The second 2011 Board candidate chat ended with questions pending — both those submitted live by chat attendees, and a queue of emailed questions submitted by OTW members, volunteers, and staff that had grown throughout the live chat period. Those questions were delivered in batches to the candidates following the close of the chat, and they were asked to submit answers within twenty-four hours of each email so that those responses could be publicly posted. Responses are posted in the order that they were received by the OTW Elections officer.
Second batch: Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.
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 is for sanders specifically, but as I’m also in favour of facilitating more contact and discussion across the org, I thought I’d weigh in. I do think it’s very important to make sure that attempts to improve one area (in this case transparency & communication) don’t wind up causing another problem elsewhere. For this reason, I think it’s important to be flexible and responsive: it’s good to have some documented policies and procedures, but they have to be broad enough to allow for changes on the ground, as it were. So, I’d want to start by talking with each committee about what would work for them, and how they would need to be supported, then go from there. For example, it might be that Systems would benefit from having a liaison (maybe their Board liaison, maybe someone from Communications, maybe something else) who would support some of this type of activity and so prevent it taking time away from the (essential!) sysadmin work. Or maybe monthly chair meetings aren’t the right approach – or aren’t right for all committees – but we can come up with another solution to the same problem. So, flexibility and creative thinking is key here, I think.
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.
I’m jumping in on this because I had a similar conversation with someone expressing concerns about administrative bloat (“spending too much time talking that could be spent doing”). I do believe we should assess each committee to see where we can communicate better — but individually, not as a top-down directive. Chairs, of all people, have really…little…time for additional meetings (I used to be a big proponent of chairs meetings, but realized that the main purpose that they should have — support — is more effectively served by mentoring.)
Inter-committee, I found that having liaisons for the closest collaborators worked very well, but that’s still not something every committee needs.
Regarding external & internal communication, Communications committee had the idea of adjunct Comm staff liaising with a particularly committee and taking on the brunt of its comms work (credit goes to Lucy Pearson, who is on that committee). It didn’t work out back then — we need more people for that, for one — but I think it’s worth looking into and recruiting for. Again, not every committee needs that, but I’d be interested to hear what you think of this, if it’s not too much trouble (Brainstorming topic in the internal forums?).
As a general matter, I think regular meetings are good things. They increase communication, keep interest and enthusiasm high, facilitate easy information flow. I’ve been on a lot of boards and committees, and run large litigation teams, and most of the time when those have had regular meetings they’ve not only worked better, but also had better morale, because everyone has felt like they had a voice. So I do agree with sanders that coordination among committees and frequent, easy communication both to and from the membership are important, and meetings and manned discussions are ways to achieve that. But it is incumbent upon those holding regular meetings and discussions to make sure they’re not burdensome. Make them efficient, share responsibility, hold them no more often than necessary, and such. If regular meetings are an undue burden on Systems, then something should be done to address that—for example, spread out the responsibilities among committee members, make them optional depending on what’s on the agenda, provide opportunities that don’t require presence at a particular time…—the exact right approach depends on the situation. Everyone working for this org is a volunteer and the work shouldn’t start to feel like an obligation.
With regard to the monthly all-chairs meeting, I would strongly advocate for the meetings to be firmly capped at one hour, with a clear agenda provided ahead of time. My thought in suggesting the meetings was to provide a regular space for committee chairs to give a heads up to each other about any upcoming projects where other committees may need to become involved, to give quick personal check-ins as needed (i.e. if a chair were going to be taking time off and someone else would be serving as their committee point person for a time, or if someone had a big life event coming up), and also space to acknowledge if their committee is becoming overloaded or is free to take on more projects. I think, in the latter case, it’s perfectly appropriate for a chair to say to our peers that our committee needs a little breathing room or a little help, and it goes to my interest in all of us being able to name our limits and have them honored by others in the organization. While many of these things can be communicated from chairs to their board liaisons and then from liaison to liaison, direct chair to chair communication in a forum with a provided transcript would potentially help cut down on miscommunication.
To be perfectly honest, and perhaps even a bit impolitic, I find the org-wide meetings burdensome as well, and believe they would benefit from streamlining. Steps are already being taken in that direction, as well as to cut down the time required for them. I would like to see any all-chairs meetings kept as focused and quick-moving as possible, so as to be kept relevant and as painless as possible.
