2011 Candidate Profile: Nikisha Sanders

This page collects all of this candidate’s responses to questions asked as part of the 2011 Board Candidate chats. Questions not addressed during the chat session due to time constraints were sent to all candidates in batches for response within 24 hours of receipt; answers not received within that time were posted with timestamps. Addenda or edits were allowed within 12 hours of that deadline, and are marked inline with timestamps as well.

Read Nikisha Sanders’ candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

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

what specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

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

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

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

How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?

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

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

What do you say when asked ‘What does the OTW do?’

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

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

What would you do to increase the OTW’s transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren’t currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Off the top of your head: How many staffers does the Org have? How many non-staff volunteers?

Part 2: Considering the many comments I’m reading about understaffing and volunteer burnout, how many additional staffing positions on existing committees would you anticipate adding in your term? Additionally, what concrete steps will you work to implement to prevent burnout, to increase staff/volunteer satisfaction, and to increase internal transparency?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

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

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

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

How do you see the OTW as being accountable to its assorted constituents–fandom at large; users of the OTW’s projects (AO3 and fanlore users; readers and writers of the journal; recipients of legal aid; volunteers; staff; etc.) What would you do on the board to make sure that all those groups have the information they need when they need it?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

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

/fin

[Question One] I was happy to hear some of the candidates specifically mention outreach as one of their concerns in the chat transcript. However, I’d like to ask /all/ of the candidates if they could detail any ideas they have for specific plans of action that can be taken in the upcoming year to help the OTW reach out to fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom.

[Question Two] The OTW still seems to have trouble connecting with large numbers of people outside of Western media fandoms, particularly anime/manga fandoms. Do you have any concrete ideas about how the OTW should improve outreach towards anime/manga fans?

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

These questions were the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know how appropriate a question this is, but sanders was suggesting having monthly chair meetings and discussion posts manned by volunteers, and already in Systems we are finding it burdensome with our load to attend to some of the administrativa demanded of us, such as the two-hour org-wide. There were, at some point, chair meetings that were occurring that we found burdensome and, truthfully, irrelevant to us, and we were grateful when these dropped off. I don’t doubt the above would be helpful for transparency, but how would sanders propose to ameliorate the increased overhead to the various committees, some of which aren’t perhaps prepared for it?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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

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

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

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

Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW’s priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. (Take a pause to appreciate my Oxford comma.) If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

\o/ Oxford comma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The copyright (fair use) advocacy issues that the OTW works on and the TWC journal are two of the aspects of OTW’s mission that are near and dear to my heart and a significant part of the reason why I have volunteered for and donated to the OTW. How do you think the OTW board as a whole can continue to support and further encourage these and similar projects? What about these projects do you personally value and what relevant skills/interests/experiences will you bring to your term on the Board that can help in this area?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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

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

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

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

A current known challenge of the organization seems to be volunteer retention and burnout. For example, the majority of the Archive of Our Own’s coding is done by a small number of developers. For all candidates–what practices would you change in the committees you work with to bring in more volunteers and empower them to become long-term, regular contributors? How would you use a board position to do the same org-wide?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

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

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

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

There’s been some discussion since the first chat about the time commitment required for serving on the Board, and what that means for Board Members who also have other roles within the OTW. How will you balance your role as a Board Member and committee liaison with your other commitments within the organization?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

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

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

Hi again, I wanted to pose a question that is similar to one that was asked previously: can the candidates talk about the specific things they have done while working in the OTW over the past year that have promoted organizational sustainability? I’m interested particularly in something I’ve seen in OTW materials before: “We’re building the builders.” How have the candidates carried that out recently as applied to volunteers and future leaders of the organization? I’d be especially interested if they could talk about both technical and non-technical roles, and about how they expect to “build” future board members once they join the board.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 1 November 2011 4:38pm UTC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you see as the role of the Board in soliciting user, member, staff and volunteer feedback? How will you prioritize this during your term as a Board Member?

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

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

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

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

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

Julia and Jenny both mention sustainability as one of their priorities for the Board in their candidate statements, and I’ve seen the term also mentioned in other discussions of the election by both members and staff. My question for all the candidates is what do you see as the biggest challenge to sustainability within the OTW, and how will you work towards ensuring a sustainable future for the org during your time on the Board.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

Many candidates are talking about transparency and the need for better communication. I am a casual user of the AO3 and have no idea what these buzzwords mean in a ‘real world’ context, why they’re important to someone like me, and what the candidates are actually planning to change.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

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

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

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

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

I’ve been hearing a lot about volunteer retention and burnout, but I have a question about the flip side of the sustainability issue. It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the OTW right now is lowering the barriers to casual participation, to the small, bite-sized things people can do to help sustain the org. Right now, submitting a bit of code or wrangling a tag requires a whole process for anyone who just wants to help a tiny bit, as they can (by contrast, contributing to Fanlore is significantly easier, and I know that committee has done a lot of work to lower barriers). Some OTW projects don’t seem like they would lend themselves as well to casual participation, but it seems like a lot of our work could benefit from this, and I feel like I’m not seeing enough focus on this from the org as a whole. I feel like we’d have less burnout if we had more people to spread the burden, in bits and pieces. What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now? Do you think they need to be lowered? If so, what concrete, specific plans do you plan to pursue to do this? How do you plan to acknowledge and reward casual participation without devaluing the work of the more “official” volunteers? How do you plan to balance the needs of casual contributors, volunteers, and staff?

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

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

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

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

2011 Candidate Profile: Betsy Rosenblatt

This page collects all of this candidate’s responses to questions asked as part of the 2011 Board Candidate chats. Questions not addressed during the chat session due to time constraints were sent to all candidates in batches for response within 24 hours of receipt; answers not received within that time were posted with timestamps. Addenda or edits were allowed within 12 hours of that deadline, and are marked inline with timestamps as well.

Read Betsy Rosenblatt’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

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

what specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

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

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

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

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?

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

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

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

What do you say when asked ‘What does the OTW do?’

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

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

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

What would you do to increase the OTW’s transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren’t currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?

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

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

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

Part 1: Off the top of your head: How many staffers does the Org have? How many non-staff volunteers?

Part 2: Considering the many comments I’m reading about understaffing and volunteer burnout, how many additional staffing positions on existing committees would you anticipate adding in your term? Additionally, what concrete steps will you work to implement to prevent burnout, to increase staff/volunteer satisfaction, and to increase internal transparency?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

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

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

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

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

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

How do you see the OTW as being accountable to its assorted constituents–fandom at large; users of the OTW’s projects (AO3 and fanlore users; readers and writers of the journal; recipients of legal aid; volunteers; staff; etc.) What would you do on the board to make sure that all those groups have the information they need when they need it?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

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

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

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

I was happy to hear some of the candidates specifically mention outreach as one of their concerns in the chat transcript. However, I’d like to ask /all/ of the candidates if they could detail any ideas they have for specific plans of action that can be taken in the upcoming year to help the OTW reach out to fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom.

This question was in the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

The OTW still seems to have trouble connecting with large numbers of people outside of Western media fandoms, particularly anime/manga fandoms. Do you have any concrete ideas about how the OTW should improve outreach towards anime/manga fans?

This question was in the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

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

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

Seek out anime and manga fandoms for Open Doors treatment

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

Include an expert on Japanese law on the legal committee

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

This question was in the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

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

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

I don’t know how appropriate a question this is, but sanders was suggesting having monthly chair meetings and discussion posts manned by volunteers, and already in Systems we are finding it burdensome with our load to attend to some of the administrativa demanded of us, such as the two-hour org-wide. There were, at some point, chair meetings that were occurring that we found burdensome and, truthfully, irrelevant to us, and we were grateful when these dropped off. I don’t doubt the above would be helpful for transparency, but how would sanders propose to ameliorate the increased overhead to the various committees, some of which aren’t perhaps prepared for it?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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

Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW’s priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. (Take a pause to appreciate my Oxford comma.) If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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

As for voting transparency, I do not yet know this 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.

The copyright (fair use) advocacy issues that the OTW works on and the TWC journal are two of the aspects of OTW’s mission that are near and dear to my heart and a significant part of the reason why I have volunteered for and donated to the OTW. How do you think the OTW board as a whole can continue to support and further encourage these and similar projects? What about these projects do you personally value and what relevant skills/interests/experiences will you bring to your term on the Board that can help in this area?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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

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

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

A current known challenge of the organization seems to be volunteer retention and burnout. For example, the majority of the Archive of Our Own’s coding is done by a small number of developers. For all candidates–what practices would you change in the committees you work with to bring in more volunteers and empower them to become long-term, regular contributors? How would you use a board position to do the same org-wide?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

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

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?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

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

There’s been some discussion since the first chat about the time commitment required for serving on the Board, and what that means for Board Members who also have other roles within the OTW. How will you balance your role as a Board Member and committee liaison with your other commitments within the organization?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

Here, again, 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.

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

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

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

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

*instituting a regular e-mail update from the Board, much like those used by the EFF and the Citizen Media Law Project (among others) that describes the 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.

Hi again, I wanted to pose a question that is similar to one that was asked previously: can the candidates talk about the specific things they have done while working in the OTW over the past year that have promoted organizational sustainability? I’m interested particularly in something I’ve seen in OTW materials before: “We’re building the builders.” How have the candidates carried that out recently as applied to volunteers and future leaders of the organization? I’d be especially interested if they could talk about both technical and non-technical roles, and about how they expect to “build” future board members once they join the board.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

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

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

What do you see as the role of the Board in soliciting user, member, staff and volunteer feedback? How will you prioritize this during your term as a Board Member?

