Refreshing the Participation Buffet

Have an impact on Mozilla’s mission.

The answer has been consistent every time we’ve asked volunteer Mozillians what their primary motivation is for contributing to Mozilla. 3 years ago, last year, this month, “have an impact on Mozilla’s mission” is always the number one answer.

What we’ve also heard over the past few months is that lacking clarity on the best areas to have an impact is one of the main things limiting contribution. When I look at this objectively, I completely understand. Mozilla is a huge and complex project, with multiple products, projects and activities, and we’re right now in a constant state of change as Mitchell recently articulated nicely. To exacerbate the situation, we haven’t been very good at clearly communicating where Mozilla is heading.

Our much needed effort to reinvent participation at Mozilla has added yet more ambiguity to the mix. As a Participation Team, we’ve made some progress on bringing more clarity, and have laid out a broad strategy for 2016. But this isn’t enough. We need to do better.

We need to help Mozillians know where they can apply their skills, time and passions to have an impact on Mozilla’s mission.

My teammate Rosana Ardila had a great analogy that I’ll borrow: We once had a delicious, well laid out food buffet of contribution and impact areas at Mozilla. But that food has been sitting out for quite a while. Some of it is stale. Some of the dishes aren’t even on the menu anymore. We’ve moved around the serving stations so that some are sitting in a dark corner that nobody can find. Some of the food is still really tasty and just needs a flame lit underneath it … okay, I’ll stop killing the analogy!

Over the next couple of months we’re going to refresh this participation buffet.

We’re going to do this by both designing and rolling out some new, high impact and well designed contribution areas and campaigns, in partnership with teams around Mozilla. And we’re also going to curate and highlight fantastic contribution opportunities driven primarily by other teams.

We need all Mozillians (employees and volunteers) to help with this, by helping to build, highlight and lead great areas of participation. Please get in touch with your thoughts and ideas (

Our filters for what makes it into the buffet are simple and what we have come to understand will represent outstanding participation at Mozilla.

First, we will focus on participation areas that:

  1. Help Mozilla innovate, driving the leading edge of our work and thinking.
  2. Extend Mozilla’s reach, by bringing Mozilla products, ideas and issues to more people, and connecting more people with Mozilla.

Second, we will highlight contribution opportunities that have a well designed participant experience, and that have thought-through methods for bringing value to both Mozilla’s mission and to Mozillians. To be clear, these opportunities won’t each be applicable to everyone; most will require a specific set of interests or backgrounds. We do want to make sure that the full buffet will provide opportunities for a diverse range of participants and plenty of opportunities for people to build new skills.

Third, we know that we don’t have the next phase of Mozilla figured out — far from it! So activities that help us learn about the future of participation at Mozilla are a priority. And by definition, that will mean trying things out that may not work.

How about a sneak preview? What can you get involved with RIGHT NOW!?

You’ll be able to find great opportunities highlighted here –

There’s a couple ready right now, and many more that we’ll highlight soon on Discourse and the Wiki page above.

Helping Mozilla innovate:

  • Dino Tank London – We want you to pitch problems that are worth solving at Mozilla! This opportunity closes on May 27th, but will be refreshed again in June/July.

Coming soon…

Extending Mozilla’s reach:

  • Open Comms: Making Encryption Mainstream – submit ideas on how to educate people around the world or in your community about the importance of encryption. This closes on June 3rd, but Open Comms will have many more opportunities coming soon.

Coming soon…

  • Next phase of the Take Back the Web campaign
  • MakerParty
  • Growing the Firefox Nightly community
  • Something exciting on engaging developers

Final ask

Please do let me know what you think of the above. Does it resonate? Do you have areas you’d suggest we highlight or build for? What else might be missing from our approach?

Head over to this conversation on Discourse to share your thoughts and ideas.

Reinventing Mozilla on campus

Throughout history, University students, staff and professors have often shaped the leading edge of change and innovation. The history of the web is no different: the student-built Lynx browser was one of the first and Mosaic (Firefox’s distant ancestor!), pioneered by students and staff, opened the graphical web to millions.

I saw the impact that students and professors can make through my own experience at Engineers Without Borders Canada. Engineering students and professors on campuses across Canada and in Africa built remarkable ventures, reshaped curriculum, changed on-campus and government policy, and taught hundreds of thousands of young people about global development.

I fully believe in the potential of students, staff and professors on campuses around the world to have massive impact on Mozilla’s mission. As innovators, contributors and open web advocates. Engineers, scientists, lawyers, social scientists, economists and designers.

