Anh P’s 2023 Q&A: Recent Discussions

[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 biggest problem currently facing the OTW? What is the priority for the Archive to do in general, and how would you see this happening?

It’s very challenging to determine the biggest problem that the OTW is currently facing. I’ve stated several significant issues in the OTW that I as a volunteer observe and have concerns about in my previous candidates Q&A posts; for example: 

  • Lack of necessary HR functions including conflict management
  • Lack of transparency in both internal and external communications
  • Widespread burnout among the volunteers – particularly in the Policy & Abuse committee (PAC).

These issues are not mutually exclusive, and I think the fact that all of them snowballed together has made it quite difficult to determine which one is the biggest and how we – the OTW as a whole and Board members specifically – can work to improve the situation and resolve it. From my observations and discussions with fellow volunteers, I think concerns regarding the future of the OTW and the worrying cultural inertia of the Organisation are not trivial issues to solve.

One of my current priorities for the Archive is to improve internal documentation, including training documents for various committees related to AO3 – Tag Wrangling, PAC, AD&T etc. I also want to reaffirm the importance of updating the Terms of Service of AO3. Additionally, I want to work with various committees to improve the infrastructure of OTW committees, especially for PAC, to best equip them with necessary tools to work productively and to protect and support AO3 users more efficiently.

The process would be time-consuming, with significant effort from various committees to overhaul different aspects of our documentation. However, I’ve seen several volunteers expressing their willingness to help edit and update documents, such as the wiki of the otw-archive. Since any potential updates or improvements of our internal documentations would happen behind-the-scenes, most users of AO3 and other OTW projects wouldn’t see the immediate effects from it.

Would you be in favor of creating a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee? Why or why not?

As an EAL volunteer, I’m in favour of a DEI committee in theory. The OTW has 900+ volunteers from different backgrounds with diverse geopolitical situations; normally it’d be a great starting point for a DEI committee. However, the OTW also values the privacy of our volunteers. We have no direct knowledge of the ethnicity of our volunteers, and limited information about diversity within the Organisation. People could come forward on an optional basis, but it’d be strictly opt-in; nobody would be required to share personal details.

The former Internationalisation & Outreach committee had similar functions – an in-house group of diversity consultants and activists. The committee predated my time within the Organisation by several years. From my discussions with fellow volunteers, including former-member Kathryn, and my research about its subsequent dissolution, I think the ideas behind the committee were great. However, their purview was vague – having lots of enthusiasm yet mostly focused on research without a solid end goal. Their passion for diversity in OTW was admirable, but without the necessary professional experience and training, the committee was eventually dissolved.

I believe that an external diversity consultant, if we can find a suitable individual or organisation, would be best placed to think around this issue and handle the OTW’s particular circumstances. This would go hand-in-hand with the HR work that I have referenced, which I believe would lay the foundation for these improvements by improving the OTW’s internal systems; and a culture audit, which I discuss in more detail in question 4.

I agree with the goal of formally incorporating DEI work within the OTW, but a DEI committee seems impractical for us right now. Nonetheless, I’m happy to say that we’re in the process of hiring a DEI consultant. I’ll do my best as a Board member to facilitate upcoming institutional changes per the consultant’s advice.

The cost of becoming a member/voting in elections is prohibitive for many users, particularly disabled, international and POC ones. Do you have any ideas about how this could be improved to make the otw more inclusive and less privileged?

I understand that the cost of becoming a member to vote in OTW elections is an entry-barrier for many users. The Donations and Membership FAQ has some relevant information and reasons. To summarise, since the OTW is legally registered as a nonprofit, the Organisation uses a membership fee as a straightforward and easy-to-check requirement to ensure that each voting member is a distinct, legally recognised individual. Otherwise, one person could create hundreds or thousands of membership accounts to swing elections.

Regarding the effort cost of engaging with elections, for example, navigating through a lot of text in English or attending live chats held in English: the Translation committee is doing their best to translate candidates’ posts to various languages as quickly as possible, to better help EAL users and members follow the election process. I understand that the Elections committee is discussing better ways to support less privileged fans to engage with the election process.

As I mentioned in my Board Work I answers, making OTW projects more welcoming toward our userbases, including BIPOC, international users, and users with disabilities, is a lifetime commitment. However, I don’t believe that reducing the cost of membership is the only way for the OTW to become more inclusive and less privileged. There are several means besides election for fans to contribute and advocate for changes to OTW, to make it more inclusive toward users and members of the marginalised communities.

I acknowledge that our current membership cost is a barrier to many fans, but I don’t have enough information or context to confidently suggest any solutions due to the complexity of the issue, both socially and legally. There’re things fans can do that the OTW – as a corporate entity – cannot, and we encourage and support fans in making their fandom spaces more accessible, diverse, and comfortable for other fans.