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

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

Julia and Jenny both mention sustainability as one of their priorities for the Board in their candidate statements, and I’ve seen the term also mentioned in other discussions of the election by both members and staff. My question for all the candidates is what do you see as the biggest challenge to sustainability within the OTW, and how will you work towards ensuring a sustainable future for the org during your time on the Board.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

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

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

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

Many candidates are talking about transparency and the need for better communication. I am a casual user of the AO3 and have no idea what these buzzwords mean in a ‘real world’ context, why they’re important to someone like me, and what the candidates are actually planning to change.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

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

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

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

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

I’ve been hearing a lot about volunteer retention and burnout, but I have a question about the flip side of the sustainability issue. It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the OTW right now is lowering the barriers to casual participation, to the small, bite-sized things people can do to help sustain the org. Right now, submitting a bit of code or wrangling a tag requires a whole process for anyone who just wants to help a tiny bit, as they can (by contrast, contributing to Fanlore is significantly easier, and I know that committee has done a lot of work to lower barriers). Some OTW projects don’t seem like they would lend themselves as well to casual participation, but it seems like a lot of our work could benefit from this, and I feel like I’m not seeing enough focus on this from the org as a whole. I feel like we’d have less burnout if we had more people to spread the burden, in bits and pieces. What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now? Do you think they need to be lowered? If so, what concrete, specific plans do you plan to pursue to do this? How do you plan to acknowledge and reward casual participation without devaluing the work of the more “official” volunteers? How do you plan to balance the needs of casual contributors, volunteers, and staff?

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

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

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

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

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

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

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

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

2011 Candidate Profile: Lucy Pearson

This page collects all of this candidate’s responses to questions asked as part of the 2011 Board Candidate chats. Questions not addressed during the chat session due to time constraints were sent to all candidates in batches for response within 24 hours of receipt; answers not received within that time were posted with timestamps. Addenda or edits were allowed within 12 hours of that deadline, and are marked inline with timestamps as well.

Read Lucy Pearson’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

I’m passionate about the OTW and the things it can achieve, so I feel a huge sense of excitement at the prospect of extending my involvement further. However, I did think long and hard about running for Board, because it is both a big commitment and a major responsibility. I had given a lot of thought this year to what I would like to see on the Board, and I felt that one of the things that was important was for it to include people who had a long-standing relationship with the org, had experience of being committee chair, and had a good existing knowledge of how the OTW works across different committees. And then I realised that, um, as someone who’s been kicking around for a long time now, I pretty much fulfilled those criteria. So, I felt that if that was what I was going to ask for in Board members, I should be prepared to walk the walk and put myself forward! I feel that I have really gained a lot from being involved in the org and being mentored by previous Board members, and I am committed to paying that forward and mentoring the next generation of OTW staffers.

what specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

I have two main aims for my time on Board. My first commitment is to helping support and mentor staffers as the OTW grows and changes, helping people gather experience and skills in ways that benefit both the org as a whole and them personally. In the past we’ve suffered from people burning out, and I think that combating that is one of the major challenges for the Board going forward. One of the things which has helped me NOT burn out was having a dedicated and supportive Board liaison, and having supported several new chairs in the past I think I have some good skills in that area.

This feeds into my second aim, which is that I want to build on the great work we have already done establishing the OTW as a ‘tool’ for fandom – that is, that we are a great resource and a great example for fandom as a whole. I believe that we can’t do absolutely everything that could be done in fandom (even though I would love to!); in fact, it wouldn’t be good for fandom to have one monolith org doing everything. What we CAN do is enable fans to pursue the projects they want to pursue – a good example of that is the recent fannish bookmarking project, which our AD&T chairs advised on and which lots of OTW staffers are contributing to. I think that already, we are an example other fans look to and say ‘we could do something big, look how the OTW established their projects’. Looking forward, I’d like to build our profile even more, so that a fannish group in Iceland, say, might want to start their own zine preservation project, and we would be able to help advise and facilitate that. I think that looking to the future, positioning the OTW as a tool is really important, because there are many practical limits to how much we can do as an individual org, but there are NO limits to what fandom as a whole can do if they have the flagship example and the support. I feel that communications will be a key part of that strategy – getting the word out about who we are and what we can do – and after nearly three years of developing communications about the AO3, that is a skill that I know I can bring to the Board. 😀

If we as individuals try to do too much we’ll implode, and if we as an org try to do too much we’ll also implode, but we can create a community where all the small things add up to something amazing!

One of the things that is important to me in terms of the aims I stated is creating an agile org, where people have a lot of autonomy and freedom within committees and yet they feel supported and we have an overall strategy. I think one of the ways of achieving that is to set out some clear goals and modes of interaction at the start, but then to maintain a light hand as Board and allow the committees to do their awesome work. Which they do 🙂

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

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

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:07 UTC

In terms of preventing burnout and mentoring staffers, I see my role as Board liaison as crucial. I am bringing a lot of experience of working within the org to the table, which will help me support committee chairs and other staffers. As someone who has received really brilliant mentoring from several Board members (Allison Morris, Naomi Novik, Francesca Coppa, Hele Braunstein…) I really passionately believe that a close and supportive relationship between Board members and chairs is one of the most important things for the health of the org. If a chair feels secure and supported, and they have someone to turn to for advice, they’re able to support their staffers in turn, so there’s an effective trickle-down. Good policies help a lot, but there’s no replacement for that personal element.

In terms of raising the profile of the org: communications! I will talk about this more in my answer about transparency, because I think that covers a lot of the important points for me.

How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?

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

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:07 UTC.

I haven’t been closely involved with Fanlore, so I’d be very much governed by the needs and direction of the wiki committee. I think that one of the core aspects of being a Board member is being able to be responsive to specialists within the org and to let them take the lead, because they have a better sense of what will work for their particular project. (A good example of this is the establishment of the Fanlore Dreamwidth – usually we try to have communications originate from within org tools, but the Fanlore team made the call that they could better serve the needs of the wiki by making DW a primary focus for their community.)

Beyond that, I would like to see Fanlore continue to grow and to reflect more voices from across different areas of fandom. I definitely see this as a marathon, not a sprint, but I think the great work the wiki team have put into ensuring that a range of fannish topics are represented at least in a skeleton fashion is really important: if someone stumbles on the wiki, they’re less likely to find that their fandom is not mentioned at all and therefore to think that they’re not wanted. I think that now some of this groundwork has been laid, Fanlore is well-placed for some more promotion, so as a Board member I’d be looking to support more communication and signal-boosting about the project, both on the blog and in-person (for example, producing con materials to help people talk about Fanlore and get excited about it at cons). I’d also like to create connections within the org to see whether different committees can help one another: I’ve seen the Fanlore community come up with some neat technical innovation to make the experience of posting to the wiki easier, and I’d like to facilitate chats between Wiki and other technical committees such as AD&T to see how we can build on that work.

What do you say when asked ‘What does the OTW do?’

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

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:07 UTC.

Big question, and one that I have been answering a lot recently. In a fannish context, I tend to start by saying ‘We’re the people that built AO3 and Fanlore!’ and then broaden out to talk about the other projects and the way they all fit together, for example how Open Doors is a way of preserving earlier fannish culture and the Legal team pursues issues which affect fans and strengthens our ability to make the AO3 a safe place for fans, because it has legal backup.

I’m often answering it in a non-fannish context, in which cade I have to start with a brief primer of fannish history! In that context, I start by introducing it as a non-profit organisation dedicated to representing fans and protecting fannish creativity. I also tend to emphasise the connection between this mission and the way that historically, female creativity has often been overlooked or appropriated by men; for example, how the way the novel was shaped by a female discourse was until recently often ignored.

In both contexts, I also talk about the way that the OTW is an awesomely empowering forum for fannish skillsharing, and how that has enabled fans to achieve things they might not have been able to do alone. I highlight the fact that the AO3 is one of the largest female-majority open-source projects in existence, and the work of committees across the org as a way of giving people new skills and experiences. At this point I usually pause for breath and realise that people are backing away from the crazy gushing lady. 😉

What would you do to increase the OTW’s transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren’t currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?

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

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:07 UTC.

I have worked really hard at making the OTW more transparent via our Communications team, and I feel really proud of the degree to which I have been able to give insight into the work that has gone into the AO3 in particular (which is the main project I have worked on). I started posting about the Archive in the run-up to Open Beta, letting people know what we were doing and what they could expect from us. Since then, I’ve maintained a regular posting schedule on all aspects of the Archive, talking about the problems as well as the good stuff (for example, I recently did a post on the glut of 502 errors that was plaguing us). I’m especially proud of the work I did tweeting the progress of the new server installation, which let people outside the org get a sense of what was actually going on when the site had this long downtime. For the last two years, I’ve been writing the round-ups of AD&T meetings, building on the great work established by Maia, the AD&T chair before me – I think these are really important for giving a sense of what is going on behind the scenes. I’ve made a strong effort to include information about other teams involved on the Archive in those posts, both because I want the same transparency to apply to them, and because I think that some of the more ‘invisible’ teams, such as tag wranglers, deserve to be highlighted for the amazing efforts they put in. Including those ‘bitesized’ posts from committees who don’t necessarily have a lot of things they want to say is a really low-cost way of making sure their voices are still heard, so it’s something that I would like to explore across the org more generally.

I feel like I have also learnt a lot over the last two years about managing the time invested in communications, balancing the need to keep people informed with the need to keep some stuff private as we figure things out in house, and being responsive to questions and concerns coming from outside the org. I have found Twitter and support requests to the Archive invaluable for the last one; tellingly, support requests often stray beyond the specifics of the AO3, so I would like to establish a regular forum for inviting questions more generally. As a Board member, I would like to post regular updates about Board meetings in the same style as the AD&T updates; I feel that the experience I have gained doing that will be useful in figuring out how to convey the useful stuff while protecting the necessarily private aspects of Board.

Internally, I have also put a lot of work into talking with other committees, forming good relationships and keeping the channels of communication open; as chair I also emailed an internal summary of AD&T meetings to other committees who were affected. Good relationships are one of the key points for in-c2-org transparency, and I think that I have established a good model for that.

I could go on and on about this, because letting people know about what is happening in the OTW is a real passion of mine. But I’ll stop here, and point you to the news posts on the Archive as a concrete example of what I have done so far and what I’d like to achieve for the org as a whole.

Part 1: Off the top of your head: How many staffers does the Org have? How many non-staff volunteers?

Part 2: Considering the many comments I’m reading about understaffing and volunteer burnout, how many additional staffing positions on existing committees would you anticipate adding in your term? Additionally, what concrete steps will you work to implement to prevent burnout, to increase staff/volunteer satisfaction, and to increase internal transparency?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

I’m still typing, but I’ll paste in two quick an then one slower

Part one of the question has already been answered, really – I think we have about 80 staffers on the books, but not necessarily all active at once, and about 350 volunteers, but again, not necessarily active. I would add that I think it’s quite important to leave committee sizes to the chairs, because one of the things that makes for effective committees is being able to respond flexibly to the needs of the committee at any given time.