From what I know about my past experience and have heard in the past year working for Mozilla, our mission resonates tremendously with students and professors. The range of impact and involvement is considerable. Until now, we’ve only just scraped the surface of this potential.

We need to reinvent Mozilla on campus.

Our existing engagement on University campuses around the world is an assortment of largely disconnected programs and people. Firefox Student Ambassadors and Firefox Clubs. Mozilla Clubs. Code contribution by individual contributors. Maker Party. Mozilla Science Lab. Various professor and lab partnerships. Employee recruitment. Many of these are successful in their own right; there’s an opportunity learn from each of them, find connections, and imagine opportunity to scale their impact with a more coordinated approach.


Photo credit: Tanha Islam and Trisa Islam [1]

The largest of these by student involvement, Firefox Student Ambassadors (FSAs) and Firefox Clubs, has been constrained by limited and variable employee support and a focus on marketing. Our student leaders have already been “hacking” this program to introduce advocacy, code contribution, support, localization, teaching and many other activities; official support for this has lagged.

Our team came into this year with a key hypothesis as part of our strategy: That we can supercharge participation with a reinvented campus program.

The Take Back the Web campus campaign focused on privacy and security has been our first effort to test this hypothesis. Already it’s showing great promise, with over 600 campus teams signed up (including hundreds of FSAs) to have impact in 3 areas. We’re focused on learning as much as we can from this campaign.

The campus campaign is a step toward reinvention. But I think it’s now time to take a step back to ask: What impact can we imagine with a coordinated effort on campuses around the world? What do students, staff and professors want and need to be involved with Mozilla’s mission? How might we evolve our existing programs? What programs and structures would we design, and how do they relate to one another? How can we invite people on campus to innovate with Mozilla?

These are the broad questions that will guide a process over the next 9 weeks. By July 15th we aim to have a clear articulation of the impact we can have, the programs we’ll invest in and how they relate to one another, and the opportunities for students, staff and professors to participate.

We’re hoping that this process of reinventing Mozilla on campus will be participatory, and we’re inviting many voices to contribute. Lucy Harris on the Participation Team will be stewarding this process and shaping the final options. Mark Surman, Mitchell Baker, Chris Lawrence, Katharina Borchert and I will be involved in making a final decision on the direction we take.

You can read more about the details of the process in this post, but let me summarize it and the opportunities you have to be involved:

Phase 1: Listening (May 16-27)

→ provide thoughts on existing programs and opportunities you see

Phase 2: Synthesis and options (May 27-June 10)

→ we’ll frame some tensions for you to weigh in on

→ we’ll shape a set of options for conversation during the London All Hands

Phase 3: Final input (June 10-24)

→ we’ll articulate a set of options for you to consider as we move forward, and will be diving deep into these and key questions during the Mozilla All Hands in London

Phase 4: Final Decision and Disseminate (June 24-July 15)

→ we’ll take all the input and decide on a direction for moving forward


Let me finish by reiterating the opportunity. University campuses are a hotbed of innovation and a locus for creating change. Mozilla can tap into this energy and catalyze involvement in unleashing the next wave of openness and opportunity in online life. Finally, our team is excited about helping to shape a direction we can take, and investing in a robust program of participation moving forward.

I’m excited for this journey of reinventing Mozilla on campus.


[1] Photo credit: Tanha Islam and Trisa Islam

Participation Team: Getting organized and focused

The Participation Team was created back in January of this year with an ambitious mandate to simultaneously a) get more impact, for Mozilla’s mission and its volunteers, from core contributor participation methods we’re using today, and b) to find and develop new ways that participation can work at Mozilla.

This mandate stands on the shoulders of people and teams who lead this work around Mozilla in the past, including the Community Building Team. As a contrast with these past approaches, our team concentrates staff from around Mozilla, has a dedicated budget, and has the strong support of leadership, reporting to Mitchell Baker (the Executive Chair) and Mark Surman (CEO of the foundation).

For the first half of the year, our approach was to work with and learn from many different teams throughout Mozilla. From Dhaka to Dakar — and everywhere in between — we supported teams and volunteers around the world to increase their effectiveness. From MarketPulse to the Webmaker App launches we worked with different teams within Mozilla to test new approaches to building participation, including testing out what community education could look like. Over this time we talked with/interviewed over 150 staff around Mozilla, generated 40+ tangible participation ideas we’d want to test, and provided “design for participation” consulting sessions with 20+ teams during the Whistler all-hands.

