Zixin Z’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 worked with Tag Wrangling Committee for 4 years and 3 months. (How time flies!) What I enjoyed most about tag wrangling is that I can create canonical tags for users to tag/filter! It gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction when I notice creators using the tags I canonised or when users use them to filter search results.

I have worked with Policy and Abuse Committee (PAC) for 3 years and 10 months. I like volunteering for PAC because I could contribute my time and effort to provide a better fannish environment for AO3 users. I am genuinely happy when Terms of Service violations are appropriately addressed to reduce harm to other users, or a user updates their warning tags so that others can better use the filter functions to curate their experiences.

I have worked with Communications Committee as a Weibo moderator for 3 years and 6 months. I enjoy seeing users reacting to OTW updates and learning more about our project via my posts! I also find it very meaningful to introduce Chinese fandoms to my OTW colleagues and make recommendations. As I mentioned in a news post from 2021, I’m glad I could contribute to widening the bridge between the OTW and non-English speaking fans.

While I no longer work with Open Doors Committee (OD) now for personal reasons, I used to volunteer for OD for 6 months. I have always admired what the committee does – to preserve archives that are no longer available online, to store and digitise fanzines and make them accessible to a wider audience. I am honoured to have been a part of the mission and contributed to the archive preservation processes.

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?

I learned a lot about how committees operate by entering and observing public channels of committees on our work chat software. I have also attended or read the transcripts of Board meetings to have a better understanding of Board’s day-to-day work. I am also very grateful that previous Board members and Elections Committee’s candidate liaisons have provided me with information and advice with regards to running for Board election and what to expect if I were elected, and even at this early stage in the election I have already received lots of support from my colleagues! So yes, I do feel prepared by Board/Elections.

Concrete professional experience is not a requirement for Board election candidates, neither is a university degree. I think the qualities and skills expected from an ideal Board member (communication skills, time management ability, sense of responsibilities, etc.) can be obtained through various ways. While a person with longer professional experience might be more capable of meeting these expectations, I would not assume that a person with no concrete professional experience does not have these qualities. If a volunteer has learned a lot about OTW’s operations from their volunteering experience, and is willing to take on the responsibility of being a Board member, I would love to see them run for election and express their visions even if they do not have any professional experience.

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?

Personally, when I’m faced with pressure and want to reduce my stress level, I would chat with my friends about the issue at hand – making myself feel heard and supported can usually help me feel significantly better. I understand that due to confidentiality reasons I could not share details of Board work with non-Board members, but I have already made friends with my brilliant fellow candidates and I’m sure I can count on their support if we are elected. I understand that being a Board member is definitely a more scrutinised position with significantly greater personal accountability, and I would make use of the induction period to learn more about how to adjust to the new roles and responsibilities as well as consult the advice of personnels with more experience, such as previous Board members and Committee Chairs.

I handled a particularly heavy workload in Spring 2020 when connections between AO3 and Mainland Chinese users were cut off, which was almost immediately after I joined Communications Committee. As one of the two OTW Weibo moderators, I had to quickly learn how to forward questions to the right person, draft boilerplates for frequently asked questions, and explain geopolitical backgrounds and nuances to my non-Chinese speaking colleagues while being a full-time student and writing up my dissertation.

I managed to maintain a reasonable schedule and peace of mind most of the time by forcing myself to have a certain period of time every day away from digital devices to reduce my anxiety level. My co-mod and I have also actively seeked help from other Chinese-speaking volunteers when we realised the overwhelming amount of DMs was consistent (which indeed lasted for several months), who have graciously taken up the duty of helping us sort out DMs and flagging messages that needed particular attention.

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?

While Board members do not have supervisors, I believe Board does have to find a balance between completing everyday tasks (e.g. answering contact form questions, approving Finance requests) as well as making progress on long-term projects (e.g. AO3 Terms of Service update, Diversity and Inclusion consultant recruitment). I have also read the platforms of other candidates and am excited to see their visions for a future Board. If elected, I look forward to discussing with other Board members about planning projects, setting up internal deadlines, and distributing workload based on individual strengths and experiences. I hope that we could work together efficiently as a group to better serve the OTW, its volunteers, members and users.

If I encounter an unfamiliar area, I would first seek the advice from other Board members to see if any of us are equipped with expertise on the matter. If no Board members are familiar with the issue at hand, I would identify which committee(s)’ work is most relevant to the issue and consult the Committee Chair(s). If the Chair(s) could not solve the problem either and there aren’t any appropriate personnel within the OTW, I would consider seeking external support.

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?

In my opinion, having fiduciary duty for a non-profit organisation means a person has to put the best interest of the organisation as priority. I am comfortable with this level of commitment. I have worked professionally in other non-profits with a Board of Directors, and I have interacted with some of them to understand such commitment. While the role of the Board is not exactly the same as that of the OTW, it nevertheless resembles the level of responsibility the position entails.

