Qiao C’s 2023 Q&A: Board Work I

[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 committees have you worked with, and for how long? What have you especially enjoyed about them?

I have been working with the Tag Wrangling committee since I joined the OTW in 2019! No matter what other committees I join in the future, I would not leave tag wrangling. As a wrangler, I can embrace fannish energy directly everyday and wrangle tags that can be immediately helpful to users. This work reminds me of why I volunteer – because I love fandom culture and want to offer my help. In addition, the Tag Wrangling committee also has a most understanding and diverse atmosphere within the organization – considering it being the largest committee and taking up to half of all volunteers, that is really very impressive. My experiences with other committees, e.g., Support and Policy & Abuse, also come from my tag wrangling work as we communicate to respond to users’ feedback. I have learned a lot from other tag wranglers and I believe that my experience as a wrangler can help me approach the entire organization.

Where did you get most of the knowledge and preparation in order to know running for board is a good fit for you? Did you feel prepared enough by Board/elections? Do you personally believe that people with no concrete professional experience (such as college students) are apt to serve on the Board of Directors of a US non-profit?

We have internal documents that explain what the board’s work would be like, and there is also an open house organized by the Election committee months ahead of the election season to explain the election process and expectations for candidates. I decided to declare candidacy after I confirmed that my work would not conflict with election or board work. I also don’t consider being a Ph.D. candidate a disadvantage for me in the election. On one hand, I am experienced in giving guidance and facilitating communication from years of laboratory experiences and collaborating with fellow researchers and sponsor companies. My work as an engineer requires me to always look for new alternatives to solve problems; on the other hand, I have less inertia and professional biases which people who work for a long time in a one position tend to acquire. Since I find the most urgent organizational issues are structural ones, I believe that fresh eyes and energy are important to the organization.

What techniques do you use to manage pressure on yourself? How would you handle stepping up into a more visible and personally accountable position? Tell me about a time you had to manage a particularly heavy workload. How did you handle it?

2) Stepping up into a visible-to-Internet position is indeed a very fresh experience for me, and hopefully in a good way. I was warned about possible pressure from being talked about or being yelled at, which concerned me for a while until I concluded that, due to my personality, I am unlikely to be negatively affected by criticism. That doesn’t mean I would simply ignore those, but I tend to think more about the constructive part in negative comments and consider if it can help me to both enhance my capabilities and improve my self image.
Through my laboratory years, I have learned that I thrive in collaborative environments where I am being held accountable for the larger part of the work. I have delivered better and more efficient results when I am heading a team than when I am on my own or in a minor role.
1) I am also a person who would not feel anxiety from workload by nature. In fact I work more efficiently when very busy. This is partly because I thrive under pressure hence my working pace would not be negatively affected, and also because those piecemeal hours that I usually wasted doing nothing can now be put into actual work.
3) As a doctoral candidate, the busiest days come to me periodically before each academic conference. During such time I conclude possible mechanisms for the observed phenomenon and suggest potential improvement from engineering aspects. Meanwhile I discuss with collaborating companies and adjust my conference presentation according to feedback, as well as provide suggestions to junior students who are relatively new in attending conferences. Usually it lasts for a week, during which I would pause in dealing with non-urgent OTW tasks.

The Board is the nominal head of the OTW, which means that there is no Chair or other supervisor telling you what work to take on or what your priorities should be. Explain your comfort level with that kind of work and how you think you would handle that scenario. As a board member, how would you handle situations where you encounter an unfamiliar area, such as legal issues?

The Tag Wrangling committee I belong to has been very successful in establishing a sustainable relationship between chairs, supervisors and volunteers. I have been paying attention to how our chairs communicate with volunteers and announce decisions, and consider them a good example to learn from. For instance, volunteers can directly check the progress of tag wrangling tasks in discussions; this degree of transparency is very important to volunteers, especially when the discussion may last for a relatively long period.
I am prepared to step into a leadership role to allocate tasks and decide task priorities. I am also glad to meet qualified candidates who are familiar with many concerning aspects. We would have a good talk to get to know each other and find a way to support each other in board work. When encountering unfamiliar areas, I would not hesitate to discuss the issue with the subject experts we have in the organization. I trust our volunteers’ expertise and abilities wholeheartedly. Due to the organization’s rapid growth, I want to further support our volunteers by facilitating frequent recruitment for all committees.

