OTW 2011 Board Candidate Withdrawal: A Message from Lucy Pearson

We regret to announce that Lucy Pearson has withdrawn her candidacy in the upcoming OTW Board elections. We are deeply saddened to lose her as a candidate, but also deeply glad for her to have a chance to take care of herself and her needs. Lucy: thank you for your candidacy; it’s been an honour.

Lucy requested that the OTW Elections Officer post this statement to OTW members on her behalf.

I am formally withdrawing my candidacy in the OTW Board elections due to personal reasons. As this election has progressed, I have realised that the challenges facing the incoming 2012 Board are more complex and considerable than I had initially realised (I was expecting this to be a year of change, but had not realised the full extent). At the same time, my responsibilities in my own personal life and career have increased more substantially than anticipated. In light of this, I feel that I will not be able to perform my duties as an OTW Board member as well as I would want, or as well as OTW members deserve. I want OTW members to have as full and reliable a choice of candidates as possible, and I don’t want to risk getting onto the Board and then finding that I can’t do what I promised. So, while I believe I have a lot to offer the org, and a lot to offer a potential Board of the future, this isn’t the year for me. Apologies to the many people who supported me – I’m sorry to have to disappoint you this time around.

Thank you, and apologies again.


2011 Candidate Profile: Lucy Pearson

This page collects all of this candidate’s responses to questions asked as part of the 2011 Board Candidate chats. Questions not addressed during the chat session due to time constraints were sent to all candidates in batches for response within 24 hours of receipt; answers not received within that time were posted with timestamps. Addenda or edits were allowed within 12 hours of that deadline, and are marked inline with timestamps as well.

Read Lucy Pearson’s candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

I’m passionate about the OTW and the things it can achieve, so I feel a huge sense of excitement at the prospect of extending my involvement further. However, I did think long and hard about running for Board, because it is both a big commitment and a major responsibility. I had given a lot of thought this year to what I would like to see on the Board, and I felt that one of the things that was important was for it to include people who had a long-standing relationship with the org, had experience of being committee chair, and had a good existing knowledge of how the OTW works across different committees. And then I realised that, um, as someone who’s been kicking around for a long time now, I pretty much fulfilled those criteria. So, I felt that if that was what I was going to ask for in Board members, I should be prepared to walk the walk and put myself forward! I feel that I have really gained a lot from being involved in the org and being mentored by previous Board members, and I am committed to paying that forward and mentoring the next generation of OTW staffers.

what specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

I have two main aims for my time on Board. My first commitment is to helping support and mentor staffers as the OTW grows and changes, helping people gather experience and skills in ways that benefit both the org as a whole and them personally. In the past we’ve suffered from people burning out, and I think that combating that is one of the major challenges for the Board going forward. One of the things which has helped me NOT burn out was having a dedicated and supportive Board liaison, and having supported several new chairs in the past I think I have some good skills in that area.

This feeds into my second aim, which is that I want to build on the great work we have already done establishing the OTW as a ‘tool’ for fandom – that is, that we are a great resource and a great example for fandom as a whole. I believe that we can’t do absolutely everything that could be done in fandom (even though I would love to!); in fact, it wouldn’t be good for fandom to have one monolith org doing everything. What we CAN do is enable fans to pursue the projects they want to pursue – a good example of that is the recent fannish bookmarking project, which our AD&T chairs advised on and which lots of OTW staffers are contributing to. I think that already, we are an example other fans look to and say ‘we could do something big, look how the OTW established their projects’. Looking forward, I’d like to build our profile even more, so that a fannish group in Iceland, say, might want to start their own zine preservation project, and we would be able to help advise and facilitate that. I think that looking to the future, positioning the OTW as a tool is really important, because there are many practical limits to how much we can do as an individual org, but there are NO limits to what fandom as a whole can do if they have the flagship example and the support. I feel that communications will be a key part of that strategy – getting the word out about who we are and what we can do – and after nearly three years of developing communications about the AO3, that is a skill that I know I can bring to the Board. 😀

If we as individuals try to do too much we’ll implode, and if we as an org try to do too much we’ll also implode, but we can create a community where all the small things add up to something amazing!

One of the things that is important to me in terms of the aims I stated is creating an agile org, where people have a lot of autonomy and freedom within committees and yet they feel supported and we have an overall strategy. I think one of the ways of achieving that is to set out some clear goals and modes of interaction at the start, but then to maintain a light hand as Board and allow the committees to do their awesome work. Which they do 🙂

In a follow-up to the question What specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?, Naomi and Betsy were asked, in relation to their answers, Any concrete steps within that, or how do you plan to achieve it? (This question was re-c2-opened optionally to all candidates.)

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:07 UTC

In terms of preventing burnout and mentoring staffers, I see my role as Board liaison as crucial. I am bringing a lot of experience of working within the org to the table, which will help me support committee chairs and other staffers. As someone who has received really brilliant mentoring from several Board members (Allison Morris, Naomi Novik, Francesca Coppa, Hele Braunstein…) I really passionately believe that a close and supportive relationship between Board members and chairs is one of the most important things for the health of the org. If a chair feels secure and supported, and they have someone to turn to for advice, they’re able to support their staffers in turn, so there’s an effective trickle-down. Good policies help a lot, but there’s no replacement for that personal element.

In terms of raising the profile of the org: communications! I will talk about this more in my answer about transparency, because I think that covers a lot of the important points for me.

How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:07 UTC.

I haven’t been closely involved with Fanlore, so I’d be very much governed by the needs and direction of the wiki committee. I think that one of the core aspects of being a Board member is being able to be responsive to specialists within the org and to let them take the lead, because they have a better sense of what will work for their particular project. (A good example of this is the establishment of the Fanlore Dreamwidth – usually we try to have communications originate from within org tools, but the Fanlore team made the call that they could better serve the needs of the wiki by making DW a primary focus for their community.)

