Kathryn S’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?

Based on the recently released Strategic Plan, I think my experience is best suited to working with the Paid Staff Transition Officer (PSTO) to find and hire the HR consultant(s) and/or with the Diversity Consultant Research Officer (DCRO) to find and hire the DEI consultant(s). Once these consultants are hired, I would be interested in continuing to be a key point of contact and support for them as we work towards medium- and long-term structural change.

Additionally, while I don’t know as much about organizational structure and governance as I would like under the circumstances, I think that restructuring the organization is an important project and it is one that I would be interested in working on. (This is also in the Strategic Plan under Governance Development.)

I think that my HR background would be valuable to these projects as they are likely to involve the additional hiring of professional consultants and paid staff. I also have some research experience which might be useful for designing surveys and analyzing data as necessary.

I am also interested in helping to revise our Working Group procedures and organizing an organization-wide review of documentation and administrative procedures.

If enough of this work can be done in three years, then I would like to seriously investigate a way for the OTW to provide grants to fund other fandom-oriented projects, such as maintaining eFiction.

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?

The current Board’s collective capacity is potentially sufficient when everyone is available, but that is not always the case. Expanding the Board would seem to be the logical solution; however, it is already very difficult to find enough people to run a contested election.

Therefore, rather than expanding the number of voting members on the Board, I would like to focus on revising our organizational structure so that the role of the Board is clear and manageable. I would also like to create additional roles such as Board Assistant (similar to current position of Chair Assistants), Board-Track Volunteers (similar to current chair-track volunteers), and potentially a paid Board Administrator. This would increase the number of people available to manage tasks, give volunteers who can’t or don’t want to run for Board a way to contribute to Board work, and allow us to handle major projects more easily.

I would also support establishing a Board Advisory Group, likely consisting of Chairs as well as other volunteers with particular expertise/skills. To be clear, this would not be a secret backchannel. If established, the members of the group, why they are part of the group, and likely some sort of endpoint to their appointment, would be made known internally and potentially externally. Something like, “Kathryn S. has been appointed to the Board Advisory Group as a subject matter expert in Human Resources, and her appointment will end after an external HR consultant is hired and onboarded.” Additionally, there would be an open application process. This would help the Board access volunteer expertise needed for various projects without relying on personal knowledge and connections, as well as being another way for volunteers to contribute to leadership and org-wide projects without becoming Board members.

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?

We need to have better communication and transparency. We also need to be quicker to respond in emergency situations and in non-emergency situations that nevertheless require a quick response. This will require some crisis planning, and potentially the assistance of a communications consultant.

Volunteers have suggested several ways to make answers to questions asked of the Board during public meetings and also via email more publicly accessible, as well as to make it easier to ask questions and receive timely responses, including:

  • Soliciting questions in advance of public Board meetings so that they can be collated, organized, and potentially prioritized, and answers can be written in advance
  • Publicly posting questions and answers from public Board meetings, including ones that couldn’t be responded to or posted during the meeting, on the OTW website
  • Publicly posting questions and answers received via email/contact form, if appropriate, to the OTW website

I also think it could be valuable to have a series of OTW 101 posts explaining our core principles and expanding on frequently asked questions so that it is easier to find that information directly from the OTW. Possible topics include the OTW’s commitment to keeping the AO3 online and accessible, our maximum inclusivity policy, and why the AO3 doesn’t have an algorithm.

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! In fact, one of the reasons that I am prioritizing HR and DEI consultants is that I believe they will be able to help us with finding appropriate consultants for this work.

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?

I would endeavor to ensure that working on our priorities was not overly burdensome and that we also took their priorities seriously and put time and resources into supporting them. I think that part of the role of the Board is to help align priorities throughout the organization. If we need to help Chairs work on their priorities before they have the capacity to support ours, then we should do that.

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 admittedly struggle with this – not because I get angry, but because I get more focused on being understood than on understanding others. I’m pretty good at backing off when I recognize that I’m getting frustrated and not angry-posting, but it can be difficult to figure out exactly where the disagreement lies.

I will work to prioritize understanding rather than being understood, and ask for help in understanding miscommunications or misunderstandings.

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?