Toward the end of July, we took stock of where we were. We established a set of themes for the rest of 2015 (and maybe beyond), are focused especially on enabling Mozilla’s Core Contributors, and I put in place a new team structure.


  • Focus  – We will partner with a small number of functional teams and work disproportionately with a small number of communities. We will commit to these teams and communities for longer and go deeper.
  • Learning – We’re continuing the work of the Participation Lab, having both focused experiments and paying attention to the new approaches to participation being tested by staff and volunteer Mozillians all around the organization. The emphasis will be on synthesizing lessons about high impact participation, and helping those lessons be applied throughout Mozilla.
  • Open and Effective – We’re investing in improving how we work as a team and our individual skills. A big part of this is building on the agile “heartbeat” method innovated by the foundation, powered by GitHub. Another part of this is solidifying our participation technology group and starting to play a role of aligning similar participation technologies around Mozilla.

You can see these themes reflected in our Q3 Objectives and Key Results.

Team structure:

The Participation Team is focused on activating, growing and increasing the effectiveness of our community of core contributors. Our modified team structure has 5 areas/groups, each with a Lead and a bottom-line accountability. You’ll note that all of these team members are staff — our aim in the coming months is to integrate core contributors into this structure, including existing leadership structures like the ReMo Council.

Participation Partners Global-Local Organizing Developing Leaders Participation Technology Performance and Learning

William Quiviger

Brian King


Rosana Ardila

Ruben Martin

Guillermo Movia

Konstantina Papadea

Francisco Picolini


George Roter (acting)

Emma Irwin


Pierros Papadeas

Nemo Giannelos

Tasos Katsoulas

Nikos Roussos


Lucy Harris

Bottom Line:

Catalyze participation with product and functional teams to deliver and sustain impact

Bottom Line:

Grow the capacity of Mozilla’s communities to engage volunteers and have impact
(includes Reps and Regional Communities)

Bottom Line:

Grow the capacity of Mozilla’s volunteer leaders and volunteers to have impact

Bottom Line:

Enable large scale, high impact participation at Mozilla through technology

Bottom Line:

Develop a high performing team, and drive learning and synthesize best practice through the Participation Lab

We have also established a Leadership and Strategy group accountable for:

  • Making decisions on team objectives, priorities and resourcing
  • Nurturing a culture of high performance through standard setting and role modelling

This is made up of Rosana Ardila, Lucy Harris, Brian King, Pierros Papadeas, William Quiviger and myself.


As always, I’m excited to hear your feedback on any of this — it is most certainly a work in progress. We also need your help:

  • If you’re a staff/functional team or volunteer team trying something new with participation, please get in touch!
  • If you’re a core contributor/volunteer, take a look at these volunteer tasks.
  • If you have ideas on what the team’s priorities should be over the coming quarter(s), please send me an email — .

As always, feel free to reach out to any member of the team; find us on IRC at #participation; follow along with what we’re doing on the Blog and by following [@MozParticipate on Twitter](; have a conversation on Discourse; or follow/jump into any issues on GitHub.

Why Mozilla (for me)?

It’s official. I’m here at Mozilla for the indefinite future with a title of Head of Core Contributors, Participation. Basically, I’m responsible for enabling a team of volunteers and staff to grow the size and impact of our community of most-committed volunteer Mozillians.

As I considered this role, I asked myself: Why Mozilla? Of all of the places in the world that I can apply my energy and talents, why here? I wanted to share my answer (as of today):

The past 150 years has brought the greatest advances in freedom and opportunity in human history.

It has also brought (a) existential, complex global and local challenges, and (b) a centralizing of power. Centralized power cannot solve, and is often the cause of, these existential challenges.

The web is the single greatest (and maybe only) chance humanity has to address these challenges, because it can decentralize power and unleash the human ingenuity of millions of people.

But the web itself is being centralized and made less open. From locked-down content, to ring-fenced platforms, to the advertising/ economics of the web, to technology stacks. The largest and most powerful organizations and governments in the world are eroding the openness of the web.

Mozilla is probably the world’s best chance to reverse this trend. We are the only organization in the world that is championing a vision of openness on the web, has the scale to achieve it, and as a mission-driven, not-for-profit doesn’t have its purpose corrupted by shareholders and profit motives.

At the same time, this is such a wildly ambitious organizational vision that only a movement of talented people working together — volunteer Mozillians and our allies — has a chance to see this vision become a reality.

