Anh P’s 2023 Q&A: Board Work I

[Note: There will be 4 Q&A posts total, covering all the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. Candidates were limited to 300 words per answer.]

What committees have you worked with, and for how long? What have you especially enjoyed about them?

I started volunteering for Fanlore in 2022. I love my work in the Fanlore committee, especially during our themed months where we work together to create social media posts and graphics to promote different aspects of Fanlore. Fanlore also organises several editing challenges and editing chats per year. During these periods, volunteers from different teams of our committee work together to help new and returning Fanlore editors contribute to the wiki. I enjoy seeing the wiki flourish with new editors joining and more fannish history being recorded. I’m glad to learn lots of different parts of our fannish history, from researching and editing on Fanlore.

I started volunteering for Open Doors in early 2023. I care about how to archive and rescue fans’ resources on fannish communities. It brings me satisfaction to be part of Open Doors’ effort of preserving fanworks that are at risk of disappearance and to witness the project’s meaningful impact on our fannish history and culture. However, my passion is exploring how to collaborate and work with other OTW committees – and broader fannish communities – to widen our preservation as much as possible: I believe we can go one step further by reviewing on how we can preserve not only fanwork archives but also fan communities.

In February 2023, I was one of the OTW volunteers that helped organise and celebrate the annual OTW event for International Fanworks Day on Discord. It was a great occasion for OTW outreach and to work with other OTW volunteers, especially ones from the Communications committee. I loved seeing fans bouncing around ideas in the IFD Discord chat and participating in our IFD games. Furthermore, it was a great reminder thatOTW volunteers first and foremost are also fans who joyfully participate in the fannish sandbox.

Where did you get most of the knowledge and preparation in order to know running for board is a good fit for you? Did you feel prepared enough by Board/elections? Do you personally believe that people with no concrete professional experience (such as college students) are apt to serve on the Board of Directors of a US non-profit?

I’m very lucky that my Fanlore chair is one of our former Board directors. I’m talking with her to better understand Board work, plus time commitments for candidates and elected directors. I’ve been receiving lots of help from other OTW volunteers, both within my committees and other committees that I don’t serve in. The invaluable knowledge gathered along the way helps me understand the OTW history, policies, and culture better. From these experiences, I’m more comfortable reaching out to volunteers from different committees – and already proactively doing this for both social and election reasons. Outside of the OTW, I’ve been talking with my fannish friends to get a clearer picture of how the userbase is perceiving the Organisation, and see different points of view from current and former OTW volunteers.

Nevertheless, after weeks of preparation and research, I don’t think I’ll ever be certain that I’m 100% ready for the election and the challenges of Board work. What I can do is equip myself with all the available resources: knowledge, history, proactive communication, even the reassurance from fellow volunteers about how I can bring positive changes to the Organisation.

Personally, as a volunteer, I’m very excited about my fellow candidates, since several of them have professional experience working in nonprofit organisations; I believe that we’re lucky to have them with us this year. That being said, a variety of experiences and platforms that candidates bring to elections are undeniable advantages. In the upcoming weeks, we’re to observe, listen and converse with various candidates and explore who each of us resonates with, so the variety of candidates brings a variety of energies into the election and Board. I believe that people without concrete professional experience can still contribute good work to the OTW as Board members, such as their knowledge from being OTW volunteers.

What techniques do you use to manage pressure on yourself? How would you handle stepping up into a more visible and personally accountable position? Tell me about a time you had to manage a particularly heavy workload. How did you handle it?

I’ve spent years accumulating and developing necessary knowledge and skills to manage pressure on myself, especially in the past where my workload might be easily stockpiled over a short period of time, due to time-sensitive deadlines and last minute revisions from clients. The core of my problem-solving package is to understand my threshold for stress and pressure, accompanied with a healthy coping mechanism in the event of a crisis. I’ve realised that the more I can predict and recognise my pressure triggers, the more I can adapt my attitudes and practise my best to get control of the situation.

At the moment, I’m doing research and building my understanding of potential situations and issues that stepping up into a more visible and personally accountable role may result in my personal life. I understand that being one of the Board members of the OTW is a serious commitment. Board is the only entity that concretely represents “the OTW” as a whole, and is nominally at the top of the Organisation. I think the more extensively I can build my problem-solving package for pressure from Board work, the better I can prepare myself even for the worst-case scenarios.

