Aline Carrão 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 2

According to the 2014 Strategic Planning retreat summary, Board has difficulty “recognizing the positive aspects of people they have had complex relationships with”. Do you believe this is a current problem in the OTW? What do you think can be done to create a more professional environment?

This is definitely a current problem in the OTW, and I believe the best way to deal with it is to create an environment where everyone is held accountable for their decisions and actions as part of a system that has inherent checks and balances in its processes. Once you have to publicly explain why you are in favour of or against a request or decision, and people can challenge this without fear of punishment, it becomes much harder to dismiss good ideas because of personal grudges.

Several of the Board’s minutes for their closed sessions this year had items like this: “Discussion of how to proceed in a complaint against a staffer.” Under what circumstances do you think it appropriate for the Board to file complaints against individual staffers? Do you foresee any potential problems or conflicts of interest with regards to something like this?

Board is in a position of power over staff and volunteers, and is the one ultimately in charge of investigating and judging CCAP, as far as I’m aware. Due to these circumstances I don’t believe there is any situation where it would be acceptable that board (as an entity) file a complaint against staffers. It’s a blatant conflict of interest: board can’t be complainant, judge, jury and executioner against people they’re displeased with. That can very easily be an abuse of power, and help board get rid of people voicing opinions they disagree with.

The Board has retained an outside lawyer on a pro bono basis to advise them on various issues, including the involuntary removal of volunteers from the Org. What impact do you think this decision has had on the Org’s culture? Do you believe this is a useful tool for conflict management? Under what circumstances do you think external legal counsel specifically retained by and for the Board alone, in opposition to other volunteers in the Org, might be an appropriate step to take?

I had no knowledge this lawyer had been on retainer for the org until the events with Sanders were disclosed last week. I don’t know what role this lawyer has had so far with regards to other board decisions and what kind of specialization they have. I can see why we might need someone external to the organization to complement a knowledge gap in our legal team; but if this is the case, I don’t think they should have dealings with board exclusively, but also with the Legal committee and other interested parties in the org, as the case may be.

Apart from that, an outside lawyer is not a useful tool for conflict management because this lawyer will answer primarily to board and serve the board’s interests, making them not-impartial by default. They shouldn’t be considered a neutral party in any kind of conflict resolution or volunteer removal process.

There have been repeated complaints about the behavior of Directors toward staff and volunteers who have expressed that they have no avenue for addressing this sort of behavior. While Directors may now remove each other, most of these reports indicate that the rest of the Board was either dismissive of the concerns or actually supported the abusive actions of their colleagues. What are your feelings about exploring and instituting a process by which a requisite number of chairs, staff, and/or volunteers can call for a vote of the membership to consider the removal of a Director who has engaged in unprofessional conduct, abusive behavior, or otherwise violated the organization’s Code of Conduct?

I support any measure that will add an extra layer of independent control and checks to board directors behaviour. That said, with the current number of OTW members, this process would be drawn-out and draining, because getting the word out to the several thousand members about internal matters so that they can make an informed decision is nearly impossible. I believe we need a simpler and more straightforward process to deal with clear cases of bullying or Code of Conduct violations coming from board members, similar to what we have for all other volunteers right now.

Aline Carrão 2015 Q&A: Other Questions, Group 2

Can you say something positive about three of your fellow candidates?

Of course!

Alex is straightforward, efficient, hilarious, great at getting things done, and is really capable of managing a lot of things at the same time without letting anything slip through the cracks.

Atiya’’s ability to power through anything that needs to be done with unfailing competence and discipline is amazing. She is always available to answer questions and beta your work for you.

Matty has taken on committees in very bad shape and made them amazingly productive and functional, while gaining the trust and respect of everyone working under her lead. I’ve seen the changes she built both in terms of procedures and in atmosphere, and it’s brilliant.

I have also worked with Kati for a long time and there are a lot of things I could say about her, but sadly, the question only asked about three. 😀

A lot of the current problems seem to come back to a lack of scalability, especially with the massive growth of the Archive. A) What are your short-term plans to make this growth spurt work, B) What are your long term plans to avoid this problem in the future, when there’s another massive increase (of traffic, users, and/or fanworks etc.), a.k.a what structural changes would you strive for to make the OTW, and especially the Archive more sustainable.

In the short term, the most important thing is to collaborate closely with people who are getting the work done so that we can define and prioritize goals together. The board alone can’t know what will help each corner of the OTW scale better; it simply doesn’t have that kind of knowledge. Instead, it has to have a supporting and advisory role, defining a high-level goal and helping to ensure that different parts of the organization have what they need to move towards that direction. That may include, for example, creating venues for chairs of different parts of the OTW who have learned how to manage their teams better with regards to scaling and growth to make connections and help each other.

The OTW and the Archive have growth spurts from time to time, and that’s just part of how we roll at this point. There will always be big recruitment rounds (tag wranglers and translators, for example) and there will always be sudden user or work influxes for any number of reasons. We need to focus on being solid, on having well-established procedures, a good and healthy working environment, plenty of failsafes, better communication throughout the organization and a more integrated leadership.

Whenever internationalisation is brought up in relation to fandom, I often hear the argument that it’s not needed yet, since there isn’t an “insert country/language/non-English fandom” presence in the OTW/on the Archive. Personally I feel like this is a chicken/egg situation. Is the OTW/AO3 so American/English language focussed because there isn’t enough of a non-English fandom interest, or is there no interest because there’s not enough non-American/English accommodation?

A) Where do you fall on this? What should come first?

B) If the next growth spurt is of a non-English, different fandom culture nature, how will you accommodate that?

