Heather M 2022 Q&A: Communication

[Note: There will be 3 Q&A posts total, covering all the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. Candidates were limited to 300 words per answer.]

Can you name a skill that you consider relevant for a board member, but that you consider a personal weakness?

For me, one of the more intimidating aspects of Board when I first considered running was the idea of dealing with the finances. While I’m capable enough to deal with my personal budget, I’m far less confident with the idea of a budget the size of OTW’s.

Thankfully, we have a Finance Committee who manage the actual money and are really good at explaining things. They’re also very kind people who don’t mind being asked questions. As a Board member, I’ll need to understand enough to be able to grant approval for spending, but I won’t need to manage the spreadsheets.

If I’m elected to Board, I do still plan on increasing my financial literacy skills. I have access to that kind of training through work. While it’s not required for my day job, I know my leadership team will be very encouraging if I express an interest in taking courses. If I’m lucky, it might even lead to a new passion for accounting!

What aspect of your OTW experience so far have you found most frustrating?

I’m often frustrated by the disconnect in communication between the Org and our userbase. This is, of course, mostly an AO3 issue since that’s the platform with the most users by far.

The Org does try to communicate! There are News posts and social media accounts, but with millions of people using the site, it’s impossible to reach them all. On the user side, I doubt a lot of people even realize the News posts exist. I don’t know the numbers on the various social media accounts, but I’m guessing they don’t have followings of a million+.

I want users to know about and use the FAQs! I want us to talk about the journey to a block feature! But we don’t have the capacity to take on more venues, and users are there to read fic not FAQs.

It’s a problem that organizations bigger than ours haven’t cracked the nut on yet, but I’m hopeful we’ll keep making improvements. I certainly have a willingness to tackle the problem.

Share the story of a negative experience you’ve had in the OTW as a volunteer and what you’ve learned from it.

I’ve been lucky enough not to have had any negative experiences with my fellow volunteers so far, but the incident at the start of May this year was horrifying.

For those who don’t know, an unknown individual maliciously attacked OTW volunteers with emails containing CSAM. I saw the warnings about the email before I saw the email itself, thankfully, and I escaped being exposed to something that awful.

What I learned from that was 1) the Org is a community of wonderful human beings who support each other during extremely stressful times. 2) The Board is willing to shut everything down if it means keeping volunteers safe. 3) Our fellow fans outside of the Org love us more than they criticize us, and they support what we’re all trying our best to do.

That last one wasn’t really something new I learned, but it was a much-needed reminder of something I already knew. The messages of support we received made a huge difference to me and to other volunteers.

How are the works on these platforms important to you, and how do you plan to monitor what content they contain?

Fanworks are important to me on two different levels. The first level is pure enjoyment. I love reading fanfic. I love looking at art. I love seeing fancrafts, fan meta, fan history. It’s a community I feel a deep attachment to, and so I’m attached to everything that community makes.

The second level is more abstracted and less personal. I find fan creations and culture absolutely fascinating in an anthropological sense. I often find myself researching philosophies or political viewpoints or academic texts in order to better understand fans and fandom. The works housed on AO3 and the articles on Fanlore and the imports via Open Doors and everything in Transformative Works and Cultures are all pieces of the puzzle that help me understand this community better and love it even more.

As for monitoring content, that’s not something that we do. Nor do I think we should. The sheer amount of content uploaded daily makes that an impossible task for any workforce, let alone 900-and-something volunteers who are also doing other jobs. We rely on our userbase to notify us if they think something breaks TOS or site rules.

On Fanlore, Gardeners will notice if a large amount of text was removed or if there seems to be an edit war ongoing. Users can also flag them to get their attention on a page, if needed. On AO3, the Policy & Abuse Committee receive and review reports from our users. Neither one of those groups is looking at every edit or upload proactively. However, I trust both groups to uphold each site’s content policies.

Board work often entails drafting emotionally fraught or tense e-mails, posts and messages — sometimes under pressure from a write-in campaign or a flood of heavy criticism. Do you have experience in communicating under pressure? What challenges do you foresee for yourself in a scenario like this?

I haven’t drafted messages on as public a stage as the Board needs to, but I have had to communicate very charged messages to, for example, a large group of employees. What helps me when I’m in a situation like what you’ve described is to think first and respond later. A decision made in the heat of the moment isn’t one that considers the longer term.

In the moment, my emotions might be jumbled, and I might feel attacked or perhaps just defensive. Neither of those emotional states is going to make for very good communication. Instead of reacting in the moment, I need to take time to understand what’s being said to me and then reflect on what I’m going to do about it before I reply. No one wants to hear empty platitudes. But at the same time, I don’t want anyone to feel ignored while I take the time that I need.

I think that pressure to respond quickly will be a big challenge. If something happens, people want to hear something immediately, and they’ll feel ignored if they don’t. The challenge lies in saying something in the moment to let them know they’ve been heard but still asking for the time to consider the rest of the answer fully and answer it in a way that can be clearly understood. Anything less does both groups a huge disservice.

[Note: All questions from members and candidate responses appear in the form they were submitted and represent only the views of the individual who wrote them. Questions and responses are not endorsed by the Organization for Transformative Works.]