I have done research on relevant laws and regulations in my country, and being on the Board of a US non-profit organisation is not against any as long as the organisation does not operate in my country. At the moment, none of the OTW servers are located in my country, and all volunteering activities are online. I don’t think this is likely to change within my term. I also don’t think running for Board would pose more risk to me than my current capacity as a volunteer, as I am already volunteering under my legal name and have it listed on newsletters before declaring my candidacy. I have discussed my decision with my family, and they have expressed their support.

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?

I believe that the OTW has a responsibility, as protecting fanworks is a part of our vision as an organisation, and some of our projects are aiming to realise this vision. One of the means of support the OTW provides for fanworks hosted outside AO3 is the Open Doors project. It facilitates not only online Archives’ preservation by coordinating with archivists to migrate fanworks on AO3, but also physical fanzines and other artefacts by the Fan Culture Preservation Project which cooperates with university libraries to establish special collections for fanzines or the recent Fanzine Scan Hosting Project which hosts digitised fanzines on AO3. I also believe that by advocating for the legitimacy and interest of transformative works such as filing briefs in copyright-related court cases and submitting comments to Copyright Act discussions or reviews, the Legal Advocacy team can also create a more welcoming and liberal environment for fan creators and fan culture in general. Fanlore is also a place for fans to document their culture and preserve fannish history.

Should these committees wish to expand their projects to better support fans, I am more than willing to provide any support within my ability to help them. I would also be open to suggestions from volunteers, members, and users on how to better support fanworks and fan cultures, and discuss with other Board members regarding the feasibility of the suggestions.

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?

If I encounter roadblocks, I would try to solve the issue at hand to continue the project or seek alternative methods. For example, if the problem is that the OTW is slow to get started and move on with projects, I might suggest setting up clear timelines and reminders (Volunteers and Recruiting Committee has set an excellent example for the Human Resource Outsourcing plan). If the problem is that there are conflicts of interests among committees, I would consult other Board members to determine the priority and try to ensure at least the essential part of the project is not stagnated, while seeking if there are alternative solutions to meet the needs of committees.

In terms of communications, I think it’s possible to increase the portion of updates on Board work in the monthly external newsletters. Another way to facilitate communication is to provide updates in public Board meetings. I think Board can take the opportunity to exchange feedback between the OTW and its members and users. I hope that future Board meetings could be better moderated by non-Board volunteers and prepared in advance so as to improve efficiency.

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

As a PAC volunteer, I think the committee does have a number of serious issues that need to be addressed. Due to the limited number of volunteers and the comparatively large ticket (user complaint) amount, we are constantly faced with a backlog of unresolved tickets. The situation has caused volunteers to feel frustrated and burned out, and for some to leave the committee. I am very sorry to see my colleagues experiencing this every day. While what I suggest here by no means represents the entire committee, I think the following stuff might be helpful to address at least some of the issues.

As I have mentioned in my candidate platform (Question 4), I think it would be helpful to introduce administrative roles to the committee to help with miscellaneous tasks not directly involving processing tickets that volunteers are taking on, to relieve the burden of current volunteers. I also hope that the current Terms of Service (ToS) update process undertaken by Board and Legal can help PAC volunteers with certain types of tickets that might be hard to act on, giving the committee more liberty in decision making and improve the experience of volunteers and users alike. I also think providing mental health support and/or resources would be helpful for the committee. I understand that it can be a difficult and complicated process since we are volunteering online across different countries, but I hope with the new HR outsourcing project, we can reach the goal step by step.

From a broader perspective, I also think it is important for the OTW to develop a more coherent protocol to handle emergency situations, so that in case such a situation happens again in the future, volunteers would have a clearer expectation of what to follow and how to take action.

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?

In terms of fostering a welcoming environment, I would like to increase the degree of transparency of the OTW to the public by extending our methods of communication and improve the feedback process through means I have mentioned in my answer above regarding communicating new strategies to OTW members. I also believe that as a Board member, continuing the ToS update and asking for feedback from PAC can allow our volunteers to better counter harassment behaviours on the Archive.

Regarding the recruitment process, I think one of the reasons people find the process unclear might be that the OTW only opens recruitment for a certain number of days each round, and between two recruitment rounds, the “Volunteer” page would not show any position descriptions. So if a person misses the application window, they might not know what position descriptions are like. I would discuss with Volunteers and Recruiting Committee as well as Webs Committee to see if it is possible to list past recruitment posts on the page for potential applicants’ reference. I’m also thinking of creating a mailing list for recruitment notification, so that interested applicants can subscribe to the list in order to receive recruitment announcements in case they do not regularly visit the OTW/AO3 websites.

The Archive is one of OTW’s projects that is run by multiple committees, itself functioning as serving the user rather than protecting/supporting volunteers. If I were elected, I would propose that Board of Directors support Volunteers and Recruiting Committee in facilitating the HR outsourcing project, in order to set up a more coherent personnel conflict resolution process. I would also propose to review the procedure for dealing with volunteers violating the Code of Conduct, and last but not least, always be open to volunteer feedback and advice.