Zixin Z’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?

As I mentioned in my platform (Question 3, Paragraph 1 and Question 4, Paragraph 2), I think the Organisation for Transformative Works (OTW) lacks effective communication, documentation, and project management. Without these tools, it can be hard to implement changes on a structural level if an organisation fails to facilitate open and constructive communication, record its decision-making process, or coordinate between committees as this structural inertia allows detrimental situations and outdated policies to fester.

To improve means of communication, I think it’s possible for committees to try to hold open house meetings to internal volunteers and answer potential questions (like some committees already do), so that volunteers can have a better understanding of what roles other committees play in the OTW. I also hope that Board can adjust the public meeting’s pace, so that they could share more information with members and users during the limited time.

In terms of documentation and project management, I have proposed that the OTW recruit administrative staff for committees and Board, and the staff can focus on documenting, assigning tasks to volunteers (for some committees), and monitoring project progress. In this case, volunteers can focus more on their non-admin work and reduce burnout of Committee Chairs and other supervisory positions. I also think that if there were staff dedicated to documentation, then some of our current documentations could have been more up-to-date and volunteer-friendly. While I cannot speak for other volunteers, I personally find myself much more efficient when there are external reminders for my long term tasks and could discuss with me when I encounter roadblocks, where admin staff could turn out to be helpful in long term project management.

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

I think Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is part of the essential volunteer experience, and ensuring that volunteers are not abused by any forms of discrimination is one of the responsibilities of our Volunteers and Recruiting Committee. I have learned that the committee is seeking to expand its ability to resolve personal conflict by hiring an external Human Resource (HR) firm, and while I am by no means an expert on diversity and inclusion studies or HR, I think it would be sensible to consult the HR firm’s opinion on how the OTW should handle this issue before we begin the process of hiring aDEI consultant. If both Volunteers and Recruiting Committee and the HR firm believe that it would be a good idea to create a new committee focusing on DEI issues, then I would certainly be willing to take it into consideration and propose it to the DEI consultant for their suggestions.

Personally, I think it’s more feasible to create a DEI subcommittee under Volunteers and Recruiting, but I understand that members and volunteers might have different opinions on the matter, and I will of course seek advice from other Board members and volunteers with more expertise on US non-profit management.

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?

As far as I know, I don’t think the OTW donation form is incompatible with screen readers. During last week’s DDoS attack, I learned that CAPTCHA might not be accessible to some browsers or devices. While I am not familiar with Cividesk (the current donation platform utilised by Development and Membership Committee), I am happy to consult with the committee regarding if the OTW can use another form of verification for the donation form to make it more accessible to potential members. If there are any other concerns about disability access that I haven’t thought of, members and users are always welcomed to contact Development and Membership Committee using their Contact Form.

Currently, the form accepts donations from Credit Cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover), PayPal and by check for US residents. I do think that the current payment range covers most of the payment methods in many countries as long as an individual has a bank account, but iI would be more than happy to discuss the feasibility of adding other payment methods with the Finance Committee and the Development and Membership Committee to increase access.

I’m not sure how being a person of colour (POC) might affect one’s ability to become an OTW member, but if the question is related to personal income, then I think it’s possible to reconsider the minimum donation threshold to become an OTW member. The OTW is not in as dire need of funds as we were 15 years ago, and we have been looking for means to expand our membership base. I am open to consulting the Finance Committee’s opinion on our financial status and donation patterns as well as on any potential legal implications.

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 one of the challenges for our international user base is the language barrier. Since the interface for AO3 and Fanlore is English-only, sometimes it can be difficult for fans whose first language is not English to navigate the websites. As I have proposed in my platform (Question 3, Paragraph 2), I think it would be useful for international users if we could support other languages for AO3. My fellow candidate, Fanlore & Open Doors volunteer Anh, also proposed localisation of Fanlore and TWC in her platform (Question 3), which I believe would be very meaningful for documenting international fandom culture and fannish history.

As for the volunteer pool, I know from my own experience that there are oftentimes misunderstandings between volunteers from different cultural backgrounds, which may negatively impact relationship building and hinder work efficiency. I think it is important for all volunteers, but for Chairs and Board members especially, to be aware that not all of us come from the same cultural context so that we can approach miscommunications with grace. We have to remain open to suggestions, questions, and advice in order to facilitate an organisational environment that respects our differences. This is the kind of internal cultural change I would like to foster.

In the past, I have coordinated with other volunteers as the Weibo co-moderator to design an external script for AO3 that translates the “Post New Work” page to Chinese, making it more convenient for Chinese creators to easily post their works, which was well received after we advertised it on Weibo. This is also the inspiration for my suggestion that in the future, userscripts or alternate-language site skins could be temporary solutions for non-English speakers before AD&T Committee is able to dedicate the necessary time and effort to developing robust non-English interfaces.

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?

OTW’s Legal Committee introduces their project, Legal Advocacy, on their project site, which includes some of the major activities of the committee. Outside the project, the committee also provides miscellaneous legal assistance to other OTW committees.