I have seen comments like this before, but I never heard this approach internally, at least not in any parts of OTW I have worked with. If something in this area hasn’t been done (and yes, there is a lot that still needs improving!) it’s due solely to the lack of resources — be it volunteers or various technical needs — and not because there is not enough demand or internal wish to get it done. We had, for example, Arabic translations of AO3 help pages before there was any Arabic fic in the AO3, and the full setup in place to answer tickets for AO3 Abuse and Support in languages we have yet to receive emails in. No one is waiting for a hypothetical future influx of non-English fandom to start addressing its needs; there are thousands of us already here, and we are already doing our best.

Of course we would certainly have more non-English speaking users if we had the translated interface available. But I disagree that the reason we don’t have it is a lack of interest. There have been multiple attempts to create it—I myself have tested a couple of attempts. It’s not easy for a lot of reasons; it’s a huge project that demands senior coders, and implementing it can’t take priority over critical maintenance that ensures the Archive stays up and running. When the translated interface happens, we will see how the OTW (and Translation in particular) changes to accommodate that.

Aline Carrão 2015 Q&A: Election Process

After a few years of uncontested elections (including one which garnered 0 candidates initially), there are now more candidates than ever before for the smallest number of seats ever up for election. To what do you attribute this sudden surge of candidates, and what would you do during your time on the Board to promote consistent contested elections for Board seats?

I believe the increase in the number of candidates is due to two factors: on the one hand, a lot of committees are in a much healthier place now than they were a couple of years back, and can actually think long-term and spare staff to do board work; on the other hand, the current state of the board — with its directors completely removed from the org’s day-to-day work and with their communication issues with volunteers, staff and chairs — led to a desire for change in several parts of the organization.

In my opinion, the best way to guarantee we will keep this trend going is to work in volunteer and staff retention and to keep committees healthy so that more and more people can be interested in taking part in OTW governance, while at the same time working to make board a rewarding place to serve so people will feel motivated to run for it.

While the current election process is more independent than it was in previous years, it is still subject to some decisions made by the Board, which can be passed at any time without input from volunteers. It’s possible for the Board to even change the rules while an election is in progress to exclude some candidates or voters or to punish volunteers for visibly participating in the process. If elected, how would you ensure that each future election is unaffected by interests within the sitting Board?

The Election committee, in consultation with Volunteers & Recruiting and Legal, should have the final say in election matters, not board. And, in my opinion, any board member running for reelection should be required to step down from their board role in advance before the campaign starts.

What do you think about the fact that two changes to the bylaws (reduction in size of board from seven to nine [sic], and the ability of two-thirds of the board to vote off another member with or without cause) means the board could dilute the election process? Effectively, the standing board could vote off any candidate who wins and with whom they disagree until they reach a candidate of whom they approve. Are you concerned about this?

I think these are valid concerns. Even if these changes were made in good faith and taking into account the best for the OTW, they were short-sighted, because they can be exploited to interfere with the elections process and board composition. We need to address this, and set clearer rules as to when one board member can be voted out and who can be appointed in their place and under what circumstances.

Aline Carrão 2015 Q&A: Finances, Group 2

Can you describe your ideal setup for OTW finances going forward, given that many of you flagged the current situation as an issue?

We need to address the finances issue in a practical and straightforward way. It’s clear, judging by the last few years, that having only one person in charge of our books and bills is not a ideal set-up. We need to reinstate the Finance committee and recruit for it, so that the responsibility won’t fall on one person’s shoulders.

Other than that, we need to assess whether it’s feasible, sustainable and practical in the long run to have an all-volunteer Finance committee, and which parts of the work—bookkeeping, budget planning, investments, auditing—would be better served with an external contractor.

There is currently no internal or external auditing structure checking the OTW’s bookkeeping (no legal worries, here: the Delaware state laws do not require annual auditing from nonprofits). If you join Board, is this something you would like to change? If so, how?
I do believe we need a better structure to check our books and make sure everything is in order. We need to evaluate what the best process for the OTW would be. An external audit might have prohibitively expensive — we would need to investigate. We might need to look into an internal auditing structure instead, or perhaps have external audits only every few years.

Our finances are currently being overseen by only one person with actual decisional and content-producing power, which is concerning in terms of transparency, and efficiency. If elected, how would you go about building a sound administrative Financial structure for the Organization?

We need to reinstate the Finances committee, recruit for it requiring CVs. At the same time we need to evaluate what the different aspects of the OTW’s financial needs (bookkeping, budgeting, auditing, investmenting) are and what the best way to address each one of them is, be it recruiting specifically for it, setting up an ex-officio role, making something a committee-wide responsibility, or bringing in an external contractor. This way we will not have a multifaceted and work-intensive job depending in one single person having to do too much. Plus, it’s essential to have failsafes and checks and balances in our financial structure. Someone has to make sure bills get paid in case of an emergency; someone has to be there to catch a mistake in the books if something gets mistyped or miscategorized.

Even if we decide to outsource much of this work, it’s important to have qualified people who can assess our current situation and make these decisions. This is a critical area of the OTW, and we should prioritize recruiting for it as soon as we can.

I saw many concerns about finances in the candidates’ statements, but I did not see outsourcing financial oversight mentioned as a solution. I’d like to know what the candidates think about outsourcing (paying for) some responsibilities, in particular engaging a company with a background in financial services for non-profits.

I think it’s a very reasonable option, and possible one of the best solutions in the immediate future. That said, this will require finding a financially viable option; taking into consideration our other operational costs, some services may be too expensive for us. But yes, I believe outsourcing bookkeeping, depending on the cost, could be a very healthy option for the OTW. It would mean we won’t depend on retaining a volunteer with bookkeeping experience, and that the person doing our books has professional experience. Both would be excellent changes.