There was one occasion in college that I needed to handle a sudden increase of workload in a short period of time. I’m aware of my pressure triggers so to better cope with the frustration and stress from the deadline, I started asking for consultation from my professor as well as support from my fellow students. I also looked for personal incentives from the heavy workload, such as the subject of research and the experience and knowledge gathered. Additionally, I reviewed any potential advantages from completing the heavy workload and let those advantages encourage myself to complete the workload sooner.

The Board is the nominal head of the OTW, which means that there is no Chair or other supervisor telling you what work to take on or what your priorities should be. Explain your comfort level with that kind of work and how you think you would handle that scenario. As a board member, how would you handle situations where you encounter an unfamiliar area, such as legal issues?

It’s true that the Board is the nominal head of the OTW, however they are also fellow volunteers with responsibilities to their respective committees. At the moment, the OTW itself is lacking several necessary HR functions, including conflict management between volunteers, between volunteers and their supervisors, and between nominal heads of the OTW and OTW volunteers, to name a few.

In addition, the OTW’s leadership isn’t currently equipped to properly monitor their volunteers’ workload and help them manage it, nor detect or prevent issues such as burnout and boreout. Discussing this with former Board members has helped me better understand the nature of Board work and assigning Board work between Board members – it’s a phenomenon quite similar to group projects – and respectfully speaking, I am aware of the challenges in this type of scenario.

As a Board member, if I encounter an unfamiliar situation, such as legal issues, I’d seek to discuss the matter with my fellow Board members and look for their expertise in related fields. Moreover, I’d consider seeking outside consultation from an appropriate professional if there are no experts to take counsel from within the OTW, including the Legal committee. That being said, I also want the OTW to further develop procedures regarding crisis management, with a robust confidentiality clause, so that the Organisation can do our best to protect and support our volunteers even in the event of emergencies.

Explain in your own words what “fiduciary duty” means for a US non-profit. Are you comfortable with that level of legal commitment? Does being on the Board of Directors of a US nonprofit pose any risk to you or your family in your country? Have you discussed this risk with your loved ones?

From what I understand for a US nonprofit, fiduciary duty refers to the relationship between a fiduciary and the principal or beneficiary on whose behalf the fiduciary acts. Fiduciary duty also includes the duty of care – that is defined as the duty by which a corporate director or officer is required to perform their functions in good faith. Speaking as a Board candidate, it’s a serious commitment and loyalty to the best interest, including but not limited to the financial best interest, of the OTW.

After countless hours of discussing with former Board members amongst several others, and of researching about the fiduciary duties that Board members are expected and required to commit to the Organisation, I’m comfortable with that level of legal commitment. At the moment, being on the Board of Directors of a US nonprofit doesn’t pose any risk to myself or my family in Vietnam. However, I’ve discussed the issue with my loved ones, to keep them informed in case my volunteer work interferes with my personal life.

How might the OTW better support fanworks and fan culture which is hosted in places other than AO3? Do you believe the organization has a responsibility to do so?

The OTW and its projects includes the AO3, but is not limited to it: Fanlore and Open Doors have been working for years to record fannish history, the impact of various events on fandom culture, the culture of fannish spaces, and of course at-risk fanworks. See my Bio & Platform post, for how I’d like to work with Fanlore and TWC to expand our support for fannish culture in non-Anglophone spaces. I personally don’t consider making AO3 the “main” or sole fanwork archive is a good thing. I believe that decentralisation of fanwork archives would foster a healthy environment for fans to choose their own preferable place of fanworks consumption, and better curate their experiences. Thus, it’d facilitate growth of fannish space as well as fandom culture.

One of the first things that comes to mind for me, is to look for professional roles for HR – whom as well as conflict resolution are needed – before we can hire software developers and site reliability engineers, to update and develop a version of the AO3 software that makes it easier to contribute to the Archive development, and easier for fans to host their own fanfic archives based on individual installations. Currently, I’m only aware of two fanfic archives that are taking advantage of AO3’s open-source archive software, and I think that speaks for itself regarding how challenging it is.

I’d like to work with Open Doors and other committees, such as Translation and Finance/DevMem, to explore reaching out to non-Anglophone at-risk archives and, aside from importing their fanworks to AO3, explore ways we can offer support to ongoing fan communities, such as outreach to AO3 userbases.

As a Fanlore and Open Doors volunteer, I consider supporting fanworks and fan culture a fundamental part of our mission.

Many of you mentioned large, exciting projects such as paid HR, DEI consultants, and new mandatory tags. If you encountered roadblocks for these plans, how would you ensure that you can still fill your campaign promises, and how would those new strategies be communicated to OTW members?

