Strategic Planning Workgroup: Update on our activities

The Strategic Planning workgroup has been hard at work developing our processes and moving forward with our work, so we wanted to give you another update.

Now that our group is two months old, and we’ve seen how things work for us and what we, as a group, need in order to govern ourselves, we have created board liaison and workgroup member agreements, which clearly lay out responsibilities and expectations. These agreements were voted in unanimously and posted to the internal wiki on 12 May 2012.

We spent several meetings reviewing the group we’ve chosen to be our first focus for a draft strategic plan. We chose Tag Wrangling specifically because there is so much excellent documentation to work with, and so many people with thoughtful opinions on how this group should work and what it needs in order to move forward successfully. We spent several weeks reading through the documentation and discussing it to better our understanding of the group; we also attended Tag Wrangling meetings (including orientation for new wranglers and a staff meeting), and reached out to the committee staff to prepare them for the group chats, interviews, and surveys we’re using as our primary information gathering methods.

We spent the past week and will spend the next formalizing our survey for the Tag Wrangling volunteers and organizing the questions we have for Tag Wrangling committee staff. We expect to have the survey live within the next two weeks, and allow 10-14 days for volunteers to fill it out. The survey will be confidential to the Strategic Planning workgroup (although we will share aggregate data and anonymized answers with the Tag Wrangling staff and Volcom), and will include an option for the respondent to meet confidentially with the Strategic Planning workgroup to further discuss opinions, ideas, and concerns. Also in the works is a user-end survey, as well as putting our heads together with the group working on the OTW survey to facilitate synthesizing the information collected in the OTW survey into what we are collecting.

On 19 May, we had the pleasure of talking to Emilie, the Tag Wrangling co-chair, in a chat during our weekly meeting. We learned a lot during this chat and realized that we need to refine our process of interviewing, which we discussed the week after and during our 26 May meeting. Our thought, based on the experience of interviewing Emilie, is that our procedure of live interview first, then follow-up email may better serve all involved if adjusted to email first with follow-up live interview to clarify any outstanding points.

Last but not least! One of the things our group has recently done is both expand and contract. We’re sorry to say goodbye to Lindsay, and we’re very excited to have our new members!

Claire is a very new member of the OTW, having joined in March. Their academic background is in narrative theory: the study of how stories operate and affect our lives. This makes them highly invested in questions of fandom’s role in the world (as does their love of fandoms such as Inception and Marvel’s Avengers). As part of the Strategic Planning Workgroup, Claire consults especially on issues of survey construction and data analysis.

Jessica has been writing fanfiction online since the late 90’s, and has been using AO3 as her primary fanfiction archive since 2010. She also writes original science fiction and fantasy novels, and her first publication should be hitting Amazon, soon. When she’s not writing, she’s a lawyer. She practices primarily family law, but also has a strong interest in how the law impacts fandom.

Strategic planning update

The Strategic Planning workgroup very much appreciates the feedback we’ve gotten on the roadmap post that went up during the recent drive and want to take this opportunity to respond to some of the common themes. Of course, we may not have seen all of the posts people have made in their personal spaces about these issues. We’d love for people to contact us ( will get a message passed to us) so that we can hear what you have to say. We will do our best to respond to each of you individually, though we can’t promise individual responses if the team is overwhelmed with feedback.

We did want to clarify a few things based on the feedback we’ve gotten so far. For starters, the roadmap is a very basic, high level document that outlines the very tip of the Strategic Planning workgroup iceberg. Its original audience was intended to be the OTW Board, which is why it may seem strangely structured and/or sound overly academic. The drive came up on us quickly after the roadmap was created and, in our haste to get it out to you all, we decided to post it with almost no editing. We apologize for any confusion this caused.