Explain in your own words what “fiduciary duty” means for a US non-profit. Are you comfortable with that level of legal commitment? Does being on the Board of Directors of a US nonprofit pose any risk to you or your family in your country? Have you discussed this risk with your loved ones?

1) The financial duty a person is supposed to take when establishing a legal or moral relationship with another person or party.
2) Yes, I am aware of this level of legal commitment.
3) Personally I don’t feel at risk of being on the Board of directors of OTW.
4) Yes, I had such a talk.

How might the OTW better support fanworks and fan culture which is hosted in places other than AO3? Do you believe the organization has a responsibility to do so?

1) The Archive always supports external work imports – you can do so by “Post” – “Import Work”. Open Doors is also a great project to help preserve works that were originally posted in other archives than AO3. As much as OTW respects the diversity in fandom cultures and supports the right of fans to express themselves, it does not have authority over the entire Internet and cannot do anything to things not happening on its own platform.
2) I do believe that the organization has the responsibility to help preserve fanworks and support fan culture. Meanwhile the organization also needs the permission from fanwork creators and owners of other platforms to do so, which is what Open Doors pays particular attention to when helping importing archives.

Many of you mentioned large, exciting projects such as paid HR, DEI consultants, and new mandatory tags. If you encountered roadblocks for these plans, how would you ensure that you can still fill your campaign promises, and how would those new strategies be communicated to OTW members?

In my platform, I proposed a push for employment of an HR professional, to help mitigate burnout from our volunteers, and to allocate tasks more reasonably. Hiring an HR professional is a must-do for an organization in a size that we are currently in; my promise is to prioritize it as it has become urgent for the organization now. If I encounter roadblocks, such as opposition from chairs or inertia within the organization, I would listen to which particular part of the plan people are worried about and consider alternatives. I believe that new strategies and routes will be reported in future public board meetings before they are issued.

What are your thoughts on PAC and how to improve things there in response to the current controversy?

1) Overworking and understaffing. Whenever I hear from my colleagues in PAC, their workloads always sound to be overwhelming. Many of them feel defeated, if not burning out, given the workload. This leads to extremely low retention, then a vicious circle where the rest of PAC volunteers have to deal with more work on average. I believe it is crucially important for PAC to recruit and expand in order to improve this situation.
2) Not sufficiently supported by the Board and other committees. Starting from 2021 the Support committee has taken on some PAC tasks, and I believe this is only the first step to help our PAC volunteers. I will try to reduce the burden generated from future plans for PAC.
3) Lack of protection. Some other controversies that PAC is facing are results of controversies surrounding our TOS. I deeply believe in the organization’s mission of maximum inclusivity, a rule that PAC upholds when dealing with reports of potentially violating content. However, this makes PAC vulnerable in the face of potential attacks, and as we have seen in the past, CSAM and CSEM attacks. It is important to implement new tools to shield them from potential attacks.

What further steps would you do to foster a welcoming and safe environment for users and fans? Many people find the current process for volunteering with the OTW to be unclear or difficult; how would you like to change the current recruitment process to bring in more – and more diverse – volunteers? What would you propose the Archive to do to protect/support volunteers?

1) Recent events led to the consideration that harassment would appear in every corner of the internet wherever there is a space designed for communication, like the comment section in bookmark can also be used to harass fanfic writers and cannot be moderated by fanfic writers themselves. While the organization may notice similar phenomenon later than users do, if receiving a support ticket with suggestions of improvements, we will surely be happy to discuss the accessibility with PAC and AD&T, like turning blocked/muted users’ bookmarks into private bookmarks.
2) Organization wide, the diversity in volunteers is very high; committee wide, sometimes no. In fact, for public recruitment, when the chair of the committee decides it’s necessary, diversity would be added into requirements; also we have internal recruitment across the organization. So if a certain committee lacks diverse volunteers, I assume that compared to requesting change in the current recruitment process, it might be more helpful to suggest the chairs to require diversity in internal or external recruitment.
3) The Archive is only a project which aims at preserving fanworks, like a library preserves books. It is the organization (OTW) behind it who takes charge of everything, including running a foundation, maintaining the library and managing librarians. Ahead of the protection or support that volunteers deserve, our board, as representative of the organization, should show its respect to our volunteers in the first place. The board is supposed to listen to volunteers’ suggestions, analyzing which could be useful, instead of suspecting their attempts. Then we can move on to talk about what could be done to protect or to support volunteers.