Jennifer H’s 2023 Q&A: Board Work I

[Note: There will be 4 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.]

What committees have you worked with, and for how long? What have you especially enjoyed about them?

While I haven’t been a volunteer for very long—I’ve been a Tag Wrangler since 2022—I’ve been in fandom spaces and using AO3 for over a decade!

My committee, Tag Wrangling, is a fantastic and lively bunch—I appreciate the camaraderie we share as well as how there is always someone willing to help answer questions or point people in the right direction when they’re stuck. Beyond the peer-to-peer support, I also appreciate that there are enough supervisors and chairs available to assist as well.

A fun anecdote: sometimes, as Tag Wranglers, we’ll see authors who are very dedicated to certain concepts; however, part of the wrangling policy is that three different users must tag for that concept before it can be made into a canonical tag. One of the great things about Tag Wrangling is that we will often crowdsource a fic (or two) to help get that concept over the line so that the user can have a canonical, which I think is great and supportive!

Where did you get most of the knowledge and preparation in order to know running for board is a good fit for you? Did you feel prepared enough by Board/elections? Do you personally believe that people with no concrete professional experience (such as college students) are apt to serve on the Board of Directors of a US non-profit?

In my professional career I have worked at companies in varying stages of development, from start-ups to established corporations. I have always enjoyed policy-making and strategizing and within these workspaces I am known for the ideas and solutions that I bring to the conversations.

The elections committee has been wonderful—they are responsive, proactive, and definitely look out for us candidates. On the other hand, I can’t say that I have been prepared by the Board to run. Part of the reason why I am running is because I am disappointed by the current Board; however, I also do not know them as individuals nor is there a lot of insight into who is making which decisions. If elected, I hope to work well alongside the Board members who will be continuing their tenures and will approach conversations in good faith.

As for the last point—candidly, no, I do not believe most individuals without concrete professional experience would be sufficiently prepared and ready to take on Board work. This is a broad generalization, though, and there will always be exceptions.

I do believe they have the energy and desire, and I would like to see a position created where they can participate in relevant discussions without the full responsibility of being on the Board; we have Chair-track volunteers, so I would like to see something along the lines of a Board-track volunteer, for example.

One of the challenges the OTW faces is having enough candidates who are interested in running in the first place. I think this type of position would encourage more candidates for upcoming elections if they have seen firsthand what Board work entails and have had the experience of shadowing Board members.

What techniques do you use to manage pressure on yourself? How would you handle stepping up into a more visible and personally accountable position? Tell me about a time you had to manage a particularly heavy workload. How did you handle it?

I manage pressure through a variety of ways: I have a strong support system both locally and through fandom; I attend therapy weekly and have begun journaling daily–something that I have found I really enjoy; and I ask for help when I need it.

I expect that stepping up into a more visible position will induce an understandable amount of anxiety—similar to a significant promotion at work (just on a much larger scale). I have the resources that I need to manage that anxiety (though I am always open to learning more!). Additionally, I am solely accountable in my own day-to-day work, so I am already familiar with how to handle that kind of pressure.

To answer the last question: Q4 is the end of the financial year for many of my clients and they often try to complete all of their research with me in the last six weeks or so. This means that my workload during those six weeks often doubles or triples. I have learned to prioritize, stick to a schedule (but still be flexible when needed), and ask for support from colleagues if two tasks are of equal importance and urgency.

Another useful skill I implement is being able to determine (and prioritize) which tasks are high-impact and which are nice-to-have but less urgent.

The Board is the nominal head of the OTW, which means that there is no Chair or other supervisor telling you what work to take on or what your priorities should be. Explain your comfort level with that kind of work and how you think you would handle that scenario. As a board member, how would you handle situations where you encounter an unfamiliar area, such as legal issues?

I am very comfortable with this type of work environment. I mentioned in the previous question that I am solely responsible for my own work in my day job. To expand on that, I work remotely and am responsible for full-cycle project management. I operate autonomously and I am adept at determining priorities as well as being flexible when those priorities change. Additionally, I am proactive when taking on work while ensuring that I do not overload myself.

When encountering unfamiliar areas, I find it is best to do preliminary research myself so that I do not come into the conversations wholly unprepared. Then I reach out to subject matter experts who can expand on what I have learned and share their lived experiences with the area.

I want to specifically address the example of legal issues in this question, as there have been a lot of conversations on this lately. I am not familiar with all of the types of law that our legal team practices, but I do believe our legal team needs to be diversified; we need lawyers from differing fields, not just IP.

In particular, I would like to see international law and internet law representation. I also think it is important that we make sure we are recruiting legal volunteers who are not US-based. These volunteers may not have the US-focused legal knowledge to assist with the operations of the organization, but this is a global organization and so is the mission of legal advocacy of transformative work.

Explain in your own words what “fiduciary duty” means for a US non-profit. Are you comfortable with that level of legal commitment? Does being on the Board of Directors of a US nonprofit pose any risk to you or your family in your country? Have you discussed this risk with your loved ones?

Having fiduciary duty for a US non-profit means that I would be legally responsible for acting in the best interests of the organization, most notably at a financial level. It means that I would need to remain unbiased and unaffected by outside influences when making financial decisions for the OTW. This includes being transparent and recusing myself from decisions that I am inherently biased about (for example, I would recuse myself from a vote that involved anything that I have a financial or personal stake in, etc). I am willing and prepared to take on these responsibilities and commitments.

