Katarina Harju 2015 Q&A: General Management

How would you describe your management style? Your communication style?

I tend to assume that the people I’m managing know how to do their job, and that they will ask for help if they need it. Of course it’s still my job to notice if someone is struggling and to remind everyone that they can and should ask for help.

My communication style tends to often be short and to the point. I know that while I see it as efficient, in other cultures this can be perceived as terse, which is why when communicating in English I have always paid attention to not sacrifice politeness for the sake of brevity.

You all described your thoughts on “the key responsibilities of a/the Board” in your manifestos. However, with the exception of the bylaws, which are legally rather than functionally focused, there isn’t a clear publicly available list of the duties and responsibilities of the board. Would you be interested in changing that?

Yes, I think it is extremely important to have documentation that clearly states the duties and responsibilities of the Board. It would make it easier for Board members to do their work, and for everyone else to interact with Board members if everyone had a clear understanding of what the duties of Board members were.

There has been a lot of mention of Board micromanagement and workload. What are two things that you would like to see immediately shifted off of the Board agendas to both decrease micromanagement of the organization and free up Board time for focusing on more strategic issues?

I don’t have an answer to this questions, because I don’t know what items would be on the Board agenda, or in fact if the Board has any clear agenda or idea of what its responsibilities are. In fact, I’m not even certain of what the current Board does with all the time its members claim to use for their work in the OTW: Board’s day-to-day work, short of their weekly meetings—which often get cancelled—isn’t visible at all from the outside. Once I find out what takes up the bulk of Board’s time, I may have practical suggestions as to what could help improve their workload.

The OTW has now spent over 3 years developing a 3-year strategic plan. This seems extremely long based on practices in other organizations and raises concerns both about the relevance of such a plan due to organizational shifts and, from the outside, raises questions about the ability to find consensus in the organization. What are your thoughts on how long it has taken to develop the strategic plan, and what steps would you take as a Board member to improve or streamline the process of both finishing up the current plan and setting up the development of the next iteration of the strategic plan?

I’m afraid that if it takes this long to develop the strategic plan then it can never actually be relevant for the current situation. I’m fully of the opinion that making a strategic plan should not take this long. At the time of this writing, the Board is having their annual in-person meeting, at which, it is my understanding, the current strategic plan should be approved to start implementation—a plan for which they started gathering information in 2012, and that in last year’s retreat they decided to start implementing in January 2015. So there is likely not much I could do about the current strategic plan if I am elected; however, I do hope to have some influence on how the next strategic plan is made.

Katarina Harju 2015 Q&A: Retreat

In 2013 and 2014, the Board had in-person meetings in North America, and there will be another this October. What is your opinion on Board retreats and their outcomes so far?

There’s no denying the fact that there are some benefits to meeting in person. It is true that some work is done more efficiently in person, and that it’s not a bad idea to just connect with the people you’re working with, which does often happen easier in person. If there were sufficient concrete results to show from these meetings, then I might consider them reasonable and even healthy for the organization, a possible way to improve our efficiency and collaboration. The fact is however, that so far none of these annual meetings have achieved any actionable results and, as such, I can not in good conscience try to defend them.

How would you as a Board member, go about choosing who and what committees are invited to the annual retreat?

The meetings should have at least a tentative agenda before any such decisions are made, and that information should be available at the very least for people volunteering in the organization. Any decisions of who should participate in the meetings should be based on plans for what will be handled in the meetings, taking into consideration the costs and the potential contributions that each part of the organization can bring to each debate. These plans and decisions should be made visible, they should be discussed in open meetings of the Board, or when this isn’t possible then the pertinent information should be made available on the internal wiki.

Having these discussions and plans take place exclusively in closed sessions of the Board, where the only thing anyone can find out is through short items in the Board’s meeting minutes saying that discussion happened, weeks after the fact, is a sure way of breeding resentment and suspicion about the retreat as a whole.

Last year the board’s in person meeting cost $18,355.21, 17% amount of the OTW’s total expenses. Do you have any ideas how to do this meeting a more cost effective way going forward?

I strongly believe that we should look further into alternatives to in-person meetings, such as video conferencing, of which I personally have had positive experiences, and which sounds like a communication boost that an all-online organization should definitely at least attempt. I also don’t see why the in-person meeting should be annual at this point, especially since the results so far have been debatable. Perhaps an in person meeting every second or third year would be more than sufficient.

Katarina Harju 2015 Q&A: Conflict of Interest

How would you define the term “conflict of interest” and how might it apply to you while serving on the Board?

