Jess White 2020 Q&A: OTW Communication and Future

[Note: In total, there will be 6 Q&A posts to cover all of the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. The candidates were limited to 300 words to answer each question, but they were allowed to rearrange and combine questions within a single post to more clearly express their thoughts. Candidate answers represent only the views of the individual candidate and are not endorsed by the OTW.

Due to a high volume of similar questions this year, many questions were merged and duplicate questions were left out. Other than this, questions appear in the form they were submitted. Questions represent only the views of the individual questioner and are not endorsed by the OTW.]

In your opinion, which of OTW’s long standing issues would be easier to fix, and what steps would you take to address it?

Of all the issues, I believe communication is the most important to address- although I don’t know that I could call it “easy.” While observing inter-communication between committees, OTW members, and even in some OTW spaces, it appears that there is always a large amount of miscommunication. Some of that is cultural- by which I mean that well-intentioned volunteers forget that this is not solely an American-centric organization, but an International organization. A good bit of this miscommunication is due to volunteers not knowing exactly where to voice their concerns. Some of this miscommunication stems from confusion on what committee is in charge of what, and some is due to not understanding how the OTW and its projects work. The first step I would take to address this is communication from the Board to the OTW at large, things like making sure there is current info available to ensure they’re not out of touch with what is happening, (or that volunteers aren’t out of touch with the Board!) in order to make sure that both internally and externally, people understand why certain decisions are reached. I am hesitant to add tasks to already overworked volunteer committees, but another step would be to continue to provide spaces for more anonymous (or not) feedback internally, and then addressing that feedback. It is imperative that internal volunteers and external fans are aware of the communication channels they have available to them so that the Board can receive their feedback. As for the social media outreach and newsletters we currently have, continuing with the news posts that provide information to users, and ensuring the Translation teams have the tools and support they need to continue to provide this information to all users is a good way to continue to resolve this issue.

In your opinion, what are the most important threats to the OTW, and what are the most urgent threats to the OTW?

In my opinion, the most important threat to the OTW is the possibility of volunteer burnout. Because this happens behind the scenes, it might not be at the forefront of current conversations regarding the OTW at large, but I believe it to be significant. We are an extensive organization, but even with our current numbers, the amount of work is continually increasing. Committee chairs are constantly put into the position of having to recruit and train- with the end result of only a few people they recruit staying for longer than a year. This means that the process is never ending; their time and energy go to recruitment rather than addressing other issues that might help them retain volunteers – and prevent them, and their committee, from burning out. All of these changes and implementations of ideas – not to mention the running of the org itself – would come to a screeching halt if certain key people in various committees were to quit. I know this was one of the items put forth on previous Strategic Plans, and I would like to see what progress we’ve made to our longer term functionality goals. I intend to do whatever I can to support the Board and Strategic Planning in addressing this. The question of how to address this is ongoing, with no easy solution.

Internal communications, barriers on sharing knowledge, and lack of transparency are perennial challenges for the OTW. What do you think is the most important step we could take to address these issues during your term on the Board? What specific actions will you commit to as candidates to make the OTW a more transparent organisation with fans? [merged question]

I believe there have been some very important strides forward regarding external transparency in the OTW. Currently, we publish a monthly newsletter, articles that spotlight individual volunteers, and other news posts that update the public about what the OTW is doing, such as coding releases that inform users which features are being implemented. Our financial budget is also hugely important in informing fans how the donations we receive are being spent. As mentioned previously, as a candidate I am committed to supporting these endeavors and exploring even more ways that we can update fandom about how the OTW’s projects work and what our volunteers do.

As for internal transparency, I cannot personally speak to ‘barriers on sharing knowledge’ or ‘lack of transparency.’ As a volunteer, I feel comfortable approaching individual Board members with questions, and I know that someone is always “on duty” to answer anything that comes up. With all of my committee Chairs, if I ever have an issue, I ask them. In PAC if we have a matter that comes up, the chairs communicate with the correct committee (Legal or perhaps AD&T, depending), and we get an answer with a very fast turnaround, depending on how many committees the question needs to go through. In Fanlore, if there is a Systems question, we get an answer almost immediately. As far as I’m aware, if there is an issue, it is brought up in a committee meeting, where all volunteers are given a chance to discuss it. Internal conversations within the OTW have identified areas where we could better document our institutional knowledge/memory, and I would definitely encourage volunteers to come forward or discuss it with their chairs if they would like to help tackle this.

The OTW Board often has to speak with one consistent voice when answering questions and requests from the public, individual volunteers, and various committees. This sometimes means enforcing policies for the good of the OTW that may go against your personal preferences. How would you balance this need for consistency?

Balancing this need for consistency is something for which my role as a Policy & Abuse staffer has more than prepared me. AO3’s Terms of Service is very clear: “…we will not remove Content for offensiveness…” Essentially, to enforce this basic understanding of the OTW, you need to take your ego out of the equation. It doesn’t matter what I think, because unless it is violating some other part of the TOS, the work will stay. Similarly, as a Board member, I’m not speaking for myself, or my own beliefs. That is why there are so many of us, so no one person has any more voice than any other. Speaking with one consistent voice is not an easy task; although, I believe it helps to think of it as speaking for the OTW, not as an individual person. I don’t feel I will have any issue with balancing this need for consistency.

What would you like to see prioritized in OTW’s strategic plan while you are on the board? Where would you like to see the OTW in five years? How would you like to set the stage for that over your Board term? When you step away from Board after the conclusion of your term, what would you like your legacy to be? What kind of lasting impression do you want to leave on the OTW? [merged question]

There is already a five-year Vision Statement in place for the future of the OTW. Much of which, (such as Board/Committee communication, etc) is likely to already be happening and working just fine without my input, but if I can support them in any way I will. As for what I would like to see prioritized- since most of the OTW’s resources go to the Archive of our Own, I feel that it is a priority already. In the Vision Statement, there is already a prioritization of ‘AO3 Development’: potential new features will align with the development roadmap, and will not come at the expense of ongoing maintenance and existing coding priorities. During my Board term, I would continue what the current Board is doing: working with the committee Chairs to put these plans in place. As for a lasting impression, I would be perfectly content if no one ever remembers who I am, because that’s one of the ways I think a good Board works- as a team instead of as someone who wants individual recognition. As long as future Boards don’t look back on my time as the great dumpster fire of 2020, I’ll count it as a win.

Buy-in from committee chairs is a crucial step to enacting any change in the OTW. How do you plan to convince the chairs of the various committees to support your platform, even if it means changes to how their committees operate?

Nothing will get done without buy-in from the committee Chairs. If the Chairs have serious issues with my platform, I would like to know what those issues are so that I could improve. In that case it’s my responsibility to research and educate myself. I’m lucky enough that I’ve never had an issue with going to my committee Chairs for their input and feedback, and by now they know I’m definitely not shy about asking questions if there is something that is unclear. I’ve worked with a number of Chairs, and am confident that if there is a change to be made, we can accomplish it by building on the rapport that we’ve already established.


ETA July 15, 2020: The note at the top of each Q&A post was updated per a recommendation by the OTW Legal Committee.