more than others or want to make sure are getting served, because that keeps the org balanced and avoids our overlooking things and increases our font of creativity, but that’s not the same thing as coming onto the Board with an adversarial mindset towards other Board members, which can only take a giant axe to any kind of productivity.

Three:

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?

Lucy Pearson

Oh my gosh, me too! I don’t often talk about these projects because I haven’t worked on them directly, but actually the journal in particular important to me because as an academic, I really value knowing there is a reliable academic source where I can find good material on fanworks which won’t take the ‘poke this weird fandom thing with a stick’ approach. And, both my academic and my fannish selves are deeply invested in supporting work to ensure that copyright laws don’t prevent creativity and knowledge sharing. Since I haven’t worked directly with these projects, I don’t have an intimate sense of exactly where they could be best supported (it’s something I’d love to talk about with the relevant committees, though). On the whole, though, I feel they’ve been doing the kind of good work that builds more good work: following the awesome contribution our team made to the last DMCA exemption, the OTW has been asked to work alongside the EFF (rather than just submitting comments) for the next one. This means we’re more high-profile, and I would like to use that profile to help us recruit more people to the Legal team. Longer term, I’d love to see us extending our international reach on copyright either by recruiting enough staffers from different countries, or (more feasible) extending a hand to groups on other countries already working on these issues outside the USA. Similarly, I feel like Journal have done such a great job establishing TWC as a reputable academic source that we’re now in a position to recruit more people: it’s important that we work with Journal to ensure that as some staffers move on, others can be brought on to maintain the standards of excellence they have maintained so far. Mentoring and communications seems like one area we could really support this – I’ve always been vaguely interested in having more to do with Journal, but not too clear about whether I can contribute anything useful to the team as someone who is quite early in their academic career, so it would be nice to make that information more prominent to ensure we keep bringing in new people.

I’m particularly interested in working more with Journal as a Board member precisely because their work does overlap with my own professional life, and so I would be bringing my experiences of being in the British academic community and my own academic expertise to that conversation. One of the things which is really important for TWC going forward is for it to be recognised as the kind of accredited journal which can be used for promotion, tenure, and professional evaluation: in the UK all this is centred around a somewhat opaque and problematic process called the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and I would really like to work with Journal to explore how we can ensure that TWC is something which is considered suitable for submitting in the REF and/or fits into that process as it evolves (there’s some uncertainty as to whether the REF will remain in the same format, as British higher edication is undergoing a massive shift). My own main field of research (children’s literature) is one which has historically had a mixed reception in academia, in a similar way to fan studies, so I know first-hand how important it is to produce excellent, reputable work which can be a benchmark for your discipline. I feel that TWC is an example of some really fresh, important approaches to academic work and I am really passionate about ensuring that this kind of new scholarship is able to broaden the horizons of the academy rather than being excluded by it.

Jenny Scott-Thompson

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.

Julia Beck

How the Board can support both projects: by letting them set their own agenda, by facilitating collaboration (like the Fan Video & Legal cooperation for the upcoming DMCA exception case), and by helping recruit volunteers to keep them sustainable, where it can. Both projects need experts, are driven by lighthouse personalities and benefit most from personal recruitment, but even so, making the OTW more broadly visible will help both with recruitment (for example, to reach more non-US lawyers) and with positioning it as an attractive enviroment for facilitating high-profile projects.

What I personally value about both committees is that they help contextualize the high-context culture “fandom” to their respective areas. Yes, having advocates who speak “outsider” language can feel alienating to fans, and I understand that representation and legitimacy are thorny issues; but while fandoms as a community and transformative works as creative endeavours are legitimate in and of themselves, that doesn’t mean they are perceived as either legitimate or valuable by academia or in legal practice! I’m perpetually excited that we have the audacity, the expertise, and the language to advocate for fandom and fannish creativity ourselves.

As for my personal input, I have no experience whatsoever in legal matters, but I’m in media studies, and I weirdly enjoy arguing for transformative works (I co-wrote a Symposium article, Playing Sue, with Frauke Herrling), so I’d absolutely be open to attending relevant conferences and doing just that (with the caveat that I’m just a student and don’t have an ounce of the academic weight of the TWC editors et al.!)

Betsy Rosenblatt

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.

Nikisha Sanders

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.

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.

Naomi Novik
Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 UTC. Added to document 29 October 2011 14:04 UTC.

I love these projects but I haven’t personally had a lot to do with them other than feeling that they were clearly part of our initial core mission and then standing on the sidelines cheering madly and holding out cups of Gatorade to the other Board members (Rebecca Tushnet and Francesca Coppa) who respectively took point on these and liaised for those teams.

