2011 Second Board Candidate Chat Follow-Up Four

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

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

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


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?


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

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

Lucy Pearson

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

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

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

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

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

Betsy Rosenblatt

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

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

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

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

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

*instituting a regular e-mail update from the Board, much like those used by the EFF and the Citizen Media Law Project (among others) that describes the OTW’s current activities as well as other items of interest to the OTW’s mission. I envision this as being similar to the newsletter and links roundups that we currently do, but as reaching a wider audience of people who may not regularly check the blog, including members and non-members whose interest we want to foster!

*researching what areas of fandom (be they fan communities, or segments of fan communities) we are underserving, and reaching out to active voices in those areas to determine what we can do to make the OTW more inviting, welcoming, and functional for them. As the other candidates noted (especially Julia, in her discussion of what I/O is doing), this is something that the organization is doing already; I hope to bring fresh eyes to the problem to help with the effort.

By singling out these concrete plans, I don’t mean to imply that those are the only things I want to do on the Board. But I see my chief concrete goal as a very broad one: help the organization fulfill its overall goals. That means reaching out to the membership with open ears to see what we are and aren’t doing well; doing more of what’s working, and changing what’s not. From that process, concrete plans emerge.

Naomi Novik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jenny Scott-Thompson

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

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

Lucy Pearson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betsy Rosenblatt

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

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

Naomi Novik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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