Jennifer H’s 2023 Q&A: Board Work II

[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’s the main type of Board work you want to do, concretely?

The main type of Board work that I want to do is push forward institutional reform. I understand the amount of work that it will take—but change has to start somewhere.

Part of this will include copious amounts of research and relationship building among the various committees, particularly those that I am not as familiar with. I also look forward to analyzing the organization’s past failures and missteps in order to understand where concrete, actionable changes can be made. An example of this is the difficulty of removing sitting Board members or Chairs. Another example includes revamping the way the Board communicates with volunteers, members, and users.

These may be a smaller subset of goals on the non-exhaustive list of changes that need to be made, but I believe they would be concrete improvements that will push the organization forward.

Is the current Board’s collective capacity sufficient? Their multi-year delay to update on a priority issue indicates otherwise. Would you support adding seats or administrative staff to the board? What would allow individual directors to contribute more (and more effectively) to the organization?

I think there are a couple of things to note here. First, I think one of the major delays is caused by the role not being taken as seriously as I believe it should. Former Board members have shared that they put an hour or so into Board duties a week and I have found that to be appalling, especially in the context of everything that the organization needs to work on. In my opinion, Board members need to treat their role much more seriously than it seems like they have historically.

I believe each of the five current candidates, myself included, understand the amount of work that will need to be put in to create real, actionable changes.

I also support adding administrative staff to assist with tasks such as data and question collection, moderation of Board meetings, and such. This would allow Board members to focus on the overall strategy of the organization and push forward actual change rather than tasks that are still important, but do not have the same type of impact org-wide.

The OTW has a history of distrusting its Board of Directors (most notably demonstrated in the 2015 elections). What steps do you think the Board could take to regain trust, not just with internal volunteers, but also with the broader community of fandom?

Part of the distrust comes from the inability to remove Board members from their duties in the event of misconduct. We are seeing this now with current Board member Alex Tischer, who has fostered an unwelcoming and hostile environment for volunteers of color in the organization with little accountability for years.

Another reason for this distrust is the culture of silence that I have noticed. It took over three weeks of volunteers asking questions in internal communal forums to receive even the most basic of responses in May / June, which is unacceptable. As a Board member, one of my priorities would be to ensure that delays of that nature do not occur again.

If the issue is writing the statements themselves, I would be happy to do so. If it is getting approval from other members of the Board and/or Legal, I will follow up with the groups in question and not let it fall through the cracks. Managing a variety of stakeholders is something that I am very familiar with and must do in my day job, so I am ready to apply those practices to a Board position as well.

As a Board member, would you support contracting external subject matter experts to perform an institutional audit, including potentially developing a revamped org chart, with the goal of strengthening internal efficiency and organizational resilience? If not, how would you pursue those goals?

Absolutely. I think this should be required and will be one of the first things that I push for if elected. I am relatively new to the organization, but my impression is that it has grown from what was, essentially, a group of fandom friends into a million dollar nonprofit and people have been reluctant to address the changes that come along with that.

You can see evidence of this in several places: the flat hierarchy of the organization; the insistence that volunteers should not be held accountable for the work that they have agreed to take on; and the unavailability of the current Board.

For example: at the moment of writing, 2 out of 5 of the current Board members are on hiatus, one having been in a hiatus-state for several months. That leaves 3 who are supposed to be actively working, and I am very concerned by this state of affairs. It does not appear that there is a formal procedure for when a Board member goes on hiatus, how long those hiatuses should be before someone needs to replace them, and when / if these hiatuses are announced. I believe that people should take the time that they need, but as Board members there are legal obligations that must be fulfilled.

The OTW needs an institutional audit, as mentioned in this question, to guide it through the much-needed changes of growing into the type of professional institution that it’s supposed to be.

Serving on the Board of Directors means you will have to work with all committee chairs. How do you plan to handle situations where your priorities do not align with the priorities of committee chairs?

Committee Chairs know their committees best; however, as a Board member I will need to understand how they all work together to form the organization as a whole. In the case where the priorities of the entire organization do not align with the priorities of Chairs, I would first consult the rest of the Board to determine if there are other paths that could be taken. If not, I would work with the Chair to explain how the priorities fit in the overall picture and find a reasonable path forward. Communication and approaching conversation from a place of respect rather than demand is key here.

How would you handle conflict – with volunteers, users, other board members, the OTW’s aims? Are you good at conflict resolution? Especially understanding people’s viewpoints in a text discussion, and explaining and standing up for your own without making stuff blow up. What strategies do you use in those situations?

I am good at conflict resolution and I am able to admit when I am wrong or when I have held misconceptions or inaccurate beliefs, which is a valuable skill. I am comfortable asking clarifying questions and working to understand the entire picture as well as where other participants in the discussion are coming from, rather than aggressively pushing my own point of view.