Beyond that, I would like to see Fanlore continue to grow and to reflect more voices from across different areas of fandom. I definitely see this as a marathon, not a sprint, but I think the great work the wiki team have put into ensuring that a range of fannish topics are represented at least in a skeleton fashion is really important: if someone stumbles on the wiki, they’re less likely to find that their fandom is not mentioned at all and therefore to think that they’re not wanted. I think that now some of this groundwork has been laid, Fanlore is well-placed for some more promotion, so as a Board member I’d be looking to support more communication and signal-boosting about the project, both on the blog and in-person (for example, producing con materials to help people talk about Fanlore and get excited about it at cons). I’d also like to create connections within the org to see whether different committees can help one another: I’ve seen the Fanlore community come up with some neat technical innovation to make the experience of posting to the wiki easier, and I’d like to facilitate chats between Wiki and other technical committees such as AD&T to see how we can build on that work.

What do you say when asked ‘What does the OTW do?’

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:07 UTC.

Big question, and one that I have been answering a lot recently. In a fannish context, I tend to start by saying ‘We’re the people that built AO3 and Fanlore!’ and then broaden out to talk about the other projects and the way they all fit together, for example how Open Doors is a way of preserving earlier fannish culture and the Legal team pursues issues which affect fans and strengthens our ability to make the AO3 a safe place for fans, because it has legal backup.

I’m often answering it in a non-fannish context, in which cade I have to start with a brief primer of fannish history! In that context, I start by introducing it as a non-profit organisation dedicated to representing fans and protecting fannish creativity. I also tend to emphasise the connection between this mission and the way that historically, female creativity has often been overlooked or appropriated by men; for example, how the way the novel was shaped by a female discourse was until recently often ignored.

In both contexts, I also talk about the way that the OTW is an awesomely empowering forum for fannish skillsharing, and how that has enabled fans to achieve things they might not have been able to do alone. I highlight the fact that the AO3 is one of the largest female-majority open-source projects in existence, and the work of committees across the org as a way of giving people new skills and experiences. At this point I usually pause for breath and realise that people are backing away from the crazy gushing lady. 😉

What would you do to increase the OTW’s transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren’t currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

No response by deadline. Response received 19 October 2011 14:07 UTC.

I have worked really hard at making the OTW more transparent via our Communications team, and I feel really proud of the degree to which I have been able to give insight into the work that has gone into the AO3 in particular (which is the main project I have worked on). I started posting about the Archive in the run-up to Open Beta, letting people know what we were doing and what they could expect from us. Since then, I’ve maintained a regular posting schedule on all aspects of the Archive, talking about the problems as well as the good stuff (for example, I recently did a post on the glut of 502 errors that was plaguing us). I’m especially proud of the work I did tweeting the progress of the new server installation, which let people outside the org get a sense of what was actually going on when the site had this long downtime. For the last two years, I’ve been writing the round-ups of AD&T meetings, building on the great work established by Maia, the AD&T chair before me – I think these are really important for giving a sense of what is going on behind the scenes. I’ve made a strong effort to include information about other teams involved on the Archive in those posts, both because I want the same transparency to apply to them, and because I think that some of the more ‘invisible’ teams, such as tag wranglers, deserve to be highlighted for the amazing efforts they put in. Including those ‘bitesized’ posts from committees who don’t necessarily have a lot of things they want to say is a really low-cost way of making sure their voices are still heard, so it’s something that I would like to explore across the org more generally.

I feel like I have also learnt a lot over the last two years about managing the time invested in communications, balancing the need to keep people informed with the need to keep some stuff private as we figure things out in house, and being responsive to questions and concerns coming from outside the org. I have found Twitter and support requests to the Archive invaluable for the last one; tellingly, support requests often stray beyond the specifics of the AO3, so I would like to establish a regular forum for inviting questions more generally. As a Board member, I would like to post regular updates about Board meetings in the same style as the AD&T updates; I feel that the experience I have gained doing that will be useful in figuring out how to convey the useful stuff while protecting the necessarily private aspects of Board.

Internally, I have also put a lot of work into talking with other committees, forming good relationships and keeping the channels of communication open; as chair I also emailed an internal summary of AD&T meetings to other committees who were affected. Good relationships are one of the key points for in-c2-org transparency, and I think that I have established a good model for that.

I could go on and on about this, because letting people know about what is happening in the OTW is a real passion of mine. But I’ll stop here, and point you to the news posts on the Archive as a concrete example of what I have done so far and what I’d like to achieve for the org as a whole.

Part 1: Off the top of your head: How many staffers does the Org have? How many non-staff volunteers?

Part 2: Considering the many comments I’m reading about understaffing and volunteer burnout, how many additional staffing positions on existing committees would you anticipate adding in your term? Additionally, what concrete steps will you work to implement to prevent burnout, to increase staff/volunteer satisfaction, and to increase internal transparency?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

I’m still typing, but I’ll paste in two quick an then one slower

Part one of the question has already been answered, really – I think we have about 80 staffers on the books, but not necessarily all active at once, and about 350 volunteers, but again, not necessarily active. I would add that I think it’s quite important to leave committee sizes to the chairs, because one of the things that makes for effective committees is being able to respond flexibly to the needs of the committee at any given time.

Sustainability: I definitely agree with Jenny & Julia that mentoring is key. More specifically, I think one of the things that Board liaisons could do is sit down with chairs every 3-4 months and review who’s doing what on the committee and whether there needs to be extra support. It can be hard when you’re in the thick of it to consciously identify where you need to be actively working to give extra support to a project.

Satisfaction: I think actually identifying a series of small aims rather than one big one is helpful, so you can feel more accomplished. And after the fact, sitting down to ask ‘what went well’ and ‘what could have been done better’, which focuses on positives, whereas as Julias says we often tend to focus on ‘how did we fail?’

How do you see the OTW as being accountable to its assorted constituents–fandom at large; users of the OTW’s projects (AO3 and fanlore users; readers and writers of the journal; recipients of legal aid; volunteers; staff; etc.) What would you do on the board to make sure that all those groups have the information they need when they need it?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

I think that a big part of accountability is being responsive to the various people who use and comment on our various different projects. I’ve worked most closely with the Archive project, and I think one of the things we have consistently improved on over the lifetime of the project is making it clearer to people what we’re doing & why things are the way they are, and responding to things they tell us they want. The Support committee is really invaluable in this regard because they are working daily to answer user questions as they come up and to pass user requests on to other committees so that they can actually effect change. Obviously, the AO3 lends itself to that kind of model, but I would like to extend it out to other committees a bit so we would encourage people to submit their questions and comments and then answer them publicly. That’s been a really useful part of this elections process, seeing those questions coming up!