Sustainability: I definitely agree with Jenny & Julia that mentoring is key. More specifically, I think one of the things that Board liaisons could do is sit down with chairs every 3-4 months and review who’s doing what on the committee and whether there needs to be extra support. It can be hard when you’re in the thick of it to consciously identify where you need to be actively working to give extra support to a project.

Satisfaction: I think actually identifying a series of small aims rather than one big one is helpful, so you can feel more accomplished. And after the fact, sitting down to ask ‘what went well’ and ‘what could have been done better’, which focuses on positives, whereas as Julias says we often tend to focus on ‘how did we fail?’

How do you see the OTW as being accountable to its assorted constituents–fandom at large; users of the OTW’s projects (AO3 and fanlore users; readers and writers of the journal; recipients of legal aid; volunteers; staff; etc.) What would you do on the board to make sure that all those groups have the information they need when they need it?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

I think that a big part of accountability is being responsive to the various people who use and comment on our various different projects. I’ve worked most closely with the Archive project, and I think one of the things we have consistently improved on over the lifetime of the project is making it clearer to people what we’re doing & why things are the way they are, and responding to things they tell us they want. The Support committee is really invaluable in this regard because they are working daily to answer user questions as they come up and to pass user requests on to other committees so that they can actually effect change. Obviously, the AO3 lends itself to that kind of model, but I would like to extend it out to other committees a bit so we would encourage people to submit their questions and comments and then answer them publicly. That’s been a really useful part of this elections process, seeing those questions coming up!

In general, I think we have to be honest about our limitations: we can’t be all things to all people, so being accountable and respinsive doesn’t mean that we will always do the things people want us to do – we can, though, be honest and open about why we are doing some things and not others (I’ve just started exploring with AD&T and Support an idea for how we can do that more with the Archive)

SO I agree with Julia, external communcations is key – and specifically two-wat communications, so we’re not just issuing ‘press releases’

[Question One] I was happy to hear some of the candidates specifically mention outreach as one of their concerns in the chat transcript. However, I’d like to ask /all/ of the candidates if they could detail any ideas they have for specific plans of action that can be taken in the upcoming year to help the OTW reach out to fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom.

[Question Two] The OTW still seems to have trouble connecting with large numbers of people outside of Western media fandoms, particularly anime/manga fandoms. Do you have any concrete ideas about how the OTW should improve outreach towards anime/manga fans?

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

These questions were the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

I’m going to answer all these questions in one answer, as they all touch on related things and I think I might end up repeating myself a bit!

First of all, I’d like to say that a big portion of my work on outreach would be founded on listening and consulting other people within the org. My own personal fannish life has largely been conducted on journalling services, and I haven’t got much personal contact with (for example) the anime & manga communities; I think I can best support outreach into communities I’m not familiar with by listening to those who are. So, I’d say I’m quite flexible about my ideas about outreach at the moment, and they will change and grow as I hear from different perspectives.

That said, I do have some concrete ideas about how we can do more effective outreach, which can be boiled down to: listen, build great tools, communicate, and be consciously inclusive! I’ll give the tl;dr explanation of these below.

I do strongly feel that building tools that people actually want to use is a really important part of outreach. I know a lot of people were uncertain about the idea of the OTW and the Archive of Our Own when the project first started, but now, two years after the Open Beta launch of the AO3, we have 24060 registered users and a lot more visiting the site. A lot of those users did the outreach for us, because they came and saw things they liked and told their friends! However, I don’t think that it’s as simple as saying ‘build it and they will come’; you have to put some work into building tools which are actually welcoming. Part of this is about being responsive to what people ask for and building in tools which suit different fannish models. For example, the new feature coming to the Archive soon, tag sets, will (among other things) allow people to run challenges where they can actually match requests which ask for x/y pairing as opposed to y/x. This sounds really small, but it makes the challenges feature a lot more useful to fannish cultures where pairing order is important (I know this is an important thing for a lot of anime & manga fans). That tool came about as a response to some user requests, and I think it is really important for the org as a whole to keep channels open for requests and to be prepared to be creative and flexible in finding solutions. And pragmatically, we have tools which have always been part of the plan which will facilitate outreach when they come to fruition – we can keep telling fanartists we love them (and we do!) but until we’re able to complete all the work on tools which support them, we can’t effectively reach out to communities and fans who are focused around fanart, because they are rightly going to feel that fine words butter no parsnips! So, a number one priority for the Board has to be making sure the tool building is progressing. From a technical POV, one thing I would really love to help foster is making a public API for the AO3, so people can more easily build stuff that suits their individual needs and it can be interoperable with other services. (There are some big challenges to this, though!)

Obviously, communications are a huge part of outreach, and I would like to facilitate more conversation within the org (and then later beyond it) about how we can communicate better. This is something that I’ve been working on this year – after conversations in the first part of the year that made it clear some fans were feeling unwelcome, AD&T ran our ‘April Showers’ Twitter promotion where we highlighted fandoms which had a big fannish presence off the AO3, but not much on it, and explicitly encouraged people to add work from those fandoms to the Archive. We’re cooking up another similar promotion with IO right now. I can say that it is a heck of a lot of work to do this sort of thing, especially at the beginning where you don’t have as many people to draw on who are familiar with the communities you’re trying to reach out to (since that’s why you’re trying to do outreach!), but I think it is worth it. I think it is also really important for us to communicate more about the work we’re doing on long term projects – this is an area we could definitely improve on, because it’s not necessarily clear to people outside the relevant committee whether something is being actively worked on or whether it’s been forgotten!

The other thing that I think is hugely important in making outreach a success is creating an environment where people feel welcomed rather than excluded, which means making all your communications more consciously inclusive, not just the ones which are explicitly geared to outreach. I believe there are lots of small things that we can do to make that a reality: for example, I know that the folks who work on Fanlore have put a lot of work into creating stubs on pages for fannish areas that are underrepresented at the moment, so that if someone stumbles upon the wiki they’re more likely to find that it is there waiting for their knowledge, rather than feeling like it’s not interested in them and going away again. Similarly, on the AO3 we have made a conscious effort to show fannish diversity in our documentation, so if we write a tutorial on how tags work, for example, we try to use examples from a range of fandoms, even if they are not drawn from personal experience of whoever is writing the tutorial. Again, that just makes it more likely someone coming to the Archive for the first time will see it as a place which welcomes them. I would like to make this a more consistent policy across the org, extending into things like our promotional material – so, for example, if we make promo flyers for distribution at cons, we use a range of fannish styles and symbols so they implicitly include all kinds of fans.

Finally, I think we have to strike a balance between great outreach and seeming like we’re trying to be the imperial power of fandom. I want all kinds of fans to feel welcome in the OTW, but I don’t think that we can or should be all things to all fans. Some areas of fandom may never use our tools or become members, because they are happy with their existing tools and networks, or are working on something different. This is not only fine, it’s actually good! Protecting fannish diversity means valuing those completely different traditions and existing alongside them. It might also in the future mean being supportive to other projects who want to do things we can’t – for example, using our tools might turn out to mean giving advice to some community of fans in Russia who want to set up their own zine Archive, or translating coding documentation so that a bunch of Japanese fans can take the Archive code and change it to suit the specific needs of their particular fannish community. Or it might be that we get to use something awesome that another group of fans has created – the problem with outreach is that if it’s done in the wrong way it can seem a bit one way, when in fact we want to be knitting ourselves into the awesome patchwork quilt of fannish endeavour and sharing things. So, I don’t think we should (for example) look at the Archive and say ‘x fandom only has two works, and I know there are 20,000 on y archive, so we’re failing at outreach’ – as an OTW staffer I’m thrilled about the existence of thriving fannish homes and communities completely unrelated to the OTW (even if as an individual it would be convenient for me if it was ALL on the AO3)!

I don’t know how appropriate a question this is, but sanders was suggesting having monthly chair meetings and discussion posts manned by volunteers, and already in Systems we are finding it burdensome with our load to attend to some of the administrativa demanded of us, such as the two-hour org-wide. There were, at some point, chair meetings that were occurring that we found burdensome and, truthfully, irrelevant to us, and we were grateful when these dropped off. I don’t doubt the above would be helpful for transparency, but how would sanders propose to ameliorate the increased overhead to the various committees, some of which aren’t perhaps prepared for it?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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.

Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW’s priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. (Take a pause to appreciate my Oxford comma.) If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

I 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-c2-our-c2-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.

* 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.

* 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.

The copyright (fair use) advocacy issues that the OTW works on and the TWC journal are two of the aspects of OTW’s mission that are near and dear to my heart and a significant part of the reason why I have volunteered for and donated to the OTW. How do you think the OTW board as a whole can continue to support and further encourage these and similar projects? What about these projects do you personally value and what relevant skills/interests/experiences will you bring to your term on the Board that can help in this area?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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.

A current known challenge of the organization seems to be volunteer retention and burnout. For example, the majority of the Archive of Our Own’s coding is done by a small number of developers. For all candidates–what practices would you change in the committees you work with to bring in more volunteers and empower them to become long-term, regular contributors? How would you use a board position to do the same org-wide?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 13:01 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-c2-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.

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?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 13:01 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-c2-on-c2-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.

There’s been some discussion since the first chat about the time commitment required for serving on the Board, and what that means for Board Members who also have other roles within the OTW. How will you balance your role as a Board Member and committee liaison with your other commitments within the organization?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 13:01 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.

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

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

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

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

I 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.

Hi again, I wanted to pose a question that is similar to one that was asked previously: can the candidates talk about the specific things they have done while working in the OTW over the past year that have promoted organizational sustainability? I’m interested particularly in something I’ve seen in OTW materials before: “We’re building the builders.” How have the candidates carried that out recently as applied to volunteers and future leaders of the organization? I’d be especially interested if they could talk about both technical and non-technical roles, and about how they expect to “build” future board members once they join the board.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

(I’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!

What do you see as the role of the Board in soliciting user, member, staff and volunteer feedback? How will you prioritize this during your term as a Board Member?