As for the discussion posts, I would like to see space for people who are interested and have the time and energy to host these posts. I know that it isn’t everyone’s preferred activity or where their passions lie. On the other hand, there are people who would love the opportunity to engage in this way, and I believe we can find solutions to offering that ability without overly burdening Systems, or any other committee. The most immediate concern I could see for Systems, and I could be mistaken on this, so please do feel free to let me know, would be where the discussion posts would take place. Internally, we do have the forums in place and encouraging their use would be one possibility. Externally-facing, we could use a journaling platform to begin, with something like an otw_discussion account cross-posted between LJ and DW. This would, of course, take a dedicated workgroup to monitor discussions, moderate, and post topics, and I believe we already have volunteers who would willingly and happily take on those roles. This also would buy us time to consider, carefully and intentionally, how to further integrate these kinds of discussion forums into the websites we directly design and host.
Finally, in the interest of complete disclosure, I am now—thanks to this question—mulling over how we might retool the org-wide meetings to combine them with the idea for the all-chairs meeting while still keeping them short and relevant. I haven’t a concrete plan on how that might happen, but it’s something I’d like to open discussion about and will be continuing to think over.
Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 UTC. Added to document 29 October 2011 14:04 UTC.
Actually, I think I talked about this a bit in the previous round of questions, but to add, I think we need to be open and flexible to the needs and working styles of different committees just generally, and in particular committees that are either perennially or temporarily time-strapped.
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?
I was involved in the discussion, since the poll originated with AD&T and I took the lead on setting it up. It was originally intended as just a fun diversion during AO3 downtime, but it did become the focus for some broader issues and discussions, so it’s those issues that I’d more like to address.
So, first my input into the discussion. When we initially set up the poll, AD&T consulted with various people about how to make it work. People on DevMem with experience of running competitions advised us to post clear rules for the competition and to make it explicit that at the shortlist stage, we would have an internal panel who would choose the final shortlist. We posted about this and noted that we would be giving consideration to fannish diversity in the shortlisting process (which we did, and a huge amount of work went into making a balanced shortlist). In the same set of rules, we also stated we would post our shortlist as a poll and the seven names with the most votes would be the winners (you can see the full set of rules at http://transformativeworks.org/archive-our-own-server-naming-festival). So, when the results came in and they didn’t reflect fannish diversity quite as much as we’d hoped, I was disappointed, but I felt strongly that for the sake of transparency we had to stick to the rules we had publicly set out at the beginning of the competition. It didn’t seem fair or respectful to the people who had voted to change the rules after the fact, and I felt that not sticking to our published process in this instance might undermine confidence in our processes more generally (for example, in Board elections).
I wouldn’t change my take on the basic situation; however, I think the way the whole thing played out wound up being not too much fun and not very good for the OTW as a whole, so there are a lot of things I would change to ensure similar things work better (especially in the case of issues with a more long-lasting impact).
* Faster decision making on practicalities. Because this issue turned into a focus for some different ideas about org needs and priorities, it wound up taking loads of everyone’s time and dragging on for months. This seems crazy when the immediate issue was actually about server names! When an issue brings up unexpected dimensions, I think it’s valuable to sometimes make a quick decision about the immediate issue (providing it’s not something that’s going to bind you to a certain outcome down the road) and agree to take the real, important issues forward.
* Better internal communication & consultation. I think it is very important that communication within the org is always maintained, and that if a decision is taken to a different group of people (for example, in this case the decision about the servers was taken from the shortlisting committee up to Board), then that needs to be clearly communicated to the original group of people and they should have the opportunity to give their input. In this case, there was bad communication about what was going to Board and why, which meant that the Board didn’t have a chance to get input from committee members, and people were left feeling hurt and excluded. Sometimes it is appropriate to take an issue up the line for discussion, but clear communication about that is really important.
* Live discussion about controversial issues. This is something that Naomi has brought up: when feelings are high, email discussion is a terrible way to deal with something. I know that everyone who was involved in this discussion was well motivated and sincerely concerned with fairness, they just had different ideas about how to achieve those aims. Discussing in chat (or maybe even Skype) would have helped everyone remember that this was true and prevented tensions escalating.
