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OTW - love and frustration

I continue to love the Organization for Transformative Works.

The AO3 keeps providing me with entertaining things to read. I keep wanting to draw sparkly hearts around various parts of Fanlore and Fanlore editors.

Despite my feeling that if an author purposely and consciously tries to remove a fanwork from the interwebs -- though I wish they wouldn't and would orphan it (AO3 love!) instead -- it is uncool to make it obvious and centralized that you're still passing it around, I love the Open Doors project and recentish OTW news about working on saving and incorporating at-risk online archives.

(I consider that posting a fanwork on an archive you don't manage yourself gives implicit permission for re-archiving your work on a successor archive designated by the original archive's controller(s) for continuity purposes, as long as that successor archive does not drastically change ToS such as from non-commercial to commercial, does allow a way for individual authors to maintain or reacquire editing status for their works (up to and including deletion though again I wish they wouldn't), and does not permit multiple re-archivings to non-specifically designated successor archives. But this is a tangent, so back to OTW.)

I enjoy some of the TWC symposium posts. I deeply approve of the lobbying and advocating for fanworks, their legitimacy, and related topics by the Legal Committee and org spokespersons, and like the Vidding project.

I believe in the core goals of the org, stated as "established by fans to serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms. We believe that fanworks are transformative and that transformative works are legitimate" at the What We Believe page.


It's a bit more than four months into the new board's term. One third of the organization's fiscal year has passed.

  • Strategic Plan. The roadmap for making a strategic plan was announced only a week ago.

    Not the actual strategic plan (admittedly, going from not apparently having one to finishing the actual plan in four months would have been rather fast), the announcement that the OTW is planning to work on one and how. Without an associated timeline.

    Because who'd want to know within what timeframe we (lovers, invested critics, and members of the OTW) could expect to see or read about various steps and when they'll be happening in making this strategic plan?

    The roadmap plan also looks... a bit academic.

    Much writing and assembling of reports and talking to already invested stakeholders of certain types, not enough "interviewing users" or "reaching out to desirable future stakeholders and users-who-aren't-volunteers."

    Where are the "work closely with Outreach on incorporating the results of regular OTW-general and project-specific surveys into the strategic plan" parts of the roadmap, or "reach out, using all of OTW's communications channels, to assemble diverse focus groups, and incorporate their feedback as users and potential users into the strategic plan" and similar steps?

    It seems a screaming oversight from Phase I of creating the Roadmap ("I. Create a list of every committee, workgroup, and volunteer pool in the OTW.") with unfortunate consequences for every subsequent step, that the first step isn't "Identify the audience, users, and potential audience and users for the organization's projects and activities."

    The second step would then be "Identify tactics for reaching them, and do so to solicit their feedback on what the organization is currently doing and what it should be doing." The current steps I and II would become sub-points of the new second step, which would no longer be limited to current committees, workgroups, and volunteers, but would include non-volunteer users and additional OTW audience groups.

    Why? A couple of reasons:

    The org is de facto working on representing fandom to the outside world. So the org's audience is not limited to people who work on and users of its projects. That's a not insignificant omission in the group of identified stakeholders.

    The org is also doing things with as intended beneficiaries fandom as a whole, not only its volunteers, committees and workgroups, and even not only current users of its projects.

    Who the OTW is doing the things it does for needs to be taken into account in every step of creating its Strategic Plan.

    Making life easier for the volunteers and making the org's internal processes more efficient is great and necessary! But the Strategic Plan won't be very useful as a strategy document if most of its findings focus on those and similar areas, and if all the constituents the org is aiming to reach and/or benefit aren't considered throughout the creation of the Strategic Plan.

    The risk: if limited to the steps/phases as currently described, the resulting Plan may become too much of an echo chamber document. One that would strongly take into account the people already invested in the org, but not take into sufficient account the desires and needs of people who could or ought to become invested in the org in the not-far future.

    I'm sure it would include plenty of ideas for Tactical Improvements, but it would fail at offering Longer-term Strategic Assessments to act on.

  • Yuletide. I would still very much like to see an announcement about there being (and who's on it) a Yuletide (Sub)Committee.

    Now (or better yet in Q1, but water under the bridge) is the time to announce "We acknowledge that as has been mentioned in multiple places Yuletide takes a lot of OTW/AO3 resources during certain times of the year. So although it had not officially been recognized as an OTW project before, we are pro-actively addressing that it does use significant OTW and AO3 resources and attention by 9-6 months ahead forming an official committee which has the mandate to plan and to communicate those plans and anticipated needs and ideas for making the stress on systems and people smaller throughout the months leading up to and during Yuletide challenge season! \o/"

  • User Survey(s). I love that the OTW held a community survey recently. The survey had some issues, but that it happened was a great first step.