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

I feel that a lot of feedback should come to the Board via the committees, so it feeds up from the individual projects and their users to the Board. This is an effective means of helping give Board a focus and ensuring that committees can get stuff done on the ground – oftentimes feedback about a project can best be acted on by the volunteers and staffers who work on that specific project. However, I think it is also important to have a more direct way for the Board to get feedback about some issues, as I think the work of the Board can often feel rather remote, especially to volunteers and members who never work directly with Board members. So, I’d like to explore ways of opening up the channel between Board and all OTW stakeholders – I think that one good way of doing this would be the regular Board news posts which I would like to institute. I’ve found with the AD&T posts that they encourage people to ask questions and bring ideas: I think if Board talked more in public about what we were working on, people would be encouraged to give their thoughts and feedback.

I’d also like to explore ways of soliciting feedback for specific projects – often feedback is tricky because if you ask general questions (or a lot of questions) you get a whole lot of feedback which you don’t wind up acting on. So, I’m wary of broad-brush feedback/information gathering, but I think it can be very effective to say ‘here is the specific discussion we’re having and we have these possible courses of action’ and allow people to weigh in directly – that way you get feedback you can use and which people can see you have used.

Julia and Jenny both mention sustainability as one of their priorities for the Board in their candidate statements, and I’ve seen the term also mentioned in other discussions of the election by both members and staff. My question for all the candidates is what do you see as the biggest challenge to sustainability within the OTW, and how will you work towards ensuring a sustainable future for the org during your time on the Board.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

One big challenge is that as a volunteer org, we can’t always easily recruit for specific skillsets. If someone suddenly leaves (which is quite likely if their day-to-day life suddenly alters in some way), you can’t guarantee that you will be able to replace them; more importantly, there’s no way of guaranteeing that someone who is awesome at the job they do will also be awesome at training someone else to do it. (This is all true for any org, of course, but extra true when people are volunteers and there’s no possibility of buying in expertise.) So, there’s the threat of someone leaving and their tasks being undone, or someone else taking on way too much to fill the gap.

I think the Board can help work for sustainability by working with committees to identify opportunities for training and mentoring. I’d like for as many people as possible to work on the basis that part of their job is training a potential successor (albeit we have to recognise there are some people for whom this model does not work). Maybe there is someone who’s not an expert at a task, but is good at teaching other people the basics and knows how to find good information. Sometimes committees just need a helping hand to see that there is a gap, perhaps because someone who was active is now less active, and once they’ve recognised that they can train and support someone to fill the gap.

The other thing Board can to is help to maintain flexibility. Sometimes a project has to be delayed or altered to fit our resources at the time – that’s not a fail, but a pragmatic decision. Sometimes a committee or an individual needs particular provisions to enable them to meet their goals, and Board can help support that flexible way of working. Reminding people that processes aren’t set in stone and that they can come up with new ideas really helps sustain the org and stops it collapsing in on itself with a mass of outdated procedures.

Many candidates are talking about transparency and the need for better communication. I am a casual user of the AO3 and have no idea what these buzzwords mean in a ‘real world’ context, why they’re important to someone like me, and what the candidates are actually planning to change.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

Essentially, I want people at all levels to have more idea about what the org is doing, and I want them to have the chance to comment on that. To take the AO3 as an example – I think it is very useful for people to know what we are working on, why some features are built and some fixes are made, but others aren’t, and how we make those decisions. If I were an AO3 user donating money to the OTW, it would be important to me to know that, for example, our recent bout of 502 errors was due to problems configuring the servers and the database and not, say, because a rogue committee member spent the money for new servers on currant buns! Likewise, if I were a tag wrangler it would be important to me to know that coders were working on a new tag feature, because it might have implications for what I was doing. I know that day-to-day, many people don’t want to read all the details of what the whole org does – they might have more interest in one specific project, but not be too fussed about the others. However, it’s important that if they do have questions, that information is there for them to find, or there is a clear way for them to ask the question.

My one big thing I want to do towards this is to do regular public posts about what the Board is up to, so that members can see what these people they voted for are actually doing, and to encourage and support committees to talk more in public about what they do. I think this is a pretty huge project, actually – I’ve put a lot of work into developing Archive communications and we still don’t cover everything I’d like – but I think it will be useful for everyone. And also, it’s fun! Transparency isn’t (or shouldn’t be) some onerous duty – a lot of the time it’s a sheer joy to be able to talk publicly about what awesome things are going on!

I’ve been hearing a lot about volunteer retention and burnout, but I have a question about the flip side of the sustainability issue. It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the OTW right now is lowering the barriers to casual participation, to the small, bite-sized things people can do to help sustain the org. Right now, submitting a bit of code or wrangling a tag requires a whole process for anyone who just wants to help a tiny bit, as they can (by contrast, contributing to Fanlore is significantly easier, and I know that committee has done a lot of work to lower barriers). Some OTW projects don’t seem like they would lend themselves as well to casual participation, but it seems like a lot of our work could benefit from this, and I feel like I’m not seeing enough focus on this from the org as a whole. I feel like we’d have less burnout if we had more people to spread the burden, in bits and pieces. What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now? Do you think they need to be lowered? If so, what concrete, specific plans do you plan to pursue to do this? How do you plan to acknowledge and reward casual participation without devaluing the work of the more “official” volunteers? How do you plan to balance the needs of casual contributors, volunteers, and staff?

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

Making it easier to get involved is never a bad thing, and casual volunteering is a good way for people to dip in and out and a good gateway to a more sustained involvement. So, while I think we already have some good stuff in place, there is definitely value in working to remove barriers to participation.

I think this does vary hugely from project to project, and some areas lend themselves better to casual volunteering than others, so I am going to focus on the Archive project, which I know the most about. I think there are several areas in which we can make this more open to casual volunteers, and I’m happy to say that several of these are in progress in different ways. Testing is one area where we have faced challenges with volunteer retention (largely because of the nature of the work), but we have had a lot of success at drawing in ad hoc testers for particular features. This works well because we usually get people together in chat, everyone has a common goal and everyone who gets involved can feel accomplished when the code they test gets onto the real Archive. Often these events are a road in for people who decide they like it and join more formally, and since formal volunteers and staffers are also involved their contribution in training and helping the ad hoc people is also recognised and valued. I think we could do this more with testing, and we could probably use this model elsewhere in the org for short-term projects which need a big push of work at specific times.

In terms of coding, we’ve already switched from a code repository that requires people to be added as members to contribute code, to Github, which allows anyone to submit code which can then be reviewed and added into the main code branch or not, depending on whether it works for us. In theory, this should allow more ad hoc volunteering, at least for experienced coders who don’t need the other support we provide. In practice, that isn’t happening yet: I’d like to make a push to open up some of our coding docs or mirror them on Github, so that people can get the info they need to get the code up and running, and make it clearer that we welcome that kind of contribution. I know Naomi also has some cool tech ideas for how we can let more inexperienced people dip in and try the experience of coding on the Archive without having to wait to have a complete setup: I’m definitely in favour of this!

The other exciting thing that’s in progress for the AO3 is the public Support Board, which is something I’ve been helping work on on and off for a long time now. This will be publicly visible and anyone will be able to answer questions (for various technical reasons this wasn’t a model we were able to implement from the beginning). This will be great, because a lot of users can share specific knowledge – for example if they have run a challenge on the AO3 and know that feature well – but don’t necessarily want to do Support work day in, day out. The new system will let people just drop by and answer one question if they want to, and we hope it will also become a pathway to more formal volunteering, for those people who find they like the work and are getting more involved! We’re planning a badging system so people can get an immediate glow of recognition; I think that it’s already becoming clear that formal Support staffers will contribute in a more specialised way, so I hope they won’t feel devalued, and we’ll continue to recognise them in places like AO3 news posts. If it hasn’t already been completed by the new term, making sure AD&T have the support they need to get the coding and testing done will be a priority for me.

In a broader sense across the org, I think that the key is to think creatively and not to be too wedded to old systems. I know that when we switched to using Github, I found it challenging because it entailed learning a new system and a new set of commands, but it was worth it because it opens up a lot more flexibility in our working systems. So, as a Board member I’d like to encourage that flexibility, and keep the idea of more ad-hoc involvement at the forefront of my mind in conversations about supporting projects.

One last note: flexibility is also absolutely key for lowering the barriers to participation in an accessibility sense. Some people can’t use our regular tools, or can’t interact in the default ways that the org at large uses. I am absolutely committed to making sure that as an org, we work to ensure that we don’t simply turn those people away. Sometimes we can make small adjustments to our process to meet an individual’s needs, and we should always be ready to do that. Sometimes an individual needs a specific provision which doesn’t work or isn’t needed for everyone else, and if we can accommodate that we should. This is something I worked to do as AD&T chair and which I want to encourage across the org as a whole. Specifically, I am committed to listening to people in the org and out when they say ‘x doesn’t work for me’ and supporting them in making changes where possible. I don’t promise not to make mistakes – I have in the past and I will again – but I promise to listen and learn from them.

2011 Candidate Profile: Naomi Novik

This page collects all of this candidate’s responses to questions asked as part of the 2011 Board Candidate chats. Questions not addressed during the chat session due to time constraints were sent to all candidates in batches for response within 24 hours of receipt; answers not received within that time were posted with timestamps. Addenda or edits were allowed within 12 hours of that deadline, and are marked inline with timestamps as well.

Read Naomi Novik’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

So my main reason for running is, I started this whole crazy enterprise off with a call to build an archive of our own, and I feel a commitment to see that project through to a 1.0 release. And I think it’s really important for the archive project to have a senior technical voice on the Board.

I also agree that the org is moving into an important new phase where we’re past the first surge of excitement and growth, and now we need to keep people in the org having fun, and bringing new people in. Our forward-facing projects, particularly the archive, have gotten big enough that we want to start thinking about creating obvious pathways for people to come into the org through those projects, and how we can facilitate that — the upcoming Support Board is an example, but we want to creatively think about how to create openings from that and other routes that lead naturally into the org.

and (sorry I just realized I need to articulate this a tiny bit more so typing quickly)

I do think that internally we’ve over the last few years built up an org-wide toolbox that is at this point full of a lot of things — Basecamp, Campfire (the chat system we’re in right now), our secure vault, our own srevers, our internal wiki, our rented servers, etc you get the idea

and that like any toolbox over time the toolbox gets cluttered and then you’ve got the ten things at the bottom you never use mixed up with the one thing you forgot about that is actually really useful and so on

and so I think an upcoming challenge for the new Board will be to sort through our toolbox of not just software but procedures and try and identify where we could improve and done!

what specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

going quick while baby lets me since I think it is open: From a pragmatic perspective, my number one aim is to have a productive and effective Board, where we facilitate the work of the org without getting in the way — there are a lot of different projects and priorities and for the health of the org we need Board to be a place where those priorities can get worked out in a collaborative way, where we can be a team that comes together and works through the conflicts created by the limits on our resources, both human and otherwise.

and personally I’m obvs deeply involved in the archive project but I figure you all know that 😀

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

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

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:50 UTC.

