2011 Candidate Profile: Jenny Scott-Thompson

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

Read Jenny Scott-Thompson’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

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

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

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

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

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

tricky question

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

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

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


though that’s not a catch-all solution

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

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

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

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

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

Addenda to in-chat response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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