What challenges do you see presented to the OTW by its growing international userbase and volunteer pool, and how do you plan to address them? English dominance within OTW has been a longstanding topic of discussion. What actions have you taken, or do you plan to take in the future, to make OTW a more welcoming and accessible space for volunteers and users who do not speak English as their primary language?

As an EAL volunteer, I’m very glad to see the OTW’s outreach as well as engagement toward our international userbase and volunteers has grown. I think the Organisation needs to establish several new HR functions, as well as DEI training and practices, to foster a healthy and welcoming environment for our volunteers, especially EAL volunteers.

As I mentioned in my previous answers, I want to support VolCom in any capacity to ensure we successfully lead the HR outsourcing project to completion. Moreover, I want to research the feasibility of performing a culture audit for the Organisation, to better understand the internal issues of the OTW that have piled up over the years. I want to support the Diversity Consultant Research Officer to the best of my ability, so we can contract a DEI consultant soon. I’ll make sure the Board facilitates their work and provides them with the tools they need to implement institutional changes within the OTW.

I’ve mentioned before that I consider the internationalisation & localisation of various OTW projects one of my major goals for future Board work. I think increased outreach toward our EAL fans and users would better diversify our pool of volunteers, especially toward fans from non-Anglophone countries.

Personally as an EAL fan, I’m adapting the userscript translating the AO3 work posting page created by one of our Chinese volunteers to Vietnamese, as I want to support my fellow Viet fans to have a better experience using the AO3. Additionally, I’m discussing the possible means of improving the internal communication within the OTW with other volunteers, such as the feasibility of internal Q&A with various committees to improve cross-committee understanding. As a Board member, I hope to make the OTW achieve better transparency in decision-making and communication, especially regarding issues concerning EAL volunteers with different geopolitical backgrounds.

Recently, we’ve seen disagreements about how the Legal team handled various problems. How will you clarify to everyone what Legal’s role is, and make sure their actions are within that scope and are documented so their decisions can be reviewed?

I’ve been talking with various volunteers, including the Legal chair, PAC chairs and my Fanlore chair (also a former Board member), to better understand the role of our Legal team.

Legal Advocacy is a committee of lawyers that advocates for transformative works and for legal exemptions and outcomes that will benefit fandom; they also educate fandom about developments in relevant laws. For example, the Legal committee called for fans’ action to support fan-friendly laws in various parts of the world, such as New Zealand and Hong Kong, and to fight copyright laws that pose legal risks toward fandom, such as the German copyright laws.

Most of the Legal committee members are professors of law and/or information science, their expertise includes copyright, technology ethics, privacy and data protection law, and more. As legal experts, they advise on AO3 and Fanlore’s TOS, and can weigh in on legal questions that other committees have. For example, Fanlore has encountered legal challenges in the past and received advice from the Legal committee. 

As it impacts PAC, Legal’s role is to help keep AO3’s content policy within legal limits. They also advise PAC on complex cases and potential updates on policy. PAC always has the final say on changing and enforcing the policy, with the Legal committee being an important tool to clarify the limits of PAC authority and discretion, and in ensuring PAC stays within those limits.

As a Board member, I want us to have more transparency in communication, for people to better understand the roles of our Legal team: unless they identify an immediate legal risk, Legal only provides advice rather than taking action itself. I’ll work to understand and clarify what situations might cause Legal to take direct action.

Do you believe there should be any restrictions on people with a history of harassment running for Board? Do you believe there should be any restrictions on people with a history of harassment becoming committee chairs?

I want to emphasise that harassment in the workplace is not a trivial issue to make light of, and is considered a crime in several countries. In OTW, people who are guilty, or strongly suspected, of crimes are to be removed from their committees and possibly reported to the authorities.

However, I think the question is a result of concerns about volunteers with a history of misconduct running for Board or becoming chairs, and that’s a valid issue. Ideally, volunteers with a history of misconduct should either be removed from the OTW, or put on a performance improvement plan per our Constructive Corrective Action Procedure, and held to the terms of that plan. From my understanding, the Elections committee had previously discussed with the Board about either disclosing the history of candidates’ CCAP to voters, or putting other kinds of restrictions on people with a history of misconduct on running for Board. I acknowledge these concerns, and want to find a better way to resolve the issues.

I believe in people’s ability to change after going through the CCAP process, and I think it’s unfair to restrict volunteers from becoming committee chairs because of a past history of poor behaviour – that has since been corrected. However, I think we can further develop procedures and training materials related to becoming a committee chair, to make it more available and accessible for interested volunteers to aim and prepare themselves for that role.

I hope that after successfully contracting a HR firm, we will have more tools to better resolve these issues.

