Atiya Hakeem 2015 Q&A: Committee Management

Many committees in the OTW, particularly those associated with the Archive, struggle with huge amounts of work combined with difficulties retaining active staff. What do you think is the Board’s role in remedying this problem?

I think Board can best help by supporting the committee and its chair(s). Some of this support should be financial, with Board ensuring that our fiscal policies and management certainly allow costs for essential tools and expenses to be paid in a timely fashion, but ideally also allow committees to have extras (tools, training, outsourced assistance) that will improve productivity. Board should also support committees by working to create an environment in which chairs, staffers, and volunteers all feel heard, included, and invested in the Org. Such an environment would increase morale and reduce attrition and burnout. Essential steps to take include ensuring that all volunteers are treated with respect, that Org decisions are made transparently and with input from affected parties, and that communication lines are open in both directions between directors and the Org.

If an OTW committee fell apart and the chair, now alone, asked you for advice on how to rebuild it, what would you tell them?

I would advise the chair to consult with other chairs who have found themselves in a similar situation and who were able to resurrect their committees. The chairs of Translation and AO3 Documentation have most recently succeeded in bringing their committees back to extremely functional life (and have documented the process very well), and Matty Bowers, one of the current Board candidates, did the same for Support, and, more recently, Abuse. Facilitating meetings between the chair in question and other chairs who could provide help and advice is something that I think falls well within the purview of a director, and which I would be delighted to do.

A number of you have expressed a desire to support the OTW’s committees and ensure they have the resources they need. However, the OTW is a volunteer-run and donation-funded organisation, and resources are finite. Please help me understand what factors you would take into account when prioritising the allocation of resources.

I would prioritize like this:

  1. Minimum fundamental costs to keep each project going (colocation and hosting for AO3 and Fanlore, publishing costs for TWC, tools used by the whole Org such as our communication platform and project management software, etc.). If we were at a point where we could not cover these costs with the money on hand, this would be a crisis, and I would rely on Development & Membership and our users to raise money on an emergency basis.
  2. Money required to sustain growth of current projects over time (for example, purchase of new servers for AO3). These expenses are also vital for projects to be able to continue in a viable state, but they are items that could likely wait until the next drive.
  3. Improvements, new initiatives, training, and outreach (for example, training for coders on particular tools, con meet-ups for outreach). These expenses are also important, as they are an investment in the Org’s future. However, they are not as urgent in a day-to-day sense.

Obviously, there needs to be some flexibility, due to the relative magnitudes of expenses. New servers cost tens of thousands of dollars, while buying some chips and dip for a meet-up is something that is unlikely to break the bank. However, these are some general guidelines I would use to inform our budgeting and fundraising.