What’s truly energizing about my role is that the Mozilla brand, user-base, financial resources and mythology is a platform to build a participation function that can scale to directly enabling millions to take actions aligned with their own passions and beliefs. This can be at the leading edge of what anyone has done before in organizing people globally and locally. And when we are successful, the web will be the platform we need to address humanity’s most pressing challenges.

Finally, to quote a great Canadian Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message”. The pattern of working that Mozilla is pioneering is transformative (or will be with the organizational changes that have been articulated in the vision of radical participation) — open, self-organizing and adaptive, creativity from the edges, distributed leadership and voice, each and every Mozillian accountable to each other and for the whole.

At a meta level, these are key to the broader global social justice changes I believe in. This pattern, and its impact on the millions of deep relationships we can build through participation, may be another of Mozilla’s enduring legacy and impact.

McMaster Engineering Convocation Address – June 2015

I gave this address at the McMaster University Engineering Convocation, on June 12, 2015.

Thank you Chancellor  Large. President Deane. Provost Wilkinson. Dean Puri. Honoured guests. Distinguished faculty. Fellow graduates and honorees. And, most importantly, parents.

I wanted to start with a very exciting personal announcement. An accomplishment that I think you can all relate to. Here it is: This month, this very month, I will have paid off all of my student loans.

So that’s something you can look forward to. 16 or 18 or 20 years from now. You too might have finished paying for your University education. Really, student loans are a monthly reminder of the great value of your education.

What else can you look forward to? And what does that mean for you now? As I was thinking about this day, I racked my brain, thinking about the past 16 years, thinking about my 22 year old self, and what would have resonated with him.

One thing came to mind. Rogaine.

What I realized is that I certainly have a distorted, imperfect memory of my 22 year old self. I don’t know what I was thinking about. What I was dreaming about. What I was feeling as I sat where you sit now.

I also realized that I almost certainly have a distorted view of the past 16 years, the choices I made and the what I wished I would have known. I see the past through either rose tinted glasses or a darkened lens, depending on how I’m feeling about myself and my ambitions, how I’m feeling about others and the world.

And everyone’s path through life is different.

But life has a funny way of collecting wisdom, little souvenirs that you pick up on the side of the meandering road of life. Now — to kill the metaphor for a moment — some of these souvenirs turn out to be cheap plastic trinkets — that ridiculous fridge magnet I bought in Prague with a built-in thermometer.

On the other hand, some of those souvenirs of wisdom turn out to be pure gold. There are two pieces of wisdom, which I consider pure gold, that I will offer you today.

First, beware accepted truths. Beware the hidden pressures of society. Beware the status quo.

It’s all around you. You’ll experience it in the most overt ways. When your first manager tells you that “we don’t do it that way in this company,” and you realize for the first time that the cubicle you were assigned is not just a physical space, but also a metaphor for how your ideas will be confined.

I certainly experienced this when we were starting Engineers Without Borders. We were welcomed to work on issues of poverty and inequality, but only if we sat our cubicle of technical expertise.

Thankfully, we didn’t listen. And now this organization is amongst the world’s most impactful organizations working to address the most pressing challenges in food and water and small business development. Amongst the most powerful advocacy organizations in Canada. Engineers. Standing up and speaking. Articulately. Imagine that.

Well, thousands around Canada and in Africa did and do. But only because we ignored the naysayers. Disobeyed accepted truths. Refused to submit to the status quo.

I won’t pretend that it doesn’t take courage to behave in this way. It does take courage. You may run off in another direction, arms waving excitedly, yelling follow me, follow me. And turn around a year later to find yourself alone in the wilderness. Failure is most certainly one outcome.

But just remember, you could take the most secure job you can imagine, optimizing the production line at Dofasco for example. And in 3 years you might have a pink slip waiting at your desk, as ArcelorMittal has decided to downsize the Hamilton operation.

If failure is always a possibility, why not follow your heart and your passion? Why not challenge the status quo?

Of course, you can only challenge these accepted truths if you know they are there. The subtle pressures are much more insidious. These are hidden forces that erode possibility and guide our behaviour without us even realizing.

The ads that surround us with supermodels, reminding us all of our physical inadequacy. The separate girl and boy sections of Toy R Us. The hundreds of times in the past weeks that you’ve been asked “what job are you heading to?”, implicitly delivering the message that perhaps taking the next few years off to roam the world or volunteer with a charity would be deviant.