In the chat I said:

From a pragmatic perspective, my number one aim is to have a productive and effective Board, where we facilitate the work of the org without getting in the way — there are a lot of different projects and priorities and for the health of the org we need Board to be a place where those priorities can get worked out in a collaborative way, where we can be a team that comes together and works through the conflicts created by the limits on our resources, both human and otherwise.

And a couple of the other candidates asked how we do that, specifically, so here’s my wildly long list of my bullet points for an effective virtual team. There are some basic practical ones and some that are more about ideal team composition:

Don’t argue in email. If an email exchange starts to turn into an argument, stop and take it to a live chat, or even skyping. Whenever a discussion begins to get tense, you want more immediacy, more back-and-forth, and more information in your communication medium.

Don’t leave a discussion angry. Even if the way you wrap up is to say, OK, it’s late, let’s put this aside to mull on until next meeting and let’s talk about something else or our latest fanfic/cats/babies for five minutes before we leave, try and don’t end on a sour note.

Having people who are good at recognizing when a discussion is getting tense, and stopping and stepping back from it in the heat of the moment, and getting the team as a whole to reconsider it in a bigger context. This may seem obvious, but anyone who has been in a heated discussion online can probably recognize that it is not as easy as it sounds. (Lucy P was great at doing this on ADT.)

Having people with varying points of passion, so that there are always a couple of people on any particular issue who don’t really care that much.

If there aren’t people who are naturally inclined to step back, then whoever chairs the discussion should explicitly take on the responsibility of forcing themselves to do the stepping back.

Having imaginative people. It is really rare in my experience for an argument to truly be a zero-sum situation. Almost always there is a different solution that will give people on both sides of the argument much of what they want. The hard part is imagining up that different solution. It does to some extent depend on knowing the options so experience/education (technical, legal, etc) is also helpful.

Don’t get bogged down in principle. The end goal is that some concrete thing is going to happen or not-happen — a tool gets built, a server gets bought, a fundraising drive runs, a post gets made. Principles guide those decisions, but when an argument starts to be *about* principles, stop and bring it back to the concrete.

Associated with that, recognize fundamental differences and don’t have the same fight over and over. Instead, try and have people with different principles work out their respective concrete goals or spheres of influence, what their priorities are, and do some horse trading.

Don’t let discussion go too long. If you get stuck in a hole, can’t come up with a better solution, can’t seem to step back, and everyone keeps getting angry, then just end the misery. Set an end point for the discussion, frame the core options, and just vote. Even if you don’t “win”, you all get out alive. (As a bonus, I have often found that venting the pressure by doing this often unlocks the creativity to suddenly come up with a new better solution.)

Remember things are rarely set in stone. If something really doesn’t work well and continues to make people unhappy, it can be changed. If people are really unhappy, pick two options, set a timeframe to try the first one and come back and review, at which point possibly switch to try the other.

How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?

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

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 02:58 UTC.

My main contribution to Fanlore over the next few years would mostly be to serve as a resource on the practical technical front: when do we need more server power, how is MediaWiki serving the team and the users, what could we do to improve the user interface and automate routine tasks, etc.

What do you say when asked ‘What does the OTW do?’

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

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 02:58 UTC.

I’m still keen on the mission statement: providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms. I also like the description I’ve heard others say, that the OTW does this by putting together a big toolbox for fans to help them help themselves to do it in a variety of ways, as opposed to trying to force everyone to do it in one particular way.

What would you do to increase the OTW’s transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren’t currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?

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

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 02:58 UTC.

I would really like to do a push to make a review and get our internal wiki publicly visible!

On the whole though, I think the org does a pretty good job putting out information about what we’re doing, and mostly the reality is people who aren’t volunteers are more interested in reading the latest fanfic and don’t really care until something happens that makes them sit up and go hey! And the really important thing is at that point to listen and respond productively.

Part 1: Off the top of your head: How many staffers does the Org have? How many non-staff volunteers?

Part 2: Considering the many comments I’m reading about understaffing and volunteer burnout, how many additional staffing positions on existing committees would you anticipate adding in your term? Additionally, what concrete steps will you work to implement to prevent burnout, to increase staff/volunteer satisfaction, and to increase internal transparency?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 03:44 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?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 03:44 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.

[Question One] I was happy to hear some of the candidates specifically mention outreach as one of their concerns in the chat transcript. However, I’d like to ask /all/ of the candidates if they could detail any ideas they have for specific plans of action that can be taken in the upcoming year to help the OTW reach out to fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom.

[Question Two] The OTW still seems to have trouble connecting with large numbers of people outside of Western media fandoms, particularly anime/manga fandoms. Do you have any concrete ideas about how the OTW should improve outreach towards anime/manga fans?

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

These questions were the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 28 October 2011 05:53 UTC.

I think the idea I mentioned recently on my journal of a “distributed” OTW Con (a bunch of smaller cons at disparate locations networked together) would be a great outreach opportunity. I’ve only just started thinking about this, but here are some ideas: take as the theme the diversity of fandom, have showpiece opportunities for different fannish communities and have each con actively invite presenters from different communities/traditions; spotlight each geographically separated con in turn.

I also think the archive is going to be our best gateway drug for the org for people who might not have been sold up to now, and a great way to recruit is with the gentle touch of identifying killer archive features for different communities and providing those killer features.

As an example, one of the big things that I’ve seen repeatedly in comments from anime & manga fans in particular is that the look of the archive turns them off. So as lim and I have been reworking the archive front end (which had to be done for accessibility and maintainability reasons also), we have also worked to radically improve skinning flexibility and long-term support, as well as making skins available for not-logged-in users, and this is rolling out any minute now. (In fact I’ll have a sample manga skin screenshot up on my journal shortly. :D)

Another concept I’ve drafted for ADT (still early) is for a private-messaging system in the archive that could also be used by the roleplaying community, where chats could easily be polished-up and edited into actual works. (Would also hopefully be useful for beta-while-you-write, round robins, similar things.)

(Also although I stress this isn’t my own work, I want to mention for those who have been waiting for this one, that coder rebecca2525 is FINALLY making our translation feature happen. For those who don’t know, we have tried I think — four? times now to build translation systems. They have all collapsed in smouldering ruins for tldr technical reasons, but we finally hope to see this one early in the new year. Once we have that, that creates a lot of new opportunities for International & Outreach and for opening the archive to broader participation.)

I don’t know how appropriate a question this is, but sanders was suggesting having monthly chair meetings and discussion posts manned by volunteers, and already in Systems we are finding it burdensome with our load to attend to some of the administrativa demanded of us, such as the two-hour org-wide. There were, at some point, chair meetings that were occurring that we found burdensome and, truthfully, irrelevant to us, and we were grateful when these dropped off. I don’t doubt the above would be helpful for transparency, but how would sanders propose to ameliorate the increased overhead to the various committees, some of which aren’t perhaps prepared for it?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 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.

Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW’s priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. (Take a pause to appreciate my Oxford comma.) If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 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.

The copyright (fair use) advocacy issues that the OTW works on and the TWC journal are two of the aspects of OTW’s mission that are near and dear to my heart and a significant part of the reason why I have volunteered for and donated to the OTW. How do you think the OTW board as a whole can continue to support and further encourage these and similar projects? What about these projects do you personally value and what relevant skills/interests/experiences will you bring to your term on the Board that can help in this area?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 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.

A current known challenge of the organization seems to be volunteer retention and burnout. For example, the majority of the Archive of Our Own’s coding is done by a small number of developers. For all candidates–what practices would you change in the committees you work with to bring in more volunteers and empower them to become long-term, regular contributors? How would you use a board position to do the same org-wide?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 02:16 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.

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?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 02:16 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”.)

Addendum received 30 October 2011 03:31 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. 😀

There’s been some discussion since the first chat about the time commitment required for serving on the Board, and what that means for Board Members who also have other roles within the OTW. How will you balance your role as a Board Member and committee liaison with your other commitments within the organization?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 02:16 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.

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

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

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

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

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.

Hi again, I wanted to pose a question that is similar to one that was asked previously: can the candidates talk about the specific things they have done while working in the OTW over the past year that have promoted organizational sustainability? I’m interested particularly in something I’ve seen in OTW materials before: “We’re building the builders.” How have the candidates carried that out recently as applied to volunteers and future leaders of the organization? I’d be especially interested if they could talk about both technical and non-technical roles, and about how they expect to “build” future board members once they join the board.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

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.

What do you see as the role of the Board in soliciting user, member, staff and volunteer feedback? How will you prioritize this during your term as a Board Member?

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received at 11:59pm UTC 3 November 2011.

I’m increasingly trying to think of specific practical answers to these questions, so here is an idea: put together an OTW Board suggestion/feedback box and set aside ten minutes of every Board meeting right at the beginning to go through however many of the messages we can. For any message that invites action, decide quickly: no at least for now, need to consider more at length (add it to agenda for next Board meeting), or yes absolutely to be sent along to relevant committee.

If we respond to each such message and share this suggestion form on each blog post, I think it would really encourage a lot of creative feedback.

Julia and Jenny both mention sustainability as one of their priorities for the Board in their candidate statements, and I’ve seen the term also mentioned in other discussions of the election by both members and staff. My question for all the candidates is what do you see as the biggest challenge to sustainability within the OTW, and how will you work towards ensuring a sustainable future for the org during your time on the Board.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received at 11:59pm UTC 3 November 2011.

I think the biggest challenge to our sustainability (though one I am confident we can meet) right now is that the archive is growing really fast. Our colocation bill is already $800 a month and our awesome new servers that we bought last year are already getting lonely and looking around for company, which is also going to drive up the monthly fee. Our coders, support, testers, and wranglers team is facing more and more demand. And the danger is, we outgrow our resources and we don’t raise enough money and recruit enough help to keep things running smoothly, and get into a crisis mode where we don’t have enough time or money or help to do the broader coding work that’s needed to address problems fundamentally, and instead are constantly playing catch-up and jumping from one disaster to the next.