From my discussions with former Board members, Board is supposedly an administrative role with limited power over other OTW committees. The Organisation is decentralised with individual committee chairs having the ultimate say over the parts of the OTW that they manage, therefore a lot depends on what chairs are willing or able to do.

Furthermore, Board candidates don’t make “campaign promises”; we only choose some areas that we want to work on to improve or change, because the Board’s power doesn’t include widespread executive control. The potential challenge that I perceive is how little power I have as a single Board member to push for change within the Organisation.

  • Contracting an HR firm to overhaul the current management of the OTW volunteers is considered essential for the Organisation’s long-term sustainability. I want to support VolCom in any capacity to ensure we successfully lead the HR outsourcing project to completion. Moreover, once a company is hired, I’ll make sure the Board facilitates their work and provides them with all the tools they need to implement necessary changes.
  • I’m discussing the issues with AD&T volunteers to understand the roadblocks in making multilingual interfaces of AO3 a future feature, what the prerequisite steps are to reach stages of our strategic plan, and how Board members can support said project. In Fanlore, we’re working on promoting the current wiki to EAL fans and editors. The content might still be in English as a first step, but there are many pages & potential new pages that we need non-Western-fandom contributions to.
  • OTW does have a committee for formation and implementation of the strategic plan for the Organisation. I’d like us to take a step further and have an easily accessible strategic planning infographic with better outreach to communicate with OTW users, members and volunteers, for them to reference and contribute to our progress.

What are your thoughts on PAC and how to improve things there in response to the current controversy?

From various discussions that I follow as well as participate in, I think the Policy & Abuse Committee is understaffed and overworked, and they need additional resources, such as Trust & Safety consultation to help ensure that PAC is implementing best practices to reduce the risk of burnout.

It’s a vicious cycle that got PAC backed up into an unpleasant corner: there aren’t enough people to do their jobs sufficiently – it’s been more than a year since the last external recruitment of PAC – but recruiting for new people now, when PAC is already overworked, can easily lead to burnout of new and current volunteers. Currently, PAC is working with AD&T to develop tools to improve PAC experience; I want to work with them closely to make sure they’ll get the necessary support for improvement of their situation.

One of the projects that I think would help PAC do their job more efficiently is to prioritise discussions surrounding updates of AO3’s Terms of Service. The sooner AO3 has that updated ToS, the better PAC can enforce it and in turn protect AO3 users.

There are areas that PAC would like to change so they could go after harassment more aggressively. For instance, the ToS is focused on fanwork preservation without regard to the contents of the fanworks. Some people have abused this intent by creating harassing works that technically fall within the scope of “fanworks”. We need to strike a different balance, in order to act on any necessary improvements to make AO3 safer & better for our users, while also preserving people’s freedom of posting fanworks. Furthermore, I don’t support removing offensive works that are not targeted harassment; instead, I hope to support better curation tools so that fans can avoid the works they don’t wish to see.

What further steps would you do to foster a welcoming and safe environment for users and fans? Many people find the current process for volunteering with the OTW to be unclear or difficult; how would you like to change the current recruitment process to bring in more – and more diverse – volunteers? What would you propose the Archive to do to protect/support volunteers?

As my Platform says, I want to adapt various OTW projects into different linguistic and cultural contexts, with the endgoal being internationalisation & localisation. Making OTW projects more welcoming toward our userbases, specifically our EAL fans, is a lifetime commitment. I’ve been discussing the challenges of localising AO3 with volunteers from AD&T, and I understand it’d be a long journey. Additionally, if we want to increase the speed of development for AO3 features, paid employees are necessary, with HR functions a prerequisite for transition and workload balancing. I also want to reaffirm the importance of updating the AO3’s ToS in order to better protect fans and users of the Archive from harassment, and to equip PAC with necessary means to act in terms of Trust & Safety initiatives.

Prior to joining the OTW, I used to find the current process for volunteering with the Organisation quite unclear. While keeping volunteering for OTW committees permanently open poses practical issues, the current process has problems and we could research other options. Namely, creating a newsletter for OTW volunteering that people can subscribe to, they’d receive emails when there is an open call for volunteers. Echoing several discussions of how interested fans, and potential volunteers outside of the OTW are underinformed regarding the internal working of different OTW committees, I believe that transparency in communication, and better methods of internal as well as external communication, will help fans get a clearer understanding of how they can contribute to the Organisation.

Additionally, to better protect and support volunteers of OTW, not just AO3, I believe that we need to establish procedures for crisis management and confidentiality, with a better system of conflict management between volunteers, to assure us that we can trust the OTW to protect every one of its volunteers, and that mistakes made once are not repeated.