    I really want the org to hold many more surveys, quite regularly, specifically asking for feedback on the OTW's various projects. Even the amount of participation in surveys can be useful data. I'd say an org-wide community survey once or twice a year, and surveys for each major OTW project once a year, increasing in frequency for any specific projects if they become particular hotspots of attention/user feedback/questioning.

    I would particularly like to see a survey focused on AO3 -- with lots of attention paid to sections on Tagging, How You Use The Archive As A Reader, How You Use The Archive As A Writer, What Do You Like Best About The Archive, and Which Changes Would Improve Your Use Of The Archive Most -- ideally posted before the end of June.

  • Communications. The OTW's organs of propaganda within and with fandom are a little sad.

    • I think it's important to make it obvious on every OTW (and subproject) post everywhere that post has been crossposted and where there are comments on it and how many. Letting people immediately see on which version of the post there might be conversation happening (that they might, you know, join!) is a very basic thing that is not being done enough. A bit embarrassing, given that the OTW does to a large extent come out of journal-based fandom where crossposting and letting people see where the commenting is happening have become standard.

      Coding in a "show all crossposts & number of comments there" footer into every official OTW communication that's crossposted on the OTW blog, AO3 admin posts, Fanlore news updates, the otw_news journals, etc., is or should become automatic.

    • I also wonder why something like the OTW community survey wasn't announced more widely at once.

      This is the kind of thing you want a simple communications campaign plan for along lines of:
      1. "Announce survey in/through all OTW(-related) communications channels within an hour of each other so no one who ought to see it feels left out or like less desired respondents"

      2. "Follow up with short not-too-spammy messages in selected channels reminding potential survey-takers about survey x days from survey closing and y days from survey closing" -- maybe combined with:

      3. "Post few 'yay, survey response!' messages in selected channels during and right after the survey runs and in final one indicate when survey results will be announced"

      4. "Follow up with survey-managing group to get survey results before survey result announcement date"

      5. "Announce survey results in/through relevant OTW(-related) channels (near-) simultaneously"

      6. "Assign volunteers A, B, and C to implement, D to oversee and communicate campaign tactics and adjustments with Comms Committee/Board/survey-managing group. (Volunteer B to be backup for D.)"

      Maybe the Communications Committee did have such a plan, but the first part (the coordinated, cross-channel announcement everywhere around the same time) didn't get implemented.

  • Volunteering. (includes personal grousing) I'm a bit frustrated by my attempt to become a volunteer, about which I first contacted the OTW last November.

    No, I don't have three to five hours a week I can commit to volunteering, but I have an hour most weeks, sometimes two or more, and there seem to be some obvious ways in which an hour a week might help the Communications Committee (even if it's just a final check to make sure that all OTW organs of propaganda posts show crossposting code). Or Outreach, or Volunteers and Recruiting, or some other committees.

    Yes, I might do tag wrangling for an hour a week, but I strongly suspect that volunteering as a tag wrangler without seeing lots of evidence clearly communicated that the AO3 search, filtering, and tagging system is actively being fixed from its currently not wholly functional state would make me an all too cranky wrangler.

    With something like communications or outreach I think to myself "I see something that isn't quite working as well as it could, and as someone who's done similar things before I suspect that even with limited time I could help with trying to make them a little more effective."

    While looking into tag-wrangling, I think, "Oh dear, I'm not a coder but it looks like to make AO3 tags -- which aren't working quite as well as they could be according to lots of people -- work better what's needed is a CODE OVERHAUL." (Or overhauling the file structure or other technical things beyond my ken, about which I know just enough to be frustrated when there's sort of obvious-looking problems with them that I know have been and can be resolved somewhat better in other open source projects, without being able to help fix them myself.)

  • Volunteering. (more systemic) I'd really like for the org to make it easier to volunteer in small amounts of time. Making it hard for people who don't have "enough" time to give to volunteer is counterproductive.

    At least, I've always understood that the idea would be to say "In that case, until you have time for the other thing you'd like to do, how about this other small task? or this other one? or stuffing envelopes/checking links/knitting cozies/addressing thank-you notes? Here's a binder that explains how; if you spend your first 30-60 minutes volunteering with us reading the relevant chapter you can be up and running with that particular one of these dozen Small Tasks!" instead of saying "if you can't commit 10 hours this month to training on Bigger Project, there are only very few options that take less time and if you don't like those, well, then we don't know what to do with the positive energy and intent you wanted to spend on our organization."

    Not that that works perfectly for every non-profit, and in whatever volunteer organization some volunteers do require a lot of handholding to be functional, but sometimes the volunteers who start out very small or require a lot of help initially turn into volunteering mainstays over time, and you wouldn't have gotten them in that incredibly useful position eventually if they hadn't been able to start out small.

