Spotlight on Board: In this general bi-monthly series, individual OTW Board members will talk about their work, goals, and ideas from a more personal perspective. Today’s post is by Jenny Scott-Thompson.
I started out my year as Secretary by writing up the list of goals from the old and new boards. These are available in our Board minutes. Here they are in the order they were first mentioned in the meeting (as we went round the people present):
* Code of conduct
* Strategic planning
* Internal communications
* External communications
* Robust coding team
* OTW convention
* Marshall AO3 user base for OTW funding and recruiting
* Budgeting process
* Consider our fannish vs. non-profit identity
* Make use of non-profit best practice
* Work on importing (Open Doors)
* Develop the Dark Archive for vids
* Board culture/communication
* Board liaison role
* Consider identity as legal project, wiki project, OSS project
* Talk to EFF and Dreamwidth about best practices
* Website redesign
I’d like to talk through each of these.
Firstly, the Code of Conduct. This ties in to other projects that the Volunteers & Recruiting committee (VolCom) are working on, including the Conflict Mediation process, Constructive Corrective Action Procedure, and better induction and training. But the code of conduct is key, for making it clear what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable, and what the consequences of breaking each rule are. This is essential both for staff who keep the rules, to know that they are safe, and for staff who break the rules by accident or on purpose, to know what will happen and how they can make amends. You can get away without it in a small community of friends, which the OTW was to start with, but it’s needed in an organisation the size we are now. Personality conflicts are inevitable, and we need to be professional about handling them. VolCom have planned dates for this in their new project planning set-up, and have brought on an extra person to consult specifically on this project. So I’m both optimistic and impatient.
Secondly, Strategic planning. Our Strategic planning workgroup is now up and running. They are meeting weekly and gathering data from staff and volunteers. In parallel, the Survey Workgroup have gathered data from our users and members, and are already starting to share that with committees and the public. Synthesising all the data into a formal plan will take a while, but we’re already getting a much better idea of what people think and want, and committees are starting to make changes in line with the data they’re receiving.
Thirdly, internal communication. We’ve improved the format of our monthly “Org-wide” meetings, where all our volunteers can share news and requests for help on projects in progress, and discuss issues that affect the whole organisation. We’ve had some helpful discussions already this year, ranging from transparency to burnout. We’ve also opened up the open session parts of our weekly board meetings to a larger number of our staff. This gives us a balance between having enough room to work so that we’re not in too much of a fish-bowl, and showing more people what the regular work of board is actually like. We’re also posting our minutes publicly, and are gradually working on the backlog of older minutes.
Along with that goes external communications. This year’s new Communications team has had lots of ideas and plans, and already some of the effects can be seen. It’s taking a while for the culture to shift and the changes to bed in, of course, and the more we put out there, the more people want. You see enough to realise that there is even more that you’re interested in knowing, but we’re getting there.
Next is getting a robust coding team. This one is harder. Some internal board discussions have started around coding and AD&T, but the people we need to take part in those discussions are also busy fire-fighting the AO3 performance issues. It’s a classic problem of balancing short-term and long-term needs. If we don’t give some attention to the long-term, the short-term needs will never calm down. But equally, the short-term needs affect users right that minute, so they need to be given a certain priority. I’m hoping that we can continue with these discussions soon.
There was a request for an OTW convention. Personally, this is the one goal I don’t agree with. What we have done, however, is expand our convention outreach in general, with panels on OTW projects, flyers for staff to hand out, and an OTW table at Ascendio. Development & Membership and Open Doors are working on increasing our links with fannish conventions, so that we can, for example, rescue left-over zines at the end of a con, that would otherwise be thrown in the bin.
We wanted to marshall the AO3 user base for OTW funding and recruiting. I think we can say we’ve made a huge stride forward here, with the entire AO3 user base emailed during the April drive. Many new people donated, and filled in our community survey. We’d like to do more, though, in particular making the OTW link and basic info about the organisation more prominent on the AO3 site.
We want to improve our budgeting process, making it slightly more formal, better documented, and increase our advance planning. A proposal is being drafted by Finance. This one’s been on the cards for the past few months, but Finance is unexpectedly short of experienced staff this year, so our Treasurer has been working hard on everything at once, and it’s taken a while for the less urgent things.
We wanted to consider our fannish identity and non-profit identity, and talk more about how we can balance when they conflict. We don’t have anything to show for this yet, but it’s factored in to several of our conversations within the board.
We want to make better use of non-profit best practice. This is a slightly frustrating one – there are many people in the org who have professional experience or are familiar with best practices, but we often don’t manage to apply that very well. Sometimes that’s a mental trick – I’ve occasionally caught myself not thinking to use tactics from work when facing a similar problem in the OTW. And sometimes it’s because other people in the organisation aren’t familiar with those ideas, and oppose them for various reasons. We’re trying to improve our training and discuss this more, but in most cases there’s no quick fix – this will take time.
A big target for this year is to work on importing, particularly through Open Doors. We started the year with the Smallville Slash Archive import to the AO3, which completed successfully. The next one on our list is 852 Prospect – the import is planned, but waiting for when the AO3 performance issues calm down.
Continuing the archiving theme, we’re still hoping to develop the Dark Archive for vids. There’s no update on this yet – it needs a few key people to drive it forward, and all the people with those skills have been busy with more urgent projects.
There was some discussion during the last election about Board culture, relationships and communication. At the beginning of the year, we discussed our preferred communication styles, and expectations for liaising and updating the rest of the board. We agreed upon three email subject line codes — (FYI) (Vote) or (3Day) — to make it clearer what we need from one another so as to enable people to handle emails quickly. Those who were on the board last year have said that things are much better than they were.
Another Board-specific goal was to formalise the liaison role. Julia discussed this topic in a previous Board post. Some board members have liaison agreements with their committee chairs, which are all on the internal wiki. There’s more to do, but it’s a good step in the right direction, without forcing too much formal documentation on committees who don’t want it.
We planned to consider our identity as a legal project, wiki project, and OSS project. This is a similar kind of thing to the fannish vs. non-profit discussion, but we’ve had even less chance to talk about it. So no update yet, but it’s still on our list and at the back of our minds during discussion.
We wanted to talk to EFF and Dreamwidth about best practices. This has been a frustrating one for me. I’ve had some personal talks with Denise from Dreamwidth, and we’re finally starting to pick Mark’s brains on the AO3 performance problems, but I’d like to expand our formal and informal links with other organisations much more, to work with people who share our values, and not duplicate efforts or reinvent the wheel.
The last project on the list was our transformativeworks.org website redesign. The Webmasters committee produced an excellent redesign roadmap, which was approved by board. They’ve now carried out the first step, of gathering input from all projects and committees about the target audience and aims of the site. They’ve made the decision to split out the code update (from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7) and the content and navigational changes (to be better organised for our users) from the visual changes (to update the CSS and make the design look more modern). They’re now getting into the nitty-gritty stages of working on it, alongside their day-to-day duties.
Overall, we’ve made a lot of good progress, but there’s still even more to do. I’m particularly pleased about my personal projects of the public board minutes, the IRC channel and the strategic planning process. I’m also proud of the Open Doors committee, one of the groups I liaise with, who have made huge strides forward this year with their internal processes and preparation for more imports. I’m particularly looking forward to the code of conduct, conflict mediation, and other projects to increase volunteer retention, and to more steps towards translation and fanart on the AO3, including Support requests in other languages, the goal of another committee I liaise with.