A long-standing issue in the OTW is that chairs often prefer to avoid conflict and never discipline their volunteers. Do you have any ideas for how to solve this issue?

First and foremost, some of my friends – who are also fellow volunteers in OTW – shared their stories with me about how chairs disciplined their volunteers, so I disagree with the statement that chairs “often prefer to avoid conflict and never discipline their volunteers.”

From my perspective as a volunteer, if I had an issue and/or conflict, and the other volunteer was not disciplined, I’d be displeased to know that. However, working to dispute conflicts on Fanlore has equipped me with patience. I understand that volunteers can be disciplined privately, and it’s not my place to demand an observation of said process.

As a Board member, I want VolCom or Board to be more available to the OTW volunteers. I want either or both VolCom and Board to be an easily accessible resource to volunteers – who might have concerns that they’re hesitant to express to their chairs. Accordingly, if there is a case where a committee chair isn’t noticing another volunteer who is causing problems, someone could reach out to either VolCom or Board to express their worries, and we would discuss the issue with the chair.

Following my discussions with the VolCom chair, the committee has an existing process in place for situations like this, and they’re aware of potential changes to said process with any outside HR implementations. Furthermore, I want to reaffirm the importance of conflict management within the Organisation, or the lack thereof. As I mentioned previously in my Board Work I, it’s one of the necessary HR functions that I hope the OTW can be equipped with, the sooner the better, to avoid situations like this and better protect our volunteers, as well as foster a healthy and respectful environment for all of us.

What specific actions would you have the Board take to 1) fulfill its commitments made in 2020 to reduce racism on AO3 and across the OTW and 2) continue to expand anti-racist efforts in the OTW? How will you support Black fans, Indigenous fans, and fans of color in feeling welcome on the Archive of Our Own and in avoiding harassment? How do you feel about #EndRacismInTheOTW?

Racism comes in several facets with overlapping problems. I’ve seen fans discuss racism related to the OTW and AO3 as three major points: 

  • Racism experienced by OTW volunteers in the course of their volunteer work 
  • Racist harassment on a user-to-user basis that takes place via AO3’s tools 
  • Racist content in fanworks on the AO3 that users find unpleasant to encounter

For each of these problems, the Board and OTW as a whole need to develop a different strategy to adapt and resolve it. To fulfil our commitments made in 2020 to help fans protect themselves from unwanted behaviour, we have implemented the mute and block functions. As I mentioned in my Features & Content Policy, I hope we can either expand existing features, or develop new ones, to better help AO3 users curate their experiences and avoid seeing content that they wish to avoid.

I previously mentioned several ways to better support fans in feeling welcome on the AO3 and in avoiding harassment, including, but not limited to, prioritising AO3 TOS updates and supporting PAC to productively go after harassment and efficiently protect AO3 users. Diversity alone is not enough, but for OTW to increase outreach to EAL and BIPOC fans and potential volunteers, and for more of us – fellow EAL and BIPOC volunteers to join – I think it’d help the OTW to hear marginalised voices better.

I assume you meant EOTWR – EndOTWRacism. In May, when they first started the campaign, I admired their determination and willingness to follow a very challenging and broad issue. AO3 is not a perfect utopian sandbox of fannish culture, and it exists within a world riddled with racism and racialisation issues. I don’t want perfect to be the enemy of good in our fight to address racism within fandom.

In my experience, problems in institutions can often be traced back to pockets of stagnation, where people who are uninterested in general change have become calcified in a given organization. How would you approach trying to address that kind of organizational stagnation?

One of the advantages of being a relatively new volunteer in the OTW is that there hasn’t been enough time for me to be entrenched by years of frustration toward the stagnation of the Organisation. The more I learn about the OTW as a whole, the better I understand the context surrounding our culture of inertia.

As a Board member, I hope to better counter the risks of organisational stagnation by developing a healthier workplace environment. This will include efforts toward dealing with unconscious biases from the lack of DEI practices and inclusivity training that hopefully the future DEI consultants would help with. I want to reaffirm that I’ll support VolCom to my best ability to lead the HR outsourcing project to completion. I hope that professional help from outsiders with a neutral perspective will support us in resolving these issues.

Moreover, I believe that improving transparency in communication would help our volunteers as well as our users to gain a clearer understanding of our organisational purpose. I want both the volunteers within the OTW and the users and fans outside of the Organisation to follow and contribute to our development and advocate for meaningful changes in the OTW. I understand that organisational stagnation is counterproductive for long-term growth of the OTW, and I want to do my best to reduce the culture of inertia within the OTW.

In conclusion, I believe that the better OTW is equipped to manage its volunteers and with sufficient HR resources, the better we can address the organisational stagnation.