ira_gladkova ([personal profile] ira_gladkova) wrote2012-08-03 09:16 pm

Criticism, Negativity, and all those Blues (includes That Tag Wrangler Letter)

(Apologies about the lack of Minutes Monday this week -- there were no new minutes to discuss, but lots of interesting stuff next week!)

Recently some tag wranglers were talking publicly about a letter the staff had sent to them about negativity and criticism. Separately but contemporaneously, one of my closest friends, [personal profile] seventhe posted about her ambivalence towards the OTW.

So! Let's talk about that.

Criticizing the OTW, Inside and Out



First up, I hope it's clear from clear from my history that I have no problem with criticizing the OTW.

Here's the thing. I think criticism is healthy. I think it's necessary. Feeling like you're in a place where you can't even criticize your experience? Where it feels like your experience is being erased? That's terrible. That's about the worst working environment possible. Leaving people in a place where they feel they can't criticize or recount negative experiences is the worst thing the OTW can do to itself and others.

But many of us have seen that there are a lot of issues around criticism of the OTW. I think this comes back to the basic tension inherent in the OTW: fannish project vs. nonprofit organization.

Fandom in general has a complex relationship with criticism: hesitance to criticize labours of love; cultures centered around improvement and constructive criticism; cultures centered around positivity and protection from crit; harshing people's buzz; different attitudes towards critical analysis of canon and fan works; pleas for honest reviews.

On the nonprofit org side is an expectation of professionalism and of a culture of service. This includes being open to and prepared to deal with criticism, up to and including anger and undiluted negativity, all in the name of improving something in service of the mission. However, not even this is without complexity: nonprofit orgs are often run in part or entirely by volunteers, or have limited resources in other ways. This impacts the ability to deal with criticism efficiently.

The OTW lands in the morass in between.

The path to sustainability lies on the nonprofit end of the scale — we cannot forget our fannish cultural roots, but to persist in our mission, we must adopt structures and practices suitable to nonprofit organizations. And here is where criticism comes in:

If you expect us to act like a nonprofit org, you have to treat us as a nonprofit org.

So here are some things I think are useful to keep in mind vis-à-vis criticizing the OTW to make criticism maximally effective:
  • Be aware of the space and audience when you criticize.

    Venting wherever you feel the need is great; please keep doing that! Posting in your own spaces about org feels is great. Do it! However, while complaining in your own spaces is valid, it is not a path to action.

    We're embedded in fannish communities, and news tends to travel; fannish projects often change in response to indirect criticism and commentary. It's not unreasonable to suppose something similar of the the OTW: we're pretty much trained to this by how fandom functions. And it's true that sometimes, this does work.

    But we can't expect it to.

    It really saddens me to know that a lot of valid and valuable critique of the org is expressed where the very people who can do something about it are less likely to see it. This includes people who aren't volunteers posting in various private spaces as well as volunteers voicing complaints in org spaces that aren't optimized to get those complaints to where they need to be heard.

    Let me be clear: no one is obligated to give their opinion to the OTW or anyone in it. But if you want us to take action on something that's bothering you, it's most effective to come tell us about it.

    Crit is most effective when given to the right audience. While the OTW still suffers from transparency issues, there is quite a bit of information out there about what our various parts do and how to contact us. If you're not sure where to address a particular complaint, ask! This will help you be heard where it matters most.

  • Keep in mind our limited resources.

    This is related to the "but it's volunteer work" idea that often gets deployed in conversations about org crit. The fact that we're all volunteers doesn't make us or our work immune to criticism; let's just dispense with that right away. However, it does mean that we have limited resources for dealing with criticism, both material and psychological.

    This is not at all particular to the OTW. All nonprofits run on limited resources. In our case, this is not only time taken out of the rest of our lives, but time taken out of our fannish lives as well: limited time taken out of limited time.

    In terms of material limits, this means that we often run slower than anyone — including us! — wants us to in addressing criticism. We're not paid professionals, and our turnaround time is the intersection of many people's limited availability. So when a complaint comes to us and nothing seems to happen, this doesn't mean that we aren't listening or that it doesn't matter to us: much more likely it's a combination of limited resources and poor transparency. We definitely need to work on letting people know that we're working on something and giving updates.

    We also have psychological and emotional limits, and that's where the tricky thing about "tone" or "attitude" comes in. I can't say "don't be angry at us" — that's a load of crock. I can't even tell people they "shouldn't" be "mean" to us. What I can say, though, is that it's counterproductive.

    I'm deeply allergic to forced positivity, but at the same time, it's vital to recognize that an encouraging working environment is essential to volunteer work. And feeling able to voice criticism is an essential part of an encouraging working environment. The opposite is toxic. But there's a definite balance between freedom to criticize and respect for others and the work they do. Negative feelings happen, and if you need to express them, you should do it! But see above about spaces/audience. Our work is not sacred. But I do think it's valuable and should be treated as if it has value. Aggressiveness and antagonism damage the work environment and make it less likely that your problem will be addressed. We all want to make things better, but it's harder to do that from under a pile of bad feelings, and eventually we run out of the psychological resources to do so.

    The bottom line: If you value the OW and its projects as a part of your community — and if you're criticizing the org in an effort to make it better, I assume that you do — then value us as part of the same.

So I think criticism is great, but I want it to work. I want criticism to be effective and to lead to change. How you criticize and why is your business, but if your goal is the same as mine, then I think these points are essential to keep in mind.




Now then, about a particular recent incident centered around criticism.


The Letter to Tag Wranglers




In this context, I need a disclaimer: I am also staff on the Tag Wrangling Committee. All the usual caveats apply: one out of many, working as a team, no magic wand. But I want to be clear that this is how I have access to this information. I try not to conflate my Board and TW staffer roles, but in this case, I'm speaking about general org matters using information obtained through the lens of a TW staffer.

That said: recently, the TW chairs sent a letter to the TW volunteer mailing list about expressing negativity and criticism on the list. This letter was written in part because of some wranglers' reactions to the on-list announcement of the Category Change Workgroup (post on that later). There have been a lot of misconceptions about this letter floating around so, with the permission of the TW chairs, here is the full text of the letter, so that we are all operating on full and accurate information (emphasis mine; links redacted but noted):
In the recent discussion concerning the Category Change workgroup, some questions were raised concerning criticizing the Org and the Archive, and antagonism and potential hostility on the wrangling mailing list.

To begin with: it is entirely fine to be angry or frustrated. Every one of us in the OTW has some criticisms we can make about the Org; there's probably not a single person up and down the volunteer line who is 100% satisfied with it (it's a major motivation for why many of us volunteer, to help improve things!) And raising and openly discussing these issues is the only way to fix many of them.

However, when you are criticizing aspects of the org on the internal wrangling mailing list, we ask that you keep in mind two things:


First off, the wrangler mailing list is a closed list, only visible to wranglers. If you are criticizing aspects of the Archive/Org beyond the immediate scope of tags and wrangling, the people who most need to hear your criticisms are not here to hear them. Even if some of them are present (we have wranglers from nearly all the committees and workgroups) they may not feel comfortable responding to such criticisms on a closed list, without discussing them with the rest of their committee/workgroup (and therefore having to share internal wrangler discussion).

This does not mean you cannot discuss the work of other parts of the Org on the wrangling mlist, as much of it directly or indirectly impacts what wranglers do (though we ask, for the sake of reducing off-topic list traffic, that you keep such discussions focused on how they pertain to tags/wrangling. If you'd like to participate in more wide-ranging discussions, the OTW forums [link] are a better place.) However, when you do bring up criticisms, avoid being openly antagonistic or challenging, and try to keep to constructive and productive discussions centered on specific issues, rather than general subjective opinions. (e.g. "My friend's Support ticket about xxx was never answered" is okay; "Support is totally falling down on the job" is not. Likewise, "the Archive's search sucks" isn't helpful, while as "search would be more useful if it included wrangling relationships" is constructive.)

If there is an issue you feel the tag wrangling committee should be dealing with, you are encouraged to email the staff [link] or chairs [link] about it, as well as bringing it up on the wrangler mailing list. You can see current issues under discussion in our meeting minutes [link] (pages for future meetings list the upcoming agenda); past minutes are also linked from the newsletter [link] (which is required reading for all wranglers.) Meetings are held in the wrangling chatroom, so all wranglers can read the full transcripts [link] if you want more detail than what's in the minutes; you are also welcome to lurk in the meetings themselves (and bring up any questions in chat after the meetings; usually some staff stick around.) If there is an important issue that hasn't been raised in these venues, please feel free to go ahead and email the staff about it; we will add items to the agenda on wrangler request.

If you have an issue with the tag wrangling committee itself (either a specific conflict or in a broader sense) and you do not feel comfortable bringing your concerns to the general staff, you can email the wrangling chairs directly at [link]. Or, if you'd like to keep your concern confidential from the wrangling committee, you can contact the Volunteers Committee at [link]. You can also contact the wrangler OTW Board liaison directly; our liaison this year is Sanders [link].

If there is an issue in another part of the Org that you feel needs to be addressed, you have several options for getting in touch with the actual committee/workgroup in question. You can always email the wrangling staff list or the wrangling chairs; we coordinate with other committees, and can pass concerns on (at least if they're tag/wrangling related; otherwise we can put you in touch with people in a better position to handle them.) If your issue is outside the scope of tags and wrangling there are other options. Non-tag-related AO3 feature requests and bug reports should be submitted to Support (tag and wrangling related features and bug reports as always should be submitted directly to the wrangling staff.) Some of the org-wide chat meetings have open floors where cross-committee issues can be raised. The forums are open to all volunteers in the org, so any posts there can be seen by all committee staff and volunteers. Many of the committees/workgroups have mailing lists listed on the OTW internal wiki through which you can contact them directly (especially if a matter seems particularly urgent); many of them also make public posts allowing comments.

And of course, if you have the time, you always have the option to volunteer for other volunteer pools, committees and workgroups. Sometimes the best way to effect change is to work from a position which is responsible for that change.


The second thing to keep in mind when raising criticism on the mailing list (or anywhere else in the Org) is that every single person, on every committee and workgroup and any other part of the OTW, is a volunteer, just as you are; they are freely donating their time and effort to the Archive and the Org to try to make them the best they can be. Even if you do not approve of or agree with the work they are doing, please respect them, and the effort they are putting into that work. 'Respect' obviously does not mean 'do not criticize'; but when you do, keep it constructive, and try not to take out your frustrations on them. Assume they are acting in good faith, and be understanding that their own perspective on the issue may not agree with yours (or even if they do agree, your suggestions may not all be feasible or immediately possible; we simply do not have the time or resources to do everything all at once, frustrating as that is.) This includes every member of the tag wrangling committee staff, all of whom started out as regular wrangling volunteers, and are still active wranglers, in addition to our other committee duties; we strive to do as best by wranglers as we can, because we are all wranglers as well.

So, while it can be tempting to let off steam, remember there are over 150 people on the wrangler mailing list, and the odds are some of them are personally involved in whatever aspect of the Org you are criticizing. Openly antagonistic complaints can make the whole list feel hostile, and discourage some people from offering their own perspectives and criticism, if they feel that they might be attacked for it. Whenever you post on the mailing list, keep in mind that while we all have our own personal vision for what we want the OTW to be, ultimately we are all in this together, and the only way we'll get anywhere is if we cooperate, support, and respect one another in our work with the Org.

Thank you,
Emilie & Alison
Tag Wrangling chairs

I hope it's clear where my bolding relates to the points I made earlier in this post.

Before I get into discussing the letter, a little background on the tag wrangling list. The Tag Wrangling Committee consists of the staff and a volunteer pool. The staff is responsible for managing the volunteer pool, managing tag wrangling policies, and representing the interests of tag wranglers and tagging interests to the wider org. Tag wranglers are a very diverse group, including in terms of org involvement: many have positions elsewhere in the org, while for many others tag wrangling is their sole volunteer involvement in the org. This leads to a very wide array of depth and type of connection to the org. In addition, the TW committee had a rocky start with confusion over purview and communication leading to several incidents where wranglers at large felt unheard by the rest on the org. On average then, a lot of tag wranglers feel a bit left out of org doings, disconnected from structures of authority and yet expected to "play the game" in terms of following wrangling rules, filing complaints in proper places, etc. This puts a lot of wranglers in a frustrating bind: actively invested in org work yet feeling unable to affect it much. There are wranglers who do not feel like this, but I think that overarching average is important to keep in mind about the list.

What's been very frustrating for a lot of TW staff is that a lot of wranglers have been representing this letter publicly as forbidding wranglers to criticize. While there are many factors in play — wording of the letter, history of the wrangling committee and volunteer pool, larger org issues — that can ease a jump to that conclusion, I hope that looking at the full text of the letter makes clear the intent: to show wranglers the best ways to get their criticism heard. A sort of "how-to" on criticism, the same intent as my post here. This is furthermore aimed at people the OTW considers "internal" — we're expecting people to not only treat us as professionals, but also to behave like professionals.

Now, that's less simple than it sounds, because of the trickiness I mentioned above. In theory, wranglers are part of the org, and one of the functions of the TW committee is to make sure wranglers are heard. However, the OTW in general is struggling with professionalism, communication, and structure, and TW committee is no exception. I think the TW committee has made huge progress in this vein, but wranglers still have to operate on a lot of good faith before they can treat the rest of the org like professionals in turn.

From the staffer perspective, I think this, from a comment by [personal profile] cypher on [personal profile] seventhe's entry, puts it very well:
I've been staff on the Wrangling Committee for a long time now, until I had to take a hiatus this year because the stress of it was so unpleasant -- it's a very rock-and-hard-place position, where we have very little ability to effect change without going through other committees for help, and there have been a lot of instances in the past few years where we didn't get a chance to offer input on changes that would affect us, or where things our volunteers really wanted just didn't make it to the top of the too-long list of things for the coders to do. So there's a huge feeling of frustration and powerlessness sitting there like a big unfriendly rock on one side.

And then on the other side is the hard place of the volunteers who see us as the authorities/insiders and hold us accountable for everything that doesn't get done (or done fast enough) and every communication failure -- it's certainly not all the volunteers, but it happens often enough that a big unofficial part of being on the committee is honestly "be someone to blame."

Wranglers can themselves often feel stuck in a similar situation: accountable to users for a huge part of their archive experience (as well as being users themselves) yet caught against the large, slow machinery of the org as it grinds away beyond their direct control.

So I can understand where the frustration and negative interpretation comes from. But I continue to think that the key lies in treating the OTW as, well, an organization.




At this point, I must address a likely concern: how can I expect people to treat the OTW professionally when the OTW doesn't behave professionally?

To that I say: It's symbiotic. We need both sides of that equation to make it work. We are working hard on being more professional, and it will help us immensely to achieve that goal if people treat us as such. It's a good faith thing, I know — but for all that I love and approve of criticism, I think good faith from both sides is absolutely essential to the enterprise.

Given this, there's understandable difficulty in treating the org like a nonprofit with a hierarchy and proper channels of communication. For one, our hierarchy is poorly-understood both within the org and inside it: this is something we're actively working on. On the flip side, however, points of contact are not hard to find for anyone who goes looking for them. It's all about reciprocity: our nascent hierarchy can only be fully effective if people respect it and behave as if it is real.

This includes waiting while the machinery grinds along (or pitching in to push further up the chain) — and in the reciprocal direction, it involves communication and updates on the status of the grind. Hierarchy must be respected reciprocally. This is where the org is struggling, and I am going to be honest here. I keep saying it has to be symbiotic, and I mean it. We need all the help we can get: please help us.

So. People have criticism and negative feelings, not necessarily at the same time but not mutually exclusive either. It's up to each individual what they do with those, but if the goal is to help the OTW change for the better, I hope this gives a little insight into how we work and what the most effective ways to talk to us are.

I do feel that the OTW has at least one good thing going for it in this context: there are a ton of ways and venues to reach us, and overall there's much more availability of direct and personal connection with our personnel. That's pretty awesome — but it's also something that has to be treated carefully. That sense of personal connection can make it a lot easier to interact with us — the org as a whole or individual personnel — as if we're only fellow fans on a fannish project, rather than part of a nonprofit organization. We're both, and negotiating that line continues to be tricky.

As always, thank you all for your thoughts! I hope this helps.

(I also wanted to talk a bit about ambivalence towards the OTW, but this post is long enough already. So chucking that in the pile of to-do tl;dr.)
jennyst: Jenny on a photo of space (Default)

[personal profile] jennyst 2012-08-04 06:18 am (UTC)(link)
<3
ahorbinski: Tomoe Gozen is so badass she glued her OTW mug to her wrist.  (tomoe gozen would haved loved the OTW)

[personal profile] ahorbinski 2012-08-04 07:01 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks for posting the email. I was shocked at the viciousness of the on-list conversation that sparked this email, as someone who was a wrangler from the beginning. What tag wranglers have to remember is that they're not the only people volunteering their time for the Org, and that the Archive is not the only Org project. I welcome their criticism and their perspective - the wranglers are probably the most diverse single pool of volunteers that we have - but if people want their views to be heard they need to act in good faith, and realize that those of us on staff are working within our own limits, personally and organizationally.
erinptah: (Default)

[personal profile] erinptah 2012-08-06 03:21 am (UTC)(link)
...I'm kind of shocked that you would characterize that conversation as "vicious" or not "in good faith". All the frustration I saw was about policies and procedures, not personal attacks, and a lot of criticisms/suggestions about the workgroup and its plans were specific and constructive.
ahorbinski: Tomoe Gozen is so badass she glued her OTW mug to her wrist.  (tomoe gozen would haved loved the OTW)

[personal profile] ahorbinski 2012-08-07 04:22 am (UTC)(link)
See below. Thanks!
ahorbinski: Tomoe Gozen is so badass she glued her OTW mug to her wrist.  (tomoe gozen would haved loved the OTW)

[personal profile] ahorbinski 2012-08-07 04:21 am (UTC)(link)
A couple points:

I completely agree that some people on that thread were writing in good faith. However, since I was a tag wrangler from about the first week of the AO3 going in to open beta in November 2009 (I'd have to double-check my journal for exact dates), and since the original category change discussion arose on the tag wrangling list early in 2010, I've been talking about category change with multiple groups of people inside and outside the Org for, literally, two and a half years. Most if not all of the specific and constructive comments you mention, frankly, were points that I've seen before - which is not to deny that they were specific and constructive, but to explain that to me they were not particularly innovative.

However, the fact that some people were writing in good faith with specific and, from their point of view, constructive observations does not obviate the fact that some people on that thread were being downright abusive of TW staff, Category Change workgroup members, and other groups. Nor am I the only person to have drawn this conclusion, given that TW staff felt the need to write the email in question in response to that discussion. And no amount of constructive comments makes abusive ones acceptable. There are plenty of places outside the Org's internal forums where people can voice those kinds of comments.
erinptah: A map. (writing)

[personal profile] erinptah 2012-08-07 07:01 am (UTC)(link)
Not everyone on the ML is part of all the groups you are -- which is not to say they're being secretive on purpose, but I'm sure you've noticed that communication has been kind of an ongoing issue throughout the AO3.

Furthermore, even if every idea floated had been compiled in a nice pretty list and sent directly to wranglers' inboxes, why would it be a problem for some of us to repeat the ones we feel strongly about? Surely it's important not just to have a list of ideas, but to know which ones people think would be most useful.

I don't have the faintest idea which comments you, or the chairs, viewed as "abusive." Seriously, I just went back and reread all 50+ emails in case there was some nastiness that had slipped my notice, and I'm still at a loss.
ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)

[personal profile] ahorbinski 2012-08-07 07:13 am (UTC)(link)
Again, though, the purpose of the email was to be informative and to communicate - and tag wranglers aren't the ones who are being asked to solve this issue; that's the workgroup. Nor am I saying that tag wranglers expressing their views is a problem (far from it!); what stuck out to me, though, due to my past history with the discussions, were the abusive comments.

I can't point to specific emails or wranglers, of course, and in any case I'd be talking about my own subjective judgments of just who was being abusive - I had nothing to do with writing the email, though it's probably pretty clear that I support the Tag Wrangling Chairs in their effort to make their work environment less stressful on them and more respectful of everyone involved. I can only suggest, as an outsider, that you take any questions you may have about what kind of language they're talking about to them.
erinptah: (sailor moon)

[personal profile] erinptah 2012-08-07 07:54 am (UTC)(link)
the purpose of the email was to be informative and to communicate - and tag wranglers aren't the ones who are being asked to solve this issue

Um, wow.

The line given to the ML was "we will be seeking out wrangler input, which we appreciate and value." Not "just thought you'd like to know we're doing this, be happy we told you this much, now run along and don't get in our way."

I can't point to specific emails or wranglers

We're both on the ML, so the closed-group information involved is available to both of us. My DW inbox is open -- as is my email, sailorptah at yahoo dot com. Nothing you bring up in private communication will be repeated outside of it. If you want to point to specifics, you have options.

And yes, I get that you don't speak for the chairs (in spite of your mention of their letter as evidence that you weren't "the only person to have drawn this conclusion"). You started off by citing your personal opinion that people were "abusive" and "shockingly vicious", and your personal opinion is all I would ever ask you to back up.
zebra_in_dream: (Default)

[personal profile] zebra_in_dream 2012-08-07 08:10 am (UTC)(link)
"just thought you'd like to know we're doing this, be happy we told you this much, now run along and don't get in our way."
It actually felt a bit like that to me. "Run along, you and other affected people get to comment after we hammered out how we intend to implement it our proposal."
erinptah: (Default)

[personal profile] erinptah 2012-08-07 02:42 pm (UTC)(link)
I can see how the eventual letter from the wrangler chairs would have felt like that (and am not surprised that people didn't reply to it), but I do think the initial heads-up email from the workgroup -- the one that started the discussion in the first place -- was more open. And there were a couple of shorter emails in the middle of the discussion that said things like "we will definitely use this feedback."
foxinthestars: cute drawing of a fox (Default)

[personal profile] foxinthestars 2012-08-07 03:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, I really appreciated getting the heads up and those comments. I was also really proud that wranglers jumped right in and spoke up, personally.
ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)

[personal profile] ahorbinski 2012-08-07 09:07 pm (UTC)(link)
The line given to the ML was "we will be seeking out wrangler input, which we appreciate and value."

Yes. But that email was introductory, rather than the one actually seeking input. (Which, as I've said before, regardless I think it was fine to express at that point and at any point. Just not abusively.)

When I said above that I can't point out specific people or emails, I meant that - I'm no longer a tag wrangler or on the mailing list, and my own position as the Chair of another committee renders it doubly inappropriate that I be naming volunteers for another committee to a volunteer. So, this is to explain that I've seen your request, but I don't think there's any way that I can respond to it without violating my own understanding of standards of conduct. And since, like [personal profile] ira_gladkova, I do want the OTW to be treated professionally, it's incumbent on me to behave professionally. I'm sorry that I can't answer your question specifically.
erinptah: (Default)

[personal profile] erinptah 2012-08-08 01:47 am (UTC)(link)
But that email was introductory, rather than the one actually seeking input. (Which, as I've said before, regardless I think it was fine to express at that point and at any point.

That second sentence ought to sound great, but you keep putting it in less-than-encouraging context. "I'm not saying you can't give input! Just that we weren't asking for it, and keep in mind that this is someone else's job, not yours." I really hope that doesn't reflect the attitudes of people in the workgroup.

I appreciate your response on the second point, and your feelings about professional conduct.
foxinthestars: cute drawing of a fox (Default)

[personal profile] foxinthestars 2012-08-07 03:31 pm (UTC)(link)
Again, seconding [personal profile] erinptah, I re-read the thread recently and don't recall anything abusive (pointed, yes; abusive, no). But if I grant that some people were abusive and some people weren't, then a blanket response seems really counterproductive, as the people who were abusive learn nothing about where the line is and the people who were doing their best to be constructive receive the same perceived rebuke for their trouble. And I'm clearly not "the only person to have drawn this conclusion," either, that the letter came across as a rebuke, given the controversy that's ensued.

And if the bar for having your comments be wanted is higher than "from [your] point of view, constructive," then I'm really frustrated.
ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)

[personal profile] ahorbinski 2012-08-07 08:56 pm (UTC)(link)
And if the bar for having your comments be wanted is higher than "from [your] point of view, constructive," then I'm really frustrated.

To me, the email from the TW Chairs makes clear that comments are wanted, period, but that they shouldn't be framed as personal attacks. If, as you and [personal profile] erinptah seem to be implying, the initial email thread was the norm for discussion on the mailing list, then I can see the Chairs' email being understood as a rebuke. Again, though, it seems like your questions are best directed at the TW Chairs.

As much as I don't think places like the anon meme are or should be verboten to OTW staffers and volunteers, this entire discussion also seems to me like a symptom of a larger structural problem, which is that people are quite quick to take their reactions to staff communications external rather than to try to address them internally. I've done this myself in the past, but it's a destructive pattern in the long term.
erinptah: (Default)

[personal profile] erinptah 2012-08-08 01:49 am (UTC)(link)
To be clear: IMO, the norm for discussion on the TW ML is constructive, issue-focused, and non-abusive, without personal attacks. The conversation about Category Change, while more pointed than usual at times, and reflecting frustration based on our lack of information, did not depart from those overall norms.

[personal profile] emilierk 2012-08-08 11:12 pm (UTC)(link)
Hi (please forgive the seemingly sockpuppet nature of this journal, it's pretty new and I haven't had the time yet to write any posts.) I'm the primary author of the letter, and I want to apologize for its purpose not being clearer.

It was not intended as a rebuke to anyone. Early in the course of the CatChange thread, a few wranglers directly questioned what constituted antagonism on the mlist, and whether it was problematic. The letter was intended as a general answer to those questions, not as a response to the specific discussion or anyone participating in it.

The mailing list has at present no official rules of etiquette, but with an unmoderated list this large, there is a potential for discussions to turn contentious, and the line between open debate and flamewar needs to be drawn or else we risk driving people away. While some think the list's tone to be entirely acceptable, other wranglers have mentioned that they find it at times hostile or vicious. And many people are unwilling to express their opinions in what appears to them to be a hostile environment, so will simply never speak up at all.

The letter was meant to answer the questions asked, and lay down a few basic expectations for posting on the wrangler mailing list (and only there, not anywhere else on or off the org), so that in the future, if anyone does start crossing that line, we will have guidelines to point to when we approach those individuals and ask them to moderate their posts.

To tell by these comments, the letter failed to make this clear, and I'm composing a clarification to send to the list, echoing what I've said here. We want the wrangler mailing list to be an encouraging place for wrangling-related discussions; we do not want to silence peoples' opinions, but we want those opinions expressed in ways that won't discourage other people from speaking up and offering their own. Which is a difficult balance to strike (especially because there is always a degree of subjectivity to perceived antagonism, and one person's mildly critical remarks may be taken as deliberately hostile by someone else), and one we are obviously still working on! But please do not take the letter as a personal reprimand, or that your (any wrangler's) comments on the mailing list are unwanted, because that was the opposite of its intent.
skaredykat: (fikshun cat)

[personal profile] skaredykat 2012-08-04 05:24 pm (UTC)(link)
Dear Ira,

This is a thoughtful and well-intentioned post. And I continue to love the OTW, of which I'm now a proud member. (Something for the board to consider implementing asap would be to have DevMem or Finance send a very short e-mail confirming their donation/voting membership to everyone who's joined as soon as their payment has been received.) There have been several things I've really liked recently.

But.

I'm only going to address the parts of your post that deal with communicating with the OTW/AO3, as I am not a tag wrangler nor a volunteer.

- When I use the support form to send e-mail to the AO3 or OTW, I usually hear nothing back except a "We received your message." Black-box syndrome, which is not encouraging to open discourse or positive feelings.

- When I post a comment on an AO3 or OTW post at the site or one of the org's official LJs or DWs, I occasionally get a response from a staffer. Usually not very timely, and it is impossible to easily see on which other versions of that post others might be trying to engage the OTW or AO3 in constructive discussion. The latter is counterproductive.

- When I post concrit of the OTW or AO3 at my journal, I have several times gotten in-depth responses including from staffers and board members fairly fast.

- When I post a comment at someone else's LJ or DW post about AO3 or the OTW, it often leads to interesting conversation.

- When I comment in someone else's thread or more rarely one I start about concerns about the OTW or AO3 on ffa, the response is usually broad, fast, and engaged, and it almost always feels like there are not just volunteers but staffers in the thread.

- When I tried to volunteer late last year and earlier this year, I was brushed off. (Talk about counterproductive. One main tenet of communications strategy is to try to co-opt your critics, and I was actually trying to join your communications team. Putting me to work for 1-3 hours a week on even low-level communications implementation rather than strategy would have meant 1-3 hours a week of my time/energy focused on internal work at the org, instead of having that time to look at it from a loving but critical outsider's perspective. But I digress.)

Oh, I lied -- I do have something to say about the Tag Wrangling letter and the results from it: Thinking of Communications, how come that letter was not run by Communications for tone- and length adjustment before it went out? I think the increasing number of blog posts from staffers and board members about serving with the OTW have been great and, in aggregate, quite valuable from a PR perspective, and those posts are clearly not seen by Comms before posting (and mostly shouldn't be). But an official communication from chairs of a committee to their mailing list with that much obviously-potentially-controversial-content really should be run by the Communications team before it goes out, also so your Comms team (your internal+external PR agency, which technically could also be broadly advising org-wide on topics like "there will be criticism, and here are ways to deal with it more and less constructively") can help prepare for and deal with the fallout.

Sincerely,
One of your (the org and its projects) fondest critics
skaredykat: (fikshun cat)

[personal profile] skaredykat 2012-08-04 10:04 pm (UTC)(link)
P.S. - I am delighted that I just got a more substantial response (than "we received your comment") to a question I submitted via the AO3 website on July 11, although the (cynical? PR-savvy?) part of me does wonder if there might be a correlation between a few hours earlier having posted a comment in a post of an OTW board member talking about limited communication back from the OTW and the subsequent response via e-mail.

However, net results of getting an e-mail back, whether or not there's a correlation: pleasing.
sanders: (Default)

[personal profile] sanders 2012-08-05 02:53 am (UTC)(link)
Unless the board member was the respondent, I really kind of doubt it was cause-effect. Support is pretty prompt in responding from my experience (pre-board, so none of that "privilege" attached), and Tag Wranglers tries to get answers back to our Support liaisons within a few hours to pass on to users.
skaredykat: (fikshun cat)

[personal profile] skaredykat 2012-08-05 05:22 am (UTC)(link)
Rationally I'm sure it was coincidental, not correlated -- it was just rather striking/entertaining that within a few hours of commenting here I got an answer to a something I'd asked about via the web form almost 4 weeks ago.
skaredykat: (fikshun cat)

[personal profile] skaredykat 2012-08-13 01:41 am (UTC)(link)
Hi!

Sorry for the belated response to your in-depth response to my in-depth response! (Here's another disadvantage to being an outsider vs. an insider -- if an insider, there's a self-expectation of "Hey, this is communication about an org I'm part of, it needs to not drop far down the RL priority list" vs. as an outsider the potential of "I'll get around to it after these other things I want to do.")

Thank you very much for your response and points.

Long, somewhat rambling, possibly annoyingly prescriptive, but well intentioned thoughts ahead:

Black box syndrome & official vs. unofficial space communications
I've used various e-mails etc. to send in about 10 or so support requests or suggestions/feedback re AO3 or OTW using the form over the last few years. No more than 3 of those have gotten a substantive -- that is, more than the automated "Hi, we'll get to this real soon now!" -- response.

I've also commented a handful of times at OTW or Archive blog posts on the website, or on the DW and LJ journals. I do sometimes get responses there, rarely fast.

The shining exception is Fanlore. When I've e-mailed (usually using the support form I think) I've gotten substantive responses from one or more people on the Wiki- and/or Gardeners Committee within a week, often much faster, almost every time. The response rate on Fanlore Talk pages is often less fast, but Fanlore editors know that many Talk pages fall between the attention cracks; I believe that's one reason why Fanlore recognized the need for getting a forum set up.

The (relatively) high level of response and interaction at [community profile] fanlore is so out of the norm for OTW-related blogs that I don't mentally consider it part of OTW official communication channels at all because there is actual, frequent, publicly visible interaction there between committee and users.

This is a nice thing about Fanlore, but reflects pretty sadly on at least one PR-savvy person's subconscious perceptions of the rest of OTW's communications channels.

"That's why in many cases the only timely response Support can give is that they've passed it on to the appropriate places. There are concrete things we're working on to improve this, though, including a public Support Board and making the Feature Requests list and process public, both of which I'll cover in my followup post."

A public forum/support board where anyone can see (and chime in with their +1s or -1s on) all current support & feature requests/feedback comments is crucial. I think it should be one of the very top (like the other 10 things) priorities to get set up by the end of this calendar year at the latest. As in, priority over upgrading Yuletide coding.

Because the lack of transparency in what happens to your e-mail and how it's being followed up on/who's discussing it and the inability of other users to see and chime in with "that's a great idea!" or "no, you don't realize how archives work, let's not do that" is one of the reasons that unofficial spaces are de facto trying to function as forums or support or brainstorming boards for OTW projects.

Your users will not start using the official channels when all they seem to lead to most of the time is dead air, while talking in the unofficial channels gets them responses, answers, insights, and more.

The latter may not be 100% accurate, but they are something. You (the OTW) cannot expect people to start using official channels instead of or in addition to the unofficial ones unless you immediately, urgently prioritize making those official channels welcoming, responsive, and much more transparent.

This means that until your official channels (including Boards & Forums) exist/improve, the org really, really should be reading and taking into account what's being said in the unofficial channels -- not expect people to document things for the org in the org's spaces instead.

This is an element of Crisis Communications mode, which you are in, and have been, even if it may not have been recognized internally as such, since at least the last election season.

(It's actually also an element of regular Communications/PR programs and the social media aspects thereof, when it's called "paying for a clipping service" or "having a Jr. Account Coordinator collect clips and social media mentions and summarize what's in them for the rest of the PR team and the company execs.")

That means that reading OTW-related threads relevant to their department from unofficial channels every week ought to be mandatory for all committee staffers. Or Communications should task itself to write up digests every week and send them out; reading those would be mandatory. (And/or an official OTW volunteer or two could officially offer to help gather links for [personal profile] unofficialotwnews so that it stays a reliable, timely and complete source for the next year or so, and reading that feed & its links is mandatory.)

Once welcoming, responsive, transparent alternate channels of publicly viewable and respondable-to communications are up and running, widely promoted, and gaining significant traction and adoption, then reading and taking into account what's being said, proposed, and criticized in unofficial spaces could become voluntary instead of mandatory.

My attempts to volunteer
I was brushed off very nicely, I will say that. I tried to volunteer in November of last year and again earlier this year, before the hiring freeze. Response in November was "We'll get back to you next year" and when I pinged again several months into 2012, I was told (nicely) that my interest in helping with Communication or VolCom (and I think maybe also Outreach or DevMem) for an hour or two a week wasn't useful/enough time and that 10-15 hours a week for at least the first several weeks was required.

(Which, frankly, is crazy. At other non-profits I've volunteered or recruited volunteers for, you start 'em off slow, with a 2-3 hour max training class at the very start if needed, and then you ramp them up to 10-15 hours a week, often over quite a bit of time. Helps with retention and committee/chair/board recruitment too.)

Apparently the only place in the org that had/has a place for volunteers with few hours a week is Tag Wrangling (or Coding, Testing, or Translating -- not my skill-sets), and this post, the letter, and the causes thereof again show me that not trying to join Tag Wrangling was correct -- in that I suspect that trying to work within the current Tag Wrangling environment would have made me unproductively frustrated rather than productively so.

In general, I've seen comments from board members/staffers that the idea of having microvolunteering projects has been considered, but doesn't work well because of how the org is.

What that screams to me is: the org needs to change immediately to start accepting as many microvolunteers as possible. (And the org needs to recognize and enforce that everyone, especially at the staff, committee, and board level, needs to spend 10-20% of their OTW work-time documenting the stuff they do in the other 80-90% of their OTW work-time so it becomes much easier and faster to onboard new -- micro- and not -- volunteers using existing documentation, and/or to transition someone new into a staff or board position if someone unexpectedly has to leave.)

Possibly up to and including pinging back everyone who's tried to volunteer in the last year and telling them something like: "We're working on making our Volunteering Procedures more efficient. We know this is overdue and we're sorry about it, but now we really want to make it better as best and fast as we can. You said you were interested in [not on fire thing], is there any way we can get you to help with this project, for as little as an hour a week to as many hours as you have? For example by helping with Volunteer Documentation, checking/adding links on the internal wiki, translating Volunteering information, helping track how many e-mails VolCom has sent out each week and inputting that data, helping collect information on what's needed for Volunteer Documentation from other committees, and a host of other tasks! If yes, please e-mail back and we'll let you know the next 3 available times for our one-hour 'intro to helping VolCom project' overview chat sessions that will get you set up with everything you need to know to start helping. Thanks!"

(Bonus benefit besides getting more peon-type hands to work on the VolCom project: anyone who signs up, does some of the work, and doesn't fuck it up too badly becomes a prime candidate for being moved to another volunteering position, possibly with more responsibility, either in VolCom or another area, in part because they'll have started getting more insight into how to volunteer.)

I've also seen some comments of frustration that some (micro)volunteers who offered to help the org with particular projects didn't follow through on things they said they wanted to work on.

Another thing of which I'm not sure everyone in the org who should know it is aware of: A good (albeit not fun) general rule of thumb is that around 40% of volunteers will drop out every year. If more than 60% of volunteers return year-over-year that is fantastic and gravy and wonderful, but do not count on it.

So plan for 40% loss and prepare for it by actively seeking out two to three times as many volunteers as you think you'll need for any project. If you end up with excess, either find a way to make more hands make light work on that project, or convince some of them to work on this other project you wanted to do but didn't think you'd have the volunteer resources for.

Related: In all but very well managed organizations, more than half of all proposed and approved projects will not be completed (or not for years after they were supposed to be). So try to plan for that too by building in redundancy, and by training up as many really good volunteer managers as possible.

Communications & the TW letter
As an organization in Crisis Communications mode and not likely to get out of it soon, (another) one of your top five priorities as a board should be to increase the size of and resources allocated to your Communications Team pronto, so they can better deal with or have insight into more of the internal and external communications items they should be aware of/have oversight of/be pro-actively and reactively communicating with other parts of the org about.

You'll still get criticism and there will still be things that get backlash and cause unhappiness, but a smaller percentage of them will come as surprises. And with more resources (people, etc.) the Communications Committee could also work to prepare more of the org for how to more effectively (from a PR standpoint) deal with and respond to (and prepare for) criticism and backlash and occasional stumbles on the path of trying to get out of crisis mode, instead of mainly tactically focusing on the (also very valuable) interview requests and requests to write and distribute official communications, etc., which is what I imagine occupies much of their time now.

Sincerely,
A loving critic
Edited 2012-08-13 04:11 (UTC)
emilly: (Default)

as an aside

[personal profile] emilly 2012-08-08 01:46 am (UTC)(link)
DevMem do send an automatic email regarding voting membership as soon as payment is confirmed - i got one just this morning, couple minutes after the paypal receipt.
skaredykat: (fikshun cat)

Re: as an aside

[personal profile] skaredykat 2012-08-13 01:45 am (UTC)(link)
Hmmm, it's been several months and they definitely got my money, but I still have not received any such e-mail. And would still very much like one.
emilly: (Default)

Re: as an aside

[personal profile] emilly 2012-08-13 02:47 am (UTC)(link)
Well, that's awkward. Check your spam? Send them an email to make sure your email address got properly linked to your donation?
skaredykat: (fikshun cat)

Re: as an aside

[personal profile] skaredykat 2012-08-13 04:09 am (UTC)(link)
I've been checking my spam folder regularly and it hasn't come in there either.

Unfortunately I'm really reluctant for RL reasons for any linkage between my fannish identity and my RL one, which is associated with my payment information, even to send an e-mail from either identity asking "what's up?" because of this conversation. This is a dilemma.
emilly: (Default)

Re: as an aside

[personal profile] emilly 2012-08-13 04:20 am (UTC)(link)
i'm guessing the email saying "what's up?" would have to come from your RL id, if that's associated with the payment. your RL id could be a bystander! just watching this convo! totally unrelated!

or, maybe, wait till the election season starts; surely they will then be inundated with lots of people saying "i thought i was eligible to vote, but..." and any chance of tracing one version of you to the other would be lost.

good luck!
skaredykat: (fikshun cat)

Re: as an aside

[personal profile] skaredykat 2012-08-13 04:24 am (UTC)(link)
"maybe, wait till the election season starts"

It's as if you read my mind. ;)
facetofcathy: four equal blocks of purple and orange shades with a rusty orange block centred on top (Default)

[personal profile] facetofcathy 2012-08-04 07:27 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a "yes, but" response to your post.

Two things first: One, I love your posts, and I learn things every time I read them, and I always feel less like giving up on the OTW after I read one.

Two, what [personal profile] skaredykat said.

ETA: Three, what follows sounds a bit snarky in places. I'm not aiming it at you, but at the organization that has done things that I think deserve some snark.

So, yes, I agree with your main theme that critique works in a culture of respect and that it is a symbiotic relationship. I also agree that the framework of "fannish project" is not the best way to look at the OTW or its projects

But...

First to the framework issue. I reject your dichotomy, or at least reject it in part. While it might be valid for the internal organizational structure to be viewed as fannish project vs. (or &) non-profit, there are also relationships that are much more like service provider and customer that dominate the OTW's interactions with outsiders.

Those customers or users of the AO3, Fanlore, TWC, etc. live in a world where customer service is often deliberately made difficult to access, where service providers don't want to hear feedback of any kind and largely ignore it, and where increasingly the only way to get heard as a customer is to complain loudly and obnoxiously on Twitter to the world at large.

The OTW doesn't get the luxury of ignoring this reality. It's all very well to place expectations on users to find the avenue of communication the OTW prefers and to use it in the tone that feels like constructive criticism to the OTW, but that's not what experience will have taught users. And no, those tens of thousands of users of the AO3 don't read meta on Dreamwidth about the OTW. Lots of them have never heard of the OTW, many of them don't know what a non-profit is and they see the AO3 only as a service they want to use and have expectations of.

Second to the issue of people like me who do read meta on Dreamwidth and have been observing, cheering, despairing and hoping for better from the OTW from day one.

Yes, communication and respect is symbiotic. I love that way of phrasing it, and yes there are constructive ways to critique and non-constructive. Somebody has to start the feedback loop going in the right way.

But, I think the ball's in your court not mine.

I'm blunt and honest and I've had a lot to say about the OTW and its projects over the years. I've spent a great deal of time trying to track down the correct place to send feedback through the channels the OTW wants me to use and I've never been anything but constructive in tone.

The results have been:

* Utter silence when using the OTW website contact form for serious issues of concern, with one memorable case of total and utter misunderstanding of my point with no opportunity to correct the failure to communicate since I found out too late.

* One experience on the Fanlore community was the single most frustrating effort at communication in my entire life, where reams of thoughtful, critique from a host of users was stonewalled and derailed by wails of how bad the committee chair felt because she can't handle conflict and there weren't enough positive comments.

* A great deal of positive experiences on the Fanlore community when issues discussed were confined to the level of editor brainstorming.

* An exceptionally positive experience filing bug reports on the AO3.

* An uncomfortable and mostly futile experience leaving feedback via the AO3 support form as it is always filtered through the support staff (who are always excellent, in my experience) in a way that feels obstructive and opaque. This is the design of the process that is never a dialogue, rather it's like shouting up to the guys on the castle wall who then relay your suggestion to the King, and well, we all know how that "conversation" ends don't we?

And then there's the time the OTW board member messaged me with private information about a Committee chair that was none of my business as a way of getting me to shut up and stop criticizing the committee's progress. It was done in a way that ensured I could not respond to her directly to tell her how not okay that was.

I see a pattern in all those experiences that's very telling.

There's a point at which requests for us all to step up and be respectful and constructive and to use the official channels in professional ways sounds uncomfortably like half of a good cop/bad cop routine.

I can only speak for myself here, but I want to see some good faith coming from the OTW that's real and tangible; and sorry, but thousands of words of dense posts that often leave out the real story of what's going on spread over a blog and a pile of mirrors ain't it.

It's your serve OTW.
extempore: (lala)

[personal profile] extempore 2012-08-04 07:55 pm (UTC)(link)
there are also relationships that are much more like service provider and customer that dominate the OTW's interactions with outsiders.

Heh, I could have cut most of my lengthy post to basically this sentence had I read it before I posted my comment.
extempore: (chill)

[personal profile] extempore 2012-08-04 07:46 pm (UTC)(link)
I found this post via [tumblr.com profile] unofficialotwnews and am hopping in for a quick comment. Usually I don't engage much in OTW discussions other than sometimes Fanlore related topics, but one part of your informative and well structured post I'd like to reply to.
The path to sustainability lies on the nonprofit end of the scale — we cannot forget our fannish cultural roots, but to persist in our mission, we must adopt structures and practices suitable to nonprofit organizations. If you expect us to act like a nonprofit org, you have to treat us as a nonprofit org.

I agree with what you said, however, to me the OTW still is a 100% fandom project and that has to do mainly with one thing: lack of paid professional staff in core departements of the org. Per se, it's not a requirement to have paid staff for a nonprofit to be... well, professional. It depends on the kind of organization, the volunteers, the setup as well as its work and goals.

As I see it, the OTW right now is working largely on the internet, with a few trips to the physical world. Its biggest connection hub to the outside world is the AO3, in addition to the growing Fanlore database. I don't know about the inner workings, but I assume all communication within the Org runs via internet as well.

So, to me, the very first thing I would look for are ways to make all the tech stuff work, not only in actual database coding, but also in functionality, streamlining, response time and design. The tech is the backbone of the entire Org in its current form. Working, accessable and appealing websites are your gateway to your members as well as to guests and users. A quick response to volunteer reports of bugs (and the fixing of them) will lessen frustration and increase work efficiency all across the Org. In my opinion, a lot of power and energy could be freed this way to be put in content and the actual mission of the OTW, and I honestly believe that it would do the entire OTW good to have a fandom outsider doing this work, someone who will not be tempted to prefer this over that because of personal ties to a fandom/group of people/etc. Professionalism comes with distance, at least in this case.

I'm certain there are still more than enough parts and aspects regarding tech/coding that can and should be entrusted to volunteers (or even all members, like for example a design contest), and with github you offer everyone interested a way to contribute as well. However the skeleton, the base structure (of design, too), the red thread connecting everything, and most importantly the trouble shooting should be done by paid professionals with time schedules they stick to, and appropriate knowledge/experience. As I understand it, the OTW's goal is sustainability in the long run, but having one or two paid professionals permanently on board isn't going to prevent that.

I'm a fan and yet, in my parts of fandom (Gaming, Animanga) it's not unusual to have both kinds of fan-driven webpages, with paid staff and with volunteers, side by side. To me, it shows a professional will to improve and at the same time it's a very clear form of accountablility to the users and members, especially to those who give money.

The OTW has chosen a form of existence and way of working that demands certain standards to be met, if it wants to be taken seriously as an international nonprofit organization of a certain size. Which would be my reply to your "If you expect us to act like a nonprofit org, you have to treat us as a nonprofit org." (Despite the fact that you were talking about communication. ;))
sanders: (Default)

[personal profile] sanders 2012-08-05 03:37 am (UTC)(link)
I find it interesting every time someone suggests we add paid coders to staff. It's a consideration board definitely has, and has had, but here's the thing: we're still struggling to build a structure that supports our volunteer staff. If you have suggestions for how we manage the overhead of having a---or several---paid staff I would love to hear them.

It's really not as simple as snapping up someone we give a paycheck, and I've yet to see anyone making the suggestion acknowledge that, despite it being related to a bevvy of issues explored in the very posts that tend to prompt that response.

At minimum, it's developing a process and policies for hiring that Board agrees on and that our staff can live with. It's laying the groundwork for someone to be available to train them on our systems and code, requiring extensive overhauls of documentation. It's a new set of training for our Finance team and Treasurer to manage payroll if we have a direct hire or independent contractor (actually the easiest solve since I have some experience there and am the current Treasurer). It's finding someone qualified and willing to provide supervision and mentoring. These are things we have distinctly struggled with, save for the finance issues, and publicly acknowledged repeatedly as issues we're working on and far from soliving.

In short, it's a great idea and one that's part of the vision for the org as we move forward, but far from a magic bullet.

extempore: (weibertratsch)

[personal profile] extempore 2012-08-05 08:50 am (UTC)(link)
Mmh, I suspected that it's not that easy. I'm a paying member of the OTW, although I don't actively engage in its projects other than an occasional Fanlore contribution. I mainly lurk on AO3. So my experience with the OTW is basically from a distant user's perspective. And this is where I have to agree with facetofcathy's sentence about service provider and customer.

From what I have seen, my impression is that the OTW started with a structure that isn't working for an organization of a certain size and goal, especially considering that it's an international organization, engaging volunteers and members of various (fannish, personal, cultural, legal) backgrounds, as well as visitors/users/guests from equally varied backgrounds (fans, academics, legal contacs etc.). A behemoth like that with all those very different outlets needs a specific setup and structure, one that can also adapted to growth, and it needs unique intern policies because everyone working there is getting nothing out of it other than good feelings, to exaggerate it a bit. But I know that this isn't news for you. ;)

However, here is where professionals come into play, because - and your reply confirms my impression - I think the needed know how is either not to be found in the OTW right now or it's not heard. I was talking about tech know how, because I do think it goes hand in hand with the overall logistics and structure of the Org since almost everything happens in virtual space. But perhaps you are right and it would be better to get someone who - with eye on what the OTW is and wishes to be - can optimize the structure of the company (I do think it's necessary to treat the OTW as a company of sorts to make the transition to a working nonprofit organization), and the tech follows afterwards.

There are a few more thoughts I have on various OTW aspects, but I only wanted to reply to ira_gladkova's comment about "treat us like a nonprofit and we become one". I find, that after years of watching the chaos grow and changes made in places that hardly affect the underlying problems, I can't really do that unless some professional distance and efficiency enters the playing field. If the public discussions during the last election have shown me one thing, it's that the involved parties are too close to the issues and too involved/with too much baggage to be able to agree on such a fundamental structural change. But perhaps (hopefully?) I'm wrong. =)

elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)

[personal profile] elf 2012-08-05 01:28 am (UTC)(link)
Wranglers can themselves often feel stuck in a similar situation: accountable to users for a huge part of their archive experience (as well as being users themselves) yet caught against the large, slow machinery of the org as it grinds away beyond their direct control.

Yes. It's part of why I stopped wrangling. Only part, but it's a strong part of why I haven't signed up again even though I have more spare time now.

So I can understand where the frustration and negative interpretation comes from. But I continue to think that the key lies in treating the OTW as, well, an organization.

No. Please no. The OTW doesn't have the infrastructure for this. Possibly more importantly, the OTW doesn't have visible progress enough for this.

I can't say how many times I've mentioned on various threads "the OTW *does* want to host fanart and vids; that's been part of the plan from the very beginning." But those who noticed the OTW more recently didn't know that, have no easy way to know that--there is no "here's a recap of our long-term plans" in every newsletter--which means that communication with fans needs to allow for informal and indirect contact.

The personal-connections side of communication is working fine. It's relatively easy to find someone who knows someone who can find out what's up with [project x] or [situation y]. The official communications channels are less effective. And failure to make them more effective, is not the fault of the fans.

It's all about reciprocity: our nascent hierarchy can only be fully effective if people respect it and behave as if it is real.

No. It *does not work that way.* If the hierarchy is in place and effective, people will use it. If writing a blog post complaint gets more direct attention--both notice of action, and feedback about the process itself--than filing something official, people will continue to use blog posts to complain. Some people will *never* put any communications through official channels. But the majority will--or at least, enough will that OTW will be *swamped* with useful and insightful communications--if those methods get results.

Right now, "post meta at personal blog" gets more visible results--from staff and the surrounding community--than anything that goes through official channels. There is no official channel for "I have these thoughts about how some part of the OTW might be improved." (If there is, I don't know it, which is a gap in communications.) There are places to reply to specific announcements, or send notices of specific bugs, but nothing for general meta. Nothing for "I have some thoughts on how headers for vids could work, but I'd to discuss that with multiple people."

There's nowhere official to discuss grievances. There's chat meetings--but those are realtime gatherings, not much good for bringing up ideas and mulling them over. There's nowhere official for fans and volunteers to discuss how the various departments do and don't work together.
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)

[personal profile] synecdochic 2012-08-05 01:35 am (UTC)(link)
This post, and the contents of the email that was sent to the tag wrangling committee, has some things in it that deeply concern me. I'm seeing *many* of the hallmarks of people who are inexperienced with people management (not process management, but people management) who have been thrust into a managerial role and are trying to figure out the rules for how to manage people as they go along.

And the thing is, when you say "if you expect us to act like a nonprofit org, you have to treat us as a nonprofit org" -- that works both ways, and I would indeed argue that you've got the causality reversed. You've already lost a lot of good faith from many people; a lot of people have gotten burned and a lot of people are going to be negative (not just critical, *negative*) no matter what you do. Waiting for those people to change the way they interact with the OTW before making changes in both process management and people management is only going to make the problem worse.

There's a point (and, sadly, I think y'all have crossed it with many people) where you will be unable to convince your critics that you're achieving measurable, positive change until a *lot* of time has passed. (A *lot*. I'm talking years, in some cases.) Expecting anyone to change how they present their negative opinions, or broadly chastising people without any specifics for not expressing feedback in the most constructive way possible, really does nothing but reinforce the negative perceptions people have.

(it also does, unfortunately, tend to push people who are neutral further into the negative end of the scale. a few years ago I touched on this in part 3 of my "Why Monetizing Social Media Through Advertising Is Doomed To Failure" essay, under the heading 'the long dark road to cat macros', There are four stages of reaction to a property or an organization doing something that has the potential to piss people off, and those stages aren't just applicable to advertising; they can be generalized. The OTW is on the line between a stage 3 and a stage 4 on more than one of the challenges facing the org, i think, and the thing about stage 4 is, once a specific individual has kicked over into stage 4 reaction on *anything*, the chances of you winning them back are not only next to nonexistent, any attempt to do so has a much greater chance of kicking stage 2 and stage 3 people over into stage 4.)

look, i'll be blunt: the org has a very bad PR problem right now, over and above the organizational and technical problems y'all are trying so hard to solve. And the thing is, everything you guys have done lately shows that you *know* you have these problems. You're taking a number of very badly needed steps to fix those problems; from the outside it definitely seems like you're getting a good sense of the scope of the problem. Everybody knows that change is not going to happen overnight -- even your worst and most negative critics know that, even if they gripe loudly about the problems not being solved yet. And it's very clear (also from outside) that you're taking those problems seriously and working on things that will solve them; even if you aren't 100% sure of the best ways to solve the problems, you're trying things and hoping they'll have a positive effect.

But telling people how to express criticism -- even if that's addressing people entirely internally, like the email to the wrangling committee -- *never, ever works*. Ever. I have never, not once in oh-god-12+-years of managing people and longer than that watching others manage people and being managed by people myself, seen a manager be successful in trying to dictate to people the manner in which they should provide critical feedback (as opposed to the process by which they should provide feedback in general). All it does, *especially* when the attempt is as vague and free of concrete details and specific examples as both the wrangling committee email and this post is, is make people even more frustrated, resentful, and -- and this gets worse the more vague the communication is -- paranoid about what is and isn't appropriate to say.

Part of being a manager, and it's definitely the sucky part, is to listen to people yelling at you -- at *you* personally, often in ways that are emotional, deeply personal, and incredibly hurtful -- and sift through the yelling for the underlying cause of their hurt and anger, then fix that underlying cause. (Or, at the very least, listen to their perspective and do what you can to find workarounds for the underlying cause.) It sucks. I won't deny that it sucks. It is deeply stressful, harrowing, emotional, and painful. But it's part of being a manager, and if someone is so conflict-avoidant or so emotionally vulnerable that listening to that kind of vitriol would be damaging to their health and stability, they should not be in a role that requires them to be responsible for managing people.

I'm not saying that people on a team *should* abuse their managers, or that people on the outside *should* be vituperative when offering criticism or negative opinions. It's definitely not a nice thing to do. But it happens -- especially when people feel like their more reasonable feedback has been ignored and they feel like they *have* to be nasty in order to be heard -- and it's the role of the people-manager to abosorb, *privately*, the negativity coming from their team members and to shield their team from the negativity of outside voices. Whether that involves pulling someone on the team aside for a confidential one-to-one chat and getting cried on or yelled at for four hours, or involves taking someone out of the way on the 'front lines' of customer interaction to handle an angry and abusive customer yourself, I'd argue that it's the #1 job task a manager should and must do in order for a team to be successful. And sadly, I really don't see a lot of that happening, from the bits that we see from the outside here. It may be happening -- the nature of good management is that it is, sadly, best when it is invisible -- but its lack shows in a lot of ways that can be measured from the outside and i'm seeing a lot of them lately.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have posted this, or that the tag wrangling chairs shouldn't have written the email that they did, but going forward I do think you (you = "collectively, as an organization, anyone who is in any position of authority") have to be *super* careful to avoid anything *at all* that looks like vague chastising or an attempt to police people's emotions and reactions, whether sent internally or posted externally. I know how frustrating it is to feel like you're amking a lot of headway on tough problems (which I definitely think you guys are, don't get me wrong) and people aren't giving you any credit, just continuing to holler at you -- believe me, I worked for LJ for six years, I know *exactly* how that feels. but it takes a long, long, *long* time for negative experiences or interactions to fade from people's minds, and at this point, y'all are just going to have to put up with being shouted at and snarked about for a while until the effects of those organizational changes start to be felt.

[personal profile] facetofcathy is absolutely correct when she says above: There's a point at which requests for us all to step up and be respectful and constructive and to use the official channels in professional ways sounds uncomfortably like half of a good cop/bad cop routine. there are a lot of people out there who have used those official channels and tried to be respectful and constructive and have gotten burned. it's going to take a while to get those people's goodwill back, and it sucks for those OTW staff who are new to their roles and feeling as though they're being punished for things that other people have done, but the org as a whole needs to make up a lot of ground to get back to 'neutral' in a lot of cases.

and in the meantime, people are going to yell. and it's the job of a manager to listen to the yelling, maintain composure in the face of the yelling, and do something productive with the underlying problems that are motivating the yelling. not to chastise people for yelling (even, and probably *especially*, if they're also doing something about the underlying cause of the yelling). doing that burns goodwill faster than just about anything else, and overshadows the very real efforts being made to address the organizational shortcomings people are yelling about in the first place.

(apologies for any typos/unclear bits, i'm four days post-hand-surgery and have one hand mostly bound up right now. Once i'm closer to recovered, though, i'm yet again repeating the offer i've made multiple times before: if you have people who need information on people management, or if you've got specific questions about how to improve people management skills or how to handle a situation or specific problem, i'm still happy to help.)
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)

[personal profile] synecdochic 2012-08-05 02:19 am (UTC)(link)
two other quick (ha!) points i realized, reading this over, that i forgot to make:

1) the OTW, as an organization, needs to take dramatic steps around disconnecting "the work of the committee" from "the work of the commitee chair/manager". from the outside, it's pretty obvious y'all are having a severe peter principle problem: people get put in roles of authority, org-wide, based on their success in doing the work, not their success in facilitating others to do the work. from out here, it looks as though you are selecting people for roles of authority based on their success in doing work that is not at all predictive of success in management. i may be off, but i don't think i am.

the head of any project team, committee, area of operations, etc, should *never* be the person who's best at doing the day-to-day work of the workgroup. that person should, at most, be in a technical leader/chief-operating-officer/team-specialist sort of role. the person in authority needs to be the person who's best at management, both people management and process management, not the person who's best at the workgroup's work. that role should never, ever, ever be a reward for work excellence.

2) good people management skills are exceedingly rare. i don't mean to discourage you, but it's *not* something you can pick up easily on-the-fly. you can become a relatively competent manager-of-people on the fly, but the skills to be truly good at it take a long time to train. (i started managing people in 2000. at the rate i'm going, I'd say I'll probably progress past "reasonably competent" by 2021 or so.)

again, i say this not to be discouraging, but to reinforce part 1. managing people well is a *very* specialized skill set and it takes a fuckton of practice. and not everyone is suited for the role. it takes someone with a fairly extroverted personality, the ability to shrug off things that would leave other people fuming, and interpersonal skills like whoa. it's not something just anybody can pick up from reading a book or attending a training course. you have to love doing it, and if you don't love doing it, you will not only do it badly, but you will do significant organizational damage in the process -- but more importantly, you will do significant emotional damage *to yourself*. (and i see the signs of that emotional damage in a lot of departing or departed committee chairs' posts -- i'm not saying they did the job badly, but it's clear to me, from the outside, that no matter how well or badly they handled being a manager, they hated the experience and hated what it did to them.)

too many organizations, and too many people within organizations, view management roles as a reward for doing work well or as a place to put people who are doing the work badly ("failing upward"). too many individuals think that management roles are status symbols or a validation/affirmation of their worth or the worth of their work. that's not fair to the org and it's not fair to the person.

if i were you guys, i'd start to think very, very carefully about the story the org tells rank-and-file volunteers about management roles, from committee chairs all the way up to board members, and start being crystal clear on how it's *not* the expected 'career path' inside the org for absolutely everyone. there's a tendency in NFP work, especially in orgs that are short on people, to expect that everyone will wind up in people-management (as opposed to process management or technical management) roles eventually. don't do that. i'm begging you, for the future of the organization and for the well-being of everyone inside the organization, to make it dead flat clear that not everyone will eventually be promoted into roles with heavy people management duties. (and i'm begging you to structure the org so that your 'advanced' roles for people who *have* been with the org for a long time do *not* involve people management unless the individual in question loves doing it and is good at it. if the only way to advance is to take a role where people management is a sine qua non, people will take those roles anyway, they will do it badly, they will be miserable, and the org will suffer. you've already set things up dangerously with requiring people to serve as a committee chair before being able to stand for board.)

of course, this requires that there be good people managers, or people with the capacity to become good people managers, on the board and in positions of org-wide authority. and given the nature of the board as an entirely-elected entity, elected by the membership at large, that's not a guarantee -- this is why most NFPs have an executive director who's hired, not elected, and who does not change with the board. changing that, sadly, would be much, much more involved.

still, even though good people management skills are rare and many aspects of them are innate/personality-based, there are definitely things board members can do to exercise their people management skills even if they don't have those skills already and are not the type of personality who picks them up quickly or easily. again, if the existing board -- individually or as a collective -- would like help or resources, let me know.
highlander_ii: SG-1 Thor - 'Greetings' ([Thor] Greetings)

[personal profile] highlander_ii 2012-08-05 02:31 am (UTC)(link)
iirc (and someone will ttly correct me if i'm wrong on this) - you only have to serve on the committee *staff* to stand for election to the board, not necessarily be a *chair*.

synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)

[personal profile] synecdochic 2012-08-05 02:34 am (UTC)(link)
ah! thank you, and i apologize for the error (i'm still incredibly confused on the differences between volunteer, staff, and chair, and the processes by which people are selected for/wind up as any of the above!) that's definitely less dangerous, although in that case I'd still urge people to look carefully at the question of how people are selected for/wind up as 'staff' and what the 'staff' role includes.
skaredykat: (fikshun cat)

[personal profile] skaredykat 2012-08-05 05:19 am (UTC)(link)
Amen to 1) and 2). I can be competent at people-managing, but it is hard and took a while to get there, and I've worked with and worked to support quite a few people who were truly not good at it. Trying to be managed by poor people managers is a very common accelerant to burnout.

(I also still would very much like to see/hear about the elections committee and DevMem working hard to get additional great spokespeople -- for the org and for various values of Fandom -- as (Advisory) Board candidates, as that's also not quick-learn skill, and is IMO very much needed for the foreseeable future from at least one or two people with exective-sounding titles on or near the board.)
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)

[personal profile] synecdochic 2012-08-05 06:08 am (UTC)(link)
Trying to be managed by poor people managers is a very common accelerant to burnout.

I'd actually call it the #1 cause of burnout by far, if not the cause of about, oh, 80% of burnout cases in general. people can have the most ideal workplace in the world, but if their manager isn't any good -- or isn't any good *for them*, since there are tons of different management styles and needs for being-managed -- they will burn out very quickly and the only way to get them back is to find them a different team under a different manager and hope for the best. conversely, of course, people can -- and *will* -- put up with a *shitload* of poor process, inadequate tools, complex and fiddly work, demanding customers both internal and external, inadequate organizational vision, etc ad nauseam, as long as their direct manager is good at managing people and willing to devote time to the problem.

case in point: i managed the livejournal abuse team from 2002-2007 as one part of my (many) duties while working for LJ. the LJAT was perhaps the most universally-reviled collective i've ever been a part of. even the other support volunteers who thought the team were awesome people individually, and who understood that things were way more complex than they appeared and whatever controversy was making the rounds about an abuse team decision was being told by someone (the offender) who had every motive to paint the team in a bad light, would occasionally say awful things about them, and i know (for instance) a few abuse team members who wouldn't even confess to their friends that they worked on the team because they were sick of hearing the tirades against them. at varying times during my tenure, there was little or no organization-wide support for the team, the development time needed for producing necessary tools would be postponed and reassigned again and again, the work was incredibly stressful and emotionally draining, even people inside the company but outside the team would hear the outside story about an incident that had happened and flip out before even asking the team what had *really* happened, the workload went beyond "gruelling" and into "flat-out masochistic", and the average time between "shit's on fire" incidents was usually measurable in days, not weeks or months. a few of us did one of those "rate your workplace stress" type tests once for shits and giggles; the score was literally off the scale of the test. the test makers didn't think anybody would say 'yes' to all the questions on the list. we didn't think the list had enough questions to cover the deeply dysfunctional circumstances we found ourselves in.

and yet: the average length of tenure on the team was between 1.5 and 2 times the industry standard burnout time for front-line customer service people, and around four times the industry standard burnout time for high-stress, high-responsibility customer service people. today, five years after i quit livejournal, i still have people who served under my tenure coming to me and saying how much they enjoyed working on the team and how much they miss it. i'm still close friends with multiple people from the team, and they're still close friends with each other. (i was hanging out with someone i met through managing the team last week. many of the people who were part of the team still vacation with each other every year. there were even a few weddings.) when we started dreamwidth, about half of the first wave of volunteers came from people who'd worked on the abuse team (or the more general support team).

i'm not saying this to brag, not at all (and there were, of course, people who weren't suited for the work and left more quickly or were asked to leave, and people who looked like they'd be suited for the work and turned out to not be, and people whose being-managed needs didn't mesh with my management style at all; it took me a while to get anywhere approaching decent at spotting them ahead of time). it is, however, an excellent example of how reasonably good people management skills can shield a particular team inside what was (at varying times more or less) a deeply unhealthy, toxic organization, with zero support from higher-level management and while being denigrated by, oh, pretty much everybody, both inside the company and out. it's entirely possible, and it can be done in just about any team environment, no matter how distrustful or once-bitten-twice-shy or negative the team is at first, if the manager's willing to bite the bullet and earn the team's trust and confidence.

it's hard. it takes a *ton* of work. even now on DW, where i have the authority to do anything i need to fix a problem and the circumstances and company-wide environment are so much more pleasant there is literally no way to compare the two, i fuck up a bunch. it takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy; i spend at least 25-30 hours out of my 60-hour workweek doing one-on-one people management for the 75-100 people we're dealing with. in deeply unhealthy orgs, it takes an immense personal toll on the manager in question: to this day I twitch when I hear people referencing certain incidents, it took nine months after I quit for the physical effects of the stress it caused me to do it by the end to subside, and i *know* that it's had lasting long-term physical effects on me.

but it's possible.

there's a pretty common division of managers into "seagull managers" and "umbrella managers": a seagull manager is the one who swoops in, shrieks loudly, dumps a whole bunch of shit on the people below them, and then swoops out again. an umbrella manager is the person who holds the umbrella over the team's head to shelter them from the shit raining down from above. there are seven basic rules for being a good umbrella manager; once i have some more energy (and can type without looking like an emo kid with no spellcheck who's allergic to capital letters) i'll write them up.
skaredykat: (fikshun cat)

[personal profile] skaredykat 2012-08-05 06:21 am (UTC)(link)
Very much yes to all of this, and I would love to read your seven basic rules once you've energy to type them up! :)
jennyst: Jenny on a photo of space (Default)

[personal profile] jennyst 2012-08-05 07:12 am (UTC)(link)
Once i'm closer to recovered, though, i'm yet again repeating the offer i've made multiple times before: if you have people who need information on people management, or if you've got specific questions about how to improve people management skills or how to handle a situation or specific problem, i'm still happy to help.


I've tried a couple of times to contact you since our last discussion and got no response. Would you mind replying to my email, please, or adding me back on AIM as we discussed?
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)

[personal profile] synecdochic 2012-08-05 07:23 am (UTC)(link)
oh dear, i didn't get any reply-to-my-reply to your email and i haven't gotten any aim contacts from you (and I did add the aim account you mentioned in the first email to my auth list, so you should be able to ping me!) and the few times i've tried contacting you there's been no reply. some aim clients have problems with those of us who run stealth all the time; yours and mine might be interacting badly. i'll definitely doublecheck that i have the account entered the way you had it in your email to me, and i'll try pinging you again once i'm recovered a bit more. (or try to catch you in irc.)