Audrey R’s 2023 Q&A: Board Work I

July 26: Per an announcement, Audrey R. withdrew from the ballot.

[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 am a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, and will reach my one-year milestone in August. Being on this committee has been a crash course in how the organization is set up. It is also a good way to see how the OTW responds to requests and the need for a change in strategic direction. When working on the plan, we also have to take workload and structure of the organization into account; what is realistic to accomplish? In what timeframe can we do the things we set out to do?

For me, the best part of the committee is working with my fellow committee members. Each of them have different work and life experiences they bring to the table, but we also work well together. When we disagree, interpersonal conflict has not been an issue. It’s a very clear-cut conversation: I believe this and another member believes that, so we discuss it until either this or that is determined to be the optimal course of action. I also feel comfortable expressing disagreement without fear of being disrespected or condescended to.

The team is welcoming and overall a good place to be. Considering this is an entirely volunteer gig, the best part really is spending my time with people who care about the organization and its future with the same conviction as I do.

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?

My decision to run for the board was prompted by Elections saying they needed candidates. I have run for office, so this is adjacent to a skill set I already have. However, I have only been a volunteer for one year; considering the tenure of current and previous board members, and other volunteers throughout the organization, I believed my singular year was likely not what people were hoping for in a board member. Then I recognized that perhaps my short tenure has allowed me to stay away from the jaded spirits and communication silos that have developed.

The first thing I did was ask my committee members if it was acceptable for me to take on this additional workload. Strategic Planning came first to me because they are the members who have supported me; I did not want to abandon them or downplay their priority in my work. Second, I asked my family if they thought it was a good idea. The reaction was mixed. Third, I asked myself, is this position something I am willing to do for free? The answer was yes, because I care about the Archive and its sustainability. I made the decision to run because I saw problems with knowledge management and recruitment issues; both are things I have experience managing.

I have not spoken to the board, and Elections has done an excellent job of keeping me on track. I speak highly of their commitment to making this process as easy as possible for candidates, ensuring that we feel safe and that our questions are answered as best as they can be.

Paying members can vote for whomever is legally permitted to run for the board. I don’t intend to tell people which qualities and/or professional qualifications they should prioritize, if any.

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?

Project management helps alleviate my workload. I set deadlines for certain project milestones to ensure on time completion. I have run for political office, so this is not the most visible position I’ve reached for. Through that process, I developed a professional filter and do not take things personally at the OTW. Pressure in a volunteer environment can result in some harsh words in the heat of the moment, so it is important to always take that context into account.

Regarding heavy workload, the Strategic Planning Committee’s onboarding process was extensive and took weeks because the OTW is spread across so many applications. We use this tool for this, that tool for that, board meetings are hosted on Discord so you should have an account there if you want to have access to those meetings, here is our separate project management tool, and you have to learn how to use and update our internal records interface. It was so much at the beginning, I thought I had made a mistake in saying I could commit to all of this. It’s a volunteer position, why am I learning seventeen (hyperbole) new tools to do things I already know how to do?

However, the Strategic Planning Committee has divvied up their onboarding process over a series of weeks for that very reason. You learn one tool a week, get acquainted, and move onto the next. That procedural approach really helped me, and once I’d gotten an understanding of the tools, my big project was learning about all the committees. In that way, I learned the structure of the organization, which is key to being a successful member of the committee. Balancing workload and following a clearly-outlined process is the optimal way to chart a successful path forward.

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?

Your priorities should always be informed by the people doing the work. When I have been on boards or leading a team, I have always considered the perspective of on-the-ground employees and volunteers to be of paramount importance. That is the first place to begin when discussing prioritization. I am happy to have leadership roles, I am happy in a team environment, and I think this board is combination of the two.

