(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.

    Read more... )

  • Keep in mind our limited resources.

    Read more... )

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

The full text of the letter, plus commentary )

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.)
the tl;dr version )

I am far from caught up yet! But I figured I could do an update on 2012 goals even without that, and then, if necessary, do another update once I'm caught up. But first!

Types and Visibility of Board Work

There's been a lot of talk in the wake of [personal profile] jennyst's post about the frustration of Board member absenteeism. It was a good post and a good thing to be open about, so please do read it. I also want to draw attention to a clarification she made later:
Obviously, it's a problem if someone can hardly ever attend, misses a lot of meetings in a row, etc. But if someone misses one meeting, reads the transcript shortly afterwards, participates in discussion via email and votes via email a few days afterwards, it's not a big deal. So long as people are still doing the work, still contactable, still have time for discussion, it can work. The problems come when someone is too busy to do the work. Attendance figures are a symptom, not the root cause and not the whole story. Statutory holidays and illness can easily mean missing 20% of meetings or more. So yes, I was frustrated by the difficulties in getting quora for votes and particular discussions, and I still am. But that's more about responses to emails and participation in discussions than just numbers of meetings.
This is true! And I wanted to kind of break that down a bit further and talk about the ways Board members participate and do their work. I definitely do not want to minimize [personal profile] jennyst's frustration or concerns, because those are on-point and valid (and I am assuredly included there). However, from what I've seen it looks like it's not very clear what Board does (okay, that's old news), and where, and how. I think breaking that down a little bit may help everyone understand both where [personal profile] jennyst is coming from — though she generally does an excellent job communicating that herself, but I'm hoping a multiplicity of viewpoints can help — and how the Board functions overall.

(Quick disclaimer: This is my interpretation of our roles and work. I'm only an authority in this insofar as I happen to be one of the seven people doing this. Other Board members may have different ways in which they think about our work!)

There are three major things we all currently do as Board members: we hold meetings to talk to each other and make decisions, we hold discussions and make decisions over email, and we liaise with committees/committee chairs and workgroups/leads. Various Board members also perform other tasks specific to their skills and duties: some of these are the positions mandated in our bylaws (chair, secretary, treasurer), and some are less well defined but involve networking, seeking out opportunities to connect with other causes, etc. We also give each other assignments as a product of email or meeting decisions, such as putting together writeboards or emails about something we want to discuss or propose, or contacting person A about topic X, or hosting org-wide meetings. However, the core of our work involves coming together with each other and with people inside the org to make plans and decisions about the overall direction of the org.

So here's how it shakes out: break it down! )

But okay, enough explication. What got done during my alleged quiet presence earlier this year?

Goals Update!

As always: While I do serve on the Board, this doesn't mean I have a magic wand or anything — the OTW's very strength is that it's the work of many people with many different skills, backgrounds, and opinions, so no one should have a magic wand and that's good. A lot of work is done by people who are not me, and I'll do my best to acknowledge that and give credit. Corrections, questions, and updates welcome!

This time, also an additional caveat: I'm definitely not caught up, so this is mostly meant to cover in broad strokes my period of radio silence before about mid-May. I may be missing things still — scratch that, I definitely am — but I'm operating on the principle that a partial update is better than no update.

See the master post of 2012 OTW Goals

See my general approach to being on Board here!

[Caption: A small cheerfully-yellow booklet depicts, in an ink sketch, a house massively on fire. Along the top, handwritten imperfect block lettering reads "SHIT'S FUCKED". Along the bottom, "a positivity guide" in peppy cursive.]

Principles Update

This is of necessity pretty general this time around, but in the future I hope to focus on specific developments as they go down.

let's go! )

General Goals Update

This is, unfortunately, the section I feel least able to comment on right now until I've taken better stock: this is the middle ground between overall principles (which I feel a pretty good grasp on in terms of where we are/overall progress) and specific action items (which are small enough to easily catch up and comment on) where I feel I could too easily miss or mischaracterize something. So I'm going to work on checking in with my projects and people and see if I can put a good focus on this soon. Apologies!