What we really need to do is marshal the Archive user base. If you’re reading this, you know about the OTW and get that the OTW funds the Archive, and so if you care about the archive you care about the org. But most AO3 users don’t even know the name OTW for the most part. We’ve been more focused on making the archive awesome than tooting our own horn 🙂 and I think that’s been the right priority and what we needed to do for people to get — because a lot of people initially didn’t — that THIS is what we’re doing. We’re not trying to take over fandom, we’re building really awesome stuff! For you! and you! and you! And the success of the archive means we’ve done a good job.

But now we need to:

– get up clear and obvious fundraising and volunteering links and get the banner that is in the works up for our next fundraising drive;

– let people know from the moment they are invited that this is funded by fans like them and we really need support for the archive to continue to thrive;

– get the Support board up to distribute the work of our beleaguered support team, and to be a pipeline into support, wrangling, testing, and coding.

And from there we have to get creative. AO3-themed swag may be a good thing for us to get into as a complement to the OTW membership drive swag? But those are the really obvious and clear ones.

Many candidates are talking about transparency and the need for better communication. I am a casual user of the AO3 and have no idea what these buzzwords mean in a ‘real world’ context, why they’re important to someone like me, and what the candidates are actually planning to change.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received at 11:59pm UTC 3 November 2011.

Yes, there’s been a lot of that, sorry: jargon is contagious, and when someone says it in the question I tend to repeat it in the answer, even though I recognize it’s problematic and can mean different things to different people.

Here’s what I mean:

Transparency: that we provide enough information about us publicly that someone who is interested (and a lot of people have a legit interest either because they use our services or might volunteer or give us money) and willing to do some poking about and reading can figure out roughly how the org works, what we’re working on, get a sense if things are moving ahead smoothly, and on a fairly up to date basis — say monthly.

Sustainability: that we’re doing well enough at raising money and at recruiting and keeping volunteers to keep chugging along.

And these things are important to you, archive user, because that tells you you don’t need to worry that the org is going to keel over and die taking the archive you like with it. 🙂

I’ve been hearing a lot about volunteer retention and burnout, but I have a question about the flip side of the sustainability issue. It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the OTW right now is lowering the barriers to casual participation, to the small, bite-sized things people can do to help sustain the org. Right now, submitting a bit of code or wrangling a tag requires a whole process for anyone who just wants to help a tiny bit, as they can (by contrast, contributing to Fanlore is significantly easier, and I know that committee has done a lot of work to lower barriers). Some OTW projects don’t seem like they would lend themselves as well to casual participation, but it seems like a lot of our work could benefit from this, and I feel like I’m not seeing enough focus on this from the org as a whole. I feel like we’d have less burnout if we had more people to spread the burden, in bits and pieces. What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now? Do you think they need to be lowered? If so, what concrete, specific plans do you plan to pursue to do this? How do you plan to acknowledge and reward casual participation without devaluing the work of the more “official” volunteers? How do you plan to balance the needs of casual contributors, volunteers, and staff?

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

I mentioned in one of my previous answers how I recently came up with a way to let newbie coders work and get some code committed to the archive with virtually no setup at all, and an idea I’d love to see for a “Change Your Archive” day where people signed up for slots to make edits to the archive that would go live almost right away.

The Support Board I’ve mentioned a few times is also one of the really key things we need for letting people get in the front door of volunteering in an easy, no-signup-required way.

On recognition, we’ve talked from time to time in ADT about a “merit badge” system on the archive (ie little icons to show on profiles) to reward people who help out within the archive (eg wrangle tags, eventually answer support requests, do translations), which I have to say I love, and it occurs to me this could also be used for other committee members (who wanted obvs) within the archive. Aside from the happy glow of outward-facing recognition for your work, I think it would be just plain fun to “collect” badges, and also those badges would themselves serve as advertisements to the giant body of AO3 users of the fact that you CAN get involved (and each one could link to a ‘how-to-help-with-X’ page).

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

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

OK, so to start, in my experience representation on the board does make a difference for a committee that is having a tough time — to have a liaison who, even if not a past member, still actively goes to all their meetings and pitches in with the committee’s work, not in a way as to usurp the chair’s role but to be there as a conduit of the Board’s support. If all is going well, a solid chair-liaison relationship alone is fine; but if things are difficult then it really helps.

And I have to say I think most people would agree that the Archive is particularly special and important to this organization. It’s our flagship project, it’s what started the whole shebang. Major parts of this organization are only necessary because of the Archive, or depend in turn on the Archive. That is, we only really need a Development team because we need a steady cash flow to buy the expensive servers that the Archive runs on and to pay our $800/month colocation bills. We only need a Support team because there are tens of thousands of people actively using the Archive every day. Our Open Doors project can’t really get started systematically saving online archives until we get finished with the Archive’s importing features. And so on. Our other standalone projects independent of the Archive are incredibly valuable resources to fandom that I am wildly proud of, but you don’t need an organization on this scale to build or host them.

If nothing else, just imagine for a second the doomsday scenario where the Archive fails — it goes down fast or slow and takes all these hundreds of thousands of stories that people have trusted us with. Who would ever trust this organization with their work or their time or energy or money again? We could never accomplish anything else.

So I do think that it is in the best interests of not just the Archive and anyone who wants it to last, but also of the entire organization and membership, even those who don’t particularly care about the Archive itself, for the team that is building this crucial and wildly complicated project to have all the support and encouragement that the Board can give them.

Does that require representation on the Board? Not necessarily; what does matter a lot though is having someone with solid technical skills and familiar in particular with what we’re using in the archive. Otherwise, if you don’t yourself understand the technical issues facing the archive team, it’s hard to communicate them to the Board: someone on ADT has to explain them to you, your understanding is very likely going to be imperfect if it’s a complex issue, and then questions any other Board member has at that point have to do a round trip out to the committee and back. Then the Board as a whole gets even worse understanding of those technical issues since it’s a game of telephone, and the decisions it makes are likely to be imperfect.

(That isn’t just fear talking: in practice, this last year the committee did have a rough time communicating with the Board and as a result ran into a bunch of roadblocks that actively slowed us down, both in and of themselves, and in the work and stress involved in having to clear them.)

And I think having a technical voice on the Board is also important not just for ADT but for other committees — someone with tech experience can recognize problems throughout the org that have easy or good technical solutions, and make assessments on technologies and tools that we might want to use.

Related, not that Betsy can’t speak for herself, but entirely apart from liaising with Legal, it is similarly really valuable to the Board to have a lawyer in the house! If you don’t have a lawyer on the board, then the other members of the board have to be able to think about and recognize potential issues that you have to then run by Legal, and again, you’ve got a roundtrip going that delays things. If you have a lawyer on the Board who can just say RED ALERT or go ahead, it can both save a lot of time and potentially real risks for the board and the org.

(I do actually think it would be a good idea to set up a system on the Board where if there isn’t a lawyer as a Board member, one of the lawyers from the Legal team is given access to Board for this purpose under confidentiality, but we don’t have that right now; until last year Rebecca Tushnet was on the Board and kept us from blithely walking into quicksand.)

2011 Candidate Profile: Julia Beck

This page collects all of this candidate’s responses to questions asked as part of the 2011 Board Candidate chats. Questions not addressed during the chat session due to time constraints were sent to all candidates in batches for response within 24 hours of receipt; answers not received within that time were posted with timestamps. Addenda or edits were allowed within 12 hours of that deadline, and are marked inline with timestamps as well.

Read Julia Beck’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

Meddling, in a way 🙂 I want the mandate to go in and help, where I can, and make connections, because I have a pretty good understanding of what works between the committees, and what doesn’t, from “working my way up” as a total no-name fan and volunteer first (I understand feeling powerless, in a way? And I want to help change that.) So I’m very concerned with volunteer motivation, and making the volunteering experience better, because without volunteers, there’s no org.

But I also want to shape policies, and the direction of the org – I want us to be a radical truly panfandom experiment, which includes international fans, and that requires some transformation on our part, I think.
I also want the OTW to be a platform that helps fans realize their projects, but that’s a long-term goal tied to volunteer recruitment & retention, so we gotta fix that first.

(like the recent fan delicious idea? that sort of thing.)

what specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

Internally: pretty much what Lucy said: take better care of our people, and help them grow, which includes evaluating tools and processes and adapting them accordingly. This sound v. beareaucratic, but it’s really vital. We need to be healthy as an organization, and that includes giving our volunteers places to voice criticism. I want to help maintain an open, critical, but respectful atmosphere inside OTW. (I hold myself to that.) (Like the internal forums that I advocated for, but that’s just one step.)

Externally: working on outreach – that’s been a major criticism in the past, but it’s really tricky to get right. We absolutely won’t barge into a community and preach the OTW’s gospel, no way. My committee (Internationalization & Outreach) is laying the groundwork for more strategic outreach now with our community survey (coming to a weblink near you v. soon!), and I and I hope this will, well, fertilize the discourse on outreach internally and spill over into actual measures next term.

How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?

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

Fanlore! \o/ Ahem. I’d like to say that at most I can suggest things to wikimmettee and support them in what they plan to do. But it’s their purview, they’re the ones putting in the work, and I need to respect that.

That said, two sides to Fanlore growth: first, increase Fanlore participation in the communities we are already reaching. Second, introduce Fanlore to groups we’re not reaching yet (i.e. outreach.). I’ll focus on the first, b/c that’s where we can start off right away.

To the first, the existing editors are key. I would like to thank Doro from the wikimmettee for opening my eyes to that. We have amazingly invested people who have a very good understanding of and passion for Fanlore who don’t fit into OTW’s usual volunteer/staffer scheme. And we need to give them places to build a community, to draw others in and keep them there. It’s why I’m so adamant about forums. They’re not a cure-all, but editors need to be able to connect and plan in a stable, asynchronous place, and the Fanlore DW community is not that place. (If you want my tl;dr thoughts on that: http://fanlore.dreamwidth.org/42832.html?thread=410960#cmt410960 (I’m the one with the 12:30 timestamp.)

What also helps grow communities is giving them support, so more Fanlore Open houses (hosted chats) would be ace.

