Building a big tent (for web literacy)

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.

The basics

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:

  1. Partners and networks are a part of almost all of our current programs. We’ve designed networks into our work from early on.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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