A conflict of interest would be a situation where either my professional judgement was compromised by personal interest, or where I owed a duty to either party, all parties, or an interested third party and could not do justice to everyone involved in the situation. As there are almost no situations in the OTW where personal financial gain would be an issue, most conflicts of interest would likely be in regards to personnel issues. There are policies to safeguard the OTW with regards to financial conflicts of interest, but nothing to protect our volunteers against the other kind. While I would hope that I would understand to recuse myself if such a situation arose, it is increasingly apparent, partly because of developments during this election season, that strict policies governing and limiting Board behaviour, including conflicts of interest, need to be introduced and enforced.

Given that some of you intend to keep your other Org positions, how do you intend to deal with conflicts of interest when matters arise which impact your committee?

a. For example, if your committee wants to implement a change which requires Board approval, but is not necessarily in the OTW’s best interests, or would have an impact on another committee, how would you ensure that your contribution to the Board’s decision reflected your position as a Board member and not your personal opinion as a member of the committee?

b. Conversely, if another committee sought Board approval for something that would impact your own committee, how would you ensure that you were giving their arguments a fair hearing?

It is a fallacy to assume that I, or any other potential Board member, would lose what feelings or loyalties we might have towards a committee if we stepped down from our roles. However, the truth is that my duty is first and foremost to the OTW as a whole, and its mission, not to any individual committee or person. I trust and firmly believe that the people with whom I have served on various committees understand and share that sentiment.

I also firmly believe that any and all decisions, barring issues of confidentiality, should be discussed and voted on openly or the information otherwise made available to the people serving in the organization. Then in such a case that my own judgment on my objectivity were to fail, I would hope that it would be brought to attention and subsequently appropriate action taken.

Katarina Harju’s Bio and Manifesto

Bio

Katarina is a Swedish-speaking Finn currently working towards a degree in Information Technology. Prior to this, she worked in accountancy for many years. She went searching for fandom in 2000 after reading about it in a magazine (and is eternally grateful that she happened to pick up that particular one in a moment of boredom). She has created fanworks for a variety of fandoms, many of which can be found at her AO3 userpage. Somewhere along the line, she fell in love with podfics, and she still writes fic, records podfic and even makes some fannish crafts now and then, though not as often as she’d like. Katarina followed the OTW’s work closely from the beginning, getting involved herself in 2013 as a member of the Translation committee, where she is currently a translator and staffer. She spent time as a tag wrangler in 2014, and currently also serves on the AO3 Abuse committee.

Manifesto

1. Why did you decide to run for election to the Board?

During my service in the OTW, I have come to care a great deal about the OTW’s goals, my fellow volunteers and the users of our projects. There are, however, several areas of the OTW’s functioning that I’m not satisfied with, including some aspects of how the current Board works. I felt that running for the Board was the best way to serve the needs of all of those aforementioned parties, and to help the Board’s work reflect these needs. I’ve been following the OTW’s development from the beginning, and I’m very invested in its mission and projects. In the past two years, I have seen many committees thriving, collaborating and making progress on their goals, whereas others struggled due to miscommunication and mismanagement from the Board. I think volunteering to join the Board is a logical way to try to help fix this.

2. What skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?

I have professional experience in bookkeeping, and though the regulations differ since the OTW is US-based, the essentials and the best practices of accounting and budgeting hold as true for the OTW as they do for the companies I’ve worked with.

As part of Translation staff, I have practical experience in both management and administrative work, including dealing with a great quantity of emails with extremely diverse queries in a short amount of time, managing task assignments for our more than 150 volunteers, writing documentation and collaborating with other committees.
I have experience in working with people from various backgrounds and cultures, both in the OTW and my offline life, which forms an excellent basis for working on the Board of a diverse organization such as the OTW. I also have experience in IT, and, although I have never been part of the group of people who ensure that the AO3 stays up and running and keeps getting better, I do have a working understanding of what they do (and appreciate it immensely).

3. What goals would you like to achieve during your term?

I would like to see the Board move in a direction where it does not deem it necessary to involve itself in the everyday running of things—a Board that does not micromanage and is focused instead on high-level decisions and plans to move the organization toward achieving its mission. Where Board involvement is required, as it sometimes is, I would do my best to ensure that things run smoothly and, more importantly, speedily, so as not to delay the work of the committees unnecessarily.

Furthermore, I would like to see the Financial committee reinstated in some form, or make some other sensible arrangements for the way our finances are handled. It does not seem reasonable to have all of this work fall on the shoulders of only one person as it does now. Irrespective of that person’s ability to handle the work, it is simply irresponsible not to have some built-in redundancy with regard to the handling of our finances. Because our accounting is handled by one single person, who is also responsible for interpreting the financial reports to the Board (and may even be part of the Board), there is not enough oversight of the finances or the bookkeeping. There is currently no internal or external audit, which means there is no way we can sufficiently demonstrate accountability.