In terms of scope: I think we need to find a way to reconcile the encyclopaedic nature of Fanlore (with citations and all) and its oral history part. Both are equally important, but wikis are not a format conducive to recording oral history, so I’d like to help make that clearer.

What do you say when asked ‘What does the OTW do?’

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

Heh, depends on who I talk to! To non-fans, I say that it’s an international, unique, female-dominated open source/open culture project-slash-lobbying group that’s both building tools and advocating for a specific subculture centered around storytelling. I also stress the emancipatory politics inherent in that. And that we’re unspeakably awesome, of course. To fans — well, usually it’s “the organization that builds the AO3/Fanlore”, but then I can go into more depth (excitingly panfandom, entirely fan-run, owning the servers! doin’ it for ourselves!).

What would you do to increase the OTW’s transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren’t currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?

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

What I did/am doing as a staffer for transparency, concrete steps:

To fandom at large: support the return of the Spotlight series and the Open Houses initiative (Helka, my former IO colleague, headed both), lobby for Fanlore forums, make sure to invite non-c2-oTW people as advisors wherever appropriate (make the decision process more permeable, in a way), comm-wise: advocate for criticism to be met respectfully, not shut down, & with my committee, review projects & blog posts to make sure they include an international perspective.

Internal & external to the OTW: initiated & headed the OTW community survey (coming soon!). This is something that’s meant both as a basis for outreach and as an evaluation. Results will be shared with fandom at large. (it’s going to be so interesting omg.)

Internal to the OTW: lobbied for internal forums, initiated Translators’ Newsletter within Translation cmt, and connect people across committees where I could (like a head’s up “look, xy is working on/interested in that too, you should team up.”). Trying to foster an open and respectful culture.

Part 1: Off the top of your head: How many staffers does the Org have? How many non-staff volunteers?

Part 2: Considering the many comments I’m reading about understaffing and volunteer burnout, how many additional staffing positions on existing committees would you anticipate adding in your term? Additionally, what concrete steps will you work to implement to prevent burnout, to increase staff/volunteer satisfaction, and to increase internal transparency?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

staff: 60-something; volunteers: 200-something (this is actually hard to determine: active vs. non-active volunteers)

Number of committee members is up to chairs.

How I imagine it growing? depends on how many people we can recruit! definitely 10+ staff.

Concrete steps: support chairs in providing more feedback and training to them and trying to implement better accountability. Many chairs are inexperienced in leading people and have to learn to do so the hard way. (Hi! that was totally me! it kinda sucked!) This translates to mentoring, basically.

also, very important to me:

create an atmosphere of critical and honest, but respectful communication: many of the miscommunications and problems aronse b/c you don’t feel you can criticize someone internally: you can only voice dissatisfaciton in roundabout ways

we need to stop backchanneling so much. Externally: try and put a stop to our paranoia about fandom hating us if we are not anything but perfect. We’re not perfect — we shuold be more ready to admit that, and open up about it.

this is very glibly put — sorry. But we have a sort of siege mentality where we seem to live in fear of perpetual wank. It’s not helping.

/done

How do you see the OTW as being accountable to its assorted constituents–fandom at large; users of the OTW’s projects (AO3 and fanlore users; readers and writers of the journal; recipients of legal aid; volunteers; staff; etc.) What would you do on the board to make sure that all those groups have the information they need when they need it?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

I’ll prepend that I think this question is too complex to answer statisfactorily on the fly. As to the “how”: First, identify our stakeholders and agree internally who we want to serve. Not sure we are doing that right now.

Then, what Jenny said: being more transparent (external communications!), AND giving more options for engagement. Sort of: the barriers to volunteering/discussing/criticism atm are too high. (Example: use other channels more familiar to consitutuents, like blogs/forums rather than the journal/website format.)

However, I absolutely can’t answer you with concrete steps, because we need to a) identify b) survey these groups and their needs first to get this right. It’s like assuming we’re reaching everyone with the journals: assumptions aren’t particularly helpful here.

(by “journals” I mean our concentration on the LJ-sphere.)

/done

I was happy to hear some of the candidates specifically mention outreach as one of their concerns in the chat transcript. However, I’d like to ask /all/ of the candidates if they could detail any ideas they have for specific plans of action that can be taken in the upcoming year to help the OTW reach out to fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom.

This question was in the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

Narrowly put, here’s the exact action plan of my committee, Internationalization & Outreach, drawn up in 2010:

1. as a first step, we need to look at the org & its products and see where and how we can improve internally

2. that is, work with other committees to increase accessibility & appeal of OTW products to international fans (“international” here: shorthand for both ELF, crossover, and non-English-speaking fen)

3. only as a last step, devise & conduct targeted campaigns. Respect for and knowledge of our target groups is key here. We’re not keen to be seen as unwelcome ‘missionaries’.”

Why am I posting this? Because outreach is a long-term effort and the preparation of the previous years is key. We also just revised our scope slightly (hence the name change!) to more implicitly include fandom outreach, and we want to recruit accordingly for next term.

According to plan, we reviewed many OTW projects to make them more inclusive in the last two years (and will continue to do so), and the other committees have been amazing about taking up and implementing our suggestions (just two examples: language browsing at the AO3 with *lots* more language functionalities forthcoming, and the revision of the former Vidding
project pages to the vastly more inclusive Fan Video project resources). So that was step one: we feel more confident about promoting the OTW to other fandoms now because we have can show that we will change accordingly, where we can.

Preparation for step three, actual outreach campaigns, includes gathering data via surveys: currently, we’re planning one external community survey and one internal one. With the internal one we want to find those volunteers who are connected both to OTW and their fandoms, who can act as advisors to the question “what can we offer fandom xyz specifically?” and/or as agents to carry that message to their communities.

Put more broadly, however, the general aim is to make the OTW a go-to place for realizing big-scale projects, regardless of whether we already have something that appeals to you/your fandom.

That can only succeed if we make the overall OTW framework more open. I’m hopeful we will get
there (so many awesome discussions and initiatives arising from elections talk!), but I don’t think we’re quite prepared to fulfill that promise yet, which is why I am hesitant to go into other fandoms without other fans acting as ambassadors and invite them *right now*. First step is to open our communication channels (or implement new ones: see the forums idea!), so it’s no longer so relentlessly one-way, because it’s no use if we go talk to communities and they can’t talk back at us *as* a community. But I’m getting way to tl;dr (what can I say, I am passionate about this!), so I’ll close by saying that it’s all interconnected: it’s not just a matter of getting the message out, it’s also a matter of being prepared to productively deal with both criticism and feedback from outside, and of offering better opportunities for involvement.

The OTW still seems to have trouble connecting with large numbers of people outside of Western media fandoms, particularly anime/manga fandoms. Do you have any concrete ideas about how the OTW should improve outreach towards anime/manga fans?

This question was in the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

“But some of my best friends are anime/manga fans!!!” well, it’s true! 😉

There are TONS of anime/manga and gaming fans both inside OTW and at its periphery. (see Franzeska’s post at http://franzeska.dreamwidth.org/151707.html or the comments in my journal at http://julia-beck.dreamwidth.org/2584.html?nc=51#comments that deal explictly with the concerns of anime/manga fandom.)

They are already (or still, hah) talking to us, even though we lost a lot of goodwill, and have very productive suggestions that I’m extremely grateful for. One example that I believe we should very, very seriously consider is opening OTW community forums, because our current communications channels (journals; website) are a) not conducive to community building b) unfamiliar or uninviting to vast swaths of fandom. Another suggestion was to make our sites more visually appealing; both the AO3 people and the website committee are on that already and are listening attentively.

So, the fun thing is: I don’t even have to think up things myself, I just have to listen to what fans are *already* telling us — and make sure they are heard inside the org.

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

This question was in the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

See my answers above, but I’d like to take the opportunity to go off on a tangent: I don’t believe we have a moral duty to serve any and all fans in the abstract. It’s perfectly fine if a fandom doesn’t have need of the OTW or its projects, so there’s a difference between “collect ALL the fandoms under the OTW umbrella” vs. “be welcoming to all fans that WANT under the OTW umbrella.”

For anime/manga fandom the latter is absolutely true as witnessed by the fact that fans have repeatedly said that they *want* to use and like the OTW’s products, but they can’t fully do so at the moment. (The same is true for non-English language fans.) So, while I think we need to work on making fans from all corners more aware of the OTW and its opportunities, this doesn’t translate into trying to be representative of fandom. We’re not, we will never be, and that’s okay. It’s a tricky balance to get right, though, because it can translate into complacency and lack of outreach: we’re certainly not in danger of overextending ourselves right now, quite the contrary!

I don’t know how appropriate a question this is, but sanders was suggesting having monthly chair meetings and discussion posts manned by volunteers, and already in Systems we are finding it burdensome with our load to attend to some of the administrativa demanded of us, such as the two-hour org-wide. There were, at some point, chair meetings that were occurring that we found burdensome and, truthfully, irrelevant to us, and we were grateful when these dropped off. I don’t doubt the above would be helpful for transparency, but how would sanders propose to ameliorate the increased overhead to the various committees, some of which aren’t perhaps prepared for it?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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?).

Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW’s priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. (Take a pause to appreciate my Oxford comma.) If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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?)

The copyright (fair use) advocacy issues that the OTW works on and the TWC journal are two of the aspects of OTW’s mission that are near and dear to my heart and a significant part of the reason why I have volunteered for and donated to the OTW. How do you think the OTW board as a whole can continue to support and further encourage these and similar projects? What about these projects do you personally value and what relevant skills/interests/experiences will you bring to your term on the Board that can help in this area?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

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.!)

A current known challenge of the organization seems to be volunteer retention and burnout. For example, the majority of the Archive of Our Own’s coding is done by a small number of developers. For all candidates–what practices would you change in the committees you work with to bring in more volunteers and empower them to become long-term, regular contributors? How would you use a board position to do the same org-wide?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

(I’m 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.

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?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

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.

There’s been some discussion since the first chat about the time commitment required for serving on the Board, and what that means for Board Members who also have other roles within the OTW. How will you balance your role as a Board Member and committee liaison with your other commitments within the organization?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

I’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!).

