Anh P’s 2023 Q&A: Board Work II

[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’s the main type of Board work you want to do, concretely?

To answer this question, I read through several articles about the Board on the OTW internal wiki, as well as publicly available documents, such as the OTW bylaws and what the Board does on Elections website. I also discussed and consulted with former and current Board members. Concretely, interacting with as many committees as possible would be the type of Board work that I’d enjoy the most. However, that tends to be situational and circumstantial depending on how much a given committee needs to talk or interact with the Board, which will depend on what’s happening with them at any given time.

For example, I hope to assist committees with any projects that require the Board’s help or involvement, and be proactive in working on anything that the Board might be able to help with. Furthermore, I can also help with maintaining and updating documents, especially articles related to the Board on the internal wiki. Since I’m an active Fanlore editor, I’d enjoy writing and cleaning up articles on the internal wiki. I believe that keeping Board pages on the internal wiki up-to-date would aid in my desire for more transparency about Board work and Board process for volunteers who have access to our internal wiki.

I’ve also learnt that there’s always lots of communication to go around, even if it’s situationally dependent. However, the Board gets a fair amount of emails and inquiries, both mundane as well as more sensitive issues. I can also lend a hand in beta-reading different forms of communication. Last but not least, I want to offer my assistance in communications with the Diversity Consultant Research Officer and external HR firms. I hope that my continuing support to these projects would be helpful toward reaching their completion.

Is the current Board’s collective capacity sufficient? Their multi-year delay to update on a priority issue indicates otherwise. Would you support adding seats or administrative staff to the board? What would allow individual directors contribute more (and more effectively) to the organization?

I want to clarify that the current structure and workflow of the Board are not professionally managed. I agree that the current Board’s collective capacity is insufficient to satisfy the demands of Board work, specifically in cases where there are Board members on hiatus. Until we improve the distribution of Board work between Board members, I don’t think adding more bodies to the Board would facilitate changes faster or decrease delays in prioritised issues.

That being said, I think adding appointed seats for administrative assistants – similar to chair assistants in various committees – would help to lighten the workload of Board members, and increase the speed of processing piled-up work. At the moment, the OTW has a Treasurer appointed by the Board. As a Board officer volunteer, they typically help tackle the Board work related to finance and financial planning.

I also want to clarify that administrative assistants are not Board-track or Board officers, as I want to recruit their help but not to subject them to sharing their legal names like Board officers and the risks thereof. To start with, I believe that they could help sorting through and combining questions to the Board, and analyse the feasibility of a triage system that prioritises time-sensitive concerns.

Additionally, I support hiring a permanent executive director with full-time paid commitment toward the day-to-day management of the Organisation volunteers. Board members are fellow volunteers with commitments elsewhere – both in their personal as well as volunteering lives. I believe that someone whose sole responsibility and focus is the administration of the OTW would be beneficial in the long term.

A productive and effective workflow would allow Board members to manage their volunteering time between Board duty and duties to their respective committees, as Board members are fellow volunteers in various committees.

The OTW has a history of distrusting its Board of Directors (most notably demonstrated in the 2015 elections). What steps do you think the Board could take to regain trust, not just with internal volunteers, but also with the broader community of fandom?

Since the 2015 mass resignation predated my time in the Organisation by years, I reached out to several senior volunteers who were active at the time, and one of the 2016 Board election candidates, to discuss the details behind the event.

As James said in his platform in 2016, and I agree with him, the OTW should have procedures in place to ensure that if one or more members of the Board are committing misconduct – including, but not limited to – violations of fiduciary duties to the Organisation, volunteers or the OTW membership should have the ability to hold a vote of no confidence in said Board members. Lack of conflict management systems within the Organisation and procedures to hold the nominal head of the Organisation accountable – for their actions and repeated offences – has fuelled some egregious misuses of power in the OTW.

After trust is lost, it’s a long and challenging process to regain it from volunteers and users. From my discussions with senior volunteers, I think the best approach is to start small. Namely, Board members should sign their names in communications, to show the individuals behind the nominal head, and to remind the public of the individuals that they voted on in previous elections. I also think that, as I mentioned in my Board Work I answers, an updated purview for the Board would be beneficial for internal volunteers, and external fans and members, to better understand how much power the Board has or doesn’t have. We need to clarify their duties, authority, and limitations, both for volunteers within the Organisation and for fans who enjoy our projects.

I want to improve communication and transparency, so that volunteers and users see our effort in improving ourselves, and can trust that mistakes made by the previous Board members aren’t forgotten and won’t be repeated.

As a Board member, would you support contracting external subject matter experts to perform an institutional audit, including potentially developing a revamped org chart, with the goal of strengthening internal efficiency and organizational resilience? If not, how would you pursue those goals?

