July 27, 2015 § 1 Comment
Developing a long term Mozilla Learning strategy has been my big focus over the last three months. Working closely with people across our community, we’ve come up with a clear, simple goal for our work: universal web literacy. We’ve also defined ‘leadership’ and ‘advocacy’ as our two top level strategies for pursuing this goal. The use of ‘partnerships and networks’ will also be key to our efforts. These are the core elements that will make up the Mozilla Learning strategy.
Over the last month, I’ve summarized our thinking on Mozilla Learning for the Mozilla Board and a number of other internal audiences. This video is based on these presentations:
As you’ll see in the slides, our goal for Mozilla Learning is an ambitious one: make sure everyone knows how to read, write and participate on the web. In this case, everyone = the five billion people who will be online by 2025.
Our top level thinking on how to do this includes:
Concretely, we will integrate our Clubs, Hive and Fellows initiatives into a single, world class learning and leadership program.
Concretely, this means we will invest more in advocacy, thought leadership and user education. We may also design ways to encourage web literacy more aggressively in our products.
Mozilla can’t create universal web literacy on its own. All of our leadership and advocacy work will involve ‘open source’ partners with whom we’ll create a global network committed to universal web literacy.
Process-wise: we arrived at this high level strategy by looking at our existing programs and assets. We’ve been working on web literacy, leadership development and open internet advocacy for about five years now. So, we already have a lot in play. What’s needed right now is a way to focus all of our efforts in a way that will increase their impact — and that will build a real snowball of people, organizations and governments working on the web literacy agenda.
The next phase of Mozilla Learning strategy development will dig deeper on ‘how’ we will do this. I’ll provide a quick intro post on that next step in the coming days.
July 22, 2015 § 1 Comment
Building a global network of partners will be key to the success of our Mozilla Learning initiative. A network like this will give us the energy, reach and diversity we need to truly scale our web literacy agenda. And, more important, it will demonstrate the kind of distributed leadership and creativity at the heart of Mozilla’s vision of the web.
As I said in my last two posts, leadership development and advocacy will be the two core strategies we employ to promote universal web literacy. Presumably, Mozilla could do these things on its own. However, a distributed, networked approach to these strategies is more likely to scale and succeed.
Luckily, partners and networks are already central to many of our programs. What we need to do at this stage of the Mozilla Learning strategy process is determine how to leverage and refine the best aspects of these networks into something that can be bigger and higher impact over time. This post is meant to frame the discussion on this topic.
As a part of the Mozilla Learning strategy process, we’ve looked at how we’re currently working with partners and using networks. There are three key things we’ve noticed:
- Partners and networks are a part of almost all of our current programs. We’ve designed networks into our work from early on.
- Partners fuel our work: they produce learning content; they host fellows; they run campaigns with us. In a very real way, partners are huge contributors (a la open source) to our work.
- Many of our partners specialize in learning and advocacy ‘on the ground’. We shouldn’t compete with them in this space — we should support them.
With these things in mind, we’ve agreed we need to hold all of our program designs up to this principle:
Design principle = build partners and networks into everything.
We are committed to integrating partners and networks into all Mozilla Learning leadership and advocacy programs. By design, we will both draw from these networks and provide value back to our partners. This last point is especially important: partnerships need to provide value to everyone involved. As we go into the next phase of the strategy process, we’re going to engage in a set of deep conversations with our partners to ensure the programs we’re building provide real value and support to their work.
Minimum viable partnership
Over the past few years, a variety of network and partner models have developed through Mozilla’s learning and leadership work. Hives are closely knit city-wide networks of educators and orgs. Maker Party is a loose network of people and orgs around the globe working on a common campaign. Open News and Mozilla Science sit within communities of practice with a shared ethos. Mozilla Clubs are much more like a global network of local chapters. And so on.
As we develop our Mozilla Learning strategy, we need to find a way to both: a) build on the strengths of these networks; and b) develop a common architecture that makes it possible for the overall network to grow and scale.
