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OTW election crossfire

canon error apply fanfic
It's election season for the OTW and there's a lot of talk about the org and its projects. And apparently a lot of unhappiness.

I didn't become a paid-up member in time to vote during this election. I'm not a volunteer (yet).

But I'm an avid user of the Archive of Our Own who also really loves Fanlore. And I very much believe in the parent org's goals and other projects; the legal advocacy, the Journal, Open Doors, etc.

Despite what a recent spate of unhappy outpourings says about the difficulty of getting heard as a volunteer or staffer or user by the people making decisions and certain seemingly large (but in my opinion not insurmountable) problems with how decisions are currently made at the OTW, if I had a vote, I would vote for Naomi Novik and (if her seat were up, which it isn't) Francesca Coppa in this election.

Not because what I've read makes me think they're unarguably doing the most fantastic jobs possible as a board candidate or board member.

But because:
  1. I think they are crucial to the external-facing part of longer-term credibility and viability of the OTW.

  2. I firmly believe that even though it might not be the most fun thing they've ever done, they are both smart, very well-intentioned people who can and will adapt to what OTW staffers, volunteers, and project users most want to see the board do in the coming year.


Re 1, I very much hope the OTW will make it a priority to both recruit and train more staffers and board candidates who will be able to be passionate, articulate, credible advocates and resource-attractors (e.g. resources such as funding, volunteers, media notice) for the OTW outside the fannish sphere. I believe this is critical for long-term viability and success of the organization and its goals.

Re 2, I believe that all the current members of the board and the candidates have a large amount of goodwill built up within significant parts of fandom. Whether from long history of working on fannish projects, more recent work with the OTW, or because they're showing that overall they're thoughtful, smart people who care about fandom, however they individually, unconsciously define fandom.

Undoubtedly every single one of the current board members and candidates has said or done stupid things or done things (far) less perfectly than they could have at times. Like all of us humans.

But I believe there is a core of goodwill that can be used and nurtured by as many people as possible -- current board, outgoing board, candidates, volunteers, users -- doing their damndest to make right now (the remaining very few days before the election and (especially) the first several months after the election) not be one of the times chunks of fandom will look back on as a giant "oh, what a clusterfuck" moment.

I'm sorry Lucy Pearson is no longer a board candidate, and very sorry that Allison Morris isn't continuing as chairperson of the board.

But from the current slate of candidates, I'd be most interested in seeing active, fruitful, positive collaboration between Naomi Novik, Nikisha Sanders, Julia Beck, and Jenny Scott-Thompson (and of course continuing board members Ira Gladkova, Kristen Murphy, and Francesca Coppa) for the next year and more.


Yet whoever gets elected, here, in no particular order, are things I'd like to see them do:

  • Very actively reach out to past and departing volunteers and staffers and, first, ask them if they'd be willing to offer their opinions on what could be done to improve the org's functioning and what they liked most and least about working on the org's projects.

    • Next, solicit ideas on how to reduce burnout from the most valuable (sorry, I know that's a weighted term, but the ones who are doing and/or contributing the most or the hardest-to-replace skills, activities, and goodwill) volunteers and staffers. Rank those ideas by perceived value (as perceived by the close-to-burnout, already burned-out, etc. volunteers and staffers) and doability and start implementing them asap.

    • Also, actively reach out to all current volunteers, staffers, and users on an at least quarterly basis to specifically ask for their opinions on what could be done to improve the org's projects for them as users and as volunteers and staffers. Making this (the outreach and reporting on the gathered data) a semi-automated process so it's relatively easy to send summarized results to the various committees and board should be worth the resources it takes.


  • Throw out legacy ideas and idealistic notions about how AO3 tagging should work in an ideal, non-resource-constrained AU immediately.


  • Publicly announce that a roadmap for assessing and quite possibly throwing out legacy code and infrastructure for AO3 tagging will be worked on asap.


    • Publicly announce that for such a roadmap on how to make the tagging functions better -- i.e. easier for the majority of AO3 users to get the results they want from, easier for almost all AO3 volunteers especially tag wranglers to manage -- any and all constructively phrased input will be extremely welcome and actively solicited.

    • At the same time make it clear (and follow through with that) that although current highly active senior coders for the Archive will be of course also able to give input on the roadmap, their opinions will not carry vastly more weight than the opinions of everyone else.

    • The opinions of qualified experts on what is realistically possible should probably be weighted significantly more than those of completely non-technical but wishful users, but the opinions of every such qualified expert should carry weight on a 1:1 basis.

      (Who counts as a qualified expert would be another exciting topic, but I suspect that the categories should include at a minimum:

      • current and past archive coders and system designers who were deemed competent at coding and/or systems design by multiple AO3 peers

      • coders who offer their opinion and are willing to volunteer even if the solution most widely endorsed and decided on by consensus or majority is not the one they espoused

      • current and past chairpersons of all committees related to/regularly interfacing with tagging

      • and more tentatively:
      • current volunteers with moderately deep technical knowledge in other parts of the org

      • current and past dissenting staffers who have talked about the need to inspect and change the tagging part of the AO3 before.)

    • Assign resources to and work to implement the (reality-constrained and deemed feasible by a majority of people involved) tagging overhaul roadmap.



  • Acknowledge what seems obvious to more than a few people: that Yuletide in practical terms is/has become one of the AO3's flagship projects and test cases, and therefore does use a large amount of AO3/OTW resources (coding time, tag-wrangling time, the time and attention of certain staffers) during parts of the year.

