Happy belated new year! And what a year this will be for Mozilla. I’ll talk about 2015 in a bit, but I want to start with some context to make it clearer why this will be the year where we brace for impact, and how a new team I’m helping get off the ground will be at the center of the action.
Let’s be frank here: over the last few years, Mozilla has gradually shifted its culture into becoming an organization where it’s harder to contribute as a volunteer. There are many reasons why this is the case, such as the fact that we 10x the number of paid staff over the course of just seven years. Rapid growth like that tends to shift the culture of an org like that and Mozilla is no different. And as volunteer participation becomes harder, so does the perception of working with volunteers change among paid staff. It becomes a vicious circle that can be hard to stop.
To put things in context, by any objective standard Mozilla is still one of the (if not the most) open, transparent and collaborative organizations in the world — but it’s no longer as obvious to an “outsider” trying to identify opportunities to have an impact where to start. And that’s what makes me so excited about 2015, because we’re going to do some pretty radical things to shift that culture around and put a clear focus around Participation to turn the vicious circle into a virtuous circle instead.
Mozilla used to have two separate community teams: one focusing internally on working with business units within MoCo to open up opportunities for volunteer participation to happen — “designing for participation”. And then another team that focused on growing healthy local volunteer communities and ensuring that there was a robust governance structure to hold these volunteer communities together. Focusing on these two aspects of participation is crucial because it definitely takes two to tango. However, in order to maximize impact, the two aspects need to get really close to each other:
- You can spend a lot of time and effort into teaching business units how to design for participation, but if you don’t have a connection with the volunteer communities around the world, it’s mostly just theory.
- Similarly, you can spend a lot of time and effort into building a perfect community leadership and governance structure, but if you don’t guide that community towards the projects that are in most need of help, you’re not maximizing impact.
That’s where 2015 comes in. I’m devoting part of my time to lead a newly formed team called the Community Development Team, sitting in the new Participation org at Mozilla and consisting of truly amazing people who will focus on two things at the same time: maximizing impact for our volunteer leadership on the ground (Reps, regional communities) and connecting that with our product teams within the org. It’s worth noting that there are lots of people and teams across the org where community is already a core part of what they do. This includes teams like QA, SUMO, MDN, QA, l10n, Webmaker, Community Marketing, etc. That’s a key reason why Mozilla has been so successful over the years. The Community Development team will focus on broadening this success across the org by helping more projects and teams reach the level of success that these prime examples already demonstrate. And that may also mean working directly with these already very participatory teams to amplify their efforts even more.
Our team goal is pretty simple: we will help key initiatives achieve more, move faster and better meet Mozilla’s core goals by helping them integrate new participatory approaches and by investing in volunteer skills and know how. We’ve set a 2015 goal to get at least 15 projects that meet this criteria of the virtuous circle.
How is it different from how we’ve done things in the past? The key change is a new center of gravity: acting as a liaison between product teams and volunteer leadership on the ground. In a nutshell, we’ll be holding business units and product teams with one hand, and our amazing volunteer leadership in the other hand, and we’ll make sure these two connect in a meaningful way that benefits both.
Our basic strategy is built around certain theories and hypotheses of what constitutes successful participation that we intend to test out. The formula looks like this:
- Define a set of theories of what constitutes successful participation.
- Work with business units within the org to identify opportunities where we can put these theories to the test on projects that serve our mission.
- Connect the people behind these projects with our volunteer leadership in ways that provide benefits both to our products and to our community.
- Evaluate and learn from the results of these experiences to further refine our theories.
- True success happens when both volunteers and business units benefit from the collaboration to ensure lasting connections. Volunteer benefit might be to grow new business skills or the satisfaction of making a real difference to products touching hundreds of millions of users globally. Business unit benefit might simply be more reach and the ability to punch above their weight. This virtuous circle of benefit on both sides is what we really mean with “impact”.
The theory part is crucial here: we’re taking a scientific approach to participation, where everything we do to enable impact in the organization is also seen as an opportunity to validate our theories. Some of the great people on the Community Development team will get into more specifics around what those theories are in upcoming blog posts, and I will update this blog post when their posts are up. For now, I wanted to just present everyone on the team:
- William Quiviger – strategic lead
- Rosana Ardila – Reps program manager
- Brian King – Regional community manager, EMEA
- Gen Kanai – Regional community manager, South East Asia
- Guillermo Movia – Regional community manager, South America
- Pierros Papadeas – Participation infrastructure lead
- Emma Irwin – Education project manager
- Rubén Martín (aka Nukeador) – Reps community manager
- Konstantina Papadea – Reps program coordinator
- Anastasios (Tasos) Katsulas – Participation Infrastructure Dev
- John (Nemo) Giannelos – Participation Infrastructure Dev
- Nikos Roussos – Participation Infrastructure Dev
Mitchell Baker and Mark Surman are also heavily involved in our efforts around Participation. In fact, they are the instigators and I consider them my part-time bosses. Mark recently wrote about his thoughts on the Participation plan, which provides more depth to the concept of the virtuous circle of impact both in our volunteer communities and in our business units.
On a more personal note, in addition to the exciting work around Participation, I continue to lead the User Success team (SUMO + User Advocacy + more) as well and I will blog more about the exciting stuff we’re doing there in a future blog post. Reflecting on my own journey at Mozilla, starting as a volunteer back in 2001, seeing a leadership opportunity in 2002 to develop the first support site for Firefox (then Phoenix), building up a new community support initiative called SUMO in 2007, and today seeing how it has become a movement of hundreds of contributors in any given month, it feels like I’m going full circle by joining the new Participation initiatives. The focus is once more on volunteer leadership, meaningful connections with our organizational goals and key initiatives, and a goal to maximize impact by working together.
If you’re a manager of a product or functional team, expect to hear from us as we being the discovery phase in the next couple of weeks to better understand the participation opportunities we have in front of us. If you’re impatiently waiting for us and have ideas already of where you need help with expanding your reach through our amazing community, please beat us to it and reach out!
If you’re a volunteer participant to the Mozilla project, there are two things I’d like to see happen. First off, I expect that our efforts in the Community Development team to meet with various business units at Mozilla to lead to new and meaningful ways where you could have a direct impact on the products that we build to serve our mission, either locally or globally. And second, I would be thrilled to hear from you about your personal journey so far and what you have learned and what things you’d like to see change around Participation at Mozilla. Ping me (djst on IRC, djst on Mozilla’s email, djst on Twitter) and let’s talk. I hope to be having lots of conversations with people across the world in the next month to learn more about the opportunities we have in front of us.