In general, I think we have to be honest about our limitations: we can’t be all things to all people, so being accountable and respinsive doesn’t mean that we will always do the things people want us to do – we can, though, be honest and open about why we are doing some things and not others (I’ve just started exploring with AD&T and Support an idea for how we can do that more with the Archive)

SO I agree with Julia, external communcations is key – and specifically two-wat communications, so we’re not just issuing ‘press releases’

[Question One] I was happy to hear some of the candidates specifically mention outreach as one of their concerns in the chat transcript. However, I’d like to ask /all/ of the candidates if they could detail any ideas they have for specific plans of action that can be taken in the upcoming year to help the OTW reach out to fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom.

[Question Two] The OTW still seems to have trouble connecting with large numbers of people outside of Western media fandoms, particularly anime/manga fandoms. Do you have any concrete ideas about how the OTW should improve outreach towards anime/manga fans?

[Question Three] for all candidates: what are their concrete plans for outreach to underrepresented sections of fandom?

These questions were the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

I’m going to answer all these questions in one answer, as they all touch on related things and I think I might end up repeating myself a bit!

First of all, I’d like to say that a big portion of my work on outreach would be founded on listening and consulting other people within the org. My own personal fannish life has largely been conducted on journalling services, and I haven’t got much personal contact with (for example) the anime & manga communities; I think I can best support outreach into communities I’m not familiar with by listening to those who are. So, I’d say I’m quite flexible about my ideas about outreach at the moment, and they will change and grow as I hear from different perspectives.

That said, I do have some concrete ideas about how we can do more effective outreach, which can be boiled down to: listen, build great tools, communicate, and be consciously inclusive! I’ll give the tl;dr explanation of these below.

I do strongly feel that building tools that people actually want to use is a really important part of outreach. I know a lot of people were uncertain about the idea of the OTW and the Archive of Our Own when the project first started, but now, two years after the Open Beta launch of the AO3, we have 24060 registered users and a lot more visiting the site. A lot of those users did the outreach for us, because they came and saw things they liked and told their friends! However, I don’t think that it’s as simple as saying ‘build it and they will come’; you have to put some work into building tools which are actually welcoming. Part of this is about being responsive to what people ask for and building in tools which suit different fannish models. For example, the new feature coming to the Archive soon, tag sets, will (among other things) allow people to run challenges where they can actually match requests which ask for x/y pairing as opposed to y/x. This sounds really small, but it makes the challenges feature a lot more useful to fannish cultures where pairing order is important (I know this is an important thing for a lot of anime & manga fans). That tool came about as a response to some user requests, and I think it is really important for the org as a whole to keep channels open for requests and to be prepared to be creative and flexible in finding solutions. And pragmatically, we have tools which have always been part of the plan which will facilitate outreach when they come to fruition – we can keep telling fanartists we love them (and we do!) but until we’re able to complete all the work on tools which support them, we can’t effectively reach out to communities and fans who are focused around fanart, because they are rightly going to feel that fine words butter no parsnips! So, a number one priority for the Board has to be making sure the tool building is progressing. From a technical POV, one thing I would really love to help foster is making a public API for the AO3, so people can more easily build stuff that suits their individual needs and it can be interoperable with other services. (There are some big challenges to this, though!)

Obviously, communications are a huge part of outreach, and I would like to facilitate more conversation within the org (and then later beyond it) about how we can communicate better. This is something that I’ve been working on this year – after conversations in the first part of the year that made it clear some fans were feeling unwelcome, AD&T ran our ‘April Showers’ Twitter promotion where we highlighted fandoms which had a big fannish presence off the AO3, but not much on it, and explicitly encouraged people to add work from those fandoms to the Archive. We’re cooking up another similar promotion with IO right now. I can say that it is a heck of a lot of work to do this sort of thing, especially at the beginning where you don’t have as many people to draw on who are familiar with the communities you’re trying to reach out to (since that’s why you’re trying to do outreach!), but I think it is worth it. I think it is also really important for us to communicate more about the work we’re doing on long term projects – this is an area we could definitely improve on, because it’s not necessarily clear to people outside the relevant committee whether something is being actively worked on or whether it’s been forgotten!

The other thing that I think is hugely important in making outreach a success is creating an environment where people feel welcomed rather than excluded, which means making all your communications more consciously inclusive, not just the ones which are explicitly geared to outreach. I believe there are lots of small things that we can do to make that a reality: for example, I know that the folks who work on Fanlore have put a lot of work into creating stubs on pages for fannish areas that are underrepresented at the moment, so that if someone stumbles upon the wiki they’re more likely to find that it is there waiting for their knowledge, rather than feeling like it’s not interested in them and going away again. Similarly, on the AO3 we have made a conscious effort to show fannish diversity in our documentation, so if we write a tutorial on how tags work, for example, we try to use examples from a range of fandoms, even if they are not drawn from personal experience of whoever is writing the tutorial. Again, that just makes it more likely someone coming to the Archive for the first time will see it as a place which welcomes them. I would like to make this a more consistent policy across the org, extending into things like our promotional material – so, for example, if we make promo flyers for distribution at cons, we use a range of fannish styles and symbols so they implicitly include all kinds of fans.

Finally, I think we have to strike a balance between great outreach and seeming like we’re trying to be the imperial power of fandom. I want all kinds of fans to feel welcome in the OTW, but I don’t think that we can or should be all things to all fans. Some areas of fandom may never use our tools or become members, because they are happy with their existing tools and networks, or are working on something different. This is not only fine, it’s actually good! Protecting fannish diversity means valuing those completely different traditions and existing alongside them. It might also in the future mean being supportive to other projects who want to do things we can’t – for example, using our tools might turn out to mean giving advice to some community of fans in Russia who want to set up their own zine Archive, or translating coding documentation so that a bunch of Japanese fans can take the Archive code and change it to suit the specific needs of their particular fannish community. Or it might be that we get to use something awesome that another group of fans has created – the problem with outreach is that if it’s done in the wrong way it can seem a bit one way, when in fact we want to be knitting ourselves into the awesome patchwork quilt of fannish endeavour and sharing things. So, I don’t think we should (for example) look at the Archive and say ‘x fandom only has two works, and I know there are 20,000 on y archive, so we’re failing at outreach’ – as an OTW staffer I’m thrilled about the existence of thriving fannish homes and communities completely unrelated to the OTW (even if as an individual it would be convenient for me if it was ALL on the AO3)!

