tiyire: (Fanlore our story)
[personal profile] tiyire
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.

Date: 2012-08-27 12:48 pm (UTC)
aethel: (spock - cheer up)
From: [personal profile] aethel
as an aside, the 2011 wiki committee started with 6 people: 3 who stayed + 1 newbie who left (surprise surprise), 1 Board member who had over-committed herself (Ira), and 1 former wiki chair who didn't have any free time anymore.
Edited Date: 2012-08-27 12:49 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-08-29 05:26 am (UTC)
aethel: (jude red)
From: [personal profile] aethel
feel free to make public if you want. just, i have (finally) alerted appropriate authorities about these issues, so now they have no excuse not to know. we'll see what happens.

Date: 2012-08-31 05:28 pm (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
How many times did Wiki reach out to Volunteers & Recruiting for help?

Date: 2012-08-31 07:42 pm (UTC)
aethel: (holmes bemused)
From: [personal profile] aethel
It was my understanding that if no one with the skills we were asking for volunteered, there wasn't much VolCom could do. And we have made requests for the staffers we needed, and volcom supplied them when they could. It just turns out that the problem wasn't staff so much as structure. Which never occurred to me and was not something I would have thought to ask VolCom's help with.

recruiting existing volunteers from other projects never seemed to work as everyone was way too busy, and there weren't any forum or wiki experts anyway. yelling at volcom to produce non-existent resources seemed rude.

Also, in the end-of-year report from December that chairs were required to write, I wrote:

....Because we lost half the committee by mid-year, the chairs spent some time trying to recruit new members. So far, we succeeded in acquiring Doro. We will need more people next year not just to fill out the ranks, but also because the current remaining members are running out of steam. ...
....I believe I said in the internal survey that I would be fine with continuing as chair either solo or with a co-chair. However, I don’t think I can make it all the way through 2012 without getting a co-chair at some point, and I would like to be doing something other than chairing a committee by 2013....

I guess I am not as good at communicating as I thought. What I meant was OMIGOD HELP I'M DROWNING. Which I think I have now effectively communicated to our Board liaison.

Date: 2012-08-31 08:15 pm (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
re: the structure problem -- if you did not seek help from Volunteers & Recruiting, did you seek help through your Board liaison? That is why committees have Board liaisons, to direct extreme problems to, so they can take it to Board and get the appropriate people roped in to assist with the problem.

I never saw a copy of your end-of-year report; who did you submit it to, the committee as a whole, an individual staff member, or one of our departed chairs? Did you submit the report to your liaison at all? I do not remember reading this report, especially in regards to your direct appeal for a co-chair; I'm so sorry. :(

Volunteers & Recruiting has plans and projects in place for all cited grievances in this entry we would be happy to share and talk with you about: inter-committee communication, committee documentation, targeted recruitment, role definition and support, staff and chair training, committee collaboration, project management. All of these things are on our radar and several of our upcoming projects directly address the concerns here.

For the record, Volunteers & Recruiting and your Board liaison are the avenues for problems regarding staffing and training. We would rather you yell at us and be rude if we're not hearing/listening than drown and burn out.

Date: 2012-09-01 08:01 pm (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
(As someone new to the org, I can't help but wonder why so many of these projects, that seem very important to me, haven't been done sooner, but I guess that has historical reasons and it can't be changed now anyway.)

Because former Boards didn't prioritize them and committees (like VolCom) were kept busy with task work and additional projects and couldn't prioritize them without pushing an uninterested Board. The reason VolCom was able to even start planning and working on these things is because I finally started saying "no" to constant recruitment on a procedural system at least three years out of date for the size and scope of our organization. I was able to do that because every liaison we had this term supported our completion of these internal projects at the Board level: allowing us to shut down recruitment and decide for ourselves how to handle special requests, allowing us to define the scope of our work, granting requests to slow down the growth of the org. That was all done with liaison support granted by a Board prioritizing committee and organizational health. What I am getting from your entry and the replies from Wiki is that until Julia, your former liaisons didn't prioritize the health of your committee, the training of its staff, the growth of its staff into chairs, or the health and well-being of its chair or even notice that these things should be done. These things have to be done for Fanlore to thrive and persist. It's not only about Fanlore. It's also about the people working to make Fanlore viable.

So yes, in the future, please reach out early and often to your liaison, and if that doesn't have an impact, VolCom itself. Keep asking for answers until you get one. Don't feel like, if those two avenues aren't yielding results, you have to sit quietly and deal on your own. Email Board directly; they have a comment form on the website.

Date: 2012-09-03 07:48 pm (UTC)
aethel: (spock - cheer up)
From: [personal profile] aethel
turns out I have no record of sending the document at all. I used some sort of automatic forward/attachment function in Google Docs and sent it to either tekla or the volcom mailing list on or about December 18. I remember it was after the deadline. I must not have received an acknowledgement email. I really hope you guys received it; it would be sad if you didn't. Somehow I thought the Board would also read it?

Last year, my Board liaison was my co-chair, so I didn't really know what role a Board liaison played. I think a rule change has already been instituted? but whoever said chairs should not be Board liaisons was right.

This year I just did not know how to voice vague feelings of unease to Naomi. I mean, I am not one to go around saying, hold my hand, I have *feelings*, anyway.

Thanks for listening.

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Tiyire

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