OTW, or, I am exhausted. <-- if you only read one link about the OTW election, make it this one.
If you're an OTW member, I believe you need to vote in this election. The org has gone through a lot of recent growing pains, and we have the opportunity to take it forward in a really positiive, progressive direction. Or, as outgoing board member hl said in her endorsement post:
"I think the org is coming (has been coming) at a crossroads. It's growing, and it's really big already, and diversity and sustainability are becoming Issues. I mean this seriously. There's a lot of talk, and I want you, if you care about the org (and I know this sounds patronizing, sorry, but yeah), to pay attention to what is said by each candidate, because it's true that there's a limit to the org's resources, but that's a given, and the fact is, if the org doesn't start pulling itself together on those issues, it will only become harder. Failing at it not only will weaken the organization, it also means that it will be failing at its mission."I have talked to numerous and former OTW staffers this week, and I have read and reread candidate statements, journal posts, and debates. I feel pretty confident that I've parsed correctly the issues of this election, and for anyone who's confused I'll spell it out.
Now that I've thrown it out there, let me elaborate.
Currently the org is experiencing a conflict between two organizational directions.
Direction #1: The Archive > All Else. This direction involves the push to really get AO3 out of beta, because it's so important to so many people, and a lot of people see it as the flagship org project & want it to have as many resources as possible. That means that the committee handling the archive coding, AD&T, has a lot of attention focused on it, and a lot of power within the organization.
If you think that the OTW is primarily there to support the Archive of Our Own, and that as an org its focus should be on maximizing the development of the Archive, with the understanding that everything else--increased membership, visibility, trust--will follow afterwards, then this direction is the one you want to support. This is the direction the current board has been moving in for quite a while, which makes sense given that the org was founded around the creation of the AO3, and that the founders naturally continue to influence the whole org. (We love our founders. I love the founders. Yay founders. <3)
If you support this direction, then, full stop, I feel confident Naomi N should be your first choice for the board, because as org founder and senior AD&T coder, she has all the resources, leadership, and wisdom at her disposal to keep the org focused on this goal and moving in this direction.
But there is another emerging direction for the org.
Direction #2: Inclusivity, Transparency, Equality.
By "inclusivity" I mean two things--internal inclusivity, where all the members (like me!) feel involved & participatory, and also fandom inclusivity--where there's a greater commitment to diversity, to reflecting non-western fandoms in the archive and internal makeup of the org, and where the existing services the org offers are accessible and non-prohibitive to anyone who wants to use them, regardless of fannish or cultural background.
By "transparency" I mean the common complaint that the inner workings of the org aren't widely known and understood, even within the staff. For example, I finally had to beg an explanation from several people about the committee/chair/liaison/board structure that seemed to be a crucial point of discussion. I asked sanders about it, and her response is really helpful and clarifying, despite making me boggle a bit at what seems like a really convoluted organizational structure. The convolutedness is what a lot of people have issues with, and want the org to work more emphatically to change.
By "equality"--this is crucial--I mean a belief that the org should operate within the framework that every project, and consequently every staffer and volunteer within *all* parts of the org, is equal--as valuable and important to the org's success as the AO3. The sense that currently this isn't the case seems to have fed into a large degree of volunteer burnout, which is harming the organization as a whole.
If you believe that the org should move in a direction that supports each of the above, and you don't believe that the AO3 should be considered the central or main focus, then I believe that you will probably want to vote for any or all of the candidates who have prioritized all three of these goals and referenced them repeatedly in their candidate statements: Julia Beck, Nikisha Sanders, and Jenny Scott-Thompson.
It's not that the other 3 candidates, and also the current members of the Board, don't all support those ideas--I'm certain they all absolutely do; but the basic fact is that putting Naomi back on the board along with Francesca, who is co-founder and current board member, will most likely overrule momentum towards Direction #2 in favor of Direction #1.
If we vote Julia Beck, Sanders, and Jenny S-T on the board, their collective voices will balance out the current board, and there will be greater possibilites of change. (I think Lucy Pearson and Betsy Rosenblatt would join them, but on the whole, they seem to be bridge-builders in this situation, rather than Julia/Sanders/Jenny, who seem to be working to change existing systems of power.)
But the bottom line is, if we vote Naomi onto the board, then it doesn't matter who gets the other 3 seats, because NN and Francesca C are the founders, and they will continue to run the organization the way they always have. They're the founders. Multiple OTW volunteers and staffers have told me that they're terrified of pissing off the founders (which is not anyone's fault, just an inevitable consequence of their having so much power). That's not an environment in which change happens or from which diversity grows. It's just not.
As you've probably guessed, I emphatically support Direction #2.
I'm not including a dissection of the other candidate statements in this post (though i obviously encourage you to read them all closely), because frankly, all 5 of them put together have less power to influence the org's direction than Naomi does all by herself right now.