I don’t know how appropriate a question this is, but sanders was suggesting having monthly chair meetings and discussion posts manned by volunteers, and already in Systems we are finding it burdensome with our load to attend to some of the administrativa demanded of us, such as the two-hour org-wide. There were, at some point, chair meetings that were occurring that we found burdensome and, truthfully, irrelevant to us, and we were grateful when these dropped off. I don’t doubt the above would be helpful for transparency, but how would sanders propose to ameliorate the increased overhead to the various committees, some of which aren’t perhaps prepared for it?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

This question is for sanders specifically, but as I’m also in favour of facilitating more contact and discussion across the org, I thought I’d weigh in. I do think it’s very important to make sure that attempts to improve one area (in this case transparency & communication) don’t wind up causing another problem elsewhere. For this reason, I think it’s important to be flexible and responsive: it’s good to have some documented policies and procedures, but they have to be broad enough to allow for changes on the ground, as it were. So, I’d want to start by talking with each committee about what would work for them, and how they would need to be supported, then go from there. For example, it might be that Systems would benefit from having a liaison (maybe their Board liaison, maybe someone from Communications, maybe something else) who would support some of this type of activity and so prevent it taking time away from the (essential!) sysadmin work. Or maybe monthly chair meetings aren’t the right approach – or aren’t right for all committees – but we can come up with another solution to the same problem. So, flexibility and creative thinking is key here, I think.

Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW’s priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. (Take a pause to appreciate my Oxford comma.) If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

I was involved in the discussion, since the poll originated with AD&T and I took the lead on setting it up. It was originally intended as just a fun diversion during AO3 downtime, but it did become the focus for some broader issues and discussions, so it’s those issues that I’d more like to address.

So, first my input into the discussion. When we initially set up the poll, AD&T consulted with various people about how to make it work. People on DevMem with experience of running competitions advised us to post clear rules for the competition and to make it explicit that at the shortlist stage, we would have an internal panel who would choose the final shortlist. We posted about this and noted that we would be giving consideration to fannish diversity in the shortlisting process (which we did, and a huge amount of work went into making a balanced shortlist). In the same set of rules, we also stated we would post our shortlist as a poll and the seven names with the most votes would be the winners (you can see the full set of rules at http://transformativeworks.org/archive-c2-our-c2-own-server-naming-festival). So, when the results came in and they didn’t reflect fannish diversity quite as much as we’d hoped, I was disappointed, but I felt strongly that for the sake of transparency we had to stick to the rules we had publicly set out at the beginning of the competition. It didn’t seem fair or respectful to the people who had voted to change the rules after the fact, and I felt that not sticking to our published process in this instance might undermine confidence in our processes more generally (for example, in Board elections).

I wouldn’t change my take on the basic situation; however, I think the way the whole thing played out wound up being not too much fun and not very good for the OTW as a whole, so there are a lot of things I would change to ensure similar things work better (especially in the case of issues with a more long-lasting impact).

* Faster decision making on practicalities. Because this issue turned into a focus for some different ideas about org needs and priorities, it wound up taking loads of everyone’s time and dragging on for months. This seems crazy when the immediate issue was actually about server names! When an issue brings up unexpected dimensions, I think it’s valuable to sometimes make a quick decision about the immediate issue (providing it’s not something that’s going to bind you to a certain outcome down the road) and agree to take the real, important issues forward.

* Better internal communication & consultation. I think it is very important that communication within the org is always maintained, and that if a decision is taken to a different group of people (for example, in this case the decision about the servers was taken from the shortlisting committee up to Board), then that needs to be clearly communicated to the original group of people and they should have the opportunity to give their input. In this case, there was bad communication about what was going to Board and why, which meant that the Board didn’t have a chance to get input from committee members, and people were left feeling hurt and excluded. Sometimes it is appropriate to take an issue up the line for discussion, but clear communication about that is really important.

* Live discussion about controversial issues. This is something that Naomi has brought up: when feelings are high, email discussion is a terrible way to deal with something. I know that everyone who was involved in this discussion was well motivated and sincerely concerned with fairness, they just had different ideas about how to achieve those aims. Discussing in chat (or maybe even Skype) would have helped everyone remember that this was true and prevented tensions escalating.

* Live discussion about controversial issues. This is something that Naomi has brought up: when feelings are high, email discussion is a terrible way to deal with something. I know that everyone who was involved in this discussion was well motivated and sincerely concerned with fairness, they just had different ideas about how to achieve those aims. Discussing in chat (or maybe even Skype) would have helped everyone remember that this was true and prevented tensions escalating.

* More forward planning. With hindsight, we probably could have anticipated this decision. I (naively) assumed that if there was a reasonably diverse shortlist, the final results would reflect that. Even though staff from AD&T, IO, Communications & DevMem were all invited to contribute to the initial planning of the poll – this included input from several people passionately committed to fannish diversity – none of us forsaw that we might end up with the outcome we did. In fact, we could have set up the whole competition with inbuilt diversity – for example by saying in advance that each server name would be assigned to a different fannish category. That would have been fair to everyone and would also have made the competition much easier to administer! So, that’s a lesson I’d want to learn for next time – think more about what we’re trying to achieve and try to build that in.

I think there are lots of ways we could have handled this specific issue better, but I also think it’s important not to get too bogged down in specific failures. We’re all volunteers, we all have varying levels of experience, and to a large extent we’re figuring things out as we go. No single issue should be a deal breaker. So, my philosophy is ‘try again – fail better!’ We can look to this to make better processes and better interaction in the future.

Regarding the final part of the question: voting transparency for the Board. I have to say that in general, I’m not sure exactly how Board discussions work in general, so I don’t know how applicable that would be. I would agree with Naomi (in her recent post) that in general, actual voting should be a last resort, and that discussion and creativity are often more effective ways to respond to a situation. What I can say is that I am definitely in favour of more public information about what the Board is talking about and what decisions they are making. This would also enable individual Board members to talk more honestly and openly about their specific input and views on any given issue. I do think, however, that Board does need a certain amount of space to talk about things privately, so while I’m cautiously in favour of the idea of giving some specifics of Board voting, I wouldn’t want to come down and say ‘we should definitely do that’ before I have been able to talk to Board members past and present about how appropriate that would be.

