Kati Eggert 2020 Q&A: OTW Multiculturalism and Growth

[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.]

How would you deal with potential culture clashes as there are more and more fans from different cultural background? And how would you address the issues outside US?

The OTW in its entirety is continually working on addressing this challenge. We are a group of fans from dozens of countries and cultures around the world, giving our input when working on different OTW projects or discussing policy changes. We already make most of the information about our projects available in different languages. And in exceptional circumstances, like the huge influx of Chinese AO3 users last year, we made a point of providing additional language-specific guidance and instructions for those users, and have recruited for specialist roles in several of our committees. Inquiries to the OTW projects and committees can be handled in dozens of languages, with translators from around the globe also being able to give culture-related input. Since most culture clashes have been occurring in and around the Archive of our Own, the Tag Wrangling, Policy & Abuse and Support teams are steadily increasing their efforts to recruit more volunteers from a variety of countries to be able to answer user queries directly, take into account culture-specific information in internal discussions and lessen the pressure on the Translation teams. Furthermore, having diverse teams is not just helpful in addressing culture clashes: it’s also invaluable because it makes for more well-rounded discussions and helps every team have a wider range of perspectives when discussing policies and their implementation.

The OTW is a large multicultural organisation, and there is always a chance that misunderstandings will occur. How would you work to prevent them, and what would you do if a volunteer disclosed that you offended them/made them feel uncomfortable?

Misunderstandings happen, especially in our big inter-committee channels. But I’m always surprised how few there really are, considering the diverse makeup of the OTW’s volunteers. While our working language is English and US citizens probably represent the most sizeable single nationality, I estimate that more than half of the volunteers that make up the OTW are from outside the US and a considerable proportion are not native English speakers. Additionally, tone variations and cultural background do not translate well to (asynchronous) online conversations. Therefore the committees I volunteer with have adopted an approach of “stop, apologise, don’t try to justify yourself and research” to avoid fucking up the same situation in the future for when these culture-related issues arise. Since we have hundreds of volunteers from different backgrounds it is impossible for just one person to predict any and all possible issues. So it is particularly important to listen and learn about new subjects.

My own approach as a German, with a complicated national history, is first and foremost to be aware that different cultures have different standards that might deviate from my own. I listen to my fellow volunteers, do not automatically assume hostility even if something reads off, and ask for clarification if necessary. In my own answers, I try to elaborate and give more context than I would offline. Should someone contact me and disclose that I have offended them, I would follow with the aforementioned approach of stop, apologize and don’t justify.

It appears externally that even the small things take a long time for the organization to make decisions on and then take action. Do you see this as a problem, and do you think this is something that can be improved on?

Yes, major policy changes or the implementation of new features can take a lot of time. Some of that is due to the complexities involved in figuring out both design and possible implications. When implementing new features we need to carefully consider and examine every possible angle to see how they can be used and abused. Otherwise they can lead to unwanted results, for example, a new feature being used for harassment. Furthermore, the decentralized setup of the Organisation, which requires a lot of coordination and discussions across multiple teams, is also a conscious choice to distribute power and make the Organisation less vulnerable to bad actors. But in the end, we are also all volunteers, working for the OTW as a hobby in our spare time, often asynchronously, while balancing our own offline responsibilities. Any change is therefore highly dependent on our (human) resources and whether we have spare capacity. This part of the equation could at least be mitigated somewhat by recruiting more volunteers or deploying paid staff to lessen the pressure on Chairs and other key personnel. In the long term, however, we need to have a critical look at our governance structure to ensure it is set up to keep up with our rapid growth, especially of the Archive.

How would you balance the OTW’s need for funding with the membership amount being prohibitive for a lot of users (especially those outside the USA and/or with low minimum wages) therefore leaving decision-making only to those who can afford it?

As all OTW projects are free for all users, any donations are entirely voluntary and becoming an OTW member is not necessary to use any of our services. Paid memberships to participate in Board elections are necessary to connect each vote to a real person and prevent voter fraud. It’s certainly true that US$10 can be too much money for some potential members, but we also need a minimum threshold for a membership that means that transaction fees don’t eat up most of the amount donated. While the OTW encourages the widest possible participation in and engagement with our Board elections, it’s worth being aware that the Board does not have absolute decision-making power in the OTW and that decisions are made at all levels of the organisation.

Do the candidates believe the org needs employees? If so, how should OTW avoid disincentivizing volunteers who may feel upset? What roles would they prioritize for employees? How would you fund employees and how would you decide how much an employee should be paid? [merged question]

I believe that we need paid employees to be sustainable long-term. Every other major international non-profit also works with a mix of paid employees and volunteers. However, it is going to be a very difficult transformational shift from where we are standing right now as an organisation, from a cultural, legal and financial perspective. The income we currently receive, mostly due to our bi-annual donation drives, is unreliable; we can never guarantee for sure that we’re going to hit our goals. So when someone’s livelihood starts to depend on our fundraising, we have an obligation to have additional, stable revenue streams. There seems to be an organisation-wide consensus that paid roles should be the ones that have been historically the most difficult to fill e.g. sysadmins. Should we start employing paid staff it will only be for a couple of select, key roles and the OTW will continue to depend hugely on the incredibly valuable work of our volunteers. At least in the beginning, we will probably hire paid staff in the US at usual market prices since the OTW is incorporated in the US and our legal and financial experts hail from the US as well.

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