Lots of people whose journals you guys read are probably describing what a great person NN is to work with, how good she is with compromise & moderating a group, and how she's a great asset to the org. ALL of which I agree with. Naomi has always been, and remains, my fandom hero. If it were a different election year I would have no problem voting her back to the board, with love and tickertape. Just not this year. I think Naomi does have great, positive ideas, like the feedback box on all blog posts, focusing on small, easily accomplished contributions from all board members, and marshaling the Archive userbase to be more informed about/active in the OTW. I support all of that. And I started out a week ago by saying I saw no reason for change and that I was perfectly eager to vote Naomi back onto the board. Then I read Renay's post and it shocked me, challenged me to dig deeper. So I dug. And started unraveling things and learning to parse the discussion, and talking to people. And I realized that all of Naomi's good ideas and her positive work for the org don't require her to be a board member at this point. With a focus on Direction #2 allowing more air time for more facets of discussion from all areas of the org, most of Naomi's ideas can still happen along with other important ideas, and they can happen in dialogue with those ideas.
And I feel really strongly that since there are a bunch of powerful fandom people out there who support Naomi's candidacy, somebody should point out that despite what an amazing person/fan/organizer/role model she is (and she very much is!), there are a whole bunch of reasons not to vote for her.
And those reasons are important. Especially if you're concerned about power politics and want to support voices for change that might otherwise be, however inadvertently, silenced.
So. Reasons why I believe that we should not vote for Naomi if we support Direction #2: a bullet-point list is below, and expanded on with source quotes behind the cut.
Expanded evidence below, now with source links!
Naomi has tunnel vision regarding the Archive as the center of the OTW:
- From Chat #1, when asked her reasons for running: NN: " I think it's really important for the archive project to have a senior technical voice on the Board... Our forward-facing projects, particularly the archive, have gotten big enough that we want to start thinking about creating obvious pathways for people to come into the org through those projects."
- From the 1st chat overflow, her response to the question, "How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?</em>" was significantly perfunctory:
NN: "My main contribution to Fanlore over the next few years would mostly be to serve as a resource on the practical technical front: when do we need more server power, how is MediaWiki serving the team and the users, what could we do to improve the user interface and automate routine tasks, etc. "
This one-sentence response is by far her most detached, and, to me, indicates that she has very little interest in questions of Fanlore outreach and development. It also indicates, to me, that she is focused on coding and is happy to let the other committees handle the other non-Archive projects. Which invites a question Zvi already asked: why does she specifically need to be on the board in order to code?
- Even in her extended response to the transparency question, she focused on being responsible to the users of AO3, rather than the whole OTW organization, or even to the internal OTW staff: "The last AO3 news post got 85 page views the day it went up. By comparison, the archive as a whole gets 600,000 page views a *day*." She approached the entire subject from the standpoint of the Archive--such as her final addendum mentioning the benefits of "the upcoming Support board for the archive." Nowhere did she address other specific pieces of the org.
- From her OTW donation post: "I am standing for the Board again this year, to see the Archive through to
- From the second chat overflow questions, set 6: I would like to ask both Betsy and Naomi why they seem to think their respective committees are so particularly special that they require representation on the Board - why shouldn’t that also be true just as much for, say, DevMem or Wiki or Support? Or rather, untrue for all: I assume that healthy board-chairs relationships would solve the issue of representation.
NN (excerpt): "I have to say I think most people would agree that the Archive is particularly special and important to this organization. It’s our flagship project, it’s what started the whole shebang. Major parts of this organization are only necessary because of the Archive, or depend in turn on the Archive. That is, we only really need a Development team because we need a steady cash flow to buy the expensive servers that the Archive runs on and to pay our $800/month colocation bills. We only need a Support team because there are tens of thousands of people actively using the Archive every day. Our Open Doors project can’t really get started systematically saving online archives until we get finished with the Archive’s importing features. And so on. Our other standalone projects independent of the Archive are incredibly valuable resources to fandom that I am wildly proud of, but you don’t need an organization on this scale to build or host them.
So I do think that it is in the best interests of not just the Archive and anyone who wants it to last, but also of the entire organization and membership, even those who don't particularly care about the Archive itself, for the team that is building this crucial and wildly complicated project to have all the support and encouragement that the Board can give them."
anatsuno has already done a great writeup of why this whole answer is problematic and unhealthy for the org as a whole. I would add that we can't push for total equality among all the projects and committees when we have a Founder insisting that one of those projects is specialer than the rest, that the other projects are just not "crucial," and that one project needs more attention than the others--perhaps literally ALL the support of the board.
- From the second chat overflow questions, set 6: NN's response to the question of "What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now?" only mentioned Archive-specific ideas: ways to engage new coders (for the archive), the support board (for the archive), and merit badges (for the archive). There seems to be no planning involved on her part for non-Archive-related outreach.
Naomi is not fully engaged on the question of Transparency:
Q: (taken from the first chat follow-up): What would you do to increase the OTW's transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren't currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?
