What is radical participation?
January 9, 2015 § 32 Comments
Last year, we started talking about radical participation and Mozilla — the idea that we need to get more creative and aggressive with our approach to getting people involved if we want to win the current battles we’re fighting on the web.
The response has generally been positive. People like the poetry. But a number of people have also asked, what specifically do you mean by ‘radical participation’? Fair question.
Personally, I don’t have a firm definition yet. But I do have thoughts. I’ve jotted them down below with the hope of getting other people to do the same. If people share their thoughts, I’ll try to synthesize what I hear into some sort of working definition or discussion paper over the next few weeks.
Mark’s notes on radical participation at Mozilla:
As a starting point, why do we care about radical participation? Because we want to have an impact on the world. We want to shape the web for the better. For this to happen, we believe that we need an approach participation that is at once massive and diverse, local and global. Without these things, we neither have the diversity nor the number of people we need to confront the huge challenges that Mozilla and the web face today.
The kind of radical participation we need includes:
- Many more people than today are working on Mozilla activities around the world in their own small groups.
- Some of these people participate by helping to build, improve or promote our products and programs. Our products and programs get better all the time because people are participating. This is traditional open source participation, but not just limited to software and updated with current methods and approaches.
- Others are coming up with new ideas for products, programs, whatever — things that move the mission forward in ways that others in Mozilla see as valuable. This is more of an ‘open innovation meets distributed leadership’ definition of participation. IMHO, this is something we want to do but haven’t done well in the past.
- Still others are connected to Mozilla because we have designed participation into what we’ve built — there is deep integration of participation into the *use* and *value proposition* of our key products and programs. E.g. people are helping to create an open maps databases as they use Firefox OS or people are teaching others about the web by offering casual advice to other users inside of Mozilla products like Firefox. This is about designing participation into the experiences that Mozilla offers people. We’ve never really done this before.
- The result: all these people are having impact that we can see. Our products get better. Our programs succeed. New (and good) ideas for how to move the mission emerge and get acted upon.
- All this is decentralized, but it aligns well with our brand, priorities and mission. We find good ways to balance creativity and emergence with coherence and crispness of message.
- We have clear programs and infrastructure to support all this: people know how to *act* and get things moving under the Mozilla banner.
- Ultimately, there are more Mozilla activities taking place around the world than employees can keep track of, let alone control.
For this to happen, we need an architecture of participation that includes:
- A clear (and updated) framework for starting something — a project, a local group, etc.
- Plans and working methods that are as transparent as possible — people see what we’re doing and where we’re going, and can join in. We used to be good at this, but we’re not right now.
- High quality on boarding and eduction: a way to for people to understand our philosophy, goals and ground rules; and a way for people to quickly get started in doing something useful.
- A way to recognize — and possibly to rank — people’s participation and contributions. This can both motivate people and help them find a path to what they should do next.
- A clear *volunteer* leadership structure, where people anywhere can get involved in leading and shaping the direction of Mozilla once they have proven themselves. Education and recognition are key drivers of this.
- Software that is embedded into the workflow of products and programs that makes participation in that work easier (e.g. SuMo does this well). This lets people who want to do standard stuff have impact fast.
- Software that lets groups and project organize, communicate and work under the Mozilla banner. This lets people with new ideas or new local communities get going easily.
- Explicit ways to talk about and evaluate whether a specific group or project is succeeding. On the one hand, a way for teams to brag. On another, a way for teams and the overall org to know when things aren’t going well.
- Data and metrics that let us optimize, improve and troubleshoot the overall system.
Ultimately, we need better versions of the participation models we have today and we also need completely new approaches that we invent or borrow from others. Taking radical participation at Mozilla will require us to make these kinds of improvements quickly and in ways that show real impact.
As I said above, this are just notes. I don’t think this is the final or complete way to talk about radical participation at Mozilla — we need language that is crisp enough to inspire and specific enough to act on. And, I suspect there is lots missing and much to disagree with. But, hopefully, these notes are enough to spark others to think about how we build more participation and more impact into Mozilla.
My question, especially if you are a Mozillian: what does high impact radical participation look like to you?
If you have ideas on this, please add comments at the end of this post. Or, do your own post and send me a link. I’ll review whatever I see in the next two weeks and then come back with a post that synthesizes what I hear.
PS. A concrete plan of action on community and participation — including increased focus on ReMo and our regional communities — is in the works. Mitchell, myself and others will be posting about this next week.