Introducing the Mozilla Participation Lab

I’m excited to introduce the Mozilla Participation Lab, an initiative across Mozilla to architect a strategy and new approaches to participation.

As Mitchell articulated, people around Mozilla are deeply invested in the question: how can participation add even more value to the products and communities we build that are advancing the open web?

Across Mozilla there’s a flurry of activity aimed at answering this question and increasing participation. Mitchell framed the scope of this exploration as including three broad areas: First, strengthening the efforts of those who devote the most energy to Mozilla. Second, connecting people more closely to Mozilla’s mission and to each other. And third, thinking about organizational structure and practices that support participation.

The Mozilla Participation Lab is designed to strengthen and augment the efforts and energies that Mozillians are devoting to this exploration in the months ahead. If you count yourself as one of those Mozillians who is working on this problem, my hope is that you’ll see how the Mozilla Participation Lab can be relevant for you.

First, let’s back up for some context…

In January, Mitchell and Mark along with the Participation Team laid out a Participation Plan for Mozilla that articulated an ambitious vision for participation in 2017:

  • Many more people working on Mozilla activities in ways that make Mozilla more effective than we can imagine today.
  • An updated approach to how people around the world are helping to build, improve and promote our products and programs.
  • A steady flow of ideas and execution for programs, products, and initiatives around the world—new and diverse activities that move the mission forward in concrete ways.
  • Ways for people to participate in our mission directly through our products—there is integration of participation into the use and value proposition.
  • Ultimately: more Mozilla activities than employees can track, let alone control.

While this vision describes where Mozilla wants to be, how we’re going to get there still needs to be figured out. The how is an important and explicit goal in the participation plan for 2015: Develop a bold long-term plan for radical participation at Mozilla.

This is the goal you’ve heard Mitchell and Mark talking about, and they’ve hired me to get this work going over the next 6 months.

Initially, they talked about this goal being pursued by a task force—a group of people who could go away and “figure this out”. But as we started to build this out, a task force didn’t feel right.

Mozilla Participation Lab

What is the Mozilla Participation Lab? Concretely, the Lab will have three related sets of activities.

1) Focused experiments.

The Participation Team will initiate experiments, after consulting and coordinating with product/functional teams and volunteers, around particular hypotheses about where participation can bring value and impact in Mozilla. All of these experiments will be designed to move a top-line goal of Mozilla (the product side of the virtuous circle), and give volunteers/participants a chance to learn something, have impact or get some other benefit (the people side of the virtuous circle). If the experiments work, we’ll start to see an impact on our product goals and increased volunteer engagement.

virtuouscircle

These experiments will be built in a way that will assess whether the hypotheses are true, what’s required for participation to have impact, and what the return on investment is for our key products and programs, and for Mozillians.

For example, many in Mozilla have articulated a belief that participation can enable local content to make our products better and more relevant, and so we are working on a series of experiments in West Africa alongside the launches of the Orange Klif. If these are successful, they will have had an impact on Firefox OS adoption while building vital, sustainable communities of volunteers.

In order to identify these experiments, our team has already talked with Mozilla staff and volunteers from all over the organization, plus Mozilla’s leadership (staff and volunteers). Here’s a long list of rough ideas that came out of these conversations; we obviously need to make some choices! Our aim to is settle on and launch a first set of focused experiments over the next couple of weeks.

2) Distributed experiments.

I’ve had conversations with roughly 100 Mozillians over the past couple of months and realized that, in true Mozilla distributed style, we’re already trying out new approaches to participation all over the world. Buddy Up, TechSpeakers, Mozilla Hispano, Clubs, Marketpulse are just a few of many many examples. I’m also confident that there will be many more initiatives in the coming months.

My hope is that many of these initiatives will be part of the Participation Lab. This will be different than the focused experiments above in two ways. First, the Participation Team won’t be accountable for results; the individual initiative leaders will be. Second, they can probably be lighter-weight experiments; whereas the focused experiments are likely to be resource intensive.

How does an initiative fit? If it meets two simple criteria: (1) it is testing out a set of hypotheses about how participation can bring value and impact to our mission and to Mozillians, and (2) we can work together to apply a systematic methodology for learning and evaluation.

Of course, it’s the leaders of these initiatives who can choose to be part of the Lab—I hope you do! To be upfront, this could mean a bit of extra work, but you can also access some resources and have an influence on our participation strategy. I think it’s worthwhile:

  1. We will work together to apply a systematic learning and experimenting methodology (documented here).
  2. You can unlock support from the Participation Team. This could be in the form of strategic or design advice; specific expertise (for example, volunteer engagement, building metrics or web development); helping you gather best practices from other organizations; or small amounts of money. We do have limited staff and volunteer time, so may need to make some choices depending on the number of initiatives that are part of the Lab.
  3. Your initiative will make a significant contribution to Mozilla’s overall participation strategy moving forward.

3) Outside ideas.

We will bring together experts and capture world-leading ideas about participation from outside of Mozilla. This is a preliminary list of people we are aiming to reach out to.

Who’s involved?

In short, a broad set of Mozillians will be supported by a smaller team of staff and volunteers from the Participation Team. This team will coordinate various experiments in the Lab, curate the learning, build processes to ensure that all of this is working in the open in a way that any Mozillian can engage with, and make recommendations to Mozilla leaders and community members.

What’s the result, and by when?

The primary outputs of the Lab are:

  1. A series of participation initiatives that result in more impactful and fulfilling participation toward reaching Mozilla’s goals. (Read more below about how what you’re working on right now can fit into this.)
  2. An evidence-based analysis of the effectiveness of specific participatory activities.
  3. Recommendations on how we might expand or generalize the activities that provided the most value to Mozilla and Mozillians.
  4. A preliminary assessment of the organizational changes we might consider in order to gain an even greater strategic advantage from participation.
  5. A set of learning resources and best practices packaged in a way that teams across Mozilla will be able to use to strengthen our collective participation efforts.
  6. Possibly, a series of strategic choices and opportunities for Mozilla leaders and community members to consider.

The first set of activities will take place primarily in Q2, wrapping up by early July, at which point we will assess what’s next for the Lab.

How is this relevant for you?

You have the opportunity to participate in the Lab and in shape the way forward for participation in Mozilla. Here’s how:

1) Be part of the team. Do you want to have a big hand in shaping how Mozilla moves ahead on participation?

In the coming couple of weeks we’ll be starting some focused experiments. If these are problems you’re also excited about (or are already tackling), please get in touch. We’re certain that coders, marketers, project managers, designers, educators, facilitators, writers, evaluators, and more can make a big difference.

Also, if you’re interested being part of the learning team that is tracking and synthesizing lessons from inside and outside Mozilla, please get in touch.

2) Are you already running or planning a new participation initiative, or have an idea you’d like to get off the ground? Could you use some help from the Lab (and hopefully volunteers or other resources)? I’d love to have a conversation about whether your initiative can be part of the Participation Lab and how we can help.

3) Can you think of someone we should be talking to, a book or article to read, or a community to engage? Pass it along. Or better yet, help us to get in touch with people outside of Mozilla or summarize the key lessons for participation.

4) Follow along. We’d like many Mozillians to share their feedback and ideas. We’ll be working out in the open with a home base on this wiki page.

Please get in touch! Reply to this post or send me an email: groter <at> mozilla.com

Let’s together use this Lab as a way to architect an approach to participation that will have a massive positive impact on the web and on people’s lives!

6 Comments

  1. […] 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. […]

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  2. […] We’re going to explore and experiment in these 3 areas. We’re introducing the idea of a Participation Lab to lead 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 here. […]

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