Soledad Griffin – Elections Q&A (Part 4)

12) There has been a lot of discussion and confusion both within and outside the OTW related to the concept of ‘transparency’ and what that means in relation to the work of the Board and the work of the organization as a whole. How would you define transparency in these contexts and what steps would you take both to ensure everyone is clear on what transparency means and to hold the Board and the organization accountable to that definition?

In terms of the Board and transparency, I would define it as decision making being as public as possible, when this does not interfere with confidential matters. The Board has a duty to make sure that the reasoning behind their decisions and the process that led to them is clear and public (even if it is after the fact and not during the decision-making process itself). The main challenge is making this information not just easily available, but also easy to understand.

In terms of the organization as a whole, there are more confidentiality conflicts that could arise, but whatever part of each committee’s work can be public and publicized should be.

The problem is that, many times, information that is already publicly available is either hard to find, not advertised, or difficult to understand for people who are not volunteers in the org. One of the steps I would take is to assess more ways to advertise what already is public and to develop guidelines to make sure we remember that what makes sense in an org context may not make much sense for the public.

13) The OTW has had issues with regards to clashing perceptions of authority and hierarchy between the Board and committees. Staffers and volunteers vocally resist both steps that are perceived as attempts to verticalize the org’s structure and any Board decisions that are understood as top-down orders. What is your perspective on this issue?

I do not want an org where the Board imposes their will on the rest of the volunteers and where there is no consensus or acceptance of the Board’s decisions, because conflict is not conducive to efficiency – it’s conducive to burnout.

But the organization has changed, and horizontality has its costs too. There are more than 400 people in the org now. How can we be sure everybody makes their voice heard and not only the loudest? How can we avoid the pitfalls of having no structure? For example, if committees have an absolute right to decide on their purview – what happens when they make a decision the rest of the org disagrees with? ‘Staffers and volunteers’ is not a monolith, no more than the Board is.

Basically, I believe that neither position is productive. The Board has a duty to make sure the reasons for their decisions are understood and that feedback is sought before making them, but the Board’s job is still to make those decisions.

14) How do you see your role on the Board in relation to OTW staffers and volunteers and OTW members? How do you plan to reconcile different staffers’ visions for the org? How do you think a Board member should act when staffers disagree with decisions that are under Board purview?

The Board should work as a representative and governing body, that works by seeking consensus and compromise. Board members should be open to changing their minds and open about receiving criticism and feedback. The Board should seek feedback as often as they possibly can.

Conflicts regarding the priorities of the org and just general Board decisions are bound to arise, but my plan would be, simply, to first and foremost explain my own reasoning behind my decisions and then listen to others’, trying to find where the disagreement stems from. Once that is done, my answer would be to find common ground and adjust my position to accommodate those objections if it is at all possible. However, some disagreements are simply impossible to solve. A Board member should not become angry at staffers who disagree, but it is important to note that, as the question itself stated, staffers themselves have differing views of the org – every decision will anger somebody.

15) What do you think are the unique challenges in interacting with a staff comprised entirely of volunteers as opposed to paid staff? How do you plan to navigate this?

The main and unique challenge of a fully volunteer workforce is the fact that people will leave if the org isn’t a good fit for them. If they do not see the results of their work or if that work is not recognised, for example, they will feel disatisfied and likely leave. If the org’s atmosphere is hostile or uncomfortable, there will be more burnout as well. So the Board’s role, in regards to this, is to take steps towards improving our efficiency and recognising and facilitating the work that our volunteers do. The Board should also work to fix the org’s general atmosphere.

Another issue is that, even in the best of situations, volunteers leave on a more consistent basis – and more suddenly – than paid employees. It’s important to document how we work so that people can pick up where the previous volunteer left off, and it’s important to solve the issue of people simply vanishing, which happens a lot in the org.

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