Alex Tischer 2020 Q&A: OTW Multiculturalism and Growth

[Note: In total, there will be 6 Q&A posts to cover all of the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. The candidates were limited to 300 words to answer each question, but they were allowed to rearrange and combine questions within a single post to more clearly express their thoughts. Candidate answers represent only the views of the individual candidate and are not endorsed by the OTW.

Due to a high volume of similar questions this year, many questions were merged and duplicate questions were left out. Other than this, questions appear in the form they were submitted. Questions represent only the views of the individual questioner and are not endorsed by the OTW.]

The OTW is a large multicultural organisation, and there is always a chance that misunderstandings will occur. How would you work to prevent them, and what would you do if a volunteer disclosed that you offended them/made them feel uncomfortable?

Preventing misunderstandings in any setting is very hard, in an all online international setting like the OTW this is even more true. Mentioning the issue at all levels of training and regularly reminding people of it afterward can alleviate the problem somewhat but I firmly believe that what is more important is how you deal with any kind of misunderstandings after they happen rather than only focusing on how to prevent them.
If a volunteer told me that I offended them and/or made them feel uncomfortable, I would apologise, take a step back, think and inform myself further on the problem and keep the newly gained information in mind for the future.
Keeping an open mind and an open line of communication, being aware that your personal experience is just that, your personal experience, and can’t be applied to everyone and that things you don’t even think about might strongly affect others are good guidelines to work with.

How would you deal with potential culture clashes as there are more and more fans from different cultural background? And how would you address the issues outside US?

Culture clashes are not a new thing to me – neither in RL, where I have moved countries in the past and am regularly working with colleagues from a variety of different countries, nor in the OTW, where I have been volunteering for over a decade and still experience the occasional culture clash. The Translation committee is obviously a prime candidate for all kinds of culture clashes, given that we have over 40 language teams. We encourage people to talk about things, be mindful of others’ differing experiences and keep an open line of communication with everyone. Focusing on the subject we all love and share, fandom, is always an option and can be very helpful.
Having different cultural backgrounds can be a benefit and not a hindrance and in Translation, an especially diverse part of the OTW, we often have long and involved discussions about various cultural quirks and habits. Depending on the topic, these situations don’t need to be a fraught culture clash but can rather be a funny comparison of your own oddities.

It appears externally that even the small things take a long time for the organization to make decisions on and then take action. Do you see this as a problem, and do you think this is something that can be improved on?

Of course it is a problem – to some degree. It is also not unique to the OTW. Work by committee is notorious for being slow and frustrating and that is doubly so the case for us as an wholly online organisation made up of only volunteers, located in pretty much all time-zones. One of the ways to work around it is putting solid workflows in place, having asynchronous meetings, setting regular deadlines and assigning tasks to specific people but I haven’t found any way yet to solve the underlying problem of having lots of people all around the globe work together.
Depending on the decision, we often require the input of numerous different teams, all of which work at a different speed and are battling the issues listed above at a smaller scale again.

How would you balance the OTW’s need for funding with the membership amount being prohibitive for a lot of users (especially those outside the USA and/or with low minimum wages) therefore leaving decision-making only to those who can afford it?

I would attempt to balance it by offering alternative ways to be involved in the decision making so it is not limited only to those who can afford to donate. The right to vote in the OTW Elections is the only decision-making power actually tied to a membership, and while that is of course a large decision, there are a variety of day to day decisions that are discussed and made on a committee level. While not everyone will be in a position to volunteer their time, it is another way to become involved in fairly concrete decision-making within the OTW. An additional alternative way to engage users more in the decision making process at a lower effort level would be to hold user consultations about certain aspects but those can be tricky because of the often diverging needs of users and practicability.

Do the candidates believe the org needs employees? If so, how should OTW avoid disincentivizing volunteers who may feel upset? What roles would they prioritize for employees? How would you fund employees and how would you decide how much an employee should be paid? [merged question]

Employees have been a long-term goal for the org since before my last term on Board and I believe that having employees is what lies in our future. Before we can start to employ anyone, there is a large amount of preparation and ironing out details to be done. We also require a stable income as just having the funds for the salary for a year is not enough. We need to be able to commit for a longer time.
While we work on these issues, we are already contracting some things out because a contract work model works better with our still unpredictable income streams.
I don’t think volunteers feeling upset would be too big a problem, as one of the reasons we are looking into hiring out certain tasks is that they are the kind of work it hasn’t been easy to find volunteers for. The roles for most employees should have little overlap with regular volunteer roles.
While I’d love a sysadmin or coder as a first employee, to be able to employ these we need a management structure in place so a technical project manager or an HR role might have to be filled first.
Having a stable source of income to pay an appropriate salary and reasonable benefits is important. I would base the decision of how high that salary should be on comparative roles in the industry. When employing someone we need to pay them fairly and provide reasonable benefits.
To start with we would also need to stick to hiring US people because we’re incorporated in the USA and we’ll already be dealing with enough legal requirements without adding hiring internationally into the mix.
In short, yes, I want employees, but I’m under no illusion it’ll be easy.

ETA July 15, 2020: The note at the top of each Q&A post was updated per a recommendation by the OTW Legal Committee.