4. What is your experience of the OTW’s projects and how would you collaborate with the relevant committees to support and strengthen them? Please include AO3, TWC, Fanlore, our Legal Advocacy work, and Open Doors, though feel free to emphasize particular areas you’re interested in.

I was a tag wrangler for some time and I’m currently a member of the AO3 Abuse committee, and I’m also an AO3 user, so I do have more hands-on experience of the AO3 than the other projects. However, I am also a member of the Translation committee, which works together with many of the OTW’s projects, and as such, I’ve had many opportunities to familiarize myself with their work, as well as with the committees that make the projects possible.

Overall, I think that it is important that the Board be approachable, and that the Board be able to find out what the committees’ needs are through open dialogue, since the committees themselves are in the best position to know. Oftentimes it seems that bringing a proposal to Board is more like an obstacle in the way of getting things done rather than an opportunity for change and useful refinements of plans. So one thing I want to do for all projects is to be as approachable as possible and to do my work in a timely fashion.

I believe the committees should be trusted to do the work they have shown themselves capable of handling, without needless interference. For the ones that need help and support, it should be offered to them, but not thrust upon them. We should listen to other committees who have managed to overcome similar problems, learn how they managed it, and encourage the ones struggling to follow suit. Board cannot magically fix everything or be everywhere, but it can have the background knowledge to help make connections between people who can help each other.

5. Choose two topics/issues that you think should be high priority for the OTW, both internally and externally. What do these topics mean to you and why do you value them? How will you make them a part of your service?

In my professional career I’ve worked with managing other people’s finances and bookkeeping, and I can’t help but focus on the way the OTW’s finances are currently handled. It seems very inadvisable to have all that responsibility on the shoulders of one single person. What happens if that one person, for whatever reason, suddenly becomes unavailable to us? Furthermore, we do not currently have a prospective budget, which is something that is important when planning for the future and for setting fundraising goals.

And speaking of finances, I think that we should re-think them in other ways as well—namely, our fundraising. We have had several very successful membership drives (and we are immensely grateful to all our donors), but the truth is that most of that money is still sitting in a bank account being used for nothing. How can we justify asking our users for more, when we have not made use of the money they have already donated? There are useful things that could be done with it, such as paying for contractors to help with the AO3 code or the OTW website, or ensuring that we invest in new servers for our projects in a timely manner. In case we cannot come up with any good use for the money that we have, we should be upfront about it when asking for more donations.

6. What do you think the key responsibilities of a/the Board are? Are you familiar with the legal requirements for a US-based nonprofit board of directors?

I’m not a US citizen, but I am familiar with the legal requirements of a US-based nonprofit, and the responsibilities of this Board in particular. I would not seek any position if I hadn’t first researched the responsibilities that come with it to the best of my ability. I think the most essential legal requirement is a director’s duty of care towards the organization and its membership: staying informed about what’s going on in the organization, making decisions based on its best interests and mission.

I believe it’s the responsibility of the Board to look at the big picture, and to guide the organization in accordance with its goals. The Board should not be responsible for the day-to-day management of things. The OTW Board of Directors has sometimes found it necessary to get involved to a degree that is not ideal; because the OTW’s internal structure was not suited to grow at the rate it has, when such involvement does happen, it should be handled efficiently and in a way that ensures the day-to-day work is not hindered or, if that is not possible, that it is allowed to resume as quickly as possible.

I also believe that it is part of the Board’s responsibility to be as open as possible about its work. Currently a lot of what the Board does happens in spaces where it is not accessible to people who are not members of the Board, even when dealing with discussions for which such privacy is far from necessary. Such an appearance of secrecy—unintentional as it may be—is something the Board should strive to get away from.

7. How would you balance your Board work with other roles in the OTW, or how do you plan to hand over your current roles to focus on Board work?

I’m currently serving as staff on the Abuse and Translation committees. I’m grateful to work in committees that are stable enough that I know that I can step down from my roles without inconveniencing the rest of the team too much. I know that they can take over my part of the work without needing to do any significant restructuring.

In Translation I work as a staffer, which is a more managerial position, as well as a translator. If I am elected I will retain a position in the Translation committee, because I find the work satisfying. The sense of community I find there also helps me remember why the OTW is so important to me. I feel similarly for the Abuse team, and I cherish the opportunity to interact with and help AO3 users, even if it is often in delicate and less than happy circumstances. I would hate to have to step down from either of my roles; however, if it does turn out that Board work is too taxing for me to remain in both committees, then I would consider removing myself from the Abuse team.