When it comes to unfamiliar areas, seeking out external perspectives is key. I’ve made it clear that I am very much against artificial intelligence in fandom spaces, but I know that both the assessment of works and implementation of anti-AI strategies would come at a potential cost. Those things need to be discussed with PAC, Legal, etc. Before I advocate for change, I always want to have a 360-degree view of the playing field. That includes speaking with Legal, though we come at this one issue from very different places. Unfamiliar territory to me does not equate to unfamiliar territory to everyone within the organization. I ask questions in order to develop a fully-fledged understanding of the issues. Then I would also consult with fellow board members to ensure we are all on the same page about how to proceed.

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?

Most of my family did not want me to run for this board; including one member who is an active user of the Archive. They have no context for the organization’s scandals, internal hiccups, etc. My family is US-based, so their concern is more about whether the OTW is something I want to publicly attach my name to; based on the attacks last year. I believe they view this as something that could hurt me both personally and professionally if something like that were to happen again. To be honest, I am still quite wary of that reality.

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?

Our mission statement says the OTW will “serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms.” Bearing that in mind, I believe we have taken on the responsibility to support fanworks and fan culture. The Open Doors project is a continuous, big step toward doing just that.

However, I am a believer you have to have your own house in order before you start going around to fix everyone else’s. There is serious concern about the internal stability of this organization, so we need to prioritize the sustainability of our own archive before really stepping out and making external support a top priority.

That being said, I believe we can encourage the existence of fanworks being hosted in other places. For example, one of the goals in our upcoming strategic plan is an internationally accessible interface to better support fans whose primary language is not English. In the meantime, I would support developing a sort of tutorial for how to start up an archive, not the code itself, but a high-level guide and lessons-learned for interested people to start up their own archives hosted in their own languages. Then we can support the external existence of non-English fanworks in some way, while also working longer-term to make ourselves accessible.

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?

Right now, not having those paid staffers is probably our biggest challenge. Existing solely on volunteer labor is not sustainable because it causes a lot of burnout, conflict, and staff turnover. We have to establish processes and paid positions to mitigate that reality.

How are things going to be accomplished? The strategic plan has been approved, so we know the general direction in which the OTW hopes to go. While going through the project management process of establishing goals and timelines for specific implementation needs, we will identify potential roadblocks and address them before beginning the process.

A good example of this from my time in Strategic Planning is the scope of our DEI consultant. Would they be focused on improving internal diversity specific to staffing, or would they be focused on the external realities of underrepresented and non-English populations on the Archive as well? The scope was defined as issues both internal to OTW and within its external projects. That decision increases the burden on the person / firm we will end up hiring because they not only have to understand our internal workings, but the specific features of the Archive and how those features could be manipulated to target certain populations. That must be stated in the scope of work for the consultant / firm that we hire.

Communication is key, and to ensure accountability to our established project timelines I hope to establish a portion of board meetings specifically for updates on external-facing goals. Where are we? What did we accomplish since the previous meeting? (Sometimes “nothing” is an acceptable answer, but it’s an answer that also needs to be conveyed.) What are the next steps? After publicizing those in the board meeting, I would also hope to have them published via Comms in an official format.

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

I do not know what this is referring to, specifically. PAC volunteers need support, they need adequate training on handling CSAM, and they need to feel like their voices are heard at the high levels of the organization. They should also be consulted when decisions made at higher levels will impact their regular business. There have been many internal issues that have come to a head recently, so “current controversy” does not give me enough context to fully understand this question.

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?

We need clear-cut, standardized policies and procedures. What are the expectations on volunteers’ time, their emotions, and their relationship with the part of the OTW they most care for? We need a structural conflict resolution system.

I also believe the OTW has too many tools and we should migrate to a more consolidated interface for project management, ticket / issue resolution, and knowledge management. I am open to any platform that allows for an organization to easily consolidate the myriad of official processes we have onto a single interface. I believe that would decrease the communication silos, increase the efficiency of processing support tickets (and ease the burden on those volunteers), make volunteering easier overall, and hopefully cut down on cost as we consolidate into one enterprise tool.