Aug. 27th, 2012

tiyire: (Fanlore our story)
Yesterday evening the OTW held an org-wide meeting. Afterwards I had very interesting discussions in chat with people that helped me clarify several thoughts about volunteering. Most of them not very flattering to the org, but the topic of the org-wide was constructive criticism. (After the org-wide I still don't know where best to say this. I'll just write it here and send an email with the link, I guess.)

First, some personal background. I became a member of Wiki in February 2012, after discovering Fanlore and editing in July. I was already familiar with Fanlore: I knew about the dw comm and the infrequent editing chats, I knew about the gardeners, I'd briefly talked with Doro and aethel before and knew that they were good people. When I signed up at the beginning I mostly felt confused, but that's normal, right? So many new tools, new people, new things to do. And it got better! Very, very slowly. It took me months to realize that something was wrong, that it wasn't just me missing something.

If you look at the history of the Wiki Committee on Fanlore you'll notice that last year it consisted of four people, and one of them (Doro) only joined late in autumn. Amy and Rachel both left, leaving aethel in charge of the committee. Now take a look at the current committe: we are eight people, more than Wiki had in a very long time. There were two other people who joined this year and then dropped out. Of these eight, as far as I know five (plus the two who dropped out) hadn't known of Fanlore before they joined.

Clearly this is not an ideal situation! And there were several factors that exacerbated the problem.
First, aethel had never been in a management position outside of Wiki before. The only experience she had was being a co-chair in 2011, on a small committee full of experienced people, something that is entirely different from managing and training a whole group of newbies.
Second, the existing documentation was terrible. Some of the pages on the internal wiki dated back to 2008 and hadn't been updated, most procedures weren't described at all.
Third, Wiki was planning to start several big projects, most notably a forum and a mediawiki upgrade. This of course means a lot of work and stress especially for people new to this.

What should have happened?
Most importantly, someone should have recognized the problem. All three factors were known well in advance. People who should have noticed include, but are not limited to, the Board liaisons and Volcom. (And aethel herself, but see #1.)
As a result, aethel should have received extensive training as a chair and a lot of support from both Board and Volcom. Training and support with things including training new people, establishing communication structures, a lot more help with communication with other committees, and moral support.
I don't know exactly how much support she did get, but when I asked her if there was training for chairs she said "er, not really?", which made me want to throw something against the wall, hard.

As a result, Wiki had to reinvent the wheel: find out how communication works in our and with other committees, figure out how best to train new people, how best to delegate, how to keep track of things when multiple people are involved, and at the same time try not to mess up with any of their projects. All of these things could have been avoided. It was a giant waste of time and energy, and some of the issues are still not solved. I'm not surprised anymore that two people dropped out soon and some still feel confused.
But at least we recognize the problem now! That took some time, too. Now we just have to wait until we get a break between the felt 50 emails every day and somehow figure out how to fix this. No problem. Right. Maybe someone has a magic wand.

So what do I want in the future?
1. Training and support for chairs. A lot. This is extremely necessary, and will make so many other things much easier. It should happen as soon as possible.
2. Documentation! We're working on it, and it's already better than it was.
These are the most important things that I see, but of course there are several other improvements that could be made. Some of them are already being worked on, which is good, if several years too late.

As for me, the only way I didn't lose all of my enthusiasm and energy for Wiki work was to take breaks when I needed them (i.e. exam time, vacation...) That isn't easy either, especially when you're working on something. But it worked so far, and I'm very excited about some of the things we've planned. It's getting better.

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Tiyire

January 2015

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