    • As soon as reasonably possible, officially integrate Yuletide into the AO3/OTW decision-making infrastructure for the time it remains one of the key (and resource-intensive) AO3 flagship projects.

      • E.g., form an official AO3/OTW Yuletide Subcommittee no later than January 2012, don't make Yuletide-related decisions that affect other aspects of the AO3 or volunteer or staffer time by fiat, but do it by consensus with other committee chairs and using thoroughly and transparently considered volunteer input, etc., etc.

    • Make it easy and a non-issue for volunteers to opt out of Yuletide-specific activities if they have irreconcilable differences with the concept of the Yuletide exchange. (Without precluding people on the Yuletide Subcommittee simultaneously working to get and keep current and potential volunteers enthusiastic and excited about helping with Yuletide.)


  • Begin or recommence work (led by the chairperson of the board, supported by an ad hoc committee) -- and widely announce that it's happening and that input is welcome -- on a multi-year plan and roadmap for strategic goals for the org.

    • The OTW is several years old. Founders, no matter how fabulous, don't always in their heart of hearts recognize that goals will, do, and must be adjusted (a la Innovator's Dilemma) for an organization to continue thriving as the landscape around it changes.

    • Make it a high priority for the board to help the founders adjust and either change how they can work within the board in the most productive ways, or to help them rapidly find ways and positions as much appreciated founders and spokespersons who work in parallel with the organization's board without running into the decisionmaking process for the adjusted goals.

      • This might mean overhauling the bylaws and considering increasing the size of the board, as well as creating "ex officio" board positions so certain board members and/or org staffers could (and would be strongly encouraged) to attend board meetings and give their valuable input (this might also be a good idea for a lawyer ex officio board member), but without having voting rights on decisions that get made at those board meetings, or other fairly standard ways to restructure organization management and decisionmaking power.


    • If they are not already doing so on a regular basis, pick brains and look around for and share with each other best practices on running and managing distributed volunteer projects and organizations from the open source software community and association management pros.

      • The OTW does not need to be perfect (that would be insane and impossible). But having it needlessly be rather more imperfect than many other organizations when there are resources out there and there are many very smart people (hello, fandom!) the org can draw on ideas and help from, that would be sad.

      • Ask members and volunteers and users to point decisionmakers towards the resources on these topics they've found most useful, or to help condense and format such resource information to be as easy as possible to get-and-digest for as many staffers, volunteer supervisors, and board members as possible.


    • Work on creating and implementing a "no stepchild" policy -- so that it becomes much more difficult for allegations to be made and stick that parts of the org, projects committed to by the org by popular demand, committees of the org or its projects and their volunteers, or segments of fandom or fannish interests are pervasively and/or unfairly treated as subordinate to others.

      • Some may realistically, for quite a while, not get the same amount of energy as others due to lack of expertise or resources. But making a clear policy and a visible plan that commits to spending real energy -- outreach, communication, follow-up, marketing, funding, etc. -- on much more equal representation of the various factions and interest groups the OTW claims to want to support and include could help perception of the OTW and its projects.


    All these items are based on what look like recurring concerns, and I hope the board does consider them, even though they may not be the most sparkly to spend time on.

    Some of those recurring concerns are undoubtedly very difficult for NN and FC to hear, especially in as concentrated a fashion and timeframe as they're being discussed right now.

    Hearing people -- not just strangers or people you don't know well but people you've worked with quite closely -- call parts of your baby or how it works ugly and dysfunctional is no fun.

    I hope that -- as OTW founders, as people who have for years and years been creating and building fannish events and infrastructure that many fans enjoy, and as fans who have repeatedly shown great long-term commitment to fandom -- they can make themselves push through and do positive things with the useful (even if not always pleasant) parts of the discussions going on.

    And I hope that users of the OTW's projects and members about to vote will give them some space and time to process the concentrated presentation and reiteration of some of these concerns and not demand instant and complete 180-degree turnabouts. Yet also gently but clearly remind them after the election that some of these concerns really really should be addressed for the org and its projects to remain viable.


    To close, here's why I will volunteer and give money and continue to use the AO3 and Fanlore and advocate for them and the OTW and its mission, no matter who gets voted in as board members and despite hearing that there's quite a lot of disillusionment right now:

    • Disillusionment, and waves of it, are normal. Not fun, not commendable, not a goal to be achieved, but more normal than not when it comes to organizations, companies, movements, projects. The more viable ones adapt somehow (either by shrinking to make do without the disillusioned segments of their volunteer or customer or user base, or by adapting to re-spark enthusiasm in previously disillusioned people, or by adapting to attract fresh people) so they survive -- to get to a next period of disillusionment.


    • Nothing else as good currently exists. The OTW is not perfect. Its projects do not offer the very best versions of some of the features and items they do offer. They don't (yet) offer certain things I want. But they offer more of them together, under an umbrella of goals and objectives that is more in line with makes fandom meaningful to me than any other single organization.

      Sometimes improving an existing thing and turning it around to be more effective and better than it was is more achievable than building a new thing from scratch and making that successful and having it take over (its part of) the world. (Think Apple, Inc. and Be, Inc.)



    The less teal deer version:

    I hope that every single member of the OTW's next board, no matter who is voted in, will challenge themselves to be insanely great -- about listening to, taking into consideration, and constructively using feedback from users, members, volunteers, staffers, other board members; adherents and naysayers and Devil's Advocates.
     

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