I fully support performing a culture audit of the OTW, but there need to be more HR functions in place first. The OTW needs to be functional enough to successfully overhaul the Organisation based on assessment, analysis, and recommendations from a culture audit. As prerequisites for a successful and useful culture audit, the Organisation first needs usesable HR structures including: 

  • Conflict management
  • Paid staff transition
  • HR training and procedures in various committees. 

I also think that a uniformly professional establishment of hierarchy, or an org chart as you said, would be beneficial for the long-term growth of the OTW, not necessarily just for the culture audit.

Furthermore, I want to reaffirm that the OTW takes the protection of our volunteers’ demographic data very seriously, and we’re not gathering demographic data about our users or volunteers. A business audit often starts with “review of documentation and standard practices.” As has been noted, our documentation is weak and does not represent how a lot of work actually gets done. So a review of the documentation will not serve to show strengths or weaknesses of the Organisation itself, unless we successfully update our internal documents per the Strategic Planning goal.

Serving on the Board of Directors means you will have to work with all committee chairs. How do you plan to handle situations where your priorities do not align with the priorities of committee chairs?

As I mentioned previously, working with various committees is the type of Board work that I most want to pursue if elected. In situations where my priorities don’t align with the priorities of committee chairs, I’d listen to their expertise. I’m only a single volunteer who may not have the key experience and understanding of their committee’s inner workings. We might be making different assumptions that lead to different priorities, so I would work to align our starting point.

I’d also listen to my fellow board members: If we want to convince committee chairs of the reasoning behind our priorities, I’d want to work with chairs to understand why they consider their priorities more time-sensitive and find ways to address their concerns.

In my previous Q&A, I proposed working with a committee to improve their infrastructure, if they want it, as exemplified by my answers related to the Policy & Abuse committee. Additionally, I want to reaffirm that, as a Board member, I’d advocate for respecting chairs’ expertise and listening to their suggestions, not overstepping or overreaching, hence making the issue worse.

That being said, it’s been brought to my attention that committee chairs and Board members are volunteers who occasionally have flawed assumptions and judgments. They might make decisions that they believe are in the best interest of the OTW and/or other volunteers based on their experiences and assumptions, without sufficient consultation from fellow volunteers to back up their claims. I understand that we’re more connected now than we were in 2015. However, internal communication can still improve, so that the voices of concerned volunteers can be easily heard by the Organisation, especially by chairs and the Board.

How would you handle conflict – with volunteers, users, other board members, the OTW’s aims? Are you good at conflict resolution? Especially understanding people’s viewpoints in a text discussion, and explaining and standing up for your own without making stuff blow up. What strategies do you use in those situations?

Based on my understanding of this question, I’m concerned that the asker could be unintentionally or intentionally prompting from me a more detailed discussion of events subject to the Organisation confidentiality policy in my answer, specifically internal conflicts related to OTW volunteers and OTW internal processes. However, if I’m wrong, I respectfully submit that this paragraph shall serve as my disclaimer against any accusations of deliberate breach of confidentiality.

Hypothetically speaking, depending on whom I’m having conflict with, my strategy would differ accordingly. For example, if a Board member who holds a superior position is having conflict with other volunteers, I’d try my best to be a calming influence and accommodating to the volunteer. I don’t want my position as a Board member to fill the working environment with apprehension and fuel distrust. 

When I have conflicts with other editors on Fanlore, I take time to analyse the cause of the conflict, and try my best to see the conflict from the other editors’ point of view. I prefer to dispute conflicts on Fanlore via discussions on talkpage, as it’s a collaborative wiki project and other editors may chime in with their thoughts and ideas for me and the editors that I’m disagreeing with.

To manage conflict in most cases, I employ these techniques:

  • Be aware of conflict, listen and pay attention to potential conflict
  • Investigate and/or analyse the conflict and the people involved, including myself
  • Initiate conversation and be ready to ask for help
  • Proactively communicate to build a bigger picture of everyone involved in the conflict and their point of view
  • Choose a course of action: Compromise? Agree to disagree? Collaborative effort for a win-win situation?

Considering the evidence that has been brought to light of past board misconduct, if elected, what would you do to make sure such egregious misuse of power cannot be repeated?

This is not the fault of the question asker, but since I cannot ask follow up questions for clarification about past Board misconduct, I won’t have enough information and context to understand the specific past misconduct being referenced.

Over the years, the OTW has had various types of misconduct, but the most notable might be the reasons that caused the mass resignation of the 2015 Board directors. As I mentioned before, I want OTW to have a clearer procedure to hold Board members accountable for their actions and misuse of power. I also want to establish procedures to suspend Board members and/or to remove them from the Organisation entirely, in case of repeated misconduct with no improvement after years of making themselves comfortable in the system that unconsciously supports and perpetuates their behaviours.

Furthermore, I’ve witnessed how the OTW lacks effective enforcement procedures for the Codes of Conduct (CoC) when the person violating it is a Board member. I want to facilitate, with consultation from Legal and VolCom, ways to give volunteers and OTW members more power to demand accountability and the upholding of fiduciary duties from the Organisation leadership.

I’m relieved to see chairs and volunteers united to offer support and demand accountability from Board members after their misconduct was brought to light. I hope we can maintain this solidarity and improve our organisational culture to better resolve these issues.

What would you do to improve transparency of the Board’s actions and processes so that fans outside the org know what the OTW is doing? Board meetings are an hour long, held just four times a year, and frequently end without sufficient time to answer questions. Would you be in favor of holding meetings more frequently, making them longer, or holding special Town Hall type sessions where the focus is on answering questions?

I contacted Kari Dayton for insight into Board work: The OTW has 18 committees with diverse goals and projects; volunteers can receive monthly newsletters to keep up with OTW committee projects. I want to research the implementation of something similar for fans – a mailing list to help them follow and inquire about what the OTW is doing.

I discussed the topic of OTW Board transparency with my fannish friends outside the Organisation. Every year, Board directors are selected by public election. However, after the results are published, elected Board members effectively vanish from public view. I don’t want that if I’m elected – I don’t want quarterly public Board meetings to be the only opportunity for members and fans to see my actions. At the very least, I want to converse with fans outside of the OTW as a fellow fan, not just as an OTW Board member.

I want to clarify that the current public Board meetings are an opportunity to give the wider OTW insight into what the Board has been working on, and to answer questions from attendees on the meeting agenda. They shouldn’t be the forum to discuss other topics, especially current controversies that’d require significant research and effort.

Instead, I’m in favour of holding “Town Hall” sessions to address public interests, which would mostly be limited to “the Board listens and takes notes and will later inform people of the results.” Mailing lists could be used to release regular announcements as follow-ups – including results and progress of the sessions.

However, I want to acknowledge the skills and effort that maintaining mailing lists would require of the OTW, as they’d need people to moderate those means of communication. I’d listen to our volunteers’ feedback and work with them to improve the transparency and productivity of both internal and external communication.

How to you plan to improve internal org communications so that every volunteer has a chance to be heard, rather than just the loudest voices? For example, do you have plans to do surveys or focus groups of among volunteers?

To improve internal communication, I want to consider the feasibility of maintaining internal Q&A sessions across various committees, starting with Legal, Strategic Planning, and AD&T. It’d help people understand other committees’ internal workings. Furthermore, I want OTW to research a better way of hosting internal communication than our current tools. I’ve been discussing this with various volunteers, and several people have expressed their concerns about the significant effort required to keep track of information and internal discussions.

I discussed with System volunteers to have an understanding of how many resources would be needed for OTW to self-host our own internal communication software. I hope that we can research more tools to improve and secure our communication.

The Organisation has a CoC to ensure volunteers’ conduct in internal spaces. However, I’ve seen various cases of violations of it, especially during stressful situations, which makes other volunteers hesitant to speak up for fear of being seen as nuisances or facing retaliation. I want the OTW to have a clear process for reviewing CoC violations, so context can be cited and clarifications can be made.

I consider surveys or focus groups essential for performing a culture audit of the OTW. In most cases, a cultural audit mainly consists of three parts:

  • Assessment: Review of policies, procedures, and documents (may include reviewing internal communications like email or meeting minutes).
  • Analysis: Once auditors have the data, they can analyse it for trends and evaluate if the Organisation’s culture is supportive of its long-term goals.
  • Recommendation: Once they identify the problems, they recommend solutions.

However, for OTW to have a culture audit, we need some HR functions in place first. We should start sorting out our internal issues, to improve functionality before thinking about evaluating our workspace culture.

Name another candidate you are looking forward to working with and describe how you believe your skills or experiences will complement each other.

I’m very excited about several of my fellow candidates in this year’s election. However, amongst them, Zixin is my favourite. As one of the candidates who has concrete professional experience working in an NGO, Zixin’s insight and knowledge are invaluable, and can be seen from various answers that have been published.

Additionally, Zixin has worked in more than three OTW committees; specifically her understanding of PAC internal processes, as well as her proactive communication during stressful and emergency cases, would complement my strength and understanding of Fanlore and Open Doors projects.

There are also several overlaps between my and Zixin’s platforms and Q&A posts. I’ve been open and comfortable sharing my thoughts and ideas about our mutual goals, such as developing the internationalisation and localisation for AO3 and other OTW projects. Additionally, the fact that I’m well informed about AI-generated content and related software & laws balances her views on issues related to the AI-generated or LLM-assisted content on the AO3.

Last but not least, my goal regarding the decentralisation of fanwork archives would complement her view towards making AO3 a great fanfic archive. I love AO3 as an Archive, but decentralisation is also a good way to tackle some of the problems in the fannish space and within the OTW. I think it’d be beneficial for us and for the fannish culture as a whole, if we can have more and more stable and independent archives. I believe that normalisation of having many fanfic archives and sites for specific things is good for the long-term growth of fannish space and fandom culture.