For the second half of the question, I live in the United States and am a US citizen. I have discussed the decision to run for this position with my family as it will greatly affect my commitments over the course of a potential tenure. However, I am aware that this may not be the case for all of my fellow candidates and I am here to support them in any way that I can.

How might the OTW better support fanworks and fan culture which is hosted in places other than AO3? Do you believe the organization has a responsibility to do so?

The organization has a couple of functions that assist with external fanworks and fan culture. Fanlore has expansive documentation on fan culture and is growing by the day. AO3’s code is technically open-source, which would allow interested parties to set up their own archives.

However, I believe there are plenty of ways to improve. As I mentioned, the archive’s code is technically open-source; however, from research that I have done I have learned that it is not necessarily suitable for smaller archives and it is also not optimized in a way that allows for someone to set an archive up easily.

The other day I witnessed a conversation between a volunteer and Kathyrn S about eFiction and how that used to help smaller archives run; however, updates have been discontinued. They mentioned it might be an interesting side project to work on something similar that can be used instead of the archive’s code. I think ideas like this are great and would like to champion them. Also, to be clear, this was a brainstorming conversation (shared with permission of both individuals) rather than something that is concrete or planned.

Additionally—while I do believe supporting fanworks and fan culture outside of AO3 is part of the organization’s mission, I do not believe the OTW/AO3 should be the backbone of fandom. I would like to see other fan-created wikis and communities. I would like to see another fandom-related academic journal. Many of our volunteers would be glad to knowledge-share on these topics!

Many of you mentioned large, exciting projects such as paid HR, DEI consultants, and new mandatory tags. If you encountered roadblocks for these plans, how would you ensure that you can still fill your campaign promises, and how would those new strategies be communicated to OTW members?

Roadblocks are a natural process of managing large projects. In those instances, I find it helpful to do several things:

1) Take a step back and re-evaluate. Do we have all of the information? Did we do sufficient research? Is our goal specific, clear, and actionable or does it need to be rescoped?

2) Communicate it to internal stakeholders and then, if the problem still persists, external stakeholders.

I mentioned the importance of honesty and being transparent in my candidate platform. I’ve found that a lot of problems can be solved by communicating the roadblock, what we’ve done so far, and what we plan to do–and then listening to feedback.

If a project is no longer feasible, and every avenue has been explored, then I believe we should come up with a similar alternative that serves the same function (or as close as we can get). Before it’s implemented, I believe this should be communicated to OTW volunteers and members to ensure that everyone is on the same page and decisions are not being sprung upon anyone.

What are your thoughts on PAC and how to improve things there in response to the current controversy?

I think our PAC team is a fantastic group who work very hard! I have spoken to several members of our PAC committee to better understand what they want and need, but I want to emphasize that what they need and want might look different from what people on the outside, like myself, might expect or anticipate.

From what I’ve heard, the main problem right now is that there simply aren’t enough of them to go around. I think bolstering recruitment would be helpful; it’ll take some time for new volunteers to ramp up, and it might make the current processes slower in the meanwhile, but I believe it will be worth it. Volunteers who are also multilingual will help address the non-English tickets in the queue.

The team needs tangible resources for overall mental health as well as additional support for dealing with more difficult tickets. PAC can recruit all of the people in the world but it won’t be effective without the resources to be able to support new volunteers on their committee.

Last, I am a firm believer in PAC having the power to make their own decisions on how to handle certain types of tickets / situations to ensure the safety and well-being of the community.

What further steps would you do to foster a welcoming and safe environment for users and fans? Many people find the current process for volunteering with the OTW to be unclear or difficult; how would you like to change the current recruitment process to bring in more – and more diverse – volunteers? What would you propose the Archive to do to protect/support volunteers?

The first step is remaining committed to the organization’s founding mission: to be a safe harbor for transformative works and their creators.

This means ensuring that users and fans understand that works will not be actioned upon unless they violate the TOS (ie: are not a fanwork, are plagiarized, etc) while also protecting those same users and fans so that they are not harassed off of the platform. I would like to clarify that I believe works created specifically to harass individuals or groups should be actioned upon and treated the same as a harassing comment, etc. From the TOS: “Harassment is any behavior that produces a generally hostile environment for its target.”

Some functionality, like muting and blocking, has been implemented, but as I mention in the previous question it’s also important for PAC to feel enabled to respond to tickets in a way that remains committed to the TOS but better protects our users.

Regarding volunteering: I’d like to see generalized volunteer positions that “float” between committees so that new volunteers can join and gain a better understanding of what each part of the organization does before deciding to join one committee or another. This could function like clinical rotations. An all-purpose, perpetually-open sign-up form would also be great for proactive recruitment.

To support our volunteers, we need to conduct a comprehensive volunteer audit to understand 1) actual working hours and 2) intended responsibilities versus actual responsibilities. This will help determine where support is most needed. We also need paid HR for conflict resolution (and other related tasks).

I’d also like to implement org-wide trainings on global-focused DEI as well as effective communication. The organization is vast, with volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, and we should not assume that everyone joins with the same knowledge.