C. Ryan Smith 2018 Q&A: Group 1

[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]

1. What do you hope to learn in your time on Board?

I would like to learn more about the individual projects that we are responsible for as an organization. While our internal wiki has a lot of information about the technical details behind these projects, as a Board member I would hope to really immerse myself in dialogue with the relevant committees. I feel the best way to learn about each project and each committee’s mission is to talk to them and hear it directly from them (only second to actually volunteering with them directly). The relationship between the Board and the rest of the organization is, by necessity, symbiotic—we must be able to learn and support each other in order for the organization as a whole to thrive.

2. [Platform follow-up] Where would you like to see the OTW in five to ten years? What are three steps that you’d like to take in your three-year term towards that future?

I have already talked about some things that I would like the OTW to have accomplished in a few different places. In my platform, I spoke about increasing outreach, communication, and interaction with the public. In question #4 down below, I talk about moving towards having paid employees to supplement our critical volunteer roles. Additionally, I would like to work on creating the mechanism by which our voting membership could exercise the rights granted to them by the OTW bylaws (the power to remove a Board member or the power to amend the bylaws). This is a huge task as it would require cooperation from all corners of the organization and would need careful oversight to prevent potential abuse.

As far as steps that I would personally take within my (potential) three-year term on the Board, that’s difficult to say. My immediate response is limited by a lack of knowledge on what progress has been made by our current Board on the these goals. I think it is very important to stress that it is the job of the Board to support and guide endeavors like these, not necessarily to work on them directly (especially in situations where a committee already has purview over something). With that in mind, we can talk with the relevant committees about the feasibility of offering new things (such as the newsletter subscription which I talked about in my platform). As a Board member, for higher level projects (like developing new processes for our bylaws), we are able to work on them directly and they would proceed much like any other project within the OTW. Lastly, I feel being open to communicating with any of our volunteers is paramount — you don’t have to be a member of the Board to affect great change!

3. Can you share some ways that you’ve dealt with stressful communication situations (e.g. handling difficult emails, fraught phone calls, complex meetings)?

The best way that I have personally found to deal with stressful communication, or just stressful situations in general, is to take a step back as much as possible. Obviously, this might not be something that I can immediately do in every situation that I’m involved in, but doing so gives me time (even if it is only for a moment) to take stock of myself and bring me back down to a more stable emotional level. If the situation calls for it, I also like to explain my reasoning for stepping back and apologize for taking the time to do so; I feel that being candid about that encourages a more open communication between all involved parties.

4. What do you think is the most urgent structural change that the OTW needs to make in order to be a better and more sustainable organization? Why?

I feel the most important structural change that the OTW needs to move towards (and is already making progress on, from my understanding) is supplementing our critical personnel with paid employees who can support them. We’ve already made headway into this by working with contractors who have assisted with our AO3 project. Most recently, we have been working with a company that has helped roll out various updates to the underlying systems that power AO3 and has helped develop new search features. The next logical step to this process would be to hire employees either on a part-time or full-time basis to work within our existing committees.

I think this is particularly important because of something called the bus factor; quoting from the linked Wikipedia article, the bus factor is “a measurement of the risk resulting from information and capabilities not being shared among team members, from the phrase ‘in case they get hit by a bus.’” By taking on paid employees to supplement those volunteers who at the moment are dedicated solely to their particular role, we can make way for freeing them up to better document important information and increase our in-house training opportunities.