I do think one important thing about the Board is to have at least some people who are natural liaisons for core projects, who have at least some experience participating in that general area and are also deeply interested in that particular area, because it just saves so much time and pain communicating with teams doing specialized work. I think it would serve the legal advocacy projects well to have Betsy on the Board, for instance, and I hope that when Francesca finishes her term one of our awesome TWC staffers will be up for running for the Board to keep providing the academic perspective.

Chat Responses and Addenda, Second Board Candidate Chat 2011

As Naomi Novik did not attend the second Board candidate chat, held at 2000 UTC 26 October 2011, she was asked to respond to the questions that the other candidates answered within 24 hours of the chat period (deadline: 2000 UTC 27 October 2011); in order to maintain equity with the attending candidates, they were allowed the same period to refine or expand on the answers they had already given. Those responses and addenda are collected here.

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?

Naomi Novik
No response as of deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 03:44 UTC. Added to document 29 October 2011 04:08 UTC.

Unless I’m misremembering from last year’s annual report, I’m pretty sure we had about 100 staffers and a few hundred volunteers at the time, and I expect things haven’t radically changed.

I don’t actually agree that we are suffering an unusual wave of burnout beyond the endemic, and we really have a pretty big staff and volunteer base.

That said, some committees really do need more help: my impression from the sidelines this year is that volcom is still in a bind, and I know AO3 support and the systems committee have been hurting at times this year for lack of help. But adding people is a lot harder than it sounds if you have a committee like this that requires a lot of technical knowledge or absorbing a lot of procedures. First of all it’s harder to find a volunteer who is interested, and then when you bring a new volunteer aboard you have to invest significantly more time to train them (which is then time that can’t be spent on a different volunteer), which means the cost in the not unusual case when the volunteer then drifts away is a lot higher for those committees.

For Support, the upcoming Support Board which will open up archive support will I hope solve their staffing issues and also make the job more fun and engaging. This is a project that is underway and I hope we’ll see it come to fruition in the next year.

For Volcom, honestly, what I think has been really needed from the beginning is a giant heaping dose of automation for the rote work of getting volunteers set up, so the staff can plug in a name and email and push a button and the person gets set up automatically. Unfortunately, building this automation is a tough problem because it basically requires code that can talk to all of our other tools, several of which don’t have good APIs, and if you think it’s hard to get coders for a shiny public-facing archive they themselves often use, imagine how much harder to get coders for an in-house automation tool involving a lot of grinding trudging through incomplete third-party documentation for a dozen tools. 😛 But as ADT grows bigger and we have fewer things on fire in terms of the archive software , I would really love to see the team try and take this on for Volcom: if a few coders can be spared to work on it together, that could make up for some of the toughness of the problem.

I do think that in a smaller and more immediate step, we could make Volcom’s lives easier by doing a broad org-wide assessment of all our tools and pruning the ones we don’t really need or consolidating ones that could be done that way.

Systems is tough. Experienced sysadmins willing and able to give us significant amounts of time are hard to recruit, no two ways about it, and we are really lucky to have the few awesome sysadmins we do have. We’ve tried to train people in-house, but in Systems (unlike in Ruby on Rails coding for the archive) it’s just too big a jump between being a newbie to where you can actually do productive work for the team, and as a result the time cost to the current sysadmins of training a sysadmin from scratch becomes too high to be practical. Sadly I don’t see an easy solution beyond keep on banging the steady recruiting drumbeat, although we could make a push to bang it louder and more prominently, and also to just keep in mind in-house that the Systems team are under a tough load that can’t easily be relieved, and bend over backwards to accommodate their needs.

Anyway, those are three specific examples, but I hope that gives some insight into how I generally approach staffing problems.

As for improvements in satisfaction and internal transparency, I had some comments beforehand that I think are actually relevant to this question which didn’t make it into the chat and are now posted on my journal: my current best ideas include adding 1:1 meetings where possible, a monthly report down from the board emailed to all members including liberal giving of kudos, and reducing gatekeeping within the organization to decrease frustration and empower individual volunteers.

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?

Jenny Scott-Thompson
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.

Naomi Novik
No response as of deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 03:44 UTC. Added to document 29 October 2011 04:08 UTC.

It’s a tough balancing act among all those interested parties, for sure. I think in a practical aspect on the new project level where the Board often operates with the biggest impact (whether that new project is something being done internally or something being added to our slate of projects intended for the public), we need to make sure it fits into our overall mission in a coherent way, we have to decide how it weighs against other projects we could also do, we have to articulate the goals clearly and in the right forums to enable the affected people to read and make informed opinions about it, we have to listen with an open mind to critical response without letting ourselves be wrongly daunted, and we have to make sure the work involved won’t exceed what our people are up for and what our other resources can bear.