Striking this balance starts with a simple set of categories for Mozilla Learning partners and networks. For example:
- Member: any org participating in Mozilla Learning.
- Partner: any org contributing to Mozilla Learning.
- Club: a locally-run node in the Mozilla Learning network.
- Affiliate network: group of orgs aligned with Moz Learning.
- Core network: group of orgs coordinated by Mozilla staff.
This may not be the exact way to think about it, but it is certain that we will need some sort of common network architecture if we want to build partners and networks into everything. Working through this model will be an important part of the next phase of Mozilla Learning strategy work.
Partners = open source
In theory, one of the benefits of networks is that the people and organizations inside them can build things together in an open source-y way. For example, one set of partners could build a piece of software that they need for an immediate project. Another partner might hear about this software through the network, improve it for their own project and then give it back. The fact that the network has a common purpose means it’s more likely that this kind of open source creativity and value creation takes place.
This theory is already a reality in projects like Open News and Hive. In the news example, fellows and other members of the community post their code and documentation on the Source web page. This attracts the attention of other news developers who can leverage their work. Similarly, curriculum and practices developed by Hive members are shared on local Hive websites for others to pick up and run with. In both cases, the networks include a strong social component: you are likely to already know, or can quickly meet, the person who created a thing you’re interested in. This means it’s easy to get help or start a collaboration around a tool or idea that someone else has created.
One question that we have for Mozilla Learning overall is: can we better leverage this open source production aspect of networks in a more serious, instrumental and high impact way as we move forward? For example, could we: a) work on leadership development with partners in the internet advocacy space; b) have the fellows / leaders involved produce high quality curriculum or media; and c) use these outputs to fuel high impact global campaigns? Presumably, the answer can be ‘yes’. But we would first need to design a much more robust system of identifying priorities, providing feedback and deploying results across the network.
Whatever the specifics of our Mozilla Learning programs, it is clear that building in partnerships and networks will be a core design principle. At the very least, such networks provide us diversity, scale and a ground game. They may also be able to provide a genuine ‘open source’ style production engine for things like curriculum and campaign materials.
In order to design the partnership elements of Mozilla Learning, there are a number of questions we’ll need to dig into:
- Who are current and desired partners? (make a map)
- What value do they seek from us? What do they offer?
- Specifically, do they see value in our leadership and advocacy programs?
- What do partners want to contribute? What do they want in return?
- What is the right network / partner architecture?
A key piece of work over the coming months will be to talk to partners about all of this. I will play a central role here, convening a set of high level discussions. People leading the different working groups will also: a) open up the overall Mozilla Learning process to partners and b) integrate partner input into their plans. And, hopefully, Laura de Reynal and others will be able to design a user research process that lets us get info from our partners in a detailed and meaningful way. More on all this in coming weeks as we develop next steps for the Mozilla Learning process.
July 20, 2015 § 3 Comments
I often throw around big numbers when I talk about web literacy: “Soon we’ll have five billion people on the web. We need to make sure they all understand how it works and how to wield it.” I believe this. And, I believe that Mozilla needs to play a key role here. But the question is: how?
Moving through Mozilla Learning planning, we’ve concluded we need two interlinked strategies: leadership development and large scale advocacy. Leadership development is fairly straightforward: Mozilla already has programs focused on this. Advocacy — or shifting understanding and thinking about the web — is harder. We have experience and talent here, but it is more nascent. Where to invest and how to move forward is less clear. This post lays out baseline thinking on a Mozilla Learning advocacy agenda with an aim of fueling a deeper discussion about our approach.
The first step toward figuring out where we want to invest is agreeing on the impact we want to have. At the core, it’s something like:
Impact = everyone knows how to read, write and participate on the web.
This is ultimately what we’re aiming at. It’s big and abstract, but substantively it is what we want: universal web literacy. Like universal language literacy, we will never fully reach the goal. But we can meaningfully make and measure progress across the globe.
Within this overall goal, there are specific places that might be more or less important to have impact. For example:
Impact = new internet users understand the full scope of the web.