* Better external communication. Because passions ran high about this issue, it took a long time to resolve and everyone involved felt sensitive about talking about it in the meantime. With the benefit of hindsight, I realise this was a mistake. Once it became apparent that we weren’t going to get a quick decision, it would have been better to do a public post talking honestly about why this had become tricky and giving the different perspectives. Maybe we would have found that people had different solutions, or saw things differently; in any case, we wouldn’t have been left talking about hypothetical possible responses to whatever decision we made. I think it is hard to do this kind of external communication, because if something is controversial you really don’t want to open the can of worms even wider! But I think it would be worth it, because leaving everyone with no news and wondering what was going on meant that a. we lost the fun and excitement from the competition and b. we looked very nontransparent. It also meant that by and large, people outside the immediate discussion only knew about it from posts by individuals, which by their very nature were, well, individual perspectives. I like to think if we had been able to all work together on a public post we could have presented all the different perspectives honestly and neutrally. This would have been facilitated by asking someone not involved in the immediate discussion to put together that post, so that’s a procedure I would like to put in place for any future posts which deal with issues that there isn’t a consensus on within the org.
* More forward planning. With hindsight, we probably could have anticipated this decision. I (naively) assumed that if there was a reasonably diverse shortlist, the final results would reflect that. Even though staff from AD&T, IO, Communications & DevMem were all invited to contribute to the initial planning of the poll – this included input from several people passionately committed to fannish diversity – none of us forsaw that we might end up with the outcome we did. In fact, we could have set up the whole competition with inbuilt diversity – for example by saying in advance that each server name would be assigned to a different fannish category. That would have been fair to everyone and would also have made the competition much easier to administer! So, that’s a lesson I’d want to learn for next time – think more about what we’re trying to achieve and try to build that in.
I think there are lots of ways we could have handled this specific issue better, but I also think it’s important not to get too bogged down in specific failures. We’re all volunteers, we all have varying levels of experience, and to a large extent we’re figuring things out as we go. No single issue should be a deal breaker. So, my philosophy is ‘try again – fail better!’ We can look to this to make better processes and better interaction in the future.
Regarding the final part of the question: voting transparency for the Board. I have to say that in general, I’m not sure exactly how Board discussions work in general, so I don’t know how applicable that would be. I would agree with Naomi (in her recent post) that in general, actual voting should be a last resort, and that discussion and creativity are often more effective ways to respond to a situation. What I can say is that I am definitely in favour of more public information about what the Board is talking about and what decisions they are making. This would also enable individual Board members to talk more honestly and openly about their specific input and views on any given issue. I do think, however, that Board does need a certain amount of space to talk about things privately, so while I’m cautiously in favour of the idea of giving some specifics of Board voting, I wouldn’t want to come down and say ‘we should definitely do that’ before I have been able to talk to Board members past and present about how appropriate that would be.
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.
Oh, server names. (I’ll probably associate regret with that poll forever.) I was involved in the final name selection task group, but contributed relatively little to the document-in-progress because I felt we had a solidly diverse shortlist.
Where I personally failed was the final selection chat, when
the options “Kirk” and “Spock” were put onto two different servers, (effectively sealing the Star Trek over-representation). I felt that couldn’t be right, but I was unsure and didn’t object. I should have, and I’m very sorry that I didn’t.
I also assumed that the end result would, like the shortlist, be altered according to a principle of diversity; others assumed that we would honour the final vote, because to do otherwise would be unethical.
My believe (that I asked Board member hele to represent in the final decision) is that we should have admitted that we messed up and scrapped the poll or adapted the results (there were some good suggestions of allocating servers according to media type). I very firmly believe it wouldn’t have lost us much goodwill in our core support group, but it very definitely did lose us people who already felt marginalized.
What we can do to prevent this from happening again: The problem wasn’t a lack of diversity — our shortlist was pretty awesome. It was in the final selection & results discussion that we — that I — failed.
So to prevent something similar from happening, we need to create an atmosphere where a) all relevant information is available to the people involved and b) everyone feels they can speak up without fearing that they’re ruining (internal) relations forever. At its core, it was a charged communicative situation that was hard on everyone involved and effectively barred us from reaching a better compromise. On the outside, and because of the final decision, it looked like we didn’t care enough. I regret this immensely.
Voting transparency: Tricky. My spontaneous reaction was: YES, let’s have it! but… no matter the individual vote, the Board has to present a cohesive whole, and even if they disagree, Board members have to uphold the collective decision. Personally, I’m prepared to justify both my individual vote and the end result; but I haven’t made up my mind if it would be beneficial to make this a binding requirement — I’d need to discuss this with fellow Board members (nevermind that the bylaws don’t state anything about recording voting behaviour, so Board would need to adopt it). Regardless, I’d prefer it if Board were more open about its decision process, where it can, and Board members more transparent about their individual positions. (I find it confusing, too, when the majority on the Board seems to be in favour of postion X, but the result is position Y. Why?)