The copyright (fair use) advocacy issues that the OTW works on and the TWC journal are two of the aspects of OTW’s mission that are near and dear to my heart and a significant part of the reason why I have volunteered for and donated to the OTW. How do you think the OTW board as a whole can continue to support and further encourage these and similar projects? What about these projects do you personally value and what relevant skills/interests/experiences will you bring to your term on the Board that can help in this area?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

Oh my gosh, me too! I don’t often talk about these projects because I haven’t worked on them directly, but actually the journal in particular important to me because as an academic, I really value knowing there is a reliable academic source where I can find good material on fanworks which won’t take the ‘poke this weird fandom thing with a stick’ approach. And, both my academic and my fannish selves are deeply invested in supporting work to ensure that copyright laws don’t prevent creativity and knowledge sharing. Since I haven’t worked directly with these projects, I don’t have an intimate sense of exactly where they could be best supported (it’s something I’d love to talk about with the relevant committees, though). On the whole, though, I feel they’ve been doing the kind of good work that builds more good work: following the awesome contribution our team made to the last DMCA exemption, the OTW has been asked to work alongside the EFF (rather than just submitting comments) for the next one. This means we’re more high-profile, and I would like to use that profile to help us recruit more people to the Legal team. Longer term, I’d love to see us extending our international reach on copyright either by recruiting enough staffers from different countries, or (more feasible) extending a hand to groups on other countries already working on these issues outside the USA. Similarly, I feel like Journal have done such a great job establishing TWC as a reputable academic source that we’re now in a position to recruit more people: it’s important that we work with Journal to ensure that as some staffers move on, others can be brought on to maintain the standards of excellence they have maintained so far. Mentoring and communications seems like one area we could really support this – I’ve always been vaguely interested in having more to do with Journal, but not too clear about whether I can contribute anything useful to the team as someone who is quite early in their academic career, so it would be nice to make that information more prominent to ensure we keep bringing in new people.

I’m particularly interested in working more with Journal as a Board member precisely because their work does overlap with my own professional life, and so I would be bringing my experiences of being in the British academic community and my own academic expertise to that conversation. One of the things which is really important for TWC going forward is for it to be recognised as the kind of accredited journal which can be used for promotion, tenure, and professional evaluation: in the UK all this is centred around a somewhat opaque and problematic process called the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and I would really like to work with Journal to explore how we can ensure that TWC is something which is considered suitable for submitting in the REF and/or fits into that process as it evolves (there’s some uncertainty as to whether the REF will remain in the same format, as British higher edication is undergoing a massive shift). My own main field of research (children’s literature) is one which has historically had a mixed reception in academia, in a similar way to fan studies, so I know first-hand how important it is to produce excellent, reputable work which can be a benchmark for your discipline. I feel that TWC is an example of some really fresh, important approaches to academic work and I am really passionate about ensuring that this kind of new scholarship is able to broaden the horizons of the academy rather than being excluded by it.

A current known challenge of the organization seems to be volunteer retention and burnout. For example, the majority of the Archive of Our Own’s coding is done by a small number of developers. For all candidates–what practices would you change in the committees you work with to bring in more volunteers and empower them to become long-term, regular contributors? How would you use a board position to do the same org-wide?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 13:01 UTC.

(Just as a prefix here: I had some computer problems and am writing on one where I can’t really see most of the screen, so there will be some mistakes in this -I hope it doesn’t make it too hard for people to read.)I’d like to start by saying that while volunteer retention is a concern, it’s not the case that (at least in the committees I have worked closely with) we’re in a terrible position right now. I think the fact there are six people running for Board this year is a testament to the fact that the org as a whole is growing and developing. So, while there are some specific problems to address, and there’s an overall need for any volunteer organisation to keep thinking about volunteer retention and satisfaction, I think that we’re doing a lot of things well already and the real concern is continuing and improving.

To talk about coders specifically, since that was mentioned in the question & it’s a subject dear to my heart – about 47 people have contributed code to the project since we started allowing for the fact that some people contributed under more than one name) and our last code release had code from 14 different contributors. This is not a small number of developers – in fact, according to ohloh, which tracks open source projects, we count as a ‘large, active development team’. It is true that there are a few people who are responsible for big chunks of code – this is because when a big new feature is being developed, it needs someone who is experienced and able to do the high level work that requires. This does mean we sometimes say ‘we are still waiting for x feature because it needs y person to be free’, but on the whole this mostly just dictates what features come out when. All the people who have contributed a lot of code to the Archive have also had extended periods of time away from the project, and development has continued happily without them, which I think bodes well for sustainability. And even in that area we are gradually building a larger coohort of people who can take on bigger things; for example I’m totally thrilled we now have a wonderful coder rebecca working on translations (I could actually ramble a lot more about the way coders has developed, but i might save that for a journal post!). . In terms of improvements, I think that our recent move to using git to manage our code will enable us to reach out to some people who have been active in the Open Source community and who are comfortable wih a different way of working – for example, git allows people to sumbit code to the project without ever joining formally (and we can review it and decide if it works for us), which might suit some people and might give us some extra ad-hoc help.

I actually wrote on my journal about my experiences of wokring within AD&T and its subcommittees, where I analysed in detail why I hadn’t burnt out and what was working. If you’re interested in my thoughts on these issues, this sets out a lot of what I think. In brief, I would say that having a warm, friendly working environment in which achievements are valued is key: Naomi worked hard to creaate that ethos at the beginning, and subsequent AD&T chairs have done an enormous amount to maintain it (it was certainly something that was important to me as chair). I think burnout tends to happen most in roles where the goals are longer term or where the work is more likely to be overlooked, and where people have less control over their own workload: for example, we tend to lose a lot of testers (who do awesome, amazng work btw) because there work goes on in the background (although we try to push it to the forefront, e.g. by doing shout-c2-outs in the AD&T reports I write) and because the fact that we build up a bunch of code and then it needs to be tested for it to be out in the world tends to make for erratic spurts of work at times not of their choosing. We’re working on addressing this – we recently introduced a new system where we put new code on our Test Archive every Friday, so there’s more chance testers can drop in and do a bit of work every week (this also makes them feel more part of the day-to-day life of the org).