Concrete Goals and Action Items

The fun bit! I'm only pulling out goals/items where I have relevant comments/updates here.

8 items below! )

So that's updates for now. Next time, I hope to be ready to look at adding new goals and possibly revising old ones. We'll see!

Thanks for listening, and as always, questions and feedback welcome and I will try to respond =)
I haven't been talking about my OTW work much — and I feel like I should. It would increase transparency, particularly of the OTW Board, which I know can seem really opaque. There are two reasons I don't talk about my OTW work: one is that I don't want OTW concerns to permeate my entire fannish life; that's why I created a separate real-name journal, to keep the two separate. But I still haven't used it, because of the second readon: I am just plain damn tired. Besides depression and life in general, I'm also just too exhausted from doing org work to talk about my org work.

I'm still too tired, really, so I apologize if the following reflects that — but I felt this issue to be too important for me to not talk about it, however tired I may be.


Fannish Diversity; Transparency and Disclaimers; Timeline; Analysis )

In the end, I think we should have done better with this poll. Maybe it's a small thing, but small things still count. I want us to be the change we want to see. So we say here, at the OTW, that diversity is important to us? Then we need to embody that desire. If our current userbase is not representative, why is that an obstacle to guiding our public materials towards being more representative? Do we think so little of our current userbase that we believe they will resent representative diversity when we explain what happened, why we did what we did? Why continue to acclimate people outside the org to a limited subset of fandoms?

For that matter, why acclimatize anyone, inside or outside the org, to a limited subset? Even if these results are never posted about in public again, some small set of people inside the org would still use them. Why get people inside the OTW used to seeing such a limited set of names?

I want to emphasize that I am not alone, that fans like me are not alone, in the org or in Board, and I invite those people to come and talk about their experiences too, both inside the org and publicly.

I also know that transparency is a big issue, and could have illuminated our thinking during this process if we had let fans talk to us about what they think we should do in such a situation. Transparency has been on my personal docket ever since my term began: I knew Board had to be more transparent in particular, and the org in general. But I kept putting it off in favour of things that were more on fire, more urgent, demanding a deadline. Well. April is almost over. It's not the beginning of term anymore. And as the thread I linked to above demonstrates, it seems, and I agree, that transparency is on fire now. And I will be doing my best to push it up the agenda and keep it in the forefront of our thinking.

I don't know. I am definitely grateful for all the work everyone has done on this, for putting this together and putting it up; to Board for taking the time to listen and deliberate. I'm grateful to everyone who voted, to everyone who left their mark, to everyone who celebrates the results we published. It's your history, your present, your fandoms; it's important.

But to everyone who is unhappy with these results because they see nothing of themselves there, I want to say: I'm unhappy too. I'm sorry I did not do a better job. I want to hear what I can do better — please, please tell me. I want to tell you that I'm not the only one listening — of course I'm not. I want to apologize for being so tired that I never said anything before. And if you're frustrated with the OTW, if you want to believe it can be better but are not sure it can happen, if you're ambivalent over your welcome here, I want to tell you that you're not alone — but I also know that I'm not alone in hoping that it can be better, too.

These are my actions as well as I could explain them. I welcome commentary and discussion here, but I do ask that you please keep OTW-related stuff in this journal and not my fannish one. I also want to warn everyone that I continue to be exhausted and may not respond quickly, but I will do my best to respond to everyone. Thank you for listening.


[ETA 2011-04-30] I'd like to address a trend I've seen in several comments below that I find really troubling: I am far from the only person inside the org or even inside Board who is interested in and actively working on the issues above. I tried to make this clear in my post, but it seems I did not emphasize it enough — I'm sorry. I value working with my numerous colleagues, some of whom share my views, and some don't — and it's the variety of voices that makes us strong. While I definitely acknowledge that the OTW's visible output has largely focused on one set of voices, I do want to emphasize that I'm not alone. Our work is exhausting, and posts may be rare, but we are far from alone, and within the org, we are far from silent.

Notes )



September 2012

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