What we’re working on is the first public Strategic Plan for the OTW. The group consensus is that this needs to be the most basic, org-organizing, internal problem-addressing SP possible. Our goals are to make it:

  • practical
  • usable
  • implementable
  • straightforward
  • as jargon-free and plainspoken as possible
  • short-term

The OTW’s long-term strategy and goals, relationships with external actors and other orgs, etc., are all things we are keeping in mind, but, as far as this particular plan goes, the org just isn’t there yet. Although it may seem old for fandom, the OTW is absolutely a baby in its non-profit context. With that in mind, the Strategic Planning workgroup is focused on making this version of the plan basic, operational, and short-term even for a strategic plan (which would normally cover up to 5 years). Our goal is to specifically design this first plan to help the org gets its feet underneath it and address a bunch of internal, systemic problems that are, in fact, a big part of what’s preventing the org from formulating workable long-term goals or pursuing strategic projects such as, for example, teaming up more with the EFF.

Although it was not written into the roadmap, transparency is very important to us. While none of us have the time to spend hours writing lengthy updates about what’s going on, we have committed to giving at least monthly (if not more frequent) updates in order to keep the org as a whole updated on our process. Anyone with feedback on our updates should absolutely get in touch with us if you’re comfortable doing so, especially if you have thoughts on how we can structure these better or provide information in a more efficient or transparent way. (A message through is the best way to contact us.)

Everyone in the Strategic Planning workgroup sees our role here as that of synthesizers — which means, contrary to how it might have seemed in the roadmap post, the majority of our time is going to be spent gathering information from actors/stakeholders at all different levels of the OTW. We will be seeking to find out how you use the org, what you need, what you do, what you’d like to see change, what you’d like to see stay the same, etc. with the goal of increasing satisfaction and usability. Our major information gathering techniques are:

  • observing internal org meetings
  • reading internal org documentation
  • group-on-one interviews
  • group-on-group chats
  • original surveys tailored for each division of the OTW, for both current and formerly involved persons
  • original surveys tailored for users/interested parties
  • compiling and analyzing data from the big OTW survey

This kind of information gathering is something we have to do incrementally and carefully, so that we get usable, helpful information that we can actually synthesize into practical plans for each division of the OTW, as well as the org as a whole. We’ll be as transparent as possible about how we come to the conclusions we do about each division/part of the plan, while maintaining the confidentiality of the participants.

We’d also like to be clear, so that there is no confusion or suspicion about this: No one in this group has any desire to make any kind of proclamation from “on high,” and no one in this group has any kind of fundamental personal agenda outside of helping make the OTW work more smoothly and successfully. We want to get the OTW into shape, but we are not particular about the type of shape. We’re okay with a square, or a hexagon, or a rhombus — but it’s very clear to us, and we’re hopeful you agree, that the OTW can’t go from a squiggly line to a fractal without a lot of work.

This work is going to take time. We are currently working from a very loose timeline that has the first version of the strategic plan being released in December. We haven’t worked on developing a more structured timeline for these reasons:

  • We don’t want to set up unrealistic expectations
  • We don’t want to put the workgroup in a position where our choices are “fulfill unrealistic expectations by cutting corners and burning ourselves out” or “fail”
  • We aren’t yet clear ourselves exactly how much time each step is going to take; currently, each member of the Strategic Planning workgroup is putting in ~5+ hours every week. (That may seem particularly low or particularly high, but it’s the number we’re comfortable with, especially since we’re trying to avoid the burnout endemic in the OTW.)

We are hoping that the regular updates will both serve as a way of keeping you updated on our progress and provide us with a better way to eventually evaluate how long each step will take.

Of course, we are still in the “set up” phase; once we’ve successfully gone through the division we’ve chosen for our test run, the next divisions should run much more smoothly and quickly, and we hope we’ll be able to refine and release a more definite timeline. Practically, we also realize that it takes a lot of time to gather and synthesize information in a useful way. Synthesizing data, discussing it, figuring out the steps to take, going back to consult with the actors and stakeholders who provide and are affected by the information — that’s not stuff that can be completed with one two-hour meeting the week after.

Again, we’d like to encourage feedback (messages sent through will be passed to us, and that is the best way to reach us); in addition to trying to address the feedback in our updates, we will also be folding the feedback into the information we gather for synthesis. Contact will be kept as confidential as possible, and while some of the text of questions may be shared verbatim (especially when being addressed in future updates), any names attached will be withheld.

We look forward to hearing from you — and working together as we move forward.

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)
    • (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.