Impact = more people know how to protect their privacy.
Impact = gov’ts, foundations and companies value web literacy.
We need to pick two or three focusing impact statements like these to guide our work, at least for the next few years. There could be dozens of impact statements like this that are worthy — but we’ll only succeed if we know which ones we’re going after, and then drive hard toward them.
Mozilla is already doing good work that improves public understanding of the web and promote web literacy.
For example, we run advocacy campaigns on topics like net neutrality and mass surveillance. As a result, Firefox users learn about these complex issues in a simple way and are able to talk to others about them. They become more literate about the issues facing the internet today.
Or, a very different example: we give talks, create curriculum and offer software to encourage other organizations to participate in our web literacy agenda. This makes it easy for the kinds of organizations that belong to Hive or run Maker Parties — or, eventually, for governments or philanthropies — to connect the educational work they already do everyday to our cause of teaching the world the web.
While we’re already having an impact in areas like these, we want to have impact at a larger scale. What we need to do is take a look at which tactics are most impactful. Some options are:
- Advocating for the web: building a strong educational element into a regular series of political and advocacy campaigns. E.g. our recent net neutrality campaigns.
- Advocating for web literacy: promoting the importance of web literacy and giving others around the world the tools to teach it. E.g. lobbying governments and educational orgs to deploy curriculum from Mozilla Clubs, MDN, etc.
- Consumer education: building educational messages about topics like privacy into our product channels, advertising or other places where we have a large audience. E.g. Smart On campaigns or internet onboarding programs w/ phone carriers.
- Ambient learning: putting features and cues inside our mainstream consumer software in ways that are likely to help people better understand the web. E.g. tinker mode in Webmaker or private browsing in Firefox.
- Thought leadership: defining an agenda around the future of the web or web literacy and then talking about it loudly in public. E.g. a more robust version of Shape of the Web backed by an extensive public relations and media campaign.
Part of our work with Mozilla Learning is to: a) look at these tactics and others; b) line them up against our impact statements; and c) decide which ones should be at the center of our overall strategy. Specific questions we’ll need to answer include:
- What concrete impact do we want in the next three years?
- Where are the best opportunities to reach a large audience?
- What tactics help us grow our constituency? (aka relationships)
- How do constituency and audience lead to impact?
- How do we measure impact and change?
As we do this, we need to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the Mozilla Learning strategy is universal web literacy. Whatever we do needs to be driving back to that goal in a way that we can understand and measure, at least over time.
Finding the right mix
When I think about other organizations I admire, they use an artful mix of reinforcing strategies. National Geographic mixes mass media with environmental education with adventure travel packages. The American Lung Association mixes anti-tobacco policy work with stop smoking programs with social marketing. The Sierra Club mixes environmental activism with hiking and canoeing. This kind of mix makes for effective and lasting organizations, with impacts at scale.
As we refine the Mozilla Learning plan, and our overall strategy as an organization, I think we need a mix something like:
A. Mainstream software with Mozilla’s values
B. Leadership development
C. [still to be defined large scale advocacy efforts]
We already have A (Firefox). And we’re getting close on B (Hive, Clubs, fellows, etc.). The chunk of work we need to do now is figure out C.
As part of the next phase of Mozilla Learning strategy, Ben Moskowitz and David Ascher are going to lead a series of discussions on this ‘moving the needle on massive web literacy’ topic. Key people from MoFo’s advocacy and product teams will also play a leadership role in this process. And there will be chances along the way for anyone who has interest to join the conversation. More info will be available when the process kicks off in mid-August. In the meantime, I wanted to throw out these questions for discussion and debate.
July 15, 2015 § 4 Comments
We’ve been talking about ‘leadership development’ since early on in the Mozilla Learning (aka Academy) planning process. Basically, the idea is to get more people to teach and advocate for web literacy. If we can create a global network of these people — and help them be great at what they do — our whole web literacy agenda moves faster and is more likely to succeed.
This sort of leadership development is something we’ve been doing through Hive and fellowships for years. What’s become increasingly clear over the last month or so is: a) this has become one of our core strengths and b) it is one of the biggest places we could have impact going forward. This has lead us to the conclusion that leadership development should be one of the core elements of our overall learning strategy. With this in mind, I want to lay out some initial thinking about what we mean by ‘leadership’, describe the kind of impact we’re trying to have and pose some questions we need to answer.
Let’s start with some basic definitions. For discussion purposes, the kind of ‘leaders’ we want to find and develop are:
Leaders = people who in one way or another are helping others to read, write and participate on the web (aka ‘web literacy‘).
These leaders could be helping others through teaching or mentoring. Or through organizational change or learning projects. Or by explicitly designing and organizing programs to promote web literacy. I consider all of these to be acts of leadership that advance our cause.
When we talk about ‘leadership development’, we are describing the process of:
Leadership development = helping these people become more skilled, self aware and networked by getting them working on concrete projects.
The approach that we’ve been using — and will continue to develop — borrows from the field of service learning. We focus on hands-on, experiential learning where people develop skills by working on a project in service of a bigger goal aligned with Mozilla’s mission. These experiences simultaneously: a) help people become better at hard skills (e.g. coding or research); b) provide opportunities to learn soft skills (e.g. teamwork or mentoring); and c) contribute concretely to the work of Mozilla or a partner organization.
Ultimately, there are two core places where we hope this part of our strategy will have an impact:
Global = more people teach and advocate for web literacy.
Personal = individuals have more skills, confidence and opportunity.
Combined, these things create both a talent pool and motivational economics that will build momentum. And, ultimately, they make it more likely that we will succeed with our overall agenda of universal web literacy.
On the global level, we are already having a meaningful impact. Hive, Mozilla Clubs and our fellowships are already resulting in:
- University students sharing web skills with friends. (Maker Party)
- Educators weaving web literacy into their teaching. (Hive)
- Scientists teaching other scientists about open data. (Science Lab)
- Coders helping activist organizations adopt open tools and thinking. (Advocacy Fellows)
- Organizers bringing together others to teach web literacy. (Mozilla Clubs)
The question we have to answer at this stage isn’t ‘can we get more people doing this stuff?’ but rather ‘how many people? and with what sort of downstream impact?’
Which brings us to the second point about giving people more skills, confidence and opportunity. We do this on some level already through our existing programs, but not systematically. I believe we need:
Learning experiences and curriculum that help people a) develop strong open source leadership skills that b) make them more effective and c) open up new personal or career opportunities.
In some sense, this is simply about helping people hone certain aspects of their web literacy skills on a very deep level. One person might want to develop better research (read), open data management (write) and knowledge sharing (participate) skills so they can mentor their peers. Another might want to develop better content harvesting (read), web design (write) and online community management (participate) skills to create a piece of interactive online curriculum. And so on.
In both examples, these are skills that are a) useful in the kind of web literacy work we want people doing and b) highly valued in the job market. A key part of creating a robust leadership development strategy is implementing a method to consistently help people hone these skills and find opportunities to use them both in our work and on the job market. This is a part of the process that Mozilla is not yet skilled at as an organization.
We’re nearing the end of phase one of our Mozilla Learning (aka Academy) planning process. I’ll post an update on this later next week.
In the meantime, I can say with confidence: leadership development will be one of the key strategies Mozilla invests in to advance web literacy.
I’ve outlined the ‘why?’ (more people teaching and advocating) and the ‘what?’ (service learning programs that develop leaders) above. What we need to do in the next phase is map the ‘what?’ to the ‘how?’. Key questions about leadership development programs will be:
- What specific impact do we want to have here? By when?
- What skills and mindsets do we need to develop to have this impact?
- What skills and experiences do emerging leaders want? Partners?
- What curriculum and experiences are needed to develop these skills?
- Pragmatically, how do we align and integrate our existing programs?
The good news is that the existing Hive, Mozilla Clubs, Science Lab and Advocacy Fellows teams have already started to dig into these questions at our recent retreat in Whistler. For example, the Science Lab team created an initial outline of a basic ‘working in the open’ on-boarding curriculum for leaders. And the Hive / Clubs (aka Mozilla Learning Networks) teams started to develop a quite advanced operating model that integrates many of the existing activities that we have in place across these programs.
Over the next couple of months, these teams will take a next step in answering these questions and coming up with a more detailed theory of how our leadership development program will work. As I noted above, I’ll post more about the overall process next week.
June 3, 2015 § 5 Comments
Read. Write. Participate. These words are at the heart of our emerging vision for Mozilla Learning (aka Academy). Whether you’re a first time smartphone user, a budding tech educator or an experienced programmer, the degree to which you can read, write and participate in the digital world shapes what you can imagine — and what you can do. These three capabilities are the essence of Mozilla’s definition of web literacy.
As we began thinking more about Mozilla Learning over the past month, we started to conclude that this read | write | participate combination should be the first principle behind our work. If a project doesn’t tie back to these capabilities, it should not be part of our plan. Or, put positively, everything we do should get people sharing know-how and building things on the web in a way that helps them hone their read | write | participate mojo.
Many existing Mozilla projects already fit this criteria. Our SmartOn series helps people get basic knowledge on topics like privacy. Mozilla Clubs brings together people who want to teach and learn core web literacy skills. And projects like OpenNews bring together skill developers who are honing their skills in open source and collaboration while building the next wave of news on the web. These projects may seem disparate at first, but they all help people learn, hone and wield the ability to read, write and participate on the web.
If we want to insert this minimalist version of web literacy into the heart of our work, we’ll need to define our terms and pressure test our thinking. My working definition of these concepts is:
- Read: use and understand the web with a critical mind. Includes everything from knowing what a link is to bullshit detection.
- Write: create content and express yourself on the web. Includes everything from posting to a blog to remixing found content to coding.
- Participate: interact with others to make your own experience and the web richer. Includes everything from basic collaboration to working in the open.
On the idea of pressure testing our framework: the main question we’ve asked so far is ‘are these concepts helpful if we’re talking about people across a wide variety of skill levels?’ Does a first time smartphone user really need to know how to read, write and participate? Does a master coder still have skills to hone in these areas? And skills to share? Also, how does our existing basic web literacy grid hold up to these questions?
Laura de Reynal and I have been running different versions of this pressure test with people we work with over the last month or so. Laura has been talking to young people and first time smartphone users. I’ve been talking to people like Shuttleworth Fellows and participants at eLearning Africa who are emerging leaders in various flavours of ‘open + tech’. Roughly, we asked each of them to list a thing they know how to do or want to know how to do in each of the read | write | participate areas. In most cases, people understood our question with little explanation and got excited about what they knew and what they could learn. Many also expressed a pride and willingness to share what they know. By this quick and dirty measure, read | write | participate passed the test of being applicable to people with a wide variety of skills and sophistication.
One notable result from the groups I talked to: they all encouraged Mozilla to be incredibly opinionated about ‘what kind of reading, writing and participating’ matters most. In particular, a number of them stressed that we could do a lot of good in the world by helping people learn and hone the sort of ‘working in the open’ participation skills that we practice every day. Backing this up, evaluation research we’ve done recently shows that the educators in the Hive and fellows in Open News really value this aspect of being part of the Mozilla community. It could be that we want to formalize our work on this and make it a focal point within our Mozilla Learning strategy.
Building our work from the last few years, there is a lot more to dig into on web literacy and how it fits into our plans. However, I wanted to get this post up to put a stake in the ground early to establish read | write | participate as the north star to which all Mozilla Leading efforts must align. Being clear about that makes it easier to have discussions about what we should and shouldn’t be doing going forward.
As a next step to dig deeper, Chris Lawrence has agreed to form a web literacy working group. This group will go back into the deeper work we’ve done on the web literacy map, tying that map into read | write | participate and also looking at other frameworks for things like 21st century skills. It should form in the next couple of weeks. Once it has, you’ll be able to track it and participate from the Mozilla Learning planning wiki.
May 27, 2015 § 4 Comments
One of MoFo’s main goals for 2015 is to come up with an ambitious learning and community strategy. The codename for this is ‘Mozilla Academy’. As a way to get the process rolling, I wrote a long post in March outlining what we might include in that strategy. Since then, I’ve been putting together a team to dig into the strategy work formally.
This post is an update on that process in FAQ form. More substance and meat is coming in future posts. Also, there is lots of info on the wiki.
Q1. What are we trying to do?
Our main goal is alignment: to get everyone working on Mozilla’s learning and leadership development programs pointed in the same direction. The three main places we need to align are:
- Purpose: help people learn and hone the ability to read | write | participate.
- Process: people learn and improve by making things (in a community of like-minded peers).
- Poetry: tie back to ‘web = public resource’ narrative. Strong Mozilla brand.
At the end of the year, we will have a unified strategy that connects Mozilla’s learning and leadership development offerings (Webmaker, Hive, Open News, etc.). Right now, we do good work in these areas, but they’re a bit fragmented. We need to fix that by creating a coherent story and common approaches that will increase the impact these programs can have on the world.
Q2. What is ‘Mozilla Academy’?
That’s what we’re trying to figure out. At the very least, Mozilla Academy will be a clearly packaged and branded harmonization of Mozilla’s learning and leadership programs. People will be able to clearly understand what we’re doing and which parts are for them. Mozilla Academy may also include a common set of web literacy skills, curriculum format and learning approaches that we use across programs. We are also reviewing the possibility of a shared set of credentials or roles for people participating in Mozilla Academy.
Q3. Who is ‘Mozilla Academy’ for?
Over the past few weeks, we’ve started to look at who we’re trying to serve with our existing programs (blog post on this soon). Using the ‘scale vs depth’ graph in the Mozilla Learning plan as a framework, we see three main audiences:
- 1.4 billion Facebook users. Or, whatever metric you use to count active people on the internet. We can reach some percentage of these people with software or marketing that invite people to ‘read | write | participate’. We probably won’t get them to want to ‘learn’ in an explicit way. They will learn by doing. Which is fine. Webmaker and SmartOn currently focus on this group.
- People who actively want to grow their web literacy and skills. These are people interested enough in skills or technology or Mozilla that they will choose to participate in an explicit learning activity. They include everyone from young people in afterschool programs to web developers who might be interested in taking a course with Mozilla. Mozilla Clubs, Hive and MDN’s nascent learning program currently focus on this group.
- People who want to hone their skills *and* have an impact on the world. These are people who already understand the web and technology at some level, but want to get better. They are also interested in doing something good for the web, the world or both. They include everyone from an educator wanting to create digital curriculum to a developer who wants to make the world of news or science better. Hive, ReMo and our community-based fellowships currently serve these people.
A big part of the strategy process is getting clear on these audiences. From there we can start to ask questions like: who can Mozilla best serve?; where can we have the most impact?; can people in one group serve or support people in another? Once we have the answers to these questions we can decide where to place our biggest bets (we need to do this!). And we can start raising more money to support our ambitious plans.
Q4. What is a ‘strategy’ useful for?
We want to accomplish a few things as a result of this process. A. A way to clearly communicate the ‘what and why’ of Mozilla’s learning and leadership efforts. B. A framework for designing new programs, adjusting program designs and fundraising for program growth. C. Common approaches and platforms we can use across programs. These things are important if we want Mozilla to stay in learning and leadership for the long haul, which we do.
Q5. What do you mean by ‘common approaches’?
There are a number of places where we do similar work in different ways. For example, Mozilla Clubs, Hive, Mozilla Developer Network, Open News and Mozilla Science Lab are all working on curriculum but do not yet have a shared curriculum model or repository. Similarly, Mozilla runs four fellowship programs but does not have a shared definition of a ‘Mozilla Fellow’. Common approaches could help here.
Q6. Are you developing a new program for Mozilla?
That’s not our goal. We like most of the work we’re doing now. As outlined in the 2015 Mozilla Learning Plan, our aim is to keep building on the strongest elements of our work and then connect these elements where it makes sense. We may modify, add or cut program elements in the future, but that’s not our main focus.
Q7. Are you set on the ‘Mozilla Academy’ name?
It’s pretty unlikely that we will use that name. Many people hate it. However, we needed a moniker to use during the strategy process. For better or for worse, that’s the one we chose.
Q8. What’s the timing for all of this?
We will have a basic alignment framework around ‘purpose, process and poetry’ by the end of June. We’ll work with the team at the Mozilla All Hands in Whistler. We will develop specific program designs, engage in a broad conversation and run experiments. By October, we will have an updated version of the Mozilla Learning plan, which will lay out our work for 2016+.
If you have additional questions, ask them here. I’ll respond to the comments and also add my answers to the wiki.
April 10, 2015 § 2 Comments
I asked two questions about participation back in January: 1. what is radical participation? and 2. what practical steps can we take right now to bring more of it to Mozilla?. It’s been great to see people across Mozilla digging into these questions. I’m writing to offer an update on what I’ve seen happening.
First, we set ourselves a high bar when we started talking about radical participation at Mozilla late last year. I still believe it is the right bar. The Mozilla community needs more scale and impact than it has today if we want to confront the goliaths who would take the internet down a path of monopoly and control.
However, I don’t think we can invent ‘radical’ in the abstract, even if I sometimes say things that make it sound like I do🙂. We need to build it as we go, checking along the way to see if we’re getting better at aligning with core Mozilla principles like transparency, distributed leadership, interoperability and generativity. In particular, we need to be building new foundations and systems and ways of thinking that make more radical participation possible. Mitchell has laid out how we are thinking about this exploration in three areas.
When I look back at this past quarter, that’s what I see that we’ve done.
As context: we laid out a 2015 plan that included a number of first steps toward more radical participation at Mozilla. The immediate objectives in this plan were to a) invest more deeply in ReMo and our regional communities and b) better connect our volunteer communities to the work of product teams. At the same time, we committed to a longer term objective: c) create a Participation Lab (originally called a task force…more on that name change below) charged with looking for and testing new models of participation.
Progress on our first two objectives
As a way to move the first part of this plan forward, the ReMo Council met in Paris a month or so back. There was a big theme on how to unleash the leadership potential of the Reps program in order to move Mozilla’s core goals forward in ways that take advantage of our community presence around the world. For example, combining the meteoric smartphone growth in India with the local insights of our Indian community to come up with fresh ideas on how to move Firefox for Android towards its growth goal.
We haven’t been as good as we need to be in recent years in encouraging and then actually integrating this sort of ‘well aligned and ambitious thinking from the edge’. Based on reports I’ve heard back, the Paris meeting set us up for more of this kind of thinking. Rosana Ardila and the Council, along with William Quiviger and Brian King, are working on a “ReMo2.0” plan that builds on this kind of approach, that seeks a deeper integration between our ReMo and Regional Community strategies, and that also adds a strong leadership development element to ReMo.
On the second part of our plan, the Participation Team has talked to over 100 people in Mozilla product and functional groups in the past few months. The purpose of these conversations was to find immediate term initiatives that create the sort of ‘help us meet product goals’ and ’empower people to learn and do’ virtuous circle that we’ve been talking about in these discussions about radical participation.
Over 40 possible experiments came out of these conversations. They included everything from leveraging Firefox Hello to provide a new kind of support and mentoring; to taking a holistic, Mozilla-wide approach to community building in our African Firefox OS launch markets; to turning Mozilla.org into a hub that lets millions of people play small but active roles in moving our mission forward. I’m interested in these experiments, and how they will feed into our work over the coming quarters—many of them have real potential IMHO.
