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.
First batch: 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 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?
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.
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
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’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)!
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.
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.
“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.
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 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—our specialized committees—to do so while the board ensures they have the tools and resources they need to carry out that work.
I think a plan of action would possibly look like this: the board would agree that outreach to fan communities outside Western media journal-based fandom is a priority. They/we would also agree that outreach to anime/manga fandoms, wherever fans are participating, is also a priority. This information would be communicated to all of our chairs, staff, and volunteers. In both categories, I see IO and Volunteer & Recruitment working together to spearhead a detailed plan of action from the two committees, along with limited guidance from their board liaisons. Ideally, this plan would include the following: identifying volunteers and staff already active in anime/manga fandoms and non-Western fandoms and soliciting their advice and assistance; identifying target fandoms for relationship building and the best people to contact with information about OTW and to learn more about the structures of those fandoms in order to discern what kind of relationships are currently possible and which could be mutually beneficial in the future; contact and collaboration with Devmem, Translation, and Communications to hone messages promoting our current projects, the benefits of individual memberships and opportunities for volunteering to those active in the target fandoms; collaboration with AD&T, Translation and Tag Wranglers to assess how to make our current projects as fully accessible and useful to members of non-Western and anime/manga fandoms as possible, and including members of those fandoms in the discussions; working with the Journal, Fanlore, and Vidding to encourage greater participation in those projects as well as assessing how relevant and accessible the existing structures are to the targeted groups of fans. As existing relationships are strengthened and new ones are formed, I also see working with Legal to examine the issues facing fans in other countries and, from a board level, encouraging Legal to engage and strategize with lawyers in other countries, as well as work with Communications to report out to the whole of OTW what issues non-Western and anime/manga fans are facing.
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.
Response received 28 October 2011 05:53 UTC. Added to document 28 October 2011 12:17 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.)