Overall, to improve volunteer retention generally, I think that a warm & supportive environment is essential, and that the Board can have a lot to do with creating that because if the Board support chairs effectively and make sure they are happy and have what they needs, the chairs are better able to support their committee members, who are able to be more supportive of each other & of volunteers, and so on. And where there are some specific problems, the Board can help by working with committees to come up with solutions for those committees: every situation is different, and it should always be committee-led, but the Board can provide their experience and also have some distance from the situation which can be useful.

I’ve been hearing a lot of interesting ideas from the candidates, but at the same time, some of these ideas make me worry. For example, the suggestion to open up the wiki to the public: something like that is not at all simple and is absolutely extra work and a matter of extreme effort; it would require, as an absolutely key part of the whole proposal, volunteers across multiple committees to review the entire wiki. When I hear this and other suggestions tossed out right next to statements about volunteer sustainability and burnout, saying we don’t have enough people for various tasks, this is really troubling to me and I fear that a lot of these great ideas create more work that results in losing more people. As a candidate, how do you plan to balance these needs? I’m hearing a lot of ideas, but how do you plan to incorporate these into an approach that helps our sustainability?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 13:01 UTC.

I think one of the valuable parts of the elections process is encouraging people (not just the candidates, but everyone interested) to be creative and explore ideas for change. Obviously, once the new Board meets, they will need to review those ideas andd talk with committees, thinking about what is sustainable, what is a great idea but not right for now, and what isn’t actually workable. As a Board member, what I’d be looking for is ideas which are either small and simple to implement (like a formal plan for one-c2-on-c2-one meetings with Board liaisons & committee chairs – having had a similar mentoring relationship with a new committee chair when I was chairing, I can say that this can actually be a lot of fun!), or things which involve short-term work now but will mean less work for everyone in the future. For example, the wonderful YShyn on Support has just put a vast amount of work into improving documentation & setting up a system for Support staffers to document their knowledge. This is something that never got done before because everyone was to busy – but it will actually make everyone’s work much easier and take the stress off in the long term. Board can actually be in a good position to identitfy that kind of work (whereas when you’re on the front line, it can be hard not to think ‘BEARS!’) and encourage committees to implement it, even if it actually requires a temporary slowing down of their day-to-day work.

Also, even though I think Board can be helpful in giving an outside perspective, I would emphasise that ultimately, sustainable solutions come from the people on thr the ground. I would like to maintain an ‘agile’ organisation that doesn’t have a ton of set-in-stone procedures, so that committees can keep coming up with creative ideas, change as their situations change, and feel confident saying ‘this won’t work for us’. So I would be looking to ask the committees how we can best help them, rather than having the process go the other way round.

There’s been some discussion since the first chat about the time commitment required for serving on the Board, and what that means for Board Members who also have other roles within the OTW. How will you balance your role as a Board Member and committee liaison with your other commitments within the organization?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 30 October 2011 13:01 UTC.

One of the things I learnt the hard way as AD&T chair is that when you step up to a new role, you have to lt some others go. So, while I would want to retain a connection to the committees I have worked with, I would anticipate realy scaling down the amount of responsibility I had within those committees. I think in a lot of places this will be easy – for example, Support started the year as quite a small committee which was still developing its procedures, but it’s now really thriving and has a good community and it has acquired new people who have taken on some of the roles I used to fill. (Thanks in no small part to the quiet but extremely effective work of Matty the current chair.) So, the continuing growth of the org makes it easy for me to know that when I stop doing certain things, someone else will be there to pick them up. I anticipate the main thing I would keep up if I get onto Board would be some of my communications work, which I love, but I anticipate scaling that down too (I actually have two different plans for how to proceed with that depending on whether I get on Board or not). On the whole, though, I am someone who likes to be busy, and after juggling being AD&T chair with finishing a PhD and writing a book, at a time when AD&T and its sister committees were much less developeed, I feel confident I will be able to find ways to balance my Board committments with everything else.

[Question One] Hi, I was reading the answers to the question Betsy and Naomi were asked about concrete plans that were posted in the follow-up to the first chat, and I still didn’t see specific, concrete plans that they expect to initiate, carry out, or guide from the Board. Maybe I misunderstood the question? I would like to hear their concrete plans and priorities, though. Naomi’s answer seemed to be meditations on how to work in a group, which I thought was a very small-scope perspective on the question. Betsy’s seemed to answer the question, for me, but it was still vague and nebulous. Could they both expand on this, please?

[Question Two] With regards to Naomi Novik’s answer in the last chat and in the follow up: As one of the two who asked for follow up, I want to clarify that the question was what, specifically will you be working on as a board member and how. The original question was also aimed at what, individually, we are seeing as priorities, not at our philosophical approach. I think the list you’ve presented is absolutely great as a set of guidelines for how we all go about the general work of the board. However, it still doesn’t address what you, as an individual, intend to bring to the table. Will you focus on building communication in the organization, helping to put in place a long term strategic plan, work on increasing the transparency of the organization by finding means of actively using member feedback? Are you offering yourself up as someone who will work with the board and staff to set ground rules for how we conduct business? In short, what will you actually be doing as a board member?

I am continuing to push at this question because I haven’t had the chance to work closely with you before, and I really do want to understand where you’re coming from and what your priorities are in terms of concrete work we would be doing as board members. The philosophical standpoint is, of course, immensely important, but so is the ability to articulate the steps needed to fulfill that philosophy.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

I guess I already answered this, but as it was probably a bit of a tl;dr I’ll summarise some of my main goals here:

1. Work on Board communications so that people inside and outside the org have more idea what the Board is up to, and work with committees across the org to improve communications generally. I’m modelling this on my work with AD&T and the Archive.