    So. Especially in an org that works or tries to work like an open source project, very distributed, in many timezones, and without on-site formal trainings, it ought to be easier rather than harder to volunteer in small increments. Certainly for projects that do not or ought not require large or global amounts of knowledge about org-specific processes that are not immediately related to the specific tasks they might be able to help with.

    Faster ways to get volunteers on board including more of certain kinds of online documentation might make it easier to say:

    "So you want to volunteer. Great! Please work your way through the 'How to volunteer as an X' online documentation that's at location Y when you have time, and when you're done with it (or if you realize this volunteering opportunity isn't right for you and want to be pointed to the overview of different volunteering opportunities) tell us and/or ask any questions, and we'll set you up with the access codes/chat info you need to do the actual volunteering task. Yay!

    We do have chats every week, but as long as you attend one a month we'll send you the one-page summary of the other three so you'll still know about important changes and can keep doing your volunteer work even if you don't have time to attend all of the meetings!

    Also, if you ever need a break, there's a button on your volunteering dashboard that says 'click here to let your team/committee know you won't be able to volunteer for a while (if possible with 'from future date x to future date y' info)' and if at some point you want to quit altogether, we'd really like it if you filled out the 5-10 minute volunteer exit survey on what we did well and not so well to keep you interested in volunteering. Thanks!"

  • There are more things I love and more frustrations, but that's my OTW tl;dr for today.

    This entry also posted at http://skaredykat.dreamwidth.org/11008.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 31st, 2012 09:45 am (UTC)
very thought-provoking post.

bringing in volunteers for minimal time commitments, well--I don't want to discourage, because I think you would be invaluable, skaredykat, both for your communications ability and also for your librarian-mind. at the same time, I can't speak for volcom, but there is definitely overhead attached to bringing in new volunteers and exiting old ones, in terms of training, of course, but also for volcom and Systems and everything that has to be put into place for a new volunteer so they have access to what they need to be productive. you get into a situation of diminishing returns, or maybe it's more a chicken-and-egg thing: if you could bring in enough minimal-engagement volunteers, they could definitely make up the cost, but I know right now Systems is kinda swamped.

>Also, if you ever need a break, there's a button on your volunteering dashboard that says 'click here to let your team/committee know you won't be able to volunteer for a while<

once someone is actively in the system, it's just not cool to just leave their accounts idle without removing access, from a systems security standpoint. if someone gained access illicitly they wouldn't be around to notice. but also from a licensing standpoint for some of the services we use, our numbers would become inflated. and sadly, it isn't possible to have one-click dashboard removal from all the variegated services we have added them to, nice though that would be. :) we outsource to a 3rd party for chat, e.g., and to another for bug-tracking. we grant access to an internal wiki, and internal mailing lists and secure encrypted file servers and development servers.

as I said: overhead.
Aug. 4th, 2012 06:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks for commenting!

The balance between cost and benefit is always really hard, and it often seems impossible to step back and say "to get the greater long-term benefit, we need to stop spending all our time on The Most Urgent problems and need to all commit to always spending 10-25% of our time on The Less Urgent But Long-Term Important Problems That Will Bite Us In The Ass Later If They Keep Being Not Attended To."

As [personal profile] scribblesinink commented at the DW version of this post, that can be done by separating out which people work on implementation vs. which work on Tactics&Strategy -- or sometimes it works to have everyone literally count their hours and make sure they spend 1 or 2 out of every 10 hours on Tactics&Strategy (and one of my personal perennial favorites, Documentation) instead of on actual doing and acute problem-solving the other 8-9 hours are for.

As for systems access, you're right.

Ideally such a dashboard button -- which I'm espousing (PR hat on) because I've seen people in various places say "as a volunteer I would really like that" -- would be a front-end streamlined way (again, requiring tech/coder investment behind the scenes that would, one hopes/believes pay off relatively soon) to disable access, and clicking the button next to it to say "I'm back" would put the on-hiatus volunteer on a (24-hour?) fast track to getting their former access levels back, by automatically sending out messages to the relevant access-level-granters that previously approved volunteer so-and-so is back and should be given access to a, b, c, and d as soon as possible, but not to e and f.

Basically it'd function as a combination of feelgood for the volunteer ("Even if I say goodbye-for-now by dashboard button instead of long caring e-mail to my chairperson they care and will still love me and it's easier and more appreciated to do it this way than by just never responding to e-mails again") and something of a back-end access-level management tool for Systems in that when someone clicks their button it automatically sends out the information of what that (former or returning) volunteer has access to and what they should be taken off of or reinstated to.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )