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)
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.
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.


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.

One of your (the org and its projects) fondest critics
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


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: (chill)

[personal profile] extempore 2012-08-04 07:46 pm (UTC)(link)
I found this post via [ 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. ;))
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.)