Kathryn S’s 2023 Q&A: Recent Discussions

[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 biggest problem currently facing the OTW? What is the priority for the Archive to do in general, and how would you see this happening?

The biggest issue facing the OTW is top-level organizational design that is being asked to serve a much larger organization than it has the capacity for. This is the root cause of the overwhelm, overwork, burn-out issues, communications issues, stagnation, and overall difficulty in solving problems that we currently have. I think our priority is to get some paid experts in here to help us re-organize in a way that makes sense for an organization with nearly 1000 volunteers, millions of users, and a top 100 website.


Would you be in favor of creating a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee? Why or why not?

I’m not opposed, but it would only be one part of the solution. One of the reasons for the dissolution of the Internationalization & Outreach Committee is that the Board didn’t want to silo DEI efforts and wanted all volunteers to feel some responsibility for them. There wasn’t nearly enough follow-through on that, but I think that the original reasoning still holds. It makes sense to have a group that is responsible for working on recommendations from the DEI consultant, gathering information from volunteers, and ensuring that DEI responsibilities are being followed up on; I just don’t know that a committee – which in OTW terms, is a distinct group with its own chair, documentation, etc. – is the best way to go about it.


The cost of becoming a member/voting in elections is prohibitive for many users, particularly disabled, international and POC ones. Do you have any ideas about how this could be improved to make the OTW more inclusive and less privileged?

The cost was originally set at $10 because that was felt to be the minimum cost that would prevent people from abusing the system, for example buying multiple memberships under pseudonyms so that they could have multiple votes. During election season and membership drives, many people offer to pay for memberships for others, which I think is wonderful!

It is possible that the OTW could have some sort of scholarship or sponsorship program, but this would take a lot of consideration. For example, we would still have to have some way to verify that any individuals getting support in this way are unique individuals, ensure that there is not undue influence on those members, and make sure we stay in line with the laws governing nonprofits with voting members.

We also have no information about the scope of this issue, which will significantly determine what responses would make sense. This means that a first step would be to gather information, likely surveying AO3 users, which would have its own set of considerations.


What challenges do you see presented to the OTW by its growing international userbase and volunteer pool, and how do you plan to address them? English dominance within OTW has been a longstanding topic of discussion. What actions have you taken, or do you plan to take in the future, to make OTW a more welcoming and accessible space for volunteers and users who do not speak English as their primary language?

I think the biggest challenge is communication, both in terms of serving different languages and in terms of cultural communication.

Using English as the OTW’s working language makes sense, but we could make more room for other languages in non-working contexts. There is currently an unstated expectation that non-work/social chats be English-only unless labeled otherwise, and we could instead have a formal policy that all languages are welcome in social chats unless stated otherwise (e.g. for language-specific chats).

Additionally, I would like to:

  • Increase use of social media used primarily by non-English speakers, similar to how we currently use Weibo to communicate with Chinese-speaking users
  • Increase use of multi-language social media in other languages, for example having Twitter posts translated into other languages or starting non-English accounts
  • Increase recruitment of people who speak languages other than English for all committees. The increased interest in the AO3 and OTW projects from non-English speakers means that volunteers who can communicate directly without going through Translation are extremely valuable.


Recently, we’ve seen disagreements about how the Legal team handled various problems. How will you clarify to everyone what Legal’s role is, and make sure their actions are within that scope and are documented so their decisions can be reviewed?

I am not a lawyer, so I do not have the knowledge to appropriately evaluate the Legal Committee’s legal analysis and decisions regarding the fallout from the CSEM attack last year. I also do not have access to the information that would be needed to appropriately evaluate the Legal Committee’s decisions, nor should I as someone who is not a current Board member. An appropriate evaluation would be an audit conducted by an outside law firm. I am not at all opposed to taking this action, as I think it is an important step in rebuilding trust in the Legal Committee and the Board.

It also needs to be kept in mind that lawyers have specialties, and it may make sense for the Legal Committee to manage the OTW’s legal activism (relating primarily to Intellectual Property law), while a different entity, whether internal or external, manages nonprofit law, employment law, etc. The main purpose of the Legal Committee is to advocate for transformative works and protect fans from Cease & Desist Orders and other unlawful restrictions on fannish activity – and in my opinion, they have consistently done a stellar job in this space.


Do you believe there should be any restrictions on people with a history of harassment running for Board? Do you believe there should be any restrictions on people with a history of harassment becoming committee chairs?