I am not familiar with this particular situation or its history, so I don’t feel qualified to address its specifics. I will say that from my experience on various boards, committees, and teams, this sort of thing is usually the result of lapses in communication—the Board not providing information to stakeholders, and not providing avenues for stakeholders to weigh in. This is particularly true when stakeholders are working hard, with their boots on the ground, and may have information that the Board doesn’t have. Outcomes are not always ideal—in some situations it is not possible to please everyone. But if communication is good, even if someone doesn’t like a particular outcome, they can understand why it came out that way. When communication is bad, the person who doesn’t like the outcome just walks away upset. Naturally, I prefer the former to the latter! Since I don’t know the story, I don’t know what specific steps I’d take to prevent it from happening again. But I do think that disrespect leaves a mark, whether it’s intended or not. In this organization, as in any community (and even more with this one, because it is a labor of love for so many) it is crucial to treat everyone with respect, to communicate, and to recognize that everyone is doing their utmost to make the organization succeed.
As for voting transparency, I do not yet know this Board’s internal procedures (such as what matters are voted on and what matters are determined through a process of consensus), but as a general matter I am in favor of voting transparency.
\o/ Oxford comma.
I was not involved in the discussion at any level. If memory serves, I did vote in the public naming vote, but I won’t swear to it. The subsequent discussion and debate around the naming process passed me by, largely because, as part of Fincom, I was just relieved we’d finally made the purchase and I pretty quickly got involved in the process of making payments to ensure the servers were set up and exchanging emails with the physical center where the servers live.
As such, I can only assess the situation in hindsight and, without access to the full discussion, I can only make suppositions about where I would have liked to have stood. This is a position that makes me intensely uncomfortable.
My retrospective take on the vote leads me to think that I would have encouraged the board, as some members of the board and of the organization did, to take into account the need for diversity in the names in terms of gender, race, ability, sex, and source fandom. I would like to think that from the outset, I would have suggested that we break down the possible names differently, using given categories for each machine to guarantee one machine would be named from an anime/manga fandom, one from a Western fandom, one from a list of female characters, etc. As we acquire more servers in the future, that’s a method I would like to see instituted and will push for. I also would have liked to have seen a limit to one representative name from any given source fandom; I believe it is highly problematic to have three from a single fandom as we stand now, although I do understand that Spock and Kirk were presented as a pairing to cover two machines. In the future, I think we have to prioritize balancing the representation of Western fandoms with non-Western ones, and possibly, for a time, bar consideration of Western fandom names for any subsequent servers.
I do not think there is a way to absolutely guarantee a similar situation won’t arise, not to a one hundred percent certainty. I think I can only work to try to avert such a situation, and then to minimize the damage should it happen. From the outset of any project in which I engage, in OTW and my life away from the organization and fandom, I question what kind of representation we need; who is already present? What voices are missing and how do we bring them in? What will this project ultimately look like as it’s currently laid out and how can we improve it in the planning and implementation stages to better represent all of us? Posing those questions means also working to find answers to them, both individually and as part of a team. In order to do that, first, the entire planning team, whoever they may be, has to be aware of the potential problems. That means me speaking up about them as I see them, and identifying others who are also seeing the same problems and are willing to work with me on them, as well as being open to hearing others’ concerns. In some instances, moving forward will mean settling things internally, within a committee. In others, that will mean going to a wider forum to solicit input from the whole organization, and likely using a variety of means to do that, from emails to our Basecamp system to public posts with commenting enabled.
I am of the opinion that any decision that affects the entirety of the organization should be able to be questioned. Further, decisions that affect only small segments should also be open for explanation. If we can’t provide a valid and reasoned argument for proceeding in a certain way, and are unwilling to defend or discuss that decision, then we have a problem and likely should revisit the issue at hand. As an organization funded by donations, we should be able to provide clear documentation about any decision making process to our members and be willing to engage in dialogue about how we reached various outcomes.
I also believe that an accounting of any vote taken by the board should be available, including, but not limited to, a breakdown of who voted in favor of a given issue and who voted against. The blunt reality is that no matter what decision is made, there will be disagreement. Someone’s needs will not be met, and we will not get everything we desire in the way we desire it, but we should be able to know who has stood with us or in opposition on a given issue, and have the option of engaging in additional dialogue.
