Katarina Harju 2015 Q&A: Committee Management

Many committees in the OTW, particularly those associated with the Archive, struggle with huge amounts of work combined with difficulties retaining active staff. What do you think is the Board’s role in remedying this problem?

An environment where people are afraid of expressing their opinions anywhere where the Board might see them, and where committees can’t take action without fearing interference from the Board, is not in any way helpful in retaining staff and volunteers nor is it conducive to people doing their work as effectively as possible. Sadly, many people feel this is the current state of things. This is a part of the problem that Board can clearly help to remedy, by conducting its affairs more openly, by having clear policies, and by not interfering where it is not needed.

Other than this, I think Board should approve funds to contract help for some of the committees that struggle with finding volunteers with applicable skills, keeping in mind that the funds are not by any means unlimited.

If an OTW committee fell apart and the chair, now alone, asked you for advice on how to rebuild it, what would you tell them?

I think the answer would depend on what and how necessary the committee’s function was and whether it could be achieved without a dedicated committee. It would also be important to know why the committee fell apart in the first place; there would be no point in trying to resurrect something that was doomed to fail again. We do currently have chairs that have more or less resurrected committees, and I would definitely help this hypothetical chair talk to these people, since they would have insights into what the work might entail, and maybe even have some ideas about how to redefine and restructure the committee into something that would work.

A number of you have expressed a desire to support the OTW’s committees and ensure they have the resources they need. However, the OTW is a volunteer-run and donation-funded organisation, and resources are finite. Please help me understand what factors you would take into account when prioritising the allocation of resources.

When the budget is made, there needs to be close communication with the committees in order to find out what their needs and wishes are. There are resources that some committees need simply to fulfill their tasks: for example, the Abuse and Support committees need some sort of issue tracking software and sometimes the Systems committee needs new servers. These are expenses that cannot be avoided and funds need to be allocated accordingly. After that, we need to look at what committees have the greatest and most urgent need for funds, and prioritize things that will have the greatest impact on the largest number of the users of our projects, since they are the ones donating the funds. Then there are also things that would certainly benefit our committees and volunteers, but which we can do without if there is no room for them in the budget. As the needs of one of the committees I currently serve on definitely fall into this last category, I feel I can say with some authority that there are no hard feelings about the fact that the needs of some committees take precedence when it comes to money.