NN: I would really like to do a push to make a review and get our internal wiki publicly visible! On the whole though, I think the org does a pretty good job putting out information about what we're doing, and mostly the reality is people who aren't volunteers are more interested in reading the latest fanfic and don't really care until something happens that makes them sit up and go hey! And the really important thing is at that point to listen and respond productively.
This response ("we already do a good job, and the Average Jill doesn't care until something breaks anyway") does not acknowledge the need for increased transparency--she believes the existing system is working when it doesn't seem to be working at all. It also does not acknowledge that many of us are members of the OTW for much more than just "reading fanfic" and that we do care, very much, even if we're not volunteers ourselves. It also does not acknowledge a sense of the wider OTW that exists beyond the Archive. In fact, even in her unofficial extended reply to this question, she never really acknowledged the fact that to a large degree, people are unhappy with transparency within the organization itself. Her proposal to open up the internal wiki implies that it would be an easy cure-all, which is a very debatable point that also raises lots of confidentiality issues; it's also sort of a mcguffin, because while being able to see the meeting minutes would be extremely helpful, it would be helpful insofar as they record processes rather than explain why those processes exist. I know at least on my part, my questions are far more about whys than hows.
Naomi seems to have approached her candidacy & org responsibilities with a degree of flippancy:
- She was absent from the 2nd chat and did not give a stated reason for her lack of attendance beyond, "alas RL intervened."
- From the 1st chat: "going quick while baby lets me [answer a question]" <-- I'm all for her prioritizing Evidence, but the admission that she's actually running back and forth doing several things at once in the middle of what amounts to a serious debate can make the whole process seem trivial, which is unfair to the other candidates, the org members, and everyone.
- She missed the deadline to respond to 6 out of the 8 total question sets she was sent by the election staff, and her late responses had to be edited in afterwards. You can see this by the timestamps on her answers, linked from the transcript pages: first chat; second chat.
- From a post apologizing about her delay answering overflow questions (from the chat she missed): "sorry I'm behind on the questions. :( It's been a little mad here due to RL stuff and the massive AO3 deploy." <-- this especially concerns me (in terms of her Board candidacy), because if she's already prioritizing Archive coding above responsibilities to the wider organization, it doesn't indicate a particular sense of commitment to those other responsibilities.
Naomi doesn't think there's a problem:
- Naomi stated that she thinks "the org does a pretty good job putting out information about what we're doing," but here's a comment by current Board Chairman allisonmorris remarking that the massive hegemony of Dreamwidth-only discussion is "a good sign in itself that we're not reaching out effectively." And here's an aside from wistfuljane that "it took more than fifteen minutes trying to find the link to 2010's election statements, searching through the elections website and googling, btw." And here's my own post noting that the OTW news yahoogroup, my primary news source, abruptly stopped updating in May & no one noticed. (They've since apologized.)
- Naomi stated that she thinks "we only really need a Development team because we need a steady cash flow to buy the expensive servers," but copracat's comment argues that the Development Team is not being realized: "I was on the Development and Membership committee from before the first membership drive until I accepted that the board was not then interested in what the committee was capable of achieving. After two years I no longer wanted to waste my time flogging that dead horse."
- Naomi stated that "you don't need an organization on this scale to build or host" the OTW's other non-AO3 projects--but aethel comments that, "It sounds like Naomi is not aware that some of "Our other standalone projects independent of the Archive" are actually resource-starved and could benefit from more support. :("
- Naomi stated, "I don't actually agree that we are suffering an unusual wave of burnout beyond the endemic." This is probably the single most unfortunate thing, and revealing thing, she could have said on this particular subject. In addition to Renay's entire post, here's julia_beck admitting that "we've been doing a terrible job" of empowering staffers and not silencing them. And here's troisroyaumes noting jennyst's acknowledgment that "I have noticed that volunteers from [underrepresented areas of fandom, often non-western fandoms] burn out and leave the OTW disproportionately often." And pointing that certain measures to increase inclusivity on AO3 categories have been "tabled for how many years now?" And a thread discussing why there's been no progress on a country-of-origin sorting feature.
To quote starlady in her endorsements post, "Like every other candidate, [Naomi] deserves to be judged on the strength of her current statements as well as her record, and her current statements about transparency and what she thinks the OTW needs to do to improve it leave me deeply disturbed."
Don't take my word for any of this!
Find an OTW staffer or a volunteer and talk to them! Ask if you have questions! Or you can ask me and I'll try to share some of the things I've learned from my conversations, obviously respecting confidentiality/privacy. Feel free to use this post for discussion, if you like!
Read the official OTW candidate statements! Read the debates! Read what the other board members are saying!
take a peek at the OTW tag on Pinboard!
Question everything! (But if anyone wants to know more about why I am endorsing Julia Beck, Nikisha Sanders, Jenny Scott-Thompson, and Lucy Pearson for the board, see this post, and check the links to other endorsements of these 4 candidates that she includes at the end!)
And especially--especially, because her candidacy has such huge implications for this election--question most of all whether Naomi is the right Board representative for you.
(NN, I love you, and you can represent me in fandom any time. Just not this election year. ♥)
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