If I’m elected to the board, I fully expect to be held accountable for my actions by the other members of OTW and by potential members. I try to operate with that view in my personal life, that I should not act without consideration and certainty, and that any action I take which impacts another should be one I am willing to have open to scrutiny.
Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 UTC. Added to document 29 October 2011 14:04 UTC.
I only heard about it pretty much after the fact because I was busy with new baby, so I start with the caveat that any situation is much easier to kibitz from the sidelines when you’re not involved in the decision and also don’t have all the pieces, so you have to take my after-the-fact thoughts with that very large helping of salt, and I offer them with apologies to the folks I know who struggled through it at the time.
My ideal public solution would have been to have the Board swiftly post an apology to let people know hey, we didn’t think this all the way through, it’s not worth anyone being sad or feeling unwelcome, so we’re calling the whole thing off (in some way, whether by changing the names or just canceling the whole thing). I would have wanted this post to explicitly center the blame for both the original mistake and for the subsequent disruption on the Board rather than the organizers, and also to try and shift focus to the much happier aspect of the situation: awesome new servers for everyone to benefit from no matter whether their fandom was gigantic or tiny.
Internally, I would have had the Board apologize hugely to the organizers, ask them to understand that the Board has to make the final call and sometimes override, and if there were lingering bad feelings would have done a change of liaison to give the committee a fresh start to their relationship with the Board.
I know that some of those involved were concerned about overruling the results being unfair to the participants, who had known the rules in advance, and that it would also cross a line in terms of violating our own procedures and creating a sense of uncertainty among users about whether we would stick to our own announced rules in future. And I get that, absolutely, and find it a compelling argument.
But the thing is, in this case the actual server names themselves were not user-facing and would never be seen outside of a sysadmin browsing our files if then. The poll was intended only to pass the time while the machines were installed — to produce good feelings. If it wasn’t producing good feelings, the whole thing was a bust anyway. So given that, my overall feeling is as long as we were fully open and honest about cancelling and why, it would be okay.
That said, I also feel strongly that the server names were too minor an object to allow the debate to drag on. Any decision is better than no decision when either way the end has no significant consequences and the arguing is both eating time and burning bridges throughout the org. So fundamentally in this case I would have been working for a quick resolution, and prepared to “lose” on my ideal solution.
Which leads into the second part of the question for me, where if by voting transparency you mean tallies of Board votes, my answer is no. At least in my experience there weren’t a ton of votes — we mostly did a round of “ayes” when we had to officially approve a new slate of chairs or a financial expenditure or something else that for legal reasons we needed to approve formally. I believe a lot in working by consensus and resorting to votes only when an intractable situation is developing. And so that is exactly the case where I wouldn’t want the process to be exposed, because that’s when it’s really hard and you need people to be able to communicate honestly within the team, and when you need people to be more and not less willing to lose.
And I also feel pretty strongly that this idea sets up the wrong model for the Board. For the health of the org, the Board needs to be a team and not a legislature, and IMO decisions should come out as united Board decisions. Of course it’s good for Board members to disagree and debate, to have different priorities and different groups that they intuitively think of more than others or want to make sure are getting served, because that keeps the org balanced and avoids our overlooking things and increases our font of creativity, but that’s not the same thing as coming onto the Board with an adversarial mindset towards other Board members, which can only take a giant axe to any kind of productivity.
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?
Oh my gosh, me too! I don’t often talk about these projects because I haven’t worked on them directly, but actually the journal in particular important to me because as an academic, I really value knowing there is a reliable academic source where I can find good material on fanworks which won’t take the ‘poke this weird fandom thing with a stick’ approach. And, both my academic and my fannish selves are deeply invested in supporting work to ensure that copyright laws don’t prevent creativity and knowledge sharing. Since I haven’t worked directly with these projects, I don’t have an intimate sense of exactly where they could be best supported (it’s something I’d love to talk about with the relevant committees, though). On the whole, though, I feel they’ve been doing the kind of good work that builds more good work: following the awesome contribution our team made to the last DMCA exemption, the OTW has been asked to work alongside the EFF (rather than just submitting comments) for the next one. This means we’re more high-profile, and I would like to use that profile to help us recruit more people to the Legal team. Longer term, I’d love to see us extending our international reach on copyright either by recruiting enough staffers from different countries, or (more feasible) extending a hand to groups on other countries already working on these issues outside the USA. Similarly, I feel like Journal have done such a great job establishing TWC as a reputable academic source that we’re now in a position to recruit more people: it’s important that we work with Journal to ensure that as some staffers move on, others can be brought on to maintain the standards of excellence they have maintained so far. Mentoring and communications seems like one area we could really support this – I’ve always been vaguely interested in having more to do with Journal, but not too clear about whether I can contribute anything useful to the team as someone who is quite early in their academic career, so it would be nice to make that information more prominent to ensure we keep bringing in new people.
