Katarina Harju 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?

Yes, I do very much feel that it’s currently a problem. I think there should be clear guidelines so that everyone can know what the limits of acceptable behaviour are. Everyone should also learn to recognise that criticism of your work is not a personal attack, this is especially important for Board members, because they are in a position that invites criticism. If Board members are unable to make the distinction between disagreements about work matters and personal attacks they should seriously consider stepping down from their position for their own sake, and also for the good of the organization.

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 members shouldn’t face abuse any more than anyone else in the organization. However Board members also need to keep in mind that they are in a position where their actions come under close scrutiny and where their decision might easily face criticism, and reasonable criticism of their actions in work-related matters does not constitute harassment or abuse. If there is reason for complaint, then like in any other such situation it should first be taken to the chair of the committee where the staffer in questions serves, and the same procedures should be followed as they would in any other similar complaint. If the matter does come in front of the Board, then the Board member who has made the complaint should of course recuse themselves.

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?

Frankly I believe it has had a very negative impact on the organization’s culture. It has heightened the fear that Board might at any time remove anyone from the organization by sidestepping accepted procedure. Personally I cannot see a situation where it would be necessary or appropriate to retain outside legal counsel for the Board alone for such a reason.

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 very much believe that there should be some process like the one mentioned in the question that would trigger a vote for removal. The problem with a vote of the membership however is that the OTW has a large number of members and it might be difficult to get the requisite number of people to vote for any action to ever be taken. In some ways, having this process call up a vote by the Board would be more useful. I understand the worry that Board members would side with one of their own, so to speak, because I share that same worry. Personally I hope that this election will start to change that, because I have served with several of my fellow candidates and I firmly believe that they would never condone abusive behaviour, no matter who was involved.

Katarina Harju 2015 Q&A: Other Questions, Group 2

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

I’ve served on committees with three of my fellow candidates, and I have no trouble finding positive things to say about them. I feel somewhat bad about leaving Lady Oscar (Atiya Hakeem) out of my answer, whom I’ve only really learned to know better since we became candidates, but it makes more sense to talk about people I have personally worked together with.

Matty Bowers is the chair of the Abuse committee, on which I currently serve as a staffer. She is, in short, extraordinary. Matty has been instrumental in making the Abuse committee a well-functioning and enjoyable work environment, despite the fact that Abuse work by its nature is often quite thankless. I don’t think any of my fellow candidates will be surprised, or offended, when I say that I can’t think of anyone better to be elected to Board than Matty.

Aline Carrão is a fellow staffer in the Translation committee. She is friendly, helpful and easy to talk to, and manages to combine that with a healthy professionalism where needed. The Board could definitely use someone like her.

Alex Tischer is also a staffer on the Translation committee, and no one in our committee will be surprised to hear me say that in all of the OTW I find Alex the easiest person to work with. The reason for this is the fact that I would never, for any reason, hesitate to argue with Alex, because I know that no matter the disagreement, it will never affect our ability to work together. Besides this, Alex is hard-working, possesses an integrity that I admire and has time management skills that I think most of us can only dream of.

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.

There are many OTW committees that would not be affected by a growth in the Archive of Our Own in any way, because their work concerns other areas of the OTW and not the Archive, or it may even only help their work with no contingency plans needed at all. For example, Archive growth means more tickets and more work for Abuse, while for Translation it means more visibility and more recruits in more languages. The committees that do work with the Archive are impacted in very different ways by its growth because they do different things for the Archive, and no single solution can work for all of them. The Board cannot, and should not, try to implement solutions for these issues, because it is the committees who have the experience and knowledge that is needed to figure out what needs to be done. What the Board can, and should do, is to ensure that the committees in question get the resources they need in time to implement solutions, like for example approve funds to pay for software training and contractors where it makes sense to outsource work.

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?

This is an argument I have never personally heard, which might be because I am not a native English speaker and I work on the Translation committee, which has as its goal to make the OTW’s work accessible in as many languages as possible. There is also the fact that there are definitely quite a lot of non-English works on the Archive. To me it doesn’t matter which comes first, no matter the current number of non-English works, I believe that we should continue to strive to make the Archive accessible to international fans. Currently we can offer the Archive FAQs and Tutorials, and answer Abuse and Support tickets in several languages, and as soon as it becomes technically possible to translate the Archive interface, I can promise you, no one will be as excited as the Translation committee.