Obviously I wouldn’t want someone with a history of harassment or other misconduct to be on the Board, but I don’t think restricting who can for Board is the best way to prevent that. The only way that this history of misconduct would be documented in a way that could be shared would be through the Constructive Corrective Action Procedure (CCAP) process, which is supposed to either lead to a behavior change sufficient for people to remain in the Org or cause them to be removed from the Org.

The CCAP process is equivalent to a Performance Improvement Plan at work. It can be utilized for a range of issues, from lack of communication to actively harassing a fellow volunteer. CCAP documentation can include sensitive information such as mental health diagnoses, personal identifying information, etc. Considering the next question, it seems likely that the CCAP process is underutilized and that using it for relatively minor issues is going to increase.

There have been discussions about disclosing candidate history of CCAPs during the elections process in order to be transparent with voters. However, we would have to share either that someone had been through at least one CCAP, which is extremely prejudicial, or more detailed information, which risks violating the confidentiality of the Board candidate and anyone else who was involved in the situation.

There is less of an issue regarding chairs, since they are not voted on and do not have to share their legal names publicly. Before making someone a chair, the board should evaluate their fitness to lead, including a history of CCAPs. However, barring people with a history of CCAPs from becoming chairs could also prevent people from becoming chairs due to having disagreed with Chairs or Board members.


A long-standing issue in the OTW is that chairs often prefer to avoid conflict and never discipline their volunteers. Do you have any ideas for how to solve this issue?

I think that we should work with our HR consultant to find good management training for chairs. No one wants to be a bad manager or work under a bad manager, and yet the fact that management requires a specific set of skills, and that people need to be taught these skills in order to have them, is often overlooked.

However, before that, we should work to reduce chairs’ workload. Open Doors has added a role for Chair Assistants, which has been extremely successful. We should spread this practice to other committees. Something like a Committee Administrator role – someone to manage documentation and administration – could also be a valuable addition. We should also work to increase recruitment and change recruitment and training practices so that volunteers are less overworked and the prospect of having to remove an experienced volunteer is less fraught.

Additionally, I think that we should either revise the CCAP process or retrain leadership on it. We are all volunteers, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t have standards for behavior, task completion, etc. The CCAP process may be considered too serious a step for minor issues or too onerous for Chairs, meaning that we need a way to deal with these issues that is documented for purposes of individual volunteer history and statistical evaluation for fairness.


What specific actions would you have the Board take to 1) fulfill its commitments made in 2020 to reduce racism on AO3 and across the OTW and 2) continue to expand anti-racist efforts in the OTW? How will you support Black fans, Indigenous fans, and fans of color in feeling welcome on the Archive of Our Own and in avoiding harassment? How do you feel about #EndRacismInTheOTW?

In brief:

  • Hire DEI Consultant
  • Complete TOS review
  • Perform organizational audit
  • Get committees to appropriate capacity, prioritizing PAC and ADT
  • Recruit in multiple languages and in more spaces
  • Consider outreach letting people know that harassment can be reported to PAC and the kinds of things that are considered harassment in OTW spaces

The broader #EndRacismInTheOTW movement is largely responsible for the renewed push for the OTW to take action on the promises made in 2020, which is huge! However, I have been disappointed by the limited understanding of systemic injustice demonstrated by many members of the movement. Many members don’t seem to fully understand the complexity of grappling with racism on an international scale. Additionally, they appear to be unaware of the specific ways that systemic injustice is perpetrated in the nonprofit sector – namely, by emphasizing formal education over lived experience and evaluating the qualifications of candidates of color more strictly than the qualifications of white candidates.

There are a lot of volunteers who are working to make the OTW more diverse, inclusive, equitable, accessible, just, and a place of belonging. Support and pressure from users who are not current volunteers are also essential to making these changes happen, and I don’t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good. This is an enormous and enormously complex topic. I have been consciously studying ethics and social justice for about 20 years, and I still learn something new every day. I hope that every participant in the #EndRacismInTheOTW movement is committed to doing the same.


In my experience, problems in institutions can often be traced back to pockets of stagnation, where people who are uninterested in general change have become calcified in a given organization. How would you approach trying to address that kind of organizational stagnation?

Stagnation/resistance is in many cases a result of bad experiences with past projects or being currently overwhelmed. If we address that organizational trauma and the workload issues, and work to regain the trust of the OTW community while doing so, there is likely to be less resistance.