When the committee encounters legal matters outside of copyright law, as far as I know of, there have been past cases where the committee seeked assistance from external agencies. I think it’s definitely necessary to seek help from outside when none of the Legal Committee volunteers are capable of handling a situation where their own professional knowledge is not enough to solve the problem. I do not know the frequency of seeking external legal assistance, but if it is on a frequent basis indeed, it might also be worth considering recruiting new members to the committee outside the field of copyright law. I also believe that it is Board’s responsibility to assist the Legal Committee where possible and evaluate their decisions to ensure that they are not acting against the interest and wellbeing of the OTW or its volunteers and users.

As for documenting the committee’s actions, I agree that it would be helpful for org-wide transparency if the Legal Committee had more documentation for other volunteers to learn about their activities. I understand that the committee members might be preoccupied with other tasks and cannot focus on documentation. I think this is where administrative staff would be helpful for committees to keep up-to-date on documentation.

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?

I don’t think people with a history of harassment should be prohibited from undertaking or running for managerial positions such as Board of Directors and Committee Chairs in the OTW. This is because I believe that people can always change for the better, and if someone showed that they have learned from their past behaviour and corrected their actions, then having a history of harassment does not necessarily mean that this person will harass other volunteers again in the future.

I do think what’s more important than considering any restrictions on Board Elections or Chair assignments is to make sure that volunteers that harass others and thus violate the OTW Code of Conduct (“Work Environment” section) are explicitly informed by Volunteers and Recruitment Committee (and potentially an external HR firm in the future) that their behaviour is not tolerated in the OTW, and they must refrain from it in the future. If they repeat this kind of behaviour, they will then have to face whatever consequences the internal policy specifies.

While I understand that the Board of Directors holds a special legal status under U.S. Corporate Law and that it can be contentious to enforce internal policy with regards to Board members when it might lead to leaving their volunteer position, I nevertheless believe that it is of great importance to extend the internal policy to Board members, and update the bylaws if necessary. This is because Board members should face the same consequences as other volunteers if they harass others in the OTW, and it’s not reasonable for them to have any privilege on this matter.

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 don’t know the situation in other committees, but from my personal experience, I don’t feel that my Committee Chairs would decide not to communicate with volunteers simply because they wish to avoid conflict. If this kind of phenomenon does exist and I am elected to Board, then I think I would reach out to Committee Chairs to ask if there is any support I can provide them with. The upcoming HR Outsourcing project will also address personnel conflict issues, and I am more than willing to work with the HR firm and Volunteers and Recruiting Committee to update our conflict resolution policy to try to prevent this scenario from happening in the future.

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?

I will ensure that Board continues the Terms of Service review process and grants the Policy and Abuse Committee (PAC) more power in cases related to racial harassment. I will also work with PAC chairs to provide assistance with improving admin tools for ticket investigation. I look forward to supporting AD&T to improve AO3 Collection Search and Filter features as well.

I will also continue the external DEI consultant project and work with the consultant for both short and long term means to reduce racism. Growing up as a member of ethnic minority group in China and having studied in higher education institutions outside mainland China, I understand and have experienced that racism and discrimination can take various forms in different cultures, and the effort of a single consultant (or consulting firm), however effective, is always limited. I think it is important for the us to realise that combating racism is going to be a long term effort and there will always be new problems emerging, but I will try my best to utilise my knowledge and experience to provide support to volunteers of minority groups – this is the very first reason that made me consider running for Board, after all.

I really appreciate that #EndOTWRacism movement raised many fans’ awareness of the problem of racism on AO3 and in the OTW, and through their persistent effort reminded us of the promise OTW leadership made to the public back in 2020. I am also very glad to see that many fans grew their interest in Board Elections and decided to join OTW membership and cast their votes this year through the #VotetoEndOTWRacism campaign! I saw in their Tumblr post that they are collecting questions for the upcoming candidate chats, and I’m looking forward to exchanging my thoughts.

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?

Having worked in the OTW for several years, I think most if not all of the volunteers I know, whether they are tag wranglers, Committee Chairs, or Board members, do genuinely hope that the OTW can become a better organisation and we can change for the better. In my opinion, there are several factors that have kept us from actually going for the changes.

Firstly, volunteers responsible for making a certain decision or involved in the discussion might hold different opinions with regards to future paths the OTW is to take, and the difference may cause the issue to be left undecided. To avoid this type of stagnation, I think it would be helpful to set up more open means of communication to encourage more volunteers’ input on the matter if applicable. Perhaps with more volunteers to contribute to the discussion, we could find new common ground and ideas. Introducing admin staff to keep track of discussions and tasks can also help prevent issues left unresolved for a prolonged period of time.

Another factor that I think is relevant to some of the problems the OTW faces is volunteer burnout. This is particularly important for Board members and Committee Chairs, who have to deal with a large amount of administrative work and personnel conflicts in their committees. Sometimes, the chair of a committee holds several positions, even other chair roles or Board duty in the OTW, making them more susceptible to burnout, especially when there’s a sudden increase in their already significant workload. Having administrative staff share the burden of volunteers can be a way to reduce the current time commitment for miscellaneous tasks of volunteers and allow them to focus on other duties that require their skills and expertise.