Zoë Tucker 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.]

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?

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 is composed of a diverse group of volunteers, serving an even more diverse community of users. While we do not and will not demand information on demographics, our multiculturalism is shown through our Translation committee’s forty-five language teams, our current Board of Directors’ five continents of residence, and our largely international Systems committee, to name just a few examples. This diversity necessarily leads to culture clashes, and we do our best to deal with them as they occur through a practical strategy of accepting one’s own responsibility in interactions with others.

Part of interacting with others in any form is accepting that sometimes disagreements will arise, and the most important thing to do in these situations is to reflect on your own behaviour and the circumstances of the issue so that you can learn from it and prevent similar conflicts in the future. Cultural differences exist even among those from similar backgrounds, and the problem is compounded when people are from very different ones. I will never be able to individually prevent or resolve all culture clashes—no one person could. However, I can do my best to respect the viewpoints of others and understand my own biases. If someone tells me that I have hurt them, I will listen, apologize, and try to understand why. It’s not acceptable to try and make excuses or talk about how someone misunderstood me. I will need to accept what they’re saying in good faith and try to do better.

Similarly, I would encourage every volunteer to respect and listen to others, especially when interacting with people of different backgrounds. If we can successfully foster an environment where everyone feels heard, we can support all of our volunteers through issues related to their respective countries and backgrounds, no matter who they are or where they’re from.

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?

While it’s true that the gears of the OTW turn slowly, part of the reason it can take a long time is that even small things can be quite complicated to execute. The OTW completes hundreds of routine tasks weekly, and any non-routine projects are additional work on top of our immense baseline. Of course I would like to see us solve our problems within a few weeks of them being recognized, but given that very few problems have simple fixes, I am glad that no one person can easily effect dramatic change to the OTW at large. Board work especially is often slow, as discussion with representatives from every committee to make sure everyone is on the same page is a necessary part of any potential change in policy or workflow. When everyone feels involved in the decision for a planned change, everyone is invested in successfully implementing it.

Slow and steady progress ensures we don’t compound on existing problems, but it can also lead to frustration among those waiting for results, users and volunteers alike. One of the biggest factors in the incremental progress of our projects is the tremendous time and energy some of our volunteers expend merely maintaining them. I believe this can be addressed by working on finding and training new volunteers to help lessen the burden on small groups of current volunteers. As I mentioned in my first set of Q&A responses, maintaining a healthy and effective volunteer base is a perennial and thorny issue, and I believe it is key to making sure the OTW can maintain and increase productivity.

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?

We use the proceeds of membership fees to support the OTW, but also need donation information both for use in the case of an audit by the US Internal Revenue Service and as a measure against election fraud. As is standard practice in nonprofits, we use the information used for payment as our proof that every voter is an individual person. We want to discourage spam voting by having some form of reasonable barrier so that our voters represent those with a vested interest and investment in our projects. I feel that our current fee is balanced to be accessible for the majority of our users while providing the OTW with the support needed to continue its projects.

We value the voices of those users and volunteers for whom the membership fee is prohibitive or who choose not to become members for any reason. I encourage non-OTW members who care about the future of our projects to submit questions through our contact form and to attend live candidate chats and board meetings. For current volunteers, all leadership is a direct message away – my first weekend of being a volunteer, I needed to ask an admin to delete a channel I had accidentally made, and that is how I met the then-Board President!

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 the OTW should continue to be primarily composed of volunteers, as we have been since our founding. Part of our cultural identity is that of being volunteer-run, and I view it as important to maintain that ethos. However, I believe most volunteers wish there were more working hours available for mission-critical aspects of our projects, and are not opposed to the idea of one or a few paid employees in key positions in order to make this a reality. As one example, our Systems committee would benefit strongly from a paid employee who is suited for the consistent daily routine tasks and occasional crisis resolutions that make up Systems work.

Any employee would need to be paid a fair wage with full benefits. In order to hire someone on a secure and sustainable basis, there are several issues we will have to address. For instance, we will need to revise our fundraising plans to provide a steady and consistent stream of income. We will also need to address legal concerns, such as geographical limitations on whom we could hire and whether or not an internal hire would be able to continue volunteering. Culturally, it will be important to ensure our volunteers do not feel undervalued or talked over, and that paid work isn’t seen as a replacement for the institutional knowledge and experience of our current volunteers. I hope to help the Board iron out these issues over my potential term, and lay the groundwork for paid employees to become a reality in the future.

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