Audrey R’s 2023 Q&A: Recent Discussions

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’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?

The biggest challenge currently facing the OTW is structural. We face continued interpersonal conflict, poor staff retention, and perspective issues including but not limited to both race and language.

The reality is that most of the problems I have identified and pose solutions to in this area are not the responsibility of a typical nonprofit board. The board is a strategic entity responsible for the fiscal health and accountability of the organization. It’s not management. Since we do not have an Executive Director, the board has either taken on or improperly delegated all the management responsibility typically given to that position.

I am left to presume there is a historical reason the OTW does not have an Executive Director. I am relatively new to the organization, so that is vague to me. The idea that we have as many users, members, and volunteers as we do and do not have at least a part-time Executive Director responsible for managing the organization day-to-day is mind-boggling to me. The issue is structural and I believe the most recent board meeting made the need for an Executive Director quite clear. We also have substantive need for an HR contractor and an ombuds-type conflict resolution specialist.

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

I see no reason creating another committee would help anything in light of the continued staffing issues, and see several ways it could hurt. Lumping nonwhite, and non-English-speaking, and non-American volunteers together in one committee is just tokenism with a bow on top. Those experiences are not singular or universal. The DEI consultant to be hired by the organization will be able to speak to this far better than I can.

This is addressed somewhat specifically in the strategic plan via the formation of non-mandatory working groups among volunteers, which can grow organically from need and interest. They will build community networks as well as provide internal support and awareness.

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?

No.

However, I think we should look at ways to ensure all organization volunteers can vote in board elections. If someone has dedicated time to the organization, it feels right that they have a say in its strategic direction. That comes in the form of board elections and I think that subsisting on massive amounts of volunteer labor, the least we can do is ensure every volunteer has the opportunity to vote, however we can swing it.

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?

Consulting non-English speakers when decisions impact them is the most obvious answer, which has been lacking mightily at multiple levels. An internationally accessible interface is a goal in the upcoming strategic plan, so that is a priority as well.

As I mentioned in my Batch 2 answers, we should develop a guidebook and lessons-learned for those who hope to start their own archives. That would assist people who want to craft archives in their own languages, with their own perspectives and methods of running the operation. It is important to me that we not consider the OTW’s way of doing things to be the supreme model of building a fandom archive. OTW was and continues to be an experiment, and AO3 is a part of that. AO3 also wears the consequences of that reality. Making it the de facto model for the source code and methodology of future archives is a bit self-serving and nearsighted.

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?

The Legal committee is working with communications to share information about their work. As I am not on either of those committees, I will watch them roll that out as they choose. However, you can see the first post on LinkedIn, which reads,

“We assist individual fans when their fanworks are challenged, we answer fans’ questions about law relevant to fanworks, and we help fans find legal representation.”

Regarding Legal’s documentation, that would be in the broader discussion I hope to have about documenting processes and procedures in a more streamlined fashion. I also hope to discuss shifting to a knowledge management tool that is more efficient than our current internal documentation platform.

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?

How do you determine what a “history of harassment” is? Is this an internal organization distinction, or is it an external distinction? It is my understanding that if someone is known to be of questionable or poor character within the organization, there would be pressure internally for other candidates to truly contest them. If no one steps up to challenge a candidate with that sort of history in the organization, it indicates something is wrong on a much higher level. There are so few people willing to run for board already, I don’t know why we would place any additional prohibitions on candidacy. However, to hold board accountable I do support implementing recall elections for board members who have lost the confidence of volunteers. With three-year terms, I think that’s a key part of maintaining a functioning, trusted board.

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?

Of course, when chairs are short-staffed they naturally prefer to keep volunteers on board however they can. However, there are very few consequences in this organization because no one is paid. Until we have paid positions and can enforce a certain code of conduct without wobbling under the threat of core volunteer departures, there is little that can really be done about discipline. We have to focus on the infrastructure first.

I am in favor of hiring a part-time ombuds to be the final go-to for interpersonal conflict within the organization.

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?

Some of the actions addressing these issues within the strategic plan include individual committees reviewing and identifying ways to decrease bias in the recruitment process, forming volunteer coalitions, and implementing procedures to deal with interpersonal conflict. We should also review the comms style guide to ensure offensive language has been properly identified and contextualized. (This would be a conversation for the board to have with the communications committee.)

Regarding #EndRacismInTheOTW (henceforth #EOTWR), the impetus for the movement is valid; there are clear concerns that need to be addressed. That being said, no one from #EOTWR recruited existing volunteers to the movement, nor encouraged their followers to volunteer and eventually run for board. Instead of taking steps and involving existing volunteers and board members to genuinely make change, the only coordinated effort has been to disrupt a board meeting. It feels like the movement expects change to be done in their way on their terms. 

I am offended by their demand that candidates go to their platform to make our voices heard, as if our own platforms and the work we have put in is not enough. We are addressing this formally, as a professional organization should, while acknowledging the limitations of being entirely chat-based and volunteer-run. The timelines for these changes move quite slowly because we are, again, run entirely by volunteers.

One of the most important things I learned on the campaign trail was this: it does not matter how loud your voice is if you don’t have a seat at the table. My advice to #EOTWR is recruit and/or run so they can get a seat, and find ways to involve the people currently in the positions to make change.

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?

By changing the structure of the organization, I believe we will address a large part of the stagnation. Hiring an Executive Director to handle the managerial duties and take that responsibility away from the board will go a long way toward accomplishing our other goals.