I’m particularly interested in working more with Journal as a Board member precisely because their work does overlap with my own professional life, and so I would be bringing my experiences of being in the British academic community and my own academic expertise to that conversation. One of the things which is really important for TWC going forward is for it to be recognised as the kind of accredited journal which can be used for promotion, tenure, and professional evaluation: in the UK all this is centred around a somewhat opaque and problematic process called the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and I would really like to work with Journal to explore how we can ensure that TWC is something which is considered suitable for submitting in the REF and/or fits into that process as it evolves (there’s some uncertainty as to whether the REF will remain in the same format, as British higher edication is undergoing a massive shift). My own main field of research (children’s literature) is one which has historically had a mixed reception in academia, in a similar way to fan studies, so I know first-hand how important it is to produce excellent, reputable work which can be a benchmark for your discipline. I feel that TWC is an example of some really fresh, important approaches to academic work and I am really passionate about ensuring that this kind of new scholarship is able to broaden the horizons of the academy rather than being excluded by it.
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.
How the Board can support both projects: by letting them set their own agenda, by facilitating collaboration (like the Fan Video & Legal cooperation for the upcoming DMCA exception case), and by helping recruit volunteers to keep them sustainable, where it can. Both projects need experts, are driven by lighthouse personalities and benefit most from personal recruitment, but even so, making the OTW more broadly visible will help both with recruitment (for example, to reach more non-US lawyers) and with positioning it as an attractive enviroment for facilitating high-profile projects.
What I personally value about both committees is that they help contextualize the high-context culture “fandom” to their respective areas. Yes, having advocates who speak “outsider” language can feel alienating to fans, and I understand that representation and legitimacy are thorny issues; but while fandoms as a community and transformative works as creative endeavours are legitimate in and of themselves, that doesn’t mean they are perceived as either legitimate or valuable by academia or in legal practice! I’m perpetually excited that we have the audacity, the expertise, and the language to advocate for fandom and fannish creativity ourselves.
As for my personal input, I have no experience whatsoever in legal matters, but I’m in media studies, and I weirdly enjoy arguing for transformative works (I co-wrote a Symposium article, Playing Sue, with Frauke Herrling), so I’d absolutely be open to attending relevant conferences and doing just that (with the caveat that I’m just a student and don’t have an ounce of the academic weight of the TWC editors et al.!)
Get ready for a tl;dr. Sorry in advance, but this is my stuff. As a legal scholar, the legal advocacy issues and TWC journal are near and dear to my heart, as well. They are what drew me to the OTW initially – they and the archive, which I use as both a creator and consumer – and I am passionate about them. What do I personally value about them? The journal opens up the worlds of transformative culture to an audience that may not already be familiar with them, and does so in a thoughtful manner. I have long thought that one of the greatest challenges fandom faces is its “in the closet” nature, which means that people who participate in fandom are often not its spokespeople. TWC provides a crucial legitimizing window into fandom. As for legal advocacy, not to go too far into a flight of fancy, but the relationship of creativity to the law is a particular interest of mine. The law can help foster creativity, or stifle it, and too often it does the latter while purporting to do the former. We live in a world where people are often afraid to express themselves for all too many reasons: social, cultural, personal…legal reasons shouldn’t be among them. (None of them should! But legal problems are solveable; the others are harder.) As creative people it is our responsibility to make sure that the law reflects, permits, and even encourages the wide and free expression that brings us, and so many others, joy.
It sounds flippant to say that I think the board can support them by…supporting them, but I mean it. Here’s what I mean: Because the legal mission and the journal are both, mostly, self-sustaining without input from large populations of volunteers, they can easily get brushed aside as things not to worry about. I know that our committee’s regular update of “still not sued!” helps perpetuate the notion that all we do is sit around and wait for a lawsuit, and that’s not true at all. We field inquiries from fen, we work with the board and other committees on developing org policies, we write materials for public and political consumption…right now members of the legal committee are working on the org’s official support for a continued DMCA exemption for transformative works. This work is crucial to the org’s mission, but it’s mostly in the background. The same is true for the journal: from the point of view of many of us, it just magically appears, with its amazing content, and although I am sure a huge amount of work went into it, it was all in the background.