Hi again, I wanted to pose a question that is similar to one that was asked previously: can the candidates talk about the specific things they have done while working in the OTW over the past year that have promoted organizational sustainability? I’m interested particularly in something I’ve seen in OTW materials before: “We’re building the builders.” How have the candidates carried that out recently as applied to volunteers and future leaders of the organization? I’d be especially interested if they could talk about both technical and non-technical roles, and about how they expect to “build” future board members once they join the board.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 1 November 2011 7:49pm 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-c2-on-c2-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.

What do you see as the role of the Board in soliciting user, member, staff and volunteer feedback? How will you prioritize this during your term as a Board Member?

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 4:13pm UTC 2 November 2011.

Simply put, two aspects: one is to open more avenues for conversation about the OTW, and make it easier to find them. There has already been excellent conversation about both; for example, there is a lot of conversation in private journals, but journals tend to be hard-to-find bubbles of friends (and for finding linkspams, you need to be *in* the journalsphere already). A relatively simple first step could be a opt-in directory of OTW staffers’ journals; and a bigger might be centralized external forums that provide a more level, less top-down discussion space. (To go all meta, let’s have feedback about that! What would make you more willing to talk to us?)

The second aspect is to change our communication style (both internal and external) to be more open and honest, while remaining respectful. We can implement all the avenues in the world for our members and users to talk to us; if you don’t feel you can be candid and that we will listen, you won’t use them. There is a perception that the only mode of communication we accept is squee, and while I understand and, to a degree, defend the up-beat tone of most OTW communication, it’s setting a tone barrier for feedback. Not productive.

(One thing I feel we’re already doing well is feedback rounds for in-progress projects. I loved the way the Fanlore committee solicited several rounds of heavy feedback instead of implementing their new category scheme straight away. Massive kudos to them — I know it was extremely exhausting for the committee, but worth it, and worth emulating.)

Internally, I helped advocate for internal forums and do hang out there when I can, and while I understand that not everyone can or wants to interact there (completely optional space!), I’ve been thrilled (and, admittedly, gratified) to see interesting and productive conversations between volunteers and staff that couldn’t have happened elswhere. I hope we’ll change the org-wide meeting to a more open, discussion-centered format soon.

How I’ll prioritize both aspects: by lobbying inside Board and among committees, recruiting communications-related personnel, putting in the work (draw up proposals, form work groups etc.) and by trying to lead by example. I’ve written a couple of “that thing you did was not okay, here’s why, can we talk?” emails internally, and while it was hugely, hugely stressful to do so, I really hope I can encourage people to talk to each other directly more, so that this sort of candid feedback becomes normalized (and you don’t need to be a 2+ years chair or Board candidate to dare write them).

I understand feedback as growing out of conversation. I want us to have more, and more honest conversations both internally and externally, and I hope my ideas will help us have them.

Julia and Jenny both mention sustainability as one of their priorities for the Board in their candidate statements, and I’ve seen the term also mentioned in other discussions of the election by both members and staff. My question for all the candidates is what do you see as the biggest challenge to sustainability within the OTW, and how will you work towards ensuring a sustainable future for the org during your time on the Board.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 4:13pm UTC 2 November 2011.

Hmmm, the single biggest challenge. It depends on the project, honestly, so I need to pick two interconnected challenges: the first is making our potential volunteer pool larger, that is, getting the word out about the OTW to communities who are skeptical about OTW, or don’t know us at all yet (i.e., communication & outreach). The second is making the OTW the sort of environment where people stay, not leave in frustration because they run into invisible barriers, or get tangled up in up in opaque structures. I talked about outreach in the first batch of questions (http://elections.transformativeworks.org/2011-second-board-candidate-cha…) and to my answer re. feedback above, because I honestly believe that communication is key here (both talking to the public, and for volunteers talking amongst themselves).

Many candidates are talking about transparency and the need for better communication. I am a casual user of the AO3 and have no idea what these buzzwords mean in a ‘real world’ context, why they’re important to someone like me, and what the candidates are actually planning to change.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 4:13pm UTC 2 November 2011.

Transparency means that you, as a casual user, can find out what’s actually going on inside OTW, if you want to, and that you know what we did with your feedback. As a fan-driven organization, we depend on our users’ trust and involvement (we can’t think of all the ways you might want to use the archive ourselves, for example). It means that you can easily find accessible and relevant information and ways to get involved. (The recent Open Houses are good examples for measures that help improve transparency.) Right now, only a couple of people on a committee level have the sort of broad overview to know why something is happening, or not happening, and when and what is in progress, or being planned; and volunteers are often just as confused and intimidated as casual users are. (You shouldn’t have to sign up as a volunteer to get access to that sort of information, anyway.)

It doesn’t have to be important to everyone, and the admin posts and spotlights on AO3 are doing a good job of keeping users up to date and informed. That’s not true across the organization as a whole yet, so we need to do a better job to get people involved and invested by reaching out, and by actively soliciting feedback.

I’ve been hearing a lot about volunteer retention and burnout, but I have a question about the flip side of the sustainability issue. It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the OTW right now is lowering the barriers to casual participation, to the small, bite-sized things people can do to help sustain the org. Right now, submitting a bit of code or wrangling a tag requires a whole process for anyone who just wants to help a tiny bit, as they can (by contrast, contributing to Fanlore is significantly easier, and I know that committee has done a lot of work to lower barriers). Some OTW projects don’t seem like they would lend themselves as well to casual participation, but it seems like a lot of our work could benefit from this, and I feel like I’m not seeing enough focus on this from the org as a whole. I feel like we’d have less burnout if we had more people to spread the burden, in bits and pieces. What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now? Do you think they need to be lowered? If so, what concrete, specific plans do you plan to pursue to do this? How do you plan to acknowledge and reward casual participation without devaluing the work of the more “official” volunteers? How do you plan to balance the needs of casual contributors, volunteers, and staff?

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 4 November 2011 08:41am UTC.

Hah, oh yeah. This is a great question, because I (rather, we!) struggled a lot with finding answers for my own committees. First off, yes, I agree that generally speaking, the barriers are too high. But what makes this such a tricky issue is that it’s different for each committee. That’s why I can’t in good conscience give you any concrete measures apart from: the Board needs to initiate an evaluation process, ask each committee to poke its processes and give at least one suggestion each. (Seeing as it’s something that most committees already do, I don’t believe an initiative like that would be controversial.)

This doesn’t sound like much, I know, but I can’t stress enough how valuable it would be to have Board say “you are not only allowed, but encouraged to question this process. Yes, you, the volunteer who just got started. Yes, you, the long-term committee member who’s become used to things”. Because right now it’s more, “this is the process. Deal.”, and even if people have suggestions, they’re not sure if those are welcome, and they don’t want to be disruptive. So I see it as Board’s task to facilitate an open culture of feedback.

Okay, since you prompted me, trying my hand at a couple general, actual measures for this initiative after all: sorting the tasks in each committee according to commitment/expertise required; then set up a noticeboard with low-commitment jobs on the website where people with little time can nab something (honestly, I can come up with 4 jobs like that spontaneously for both I&O and Translation… Hmmm. Brb, writing a proposal to our Volunteers committee~)

I’m not actually all that worried about balancing the value of regular vs. one-time work. Maybe that’s naive, but there’s the fact that a committee is also a social group, and that community spirit is both a powerful motivator and a reward in itself. (Conversely, since you mentioned Fanlore, I see the lack of community-building as Fanlore’s Achilles heel at the moment.) Another reward (simultaneously, burden) exclusive to being staff is responsibility: you make/shape decisions (you deal with the fallout).

As to balancing temp volunteer/volunteer/staff needs, I’ll repeat what I said in the third set of answers: “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.” Agency becomes more important if you are staff, though.

With regards to acknowledgement, my quick & dirty suggestion would be to have a (opt-in!) “Thank you” section in the official newsletter (like the AO3 release notes already do), but more pragmatically, I’d ask both temp volunteers & volunteers themselves what they want (Newsletter acknowledgement? AO3 invite? handshake? Graphics? Nothing?). Actually, let me include that as a question in the internal OTW survey (see, I know why said it was a great question: very thought-provoking.)

OTW 2011 Board Candidate Chats Scheduled

Er zullen twee chatsessies met de kandidaten van telkens een uur plaatsvinden, toegankelijk voor al onze leden en het publiek.. Ze zullen worden gehouden in de openbare chatroom van OTW, te bereiken via deze link: https://fanarchive.campfirenow.com/e79cc.

Bij het bepalen van de tijdstippen hebben we geprobeerd zo veel mogelijk rekening te houden met de verschillende tijdzones waarin onze leden zich bevinden, maar het was niet gemakkelijk om twee momenten te vinden waarop alle zes kandidaten beschikbaar zijn. Als je verhinderd bent maar wel vragen voor de kandidaten hebt, raden we je aan deze in te sturen via ons contact formulier zodat onze verkiezingsfunctionaris Ira Gladkova ze namens jou kan stellen. Je zal deze chatsessies na afloop kunnen nalezen op de verkiezingswebsite, in tekstformaat of als screenshots.

De chatsessies vinden plaats op:

De persoonlijke verklaringen van de kandidaten zullen vanaf 17 oktober 2011 beschikbaar zijn op de verkiezingswebsite van de OTW. In tussentijd staat het iedereen vrij om de kandidaten zelf te contacteren om met hen te praten over de OTW en hun standpunten. De kandidaten hebben de OTW gevraagd om de URLs van hun persoonlijke blogs bekend te maken:

De URLs staan hier als aanklikbare tekst om te vermijden dat de wettelijke namen en fan-pseudoniemen van de kandidaten per ongeluk naast elkaar opduiken in zoekmachines. We vragen iedereen om de wettelijke namen en fan-pseudoniemen van de kandidaten niet in het openbaar met elkaar in verband te brengen.

De verkiezingen duren vanaf 12.00 uur ‘s middags UTC op 16 november (Hoe laat is dat waar ik woon?) tot 12.00 uur ‘s middags UTC op 18 november (Hoe laat is dat waar ik woon?). Stemrecht is beperkt tot de huidige OTW-leden; dit is iedereen die $10 of meer gedoneerd heeft tussen 1 oktober 2010 en 17 oktober 2011. Om je lidmaatschap te vernieuwen, bezoek http://transformativeworks.org/nl/hoe-je-kunt-helpen/steun-otw.

Meer informatie is te vinden op de OTW verkiezingswebsite.