I’m even more excited about the fact that these conversations have started around very practical ideas about how volunteers and product teams can work more closely together again. It’s just a start, but I think the right questions are being asked by the right people.
Mozilla Participation Lab
The third part of our plan was to set up a ‘Task Force’ to help us unlock bold new thinking. The bold thinking part is still the right thing to aim for. However, as we thought about it, the phrase ‘task force’ seemed too talky. What we need is thoughtful and forceful action that gets us towards new models that we can expand. With that in mind we’ve replaced the task force idea with the concept of a Participation Lab. We’ve hired former Engineers Without Borders CEO George Roter to define and lead the Lab over the next six months. In George’s words:
“The lab is Mozilla, and participation is the topic.”
With this ethos in mind, we have just introduced the Lab as both a way to initiate focused experiments to test specific hypotheses about how participation brings value to Mozilla and Mozillians, and to support Mozillians who have already initiated similar experiments. The Lab will be an engine for learning about what works and what will get us leverage, via the experiments and relationships with people outside Mozilla. I believe this approach will move us more quickly towards our bold new plan—and will get more people participating more effectively along the way. You can learn more about this approach by reading George’s blog post.
A new team and a new approach
There is a lot going on. More than I’ve summarized above. And, more importantly, hundreds of people from across the Mozilla community are involved in these efforts: each of them is taking a fresh look at how participation fits into their work. That’s a good sign of progress.
However, there is only a very small Participation Team staff contingent at the heart of these efforts. George has joined David Tenser (50% of his time on loan from User Success for six months) to help lead the team. Rosana Ardila is supporting the transformation of ReMo along with Rubén and Konstantina. Emma Irwin is figuring out how we help volunteers learn the things they need to know to work effectively on Mozilla projects. Pierros Papadeas and a small team of developers (Nikos, Tasos and Nemo) are building pieces of tech under the hood. Brian King along with Gen and Guillermo are supporting our regional communities, while Francisco Picolini is helping develop a new approach to community events. William Quiviger is helping drive some of the experiments and invest across the teams in ensuring our communities are strong. As Mitchell and I worked out a plan to rebuild from the old community teams, these people stepped forward and said ‘yes, I want to help everyone across Mozilla be great at participation’. I’m glad they did.
The progress this Participation Team is making is evident not just in the activities I outlined above, but also in how they are working: they are taking a collaborative and holistic approach to connecting our products with our people.
One concrete example is the work they did over the last few months on Mozilla MarketPulse, an effort to get volunteers gathering information about on-the-street smartphone prices in FirefoxOS markets. The team not only worked closely with FirefoxOS product marketing team to identify what information was needed, they also worked incredibly well together to recruit volunteers, train them up with the info they needed on FirefoxOS, and build an app that they could use to collect data locally. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is: we often fail to do the kind of end to end business process design, education and technology deployment necessary to set volunteers up for success. We need to get better at this if we’re serious about participation as a form of leverage and impact. The new Participation Team is starting to show the way.
Looking at all of this, I’m hoping you’re thinking: this sounds like progress. Or: these things sound useful. I’m also hoping you’re saying: but this doesn’t sound radical yet!!! If you are, I agree. As I said above, I don’t think we can invent ‘radical’ in the abstract; we need to build it as we go.
It’s good to look back at the past quarter with this in mind. We could see the meeting in Paris as just another ReMo Council gathering. Or, we could think of it—and follow up on it—as if it was the first step towards a systematic way for Mozilla to empower people, pursue goals and create leaders on the ground in every part of the world. Similarly, we could look at MarketPulse as basic app for collecting phone prices. Or, we could see it as a first step towards building a community-driven market insights strategy that lets us outsee— and outsmart—our competitors. It all depends how we see what we’re doing and what we do next. I prefer to see this as the development of powerful levers for participation. What we need to do next is press on these levers and see what happens. That’s when we’ll get the chance to find out what ‘radical’ looks like.
PS. I still owe the world (and the people who responded to me) a post synthesizing people’s suggestions on radical participation. It’s still coming, I promise.