So, what can the Board do to support them? The Board can view the various components of the work—each inquiry, each draft, each article—as an accomplishment in itself and not just a background item. With legal, it may be tough to promote all of that work because of confidentiality concerns, but when there aren’t confidentiality concerns, one key type of support is cheerleading: “look what this amazing group of people just did!” The other kind of support is the support that brings in some of my personal skills/interests/experience, which is building connections outside of fandom, with other academics, scholars, lawyers, public interest groups, and the like. I am active in these communities—I work with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is a First Amendment advocacy group; I go to conferences of scholars on intellectual property law; I am a member of the Los Angeles Copyright Society (a group consisting largely of entertainment studio lawyers!); I have a relationship with other advocacy organizations, like the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I can work to develop relationships between the OTW and these (and other) groups with common interests, to build the respect, legitimacy, and legal understanding that these segments of the organization work toward.
I’m going to start with the question of experience, because it frames my thoughts on our advocacy issues and TWC. I come from an academic background that includes an undergrad degree in Sociology and Anthropology, where I extensively examined issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and the intersections of those identities. Alongside being a So/An major, I also spent most of high school, college, and the first several years post-college working for agencies that advocated for civil rights and workers’ rights on local, national and international levels. My experience of fandom came as a sort of simultaneous awareness of fanfic and meta, sharing both with my partner at the time, and engaging in some pretty spirited and academic debates about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the racial and gender implications of the show. I also became aware pretty quickly of the issues surrounding copyright and the ability of a network to shut down websites with cease and desist orders when some of my favorite BTVS fansites vanished overnight. All of these things set me on my path to joining online fandom and to eventually joining OTW.
From an academic standpoint, I absolutely love that we have TWC and the symposium because they provide a formal space for framing critical questions about fandom from the source materials to who, collectively, we are as fans. My inner sociologist finds it absolutely fascinating and, frankly, reassuring that there are other people watching and reading canon with a gaze similar to mine. Finding company in fandom is a huge part of the fun to me, and finding others who are ready to take apart a show, book, or piece of music that we collectively love to see how it works and how it can be read in terms of broader society is an opportunity TWC provides and that I feel is invaluable.
With regards to our advocacy work, I value our place in providing a voice for fans in the process. Honestly, we’re easy to dismiss, to lump together as a single monolithic group, and place under a given stereotype of weirdos who just don’t matter in broader society. OTW gets to say that, in fact, we do matter and we are not who you think we are. We are a group of diverse individuals who will fight for our right to creating transformative works, to engage and challenge canon materials, and to fully participate in any discussion about those rights. I value any organizational work that empowers under- and/or mis-represented people to define themselves and their interests, and our Legal committee in particular has provided a means for many fans to do that.
I think the board can best and most simply support these two areas by enabling the stellar people we already have working on them to continue leading that work. Our role as a board, as I see it, is to get our committees the resources they need, whether it’s materials, people, or funding. We also have a responsibility to make sure these two key projects are represented equally with our others in any official materials, and that the interests of those involved are given fair consideration in decisions by the board. Additionally, we have a responsibility to give serious consideration to and provide pathways for submission of any proposals of expanding our existing advocacy work and the journal, and to proposals of new projects in those areas. Beyond these things, I think we also have to be proactive in asking our staff and volunteers engaged in advocacy work and work on TWC (and all of our other projects) what they need, rather than possibly waiting for them to make needs known or simply not asking.
Response received 29 October 2011 06:53 UTC. Added to document 29 October 2011 14:04 UTC.
I love these projects but I haven’t personally had a lot to do with them other than feeling that they were clearly part of our initial core mission and then standing on the sidelines cheering madly and holding out cups of Gatorade to the other Board members (Rebecca Tushnet and Francesca Coppa) who respectively took point on these and liaised for those teams.
I do think one important thing about the Board is to have at least some people who are natural liaisons for core projects, who have at least some experience participating in that general area and are also deeply interested in that particular area, because it just saves so much time and pain communicating with teams doing specialized work. I think it would serve the legal advocacy projects well to have Betsy on the Board, for instance, and I hope that when Francesca finishes her term one of our awesome TWC staffers will be up for running for the Board to keep providing the academic perspective.