Announcing the Strategic Planning roadmap

We’re drawing to the close of our April Membership Drive! We’re thrilled at the level of support the drive has received, and we’re equally thrilled at the number of responses we’ve received for our OTW Community Survey. One of our core aims as we build our membership is to involve more people in the conversation about where the OTW is going and what we’re doing. So, this is a great moment to introduce our very first strategic planning roadmap.

When the OTW was founded, we had a clear sense of what we wanted to achieve (you can see our annual goals in our annual reports, and we’re currently working on editing our earliest planning documents for posting publicly). We’re happy to say that we have achieved most of those goals: core projects like the Archive of Our Own, Fanlore, and Transformative Works and Cultures are all up and running, and the org has grown beyond our wildest dreams. So, this is an important moment for us to take stock, figure out where we’re going next, and set out some answers to the questions we’ve been asked about the future direction of the OTW.

This initial document is a “planning plan.” It is a type of framework that lays out what the workgroup has determined needs to happen before a strategic plan can be formulated, the information that will be included in the strategic plan, and how the org should go about evaluating it once it has been implemented. The actual plan itself will be developed as first three steps near completion. We have completed step one and are currently tackling the beginning of step two.

Why Do We Need a Strategic Plan?


A strategic plan is a visionary document designed to help allow board members to provide good governance, to continually affirm member/staff/client satisfaction, and to ultimately ensure organizational sustainability. It is not only an essential means of presenting the goals of an organization, but also the roadmap for how to reach those goals, including (to stretch the metaphor) the rest areas and places to visit along the way.

Unlike private sector businesses or not-for-profit social groups/clubs, nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are granted their 501( c)(3) status on the understanding that they intend to pursue and accomplish a stated mission. As organizations grow, accountability and transparency can become more difficult to maintain without a formal process in place. A publicly available plan is a means of helping provide accountability to stakeholders and conducting a periodic review of how the organization’s activities meet their stated goals.

The OTW is a totally digital, constantly growing NPO which was founded to celebrate the grassroots power of fannish collaborative culture and defend its legitimacy. The multiple ways in which the OTW has been designed to accomplish those goals, and the rapid growth of the org, have led to an potentially fragmented organizational identity which could threaten its success. A strategic plan is only not an organizational best practice employed by many NPOs, but it is an opportunity for the OTW to take inventory of its successes and failures along the way.

Creation of a strategic plan for an organization with the OTW’s unique characteristics, which has participants literally spanning the globe, requires input from all of its key stakeholders. The Strategic Planning workgroup has initially identified the key stakeholder groupings as follows:

  • The Board
  • Staff (volunteers who serve on committees)
  • Volunteers (who don’t serve on committees but contribute in other capacities, including coders, testers, tag wranglers, translators and Fanlore gardeners)
  • Members
  • Users
    • AO3
    • Fanlore
    • TWC (readers and contributors)
    • transformativeworks.org (Vidding History, Legal FAQs, Open Doors)

The workgroup has suggested the following process as a means of moving toward creation of a strategic plan — each of these steps is to be undertaken by the Strategic Planning workgroup and approved by the board and/or key stakeholders as necessary.

The Roadmap

  1. Create a list of every committee, workgroup, and volunteer pool in the OTW.
    1. Present this list to the board (or predetermined board member(s) acting as liaison) for review, to ensure completeness.
  2. Review the current mission statement, surveys & polls, policies, processes, and pre-existing goals of:
    • each committee, workgroup, and volunteer pool
    • the OTW as a whole
    1. Write a report for each committee, workgroup, and volunteer pool, to be presented to the board, the specific group, and posted to the wiki. This report should include:
      1. A review of the perceived and actual working processes of the committee or workgroup
      2. Codified goals, both micro and macro, either mapping to the original mission statement or with an explanation of the reassessment of the goal(s) given the OTW’s changes
        1. Suggestions for achieving those goals, including but not limited to possible restructuring, additional information gathering (e.g., surveys, one-on-ones, open discussions, etc.) within and without each group, process and procedure changes, etc.
    2. Write a report for the OTW as a whole, with points including but not limited to:
      1. A review of the actual working processes and structure of the org
      2. Specific new goals/operational objectives designed to bring the OTW into compliance with the best practices of NPOs as well as a reshaping and reassessing of the mission statement and its goals, given the org’s changes.
        1. Suggestions for achieving those goals, including but not limited to possible restructuring, additional information gathering, process & procedure changes, etc.
    3. Reports will be reviewed, revisited, and revised based on feedback about practicalities of the org and in order to refine goals and understanding of working processes.
  3. Write a final report, distinguishing between operational (short-term / 1 year) goals and strategic (long-term / 3 year) goals to be presented to all above-identified key stakeholders, incorporating all beta reports (from section II), specifying:
    1. Current working procedures and processes that contribute positively to the OTW’s growth, health, and overall goals
    2. Key changes to be applied immediately
    3. Flexible changes to be applied over the course of a determined time period
    4. Possibilities for the long-term future to secure/”future proof” the org
  4. Review and evaluate the plan and the planning process itself. After 2 years, another SP workgroup should be appointed which should:
    1. Review the information from section III
    2. Review of org’s application of the SP
    3. Begin process again, creating a new roadmap for a plan to cover the next 2 – 3 years.