2. Work on promoting an agile, lightweight set of procedures which help make things work smoothly within the org and give people an idea of what they are doing (especially in areas where we need to think more consciously about things like outreach and diversity which can fall by the wayside without conscious effort), without bogging the org down with too many rules or becoming too inflexible

3. In terms of things I have never been involved with before – I can see my professional skills (as an academic) being important to support Journal. TWC is quite a specific OTW project which would probably benefit from having (another) Board member who works in the field, I don’t have many specific plans in that area (I talked about my dreams in a previous question), but rather see myself as someone with skills and understanding of the academic world which will be useful in supporting whatever the Journal team see as important

4. Mentor, support, cheerlead. Really, if I can do three years on the Board and come out the other side with the committees I worked with saying ‘Lucy was an awesome Board liaison who helped us achieve our goals’, I will be satisfied. The org is nothing without the hard work of the committees and volunteers; the Board looks at the big picture and also (or as part of that) works to support that amazing initiative and energy.

Hi again, I wanted to pose a question that is similar to one that was asked previously: can the candidates talk about the specific things they have done while working in the OTW over the past year that have promoted organizational sustainability? I’m interested particularly in something I’ve seen in OTW materials before: “We’re building the builders.” How have the candidates carried that out recently as applied to volunteers and future leaders of the organization? I’d be especially interested if they could talk about both technical and non-technical roles, and about how they expect to “build” future board members once they join the board.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

(I’m going to talk about a bit beyond the past year, as following my term as AD&T chair I took a little bit of a rest, and i feel like I could do that partly because of the work I’d done previously to promote sustainability!)

This year: Mentored and supported current AD&T chairs Amelia & elz, drawing on my previous role as AD&T chair; worked with awesome coder mumble to produce Archive release notes, gradually shifting more of the task onto her (in order to distribute communications for the Archive; this is ongoing); worked within AD&T and Support to share my knowledge and generally mentor and support new staffers worked within AD&T and Support to share my knowledge and generally mentor and support new staffers (Support totally don’t need me now, which is awesome – Matty, the current chair, deserves a huge shoutout for her work on sustainability). I also took a bit of a rest and thus sustained myself, which is actually the bit that is the easiest to overlook!

2010: Was AD&T chair, mentored and supported my whole team (which helped ensure there were chairs to come after me!); mentored the new Tag Wrangling chairs as the new committee formed; helped out with the new Support committee.

2009: Set up new training procedures for coders, rewrote the training docs, mentored and supported several new coders.

For the future: My biggest goal is to be a good support for committee chairs, ensuring people have the training and mentoring they need to do an often difficult and demanding job! I think having a good Board liaison who really supports the chair can make the difference for a whole committee. Mentoring chairs is really a great way of building future Board members – I don’t think it’s essential to be a chair to be a Board member, but there are a lot of related skills and it’s also a nice stepping stone. Being closely involved with a chair and their committee also helps you to identify other people who have skills can be used, and to encourage chairs to use them (or connect them with another place in the org if you can see they would fill a gap) – again, encouraging people to build on their existing skills and to take on more responsibility is both good in itself and helps ensure there’ll be more Board candidates in the future.

One specific thing I’d like to set up is a regular review of staffing needs to help chairs look at what’s happening in their committee and see where people or projects need more support (it can be hard to remember to do this kind of review when you’re in the thick of it). I’d also like to pass some of my specific skills on in places where they are needed, especially in terms of communications. Apart from that, I plan to be responsive to the committees and help ensure they get what they need when they need it!

What do you see as the role of the Board in soliciting user, member, staff and volunteer feedback? How will you prioritize this during your term as a Board Member?

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

I feel that a lot of feedback should come to the Board via the committees, so it feeds up from the individual projects and their users to the Board. This is an effective means of helping give Board a focus and ensuring that committees can get stuff done on the ground – oftentimes feedback about a project can best be acted on by the volunteers and staffers who work on that specific project. However, I think it is also important to have a more direct way for the Board to get feedback about some issues, as I think the work of the Board can often feel rather remote, especially to volunteers and members who never work directly with Board members. So, I’d like to explore ways of opening up the channel between Board and all OTW stakeholders – I think that one good way of doing this would be the regular Board news posts which I would like to institute. I’ve found with the AD&T posts that they encourage people to ask questions and bring ideas: I think if Board talked more in public about what we were working on, people would be encouraged to give their thoughts and feedback.

I’d also like to explore ways of soliciting feedback for specific projects – often feedback is tricky because if you ask general questions (or a lot of questions) you get a whole lot of feedback which you don’t wind up acting on. So, I’m wary of broad-brush feedback/information gathering, but I think it can be very effective to say ‘here is the specific discussion we’re having and we have these possible courses of action’ and allow people to weigh in directly – that way you get feedback you can use and which people can see you have used.

Julia and Jenny both mention sustainability as one of their priorities for the Board in their candidate statements, and I’ve seen the term also mentioned in other discussions of the election by both members and staff. My question for all the candidates is what do you see as the biggest challenge to sustainability within the OTW, and how will you work towards ensuring a sustainable future for the org during your time on the Board.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

One big challenge is that as a volunteer org, we can’t always easily recruit for specific skillsets. If someone suddenly leaves (which is quite likely if their day-to-day life suddenly alters in some way), you can’t guarantee that you will be able to replace them; more importantly, there’s no way of guaranteeing that someone who is awesome at the job they do will also be awesome at training someone else to do it. (This is all true for any org, of course, but extra true when people are volunteers and there’s no possibility of buying in expertise.) So, there’s the threat of someone leaving and their tasks being undone, or someone else taking on way too much to fill the gap.

I think the Board can help work for sustainability by working with committees to identify opportunities for training and mentoring. I’d like for as many people as possible to work on the basis that part of their job is training a potential successor (albeit we have to recognise there are some people for whom this model does not work). Maybe there is someone who’s not an expert at a task, but is good at teaching other people the basics and knows how to find good information. Sometimes committees just need a helping hand to see that there is a gap, perhaps because someone who was active is now less active, and once they’ve recognised that they can train and support someone to fill the gap.

The other thing Board can to is help to maintain flexibility. Sometimes a project has to be delayed or altered to fit our resources at the time – that’s not a fail, but a pragmatic decision. Sometimes a committee or an individual needs particular provisions to enable them to meet their goals, and Board can help support that flexible way of working. Reminding people that processes aren’t set in stone and that they can come up with new ideas really helps sustain the org and stops it collapsing in on itself with a mass of outdated procedures.

