Along with the rest of the International Outreach committee, for the past few months I’ve been buried up to my eyeballs in hashing out questions to survey the Organization for Transformative Works’ volunteers and donors, as well as people who aren’t members of the Organization but who may (or may not) use its projects and resources, such as the Archive of Our Own, about their thoughts on the OTW and its projects and their opinions on how we could serve them better. In some ways, the overarching dilemma of our external (non-OTW member) survey is the same facing Transformative Works and Cultures, as K.C. Lynch described in her series of posts over the past two weeks: how do we attract people to the survey? Though the problem of self-selecting participation is less important for our purposes, we want to reach as broad a swath of fans and fandoms around the world as possible, rather than appealing simply to our already-existing userbase. Additionally, unlike TWC, we also face a burden of intentions. In the past few years, there have been several well-publicized surveys of fans and fandom that, for various reasons, were judged to be fatally wrong-headed at best or exploitatively ill-intentioned at worst. The most famous of these surveys went live in 2009, and the surrounding imbroglio became almost instantly immortalized in fandom under the moniker of SurveyFail: two self-appointed, self-aggrandizing ‘researchers’ set up a survey, under false pretenses, asking fans about their sexuality and sexual desire. Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam had a set of predetermined conclusions in mind when they posted their survey, rather than letting their respondents’ answers guide them, and they’re continuing to try to profit off their unethical research and badly done “science.” As a consequence of events like SurveyFail, a lot of people in fandom have become understandably gun-shy about answering any questions about their fannish experience, and making sure that we’re only asking the questions we need to ask, and that we’re asking them in the most inclusive way possible, has been a big part of why our OTW survey design work has taken so long. Hopefully the fact that our questions are focused on the OTW’s projects and their features, rather than much more intimate aspects of fannishness, will allay some potential concerns when our surveys do go live. Given the fraught history of surveys in fandom, you might wonder why we are going forward with these surveys at all. The answer is at least two-fold: primarily, because we in the OTW are genuinely curious as to ways we can improve our user experience, and secondarily, because having a snapshot of who we are, as an organization, will be priceless, both so that we can represent ourselves to ourselves and to people outside of fandom. I’ve talked before about the problems of fannish representation outside fannish communities; what’s less obvious but equally important is the necessity of fans knowing who we are as fans, of recognizing ourselves for who we are. Oppressive canards about fans (“Most slashers are straight!” “Most fans of science fiction and fantasy are white!”) do as much harm deployed within fandom as they do outside of it. The only way to lay those ghosts to rest is to prove them wrong, and to talk about the proof (as the previous two links do in demolishing their respective truisms), but to get that proof we have to ask fans about themselves, rather than just assuming. So: who are you?

[META] First, Know Thyself
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2 thoughts on “[META] First, Know Thyself

  • 12/09/2011 at 15:42

    Yeah, I think such a survey is probably an uphill battle this year, but so very worth doing.

    I’m assuming from the way your post is worded that the survey isn’t live yet? One good thing that you’re probably going to do is try to survey people face to face at cons as well as using the online tools.

    Good luck with the project! I’ll be watching for it.

  • 21/09/2011 at 12:28

    Thanks for this post about it – this makes me even more excited for the survey than I already was.

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