With the caveat that the current method for disciplining volunteers, the Constructive Corrective Action Procedure (CCAP), may be poisoned beyond saving and need to be replaced entirely:

  1. Board members need to be subject to CCAP or whatever disciplinary measure replaces it.
  2. CCAP or its replacement probably needs to be housed with the Volunteer and Recruitment Committee rather than Chairs. This would solve the problem of determining who is responsible for the CCAP process for Board members, Chairs, or volunteers who are part of multiple committees and help standardize the process. It will also solve the issue of the person responsible for the CCAP process for a volunteer being their direct supervisor, which has potential for abuse.

We also need to make changes to our organizational structure, governance, and policies and procedures so that the workload and experience of running for and being a part of the OTW Board is less overwhelming and more people are willing to run.

Finally, I’d like to reference James’s answer to a question in 2016 about how to remove Board members in an emergency; unfortunately, many of his points still apply.

  • There needs to be a way for members to directly trigger a vote of no confidence in either an individual member or the entire Board
  • Elections needs to be able to run an election without the consent of the Board. Since the voting platform costs money, they need to have funds permanently allotted for emergency elections, so they can run them without Board having to approve funds at the time.

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?

I don’t think that live question and answer sessions are the answer, since it can be very difficult to give sufficiently thoughtful answers off the cuff. However, if we start utilizing some of the ideas I listed when discussing ways to increase communication and trust in the Board, I think that the question and answer sessions would be more manageable.

In addition, candidate Jennifer H. collected a great list of suggestions from volunteers, members, and users based on the most recent board meeting that would help make public meetings run more smoothly and get to the Q&A session more quickly, including:

  • Posting the agenda at the same time as the question gathering link so that users know what the expected topics will be ahead of time.
  • Posting rules of engagement and expectations posted several hours prior to the meeting, so posting them doesn’t take time during the meeting
  • Pre-write and share Board notes in a timely fashion. Ideally, resharing the agenda and moving through the various topics should take no more than 15 minutes.
  • Post responses to the collated Q&A questions to start off the participatory section of the meeting.
  • Allow users time to read those and follow-up with additional questions or ask new ones in a separate channel. Potentially ask users to thread topics if they want to reply to one another and have conversations on the questions.

If we still had too many questions to get through, I would support making board meetings more frequent or longer, or holding special town hall-type sessions just for responding to questions. However, live meetings can be difficult to schedule due to time zones, so asynchronous regular public answers may be the best solution.

How to 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?

Improving internal communications so that every volunteer is heard is a crucial part of DEI work and should be part of our routine going forward. This includes having multiple avenues and opportunities to communicate issues – public and private, named and anonymous. I hope that the DEI and HR consultants will be able to help us refine and implement some or all of the following ideas.

We should have an Org-wide process for regular 1-on-1 check-ins with new volunteers, as well as exit interviews with resigning volunteers. New volunteers are uniquely suited to noticing issues that existing volunteers are used to, and exit interviews can provide useful information on barriers to volunteering and issues that cause burnout.

Additionally, we should do regular volunteer experience surveys and better communicate avenues for giving feedback throughout the year. If it isn’t too burdensome, regular 1-on-1 check-ins with all volunteers should be instituted as well. These can help bring up issues before they lead to people leaving.

Finally, focus groups should be done regularly for Org-wide projects in addition to our current processes for soliciting feedback, as they allow conversation among participants in a way that can be very useful.

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

I sincerely respect and admire each of the candidates and look forward to working with them!

Anh brings a valuable and unique perspective to the Board as an artist, rather than a writer, and a relatively new volunteer. They also have experience in forum moderation. I was really impressed by the amount of thought and research they put into their Candidate Q&A responses. Anh also was the impetus for a project to create and translate a guide for creating new archives based on the AO3’s software!

Jennifer also brings a valuable perspective as a relatively new volunteer, as well as significant work experience in management and research. They also did a great deal of research into the board position and their Candidate Q&A responses. I really like her idea for Board-track volunteers! I also appreciate their focus on structural change.

Qiao is trilingual and has significant experience in cross-cultural communication. She also has significant research training as well as leadership and management experience. I appreciate her focus on improving communication and increasing language diversity and internationalization.

Zixin has significant experience volunteering with multiple OTW committees, particularly PAC and Communications. I really admire and want to replicate for other languages the kind of work she has done as a Weibo moderator. She also works for a nonprofit that shares key features with the OTW – namely, size and being made up of primarily volunteers with a few key staff. I appreciate how many of her Candidate Q&A responses included ways that individual users can take action while more comprehensive/structural solutions are put in place!