Katarina Harju 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 think many of us have simply reached a point where we feel that there is no choice but to try and change the way the Board functions, and it’s clear that that can only be done from inside the Board. I believe we are all aware that it will not always be easy to change things, but if we can successfully implement clear policies for the Board, achieve more transparency, and in general change the Board’s culture for the better, then I think there would be more people willing to step up as candidates in the following elections as well.

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?

While I believe a professional and ethical Board would never behave in such a manner, I do still think that we need to implement strict policies for non-interference in the election process. The Elections committee should be allowed to carry out its work with the authority that the Board has given it in the first place, without any interference from the Board. I think punishing volunteers for showing an interest and getting involved falls under the same category as any other abusive behaviour toward volunteers, which is why we need to have clear policies for acceptable behaviour for Board members in general, and clear consequences when the lines of what is acceptable are crossed.

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 want to make a small correction to the question; according to the bylaws, the Board would not, in fact, have to wait for a candidate they approved of, but could appoint anyone they wanted to take the place of a Director that had been removed. Furthermore, the number of Directors is not set in the bylaws and only needs a resolution of the Board to be changed.

The timing of the change in the bylaws regarding the removal of a Director (August 2015) is unfortunate, and coupled with the reduction in the numbers of Board seats, it has understandably given rise to a lot of doubts regarding the Board’s motivations. What is important, however, is that the reduction in seats means that there will be five Directors for the next term; if I’m not incorrect, an absolute two-thirds majority would mean that all four other Directors would have to agree on the removal of any one Director, and I have to believe that not all of them would choose to behave so unprofessionally.

Katarina Harju 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?

Quite honestly there isn’t a good answer I can give to this. What I currently know about our finances is gathered mostly from our Annual Reports and our 990 tax forms. There is no available documentation about how our bookkeeping is done or of any other finance-related issues. To actually have an idea of how to go forward, I would first have to have a better understanding about the current situation. Ideally, I’d start with spending a long weekend alone with our books to get an idea of what our needs are and what, besides the plainly obvious, needs to be remedied.

I’m not entirely sure if reinstating the Financial committee in some form is a viable solution at this point. It depends on what the actual situation is at the moment, but also on the fact that we may have trouble finding volunteers who are not only qualified, but also willing to commit to the amount of work that would be needed in setting up the committee. If we can’t find the volunteer power needed, then at least in the short term I believe we should consider outsourcing some of the work.

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 already mentioned in a previous answer that I would certainly like to take a very close look at our accounting myself before being able to form any concrete opinions on what needs to be done; similarly, an internal audit would help map the current situation and identify steps that need to be taken. An audit on its own will not fix problems; however, it is true that an internal auditing structure would help identify problems with our accounting, and be a step towards further transparency. While setting up a structure for audits would be nice, it would not solve the most crucial problem, because an audit would not change the fact that all the accounting related tasks would still be done by one single person, even though it would add a measure of oversight to that one person’s work.

I recognise the fact that it would improve people’s trust in our finances if we could show an outside opinion of them. However, an independent audit (that is an outside audit performed by a certified public accountant) is something I’m a bit more reluctant to commit to, at least on an annual basis. It is a significant cost, it is not legally required and, just like an internal audit, it will not correct problems on its own but will simply tell us how well our accounting reflects our actual financial position. If we do need to have an outside opinion, there are alternatives to a full audit such as a less extensive independent review of the finances, which like a full audit is also performed by a certified public accountant.

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?

I’ve already mentioned the complete lack of internal documentation in regards to our finances, which is troubling on a personal level because I feel like I’m basing my opinions on conjecture, but is of course a bigger issue as well, especially since we have also just gained a new Treasurer (the sole person in charge of the finances, as mentioned in the question). I’m rather worried about how much information might be lost in the transition from one Treasurer to another.

The truth is that I can certainly outline ideas for what could be done to build a better financial structure, but with my incomplete knowledge of the current situation and not having consulted the newly appointed Treasurer on the issue, there is no way to make a concrete plan at this point. Some of the crucial things in any structure we implement is to make sure that there is more than one person with access to the relevant information (such as passwords, bank accounts, bookkeeping material), that bills can be paid by more than one person and that bank statements should not be reconciled by the same person signing the checks.

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’ve already mentioned in another answer that outsourcing some of the work is something that should at least be considered. However, I’m not certain if it is currently financially viable for us to engage the services of something like an accounting firm or other similar company on such a large scale, as such services can be very costly and not necessarily needed for a nonprofit of our size, where for example a single contracted bookkeeper might be enough for our purposes. Of course we would have to investigate the options in more depth, take stock of our current needs and get quotes from accounting firms and contractors, to see what would be the best choice for us.