I feel it is natural to have an emotional reaction when faced with conflict, especially around a matter that you care deeply about; however, I have learned to step away and take a moment to reflect on those emotions so that I can come back without them clouding my responses.

Considering the evidence that has been brought to light of past board misconduct, if elected, what would you do to make sure such egregious misuse of power cannot be repeated?

I firmly believe that there needs to be a more concrete way to remove a Board member (and Chairs) from their duties, as mentioned earlier regarding current Board member Alex Tischer. According to the bylaws, a majority vote of the Board could do so; however, as noted there are only 5 members of the Board currently with 2 of them being on hiatus. This has caused a situation where it is unlikely the current Board will move to remove Alex from their role, despite their unacceptable behavior. [Update: Natalia and Antonious have chosen to resign].

I want to be careful and recognize that additional methods will require the necessary checks and balances to ensure that people do not misuse their institutional power to stay on the Board, while also ensuring that removal in the cases of egregious misuse of power is something that can actually occur in practice rather than in theory.

What would you do to improve transparency of the Board’s actions and processes so that fans outside the org know what the OTW is doing? Board meetings are an hour long, held just four times a year, and frequently end without sufficient time to answer questions. Would you be in favor of holding meetings more frequently, making them longer, or holding special Town Hall type sessions where the focus is on answering questions?

First, I believe Board meetings need to be much more frequent. Four times a year for an hour is abysmally insufficient. Ideally, I would like to see that upped to once a month and for a number of questions to be gathered beforehand so that they can be answered live and have follow-ups asked and addressed then.

I also believe that the Board should write posts addressing pertinent questions that they are receiving via the contact form (with the question asker’s permission) and publicly share responses that may be applicable to the broader user group on AO3. There have been many concerns shared where users believe the Board does not look at or respond to emails they have received, and this transparency should assist that while also adding an extra layer of accountability.

After the last Board meeting, I collected an extensive list of suggestions from volunteers, users, and members to address the unprofessional and unprepared way that it was conducted. There aren’t enough words allotted to properly share them all, but I would be happy to do so in candidate chats or elsewhere. They have also been presented to the current Board via internal public channels and acknowledged.

How do you plan to improve internal org communications so that every volunteer has a chance to be heard, rather than just the loudest voices? For example, do you have plans to do surveys or focus groups of among volunteers?

Yes, absolutely. My day job in research revolves around surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews so this is something that I am very experienced with. I mentioned in a previous Q&A that I want to conduct these to gather data on racism, ableism, and other forms of bigotry within the organization and on the archive so that the DEI consult has concrete data to review and work with. These methodologies would work well for hearing volunteer voices as well.

I have been curating a discussion guide for in-depth interviews to better understand volunteer experiences in the organization, from onboarding through their current role and expectations. I already have several volunteers who have raised their hands to participate in these interviews once it is complete.

This discussion guide includes questions such as: were they sufficiently prepared for their duties during onboarding; do they understand what the different functions of the organization do; where do they feel comfortable discussing their thoughts on the organization or, if nowhere, why not; are they comfortable coming to their Chairs when they have problems, and if not, do they have someone that they are comfortable going to; do they feel supported in the organization, etc.

[Note: this paragraph was written before the election became uncontested, but I am keeping it in for posterity] Whether or not I am elected I aim to continue this work to provide the Board and the organization the ability to make more informed decisions on future policies. One of the great things about these methodologies is that they are very iterative and can be revamped or adjusted as needed to pinpoint areas that need to be addressed.

Name another candidate you are looking forward to working with and describe how you believe your skills or experiences will complement each other.

All of the other candidates have skills and experiences that I appreciate and I am delighted to work alongside all of them! We have collaborated and knowledge-shared with each other during the election process on several aspects, including the Q&A’s, and I believe we make a cohesive team.

I’ll name all candidates below, listed alphabetically. However, I’d first like to thank Anh, Qiao, and Zixin for voicing the inaccessibility of the archive to non-English speaking fans. It opened my eyes to some naive assumptions that I have held about the archive and its accessibility.

Anh: Anh has done an incredible job of researching and reaching out to subject matter experts to better understand different parts of the organization and how to address the myriad of problems it is facing. In this regard, Anh has gone the extra mile and I have been particularly impressed.

Kathryn: Kathryn’s extensive experiences in the non-profit industry will allow her to approach much-needed structural reform with best practices in mind. She is also research-oriented and thoughtful in her responses and approaches.

Qiao: Qiao comes with a mindset of growth and change, which will be crucial for the OTW’s next steps, and they have been more than willing to step in and respond to questions raised by other candidates. Qiao is also devoted to increasing the communication of the OTW on all levels.

Zixin: Zixin has been a strong advocate in the organization against policies that have negatively affected its Chinese user-base while also uplifting all volunteers of color as she does so. Zixin also has experience on four committees in the OTW which means she not only has the breadth of knowledge that will be helpful for the Board, but also the relationships with members of said committees.