Q1 Participation update

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.

reps council

Reps Council and Peers at the 2015 Paris meet-up

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. :/

§ 2 Responses to Q1 Participation update

  • […] this process.  You can learn more about how we’ve gotten to this point over the last few months here.  And you can find information on the Participation Lab from George Roter […]

  • Jeff Mullins says:

    The Participation Teams are the key to success. Keeping them motivated with proper funding, equipment and positive inspiration will help them recruit more volunteers and keep them ambitious towards achieving the vision.

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