The Workgroup

We’d also like to take this time to introduce the workgroup members who are organising this process for us: Megan, Anna, Tari, and Lindsay.

Megan (megcwalsh) – Despite being a long-time admirer/service user, I first got involved in the OTW as a direct result of my schoolwork. After loving a nonprofit financial management class, I joined FinCom (as a somewhat absentee member) while finishing my final semester of grad school. I graduated in December, 2011 after a semester in which I took a class called “nonprofit management”… and wrote every single paper on the OTW. 🙂 Because I’m an inherently scatterbrained person who covets the linear thought processes and abstract-thought-dissection abilities of others, the strategic planning section of the course appealed to me immensely. The writing of my planning paper and the resultant scrounging through the OTW website coincided with the tumultuous 2011 elections. There were some repeated points in discussions I skimmed that pulled me out of my fodder-gathering trance and actually made me realize, “Wow! A strategic planning process could totally help with that!” …and then I did nothing because another paper was due in a week, etc., etc.

When the opportunity actually arose (thankfully post-graduation) to practice what I’d been preaching, it was a little bit thrilling! I believe that the OTW is an amazing organization. Its growth over the past five years is nothing short of phenomenal. I also believe that it is precisely because the org has prospered so that creation of a strategic plan is now necessary to allow for provision of good governance, member satisfaction, and sustainability. The board’s efforts to get this group started this year and their support for our process have been really affirming. Working with my groupmates has essentially been everything I fantasized about while suffering through interminable academic “group projects.” I’m excited about each new step and I am grateful for the chance to give back to an NPO that has given me so much.

Tari (troisroyaumes) – I first learned about the OTW when the Archive of Our Own entered Open Beta. Initially, I had doubts and reservations about whether the OTW was really for fans like me: I’m primarily in anime/manga and East Asian drama fandoms. However, a few fandom friends who were interested in the OTW got me interested too and encouraged me to get an account, upload my fic and even volunteer for tag wrangling. I’ve been a tag wrangler since 2009, edited a few Fanlore pages, and joined up to become a translator last year.

My experience with the organization has been mixed with both excitement and disappointment. While I love the OTW’s projects, I had become especially concerned that fans in my fandoms were continuing to feel alienated and excluded from the OTW. All of these issues led me to take a particular interest in the OTW elections last year, and I posted about my perspective on the candidates in hopes of getting others interested in voting. After the elections, I was asked if I had an interest in joining the Strategic Planning workgroup, and I said yes. While I’m new to the strategic planning process, I’ve been learning so much from the group, and it gives me renewed hope that the OTW can become an organization where all fans and all forms of fanworks are welcome.

Anna (lalejandra) – I’ve been a supporter of the OTW since its beginnings. While I’ve had primarily good experiences overall with the org and its projects, I’ve been increasingly critical of its weaknesses, from both professional and fan/user perspectives. I was thrilled to be asked to join the Strategic Planning workgroup; as someone who has done strategic planning professionally (in corporate environments), it seemed like the perfect fit for me. I think strategic planning can do a lot for the OTW, and contribute to resolving some of the systemic issues many of us have noticed in the last few years. It’s really exciting to get to work with a group of people so dedicated to furthering the OTW, fans, and fanworks of all types and languages — which, in turn, has only made me more excited about the OTW and its relevance.

Lindsay (paraka)Lindsay joined Strategic Planning after having been a supporter of the OTW since the propositional post. She was instrumental in construction of the roadmap but will be taking a temporary hiatus from the group to fulfill academic obligations. She plans to rejoin us in mid-May.