Many candidates are talking about transparency and the need for better communication. I am a casual user of the AO3 and have no idea what these buzzwords mean in a ‘real world’ context, why they’re important to someone like me, and what the candidates are actually planning to change.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

Essentially, I want people at all levels to have more idea about what the org is doing, and I want them to have the chance to comment on that. To take the AO3 as an example – I think it is very useful for people to know what we are working on, why some features are built and some fixes are made, but others aren’t, and how we make those decisions. If I were an AO3 user donating money to the OTW, it would be important to me to know that, for example, our recent bout of 502 errors was due to problems configuring the servers and the database and not, say, because a rogue committee member spent the money for new servers on currant buns! Likewise, if I were a tag wrangler it would be important to me to know that coders were working on a new tag feature, because it might have implications for what I was doing. I know that day-to-day, many people don’t want to read all the details of what the whole org does – they might have more interest in one specific project, but not be too fussed about the others. However, it’s important that if they do have questions, that information is there for them to find, or there is a clear way for them to ask the question.

My one big thing I want to do towards this is to do regular public posts about what the Board is up to, so that members can see what these people they voted for are actually doing, and to encourage and support committees to talk more in public about what they do. I think this is a pretty huge project, actually – I’ve put a lot of work into developing Archive communications and we still don’t cover everything I’d like – but I think it will be useful for everyone. And also, it’s fun! Transparency isn’t (or shouldn’t be) some onerous duty – a lot of the time it’s a sheer joy to be able to talk publicly about what awesome things are going on!

I’ve been hearing a lot about volunteer retention and burnout, but I have a question about the flip side of the sustainability issue. It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the OTW right now is lowering the barriers to casual participation, to the small, bite-sized things people can do to help sustain the org. Right now, submitting a bit of code or wrangling a tag requires a whole process for anyone who just wants to help a tiny bit, as they can (by contrast, contributing to Fanlore is significantly easier, and I know that committee has done a lot of work to lower barriers). Some OTW projects don’t seem like they would lend themselves as well to casual participation, but it seems like a lot of our work could benefit from this, and I feel like I’m not seeing enough focus on this from the org as a whole. I feel like we’d have less burnout if we had more people to spread the burden, in bits and pieces. What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now? Do you think they need to be lowered? If so, what concrete, specific plans do you plan to pursue to do this? How do you plan to acknowledge and reward casual participation without devaluing the work of the more “official” volunteers? How do you plan to balance the needs of casual contributors, volunteers, and staff?

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

Making it easier to get involved is never a bad thing, and casual volunteering is a good way for people to dip in and out and a good gateway to a more sustained involvement. So, while I think we already have some good stuff in place, there is definitely value in working to remove barriers to participation.

I think this does vary hugely from project to project, and some areas lend themselves better to casual volunteering than others, so I am going to focus on the Archive project, which I know the most about. I think there are several areas in which we can make this more open to casual volunteers, and I’m happy to say that several of these are in progress in different ways. Testing is one area where we have faced challenges with volunteer retention (largely because of the nature of the work), but we have had a lot of success at drawing in ad hoc testers for particular features. This works well because we usually get people together in chat, everyone has a common goal and everyone who gets involved can feel accomplished when the code they test gets onto the real Archive. Often these events are a road in for people who decide they like it and join more formally, and since formal volunteers and staffers are also involved their contribution in training and helping the ad hoc people is also recognised and valued. I think we could do this more with testing, and we could probably use this model elsewhere in the org for short-term projects which need a big push of work at specific times.

In terms of coding, we’ve already switched from a code repository that requires people to be added as members to contribute code, to Github, which allows anyone to submit code which can then be reviewed and added into the main code branch or not, depending on whether it works for us. In theory, this should allow more ad hoc volunteering, at least for experienced coders who don’t need the other support we provide. In practice, that isn’t happening yet: I’d like to make a push to open up some of our coding docs or mirror them on Github, so that people can get the info they need to get the code up and running, and make it clearer that we welcome that kind of contribution. I know Naomi also has some cool tech ideas for how we can let more inexperienced people dip in and try the experience of coding on the Archive without having to wait to have a complete setup: I’m definitely in favour of this!

The other exciting thing that’s in progress for the AO3 is the public Support Board, which is something I’ve been helping work on on and off for a long time now. This will be publicly visible and anyone will be able to answer questions (for various technical reasons this wasn’t a model we were able to implement from the beginning). This will be great, because a lot of users can share specific knowledge – for example if they have run a challenge on the AO3 and know that feature well – but don’t necessarily want to do Support work day in, day out. The new system will let people just drop by and answer one question if they want to, and we hope it will also become a pathway to more formal volunteering, for those people who find they like the work and are getting more involved! We’re planning a badging system so people can get an immediate glow of recognition; I think that it’s already becoming clear that formal Support staffers will contribute in a more specialised way, so I hope they won’t feel devalued, and we’ll continue to recognise them in places like AO3 news posts. If it hasn’t already been completed by the new term, making sure AD&T have the support they need to get the coding and testing done will be a priority for me.

In a broader sense across the org, I think that the key is to think creatively and not to be too wedded to old systems. I know that when we switched to using Github, I found it challenging because it entailed learning a new system and a new set of commands, but it was worth it because it opens up a lot more flexibility in our working systems. So, as a Board member I’d like to encourage that flexibility, and keep the idea of more ad-hoc involvement at the forefront of my mind in conversations about supporting projects.

One last note: flexibility is also absolutely key for lowering the barriers to participation in an accessibility sense. Some people can’t use our regular tools, or can’t interact in the default ways that the org at large uses. I am absolutely committed to making sure that as an org, we work to ensure that we don’t simply turn those people away. Sometimes we can make small adjustments to our process to meet an individual’s needs, and we should always be ready to do that. Sometimes an individual needs a specific provision which doesn’t work or isn’t needed for everyone else, and if we can accommodate that we should. This is something I worked to do as AD&T chair and which I want to encourage across the org as a whole. Specifically, I am committed to listening to people in the org and out when they say ‘x doesn’t work for me’ and supporting them in making changes where possible. I don’t promise not to make mistakes – I have in the past and I will again – but I promise to listen and learn from them.