Or at a macro level. Issues are framed as poverty reduction strategies, or climate change mitigation plans.

Climate change mitigation. Why are we satisfied with accepting the inevitability of forever shifting the weather patterns of our earth? Of placing billions of people’s livelihoods at risk? It’s like going to a friends house, picking up an expensive antique vase and saying “sorry, I’m about to smash this to smithereens by throwing it on the ground. But have a really great broom that can pick up at least 70% of the pieces.” No. I want my antique vase. I want my daughter to have a livable earth when she grows up.

But these hidden pressures change the frame — mitigation and reduction — and it’s cozier to just accept them as truths.

This is the point when I appeal to your engineering training and engineering instincts. While each one of us brings a different set of skills and personalities to this profession called engineering, there are at least two common traits between us.

Curiosity. And creativity.

It’s not coincidental that these are the two most powerful antidotes to the status quo. Engineers have a long and proud tradition of heresy. Of asking piercing questions. Of calling out doctrine as outdated or irresponsible.

And, most importantly, of offering a creative and different way forward.

I implore you to lean into this tradition of being curious and creative in the face of accepted truths and the status quo.

My second nugget of wisdom: Your values will drive your choices, and your choices define your life.

Let’s dig into this a little more. Certainly there’s a scientific approach to making great decisions — considering multiple options, getting different perspectives, performing data driven analysis. Our training as engineers prepares us extraordinarily well for most choices you will face.

However, there’s an entire class of decision that, I would argue, your engineering education did a terrible job of preparing you for. These are things like: Where should I work? Should I report this questionable practice in my company even though doing so is risky for my career? Should I be a vegetarian? Where should I buy groceries from? Boxers or briefs? Or maybe commando?

These decisions operate on a different plane than logic. And we make most of them unconsciously, our default settings taking hold.

This is why bringing your values to the fore are so critical.

Practically, it’s about, first, choosing to decide more often about things that seem “settled” — like where you buy groceries. Then, when faced with a choice, just close your eyes and picture yourself a week or two after the choice is made. Picture yourself standing in front of a group of Kindergartners and explaining that choice with passion. Picture how you would feel.

That’s your intuition. And your intuition reflects your values.

What I can say is this: The only decisions I truly regret from the past 16 years are decisions when I went against my intuition; decisions that did not ultimately align with my values.

Those are my two nuggets of gold: Beware the status quo. And make values-based choices.

Let me leave you with a couple of parting thoughts.

First, life has a way of picking up the momentum of an 18-wheeler hurtling downhill without brakes. Today you’re graduating, and tomorrow you’re 57 years old with teenage kids and a house in Dundas. Those nuggets of wisdom and other souvenirs that you pick up along the way get lost in the noise of living.

My advice: Set yourself a tripwire. Many tripwires. They might be a yearly letter to yourself. A camping trip each summer. A friend who will ask you tough questions. A sabbatical every 5 years. For me, all of my computer passwords are names of people in Ghana and Zambia and Malawi who remind me daily of my life’s purpose.

Find your tripwires, set them, protect them. If you do, you’ll wake up at 57 years old with no regrets and a life that you will make you proud.

Fellow graduates. We are at a key moment in human history. We are among the most privilged and fortunate people in the world, living in the greatest, most humane and most diverse country in the world. Graduating from a tremendous University.

Fellow graduates, let us have the finger of history point to our generation, on the engineers of our generation, as the ones who stepped up. Who made values-based choices. Who worked on problems that matter to our world.

I know you have it in you. I wish you luck and skill and courage.

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.


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>

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!

Up next…Mozilla!

How could I possibly follow-up my incredible years spent with the very special Engineers Without Borders Canada? That was the central question hanging in the back of my mind, even as I promised myself ‘no pressure, take your time’ over the past 5-months traveling the world with my partner Sari and our delightful now-9-month-old daughter Aliyah.

Reflection and spending time in other organizations has helped me see just how special EWB is — there’s a greater concentration of world class people (smarts, skills and dedication) in EWB than I’ve seen anywhere else, and the organization is pushing the leading edge in a way that is courageous and necessary. What would come next professionally? What was a must have and what was a want to have?

My big realization was that I would be most fulfilled by joining another organization with a change-the-world sized mission. Another organization that cares not just about ‘what’ they are doing, but is also pioneering new models on ‘how’ we organize our companies and public benefit institutions. Another organization that builds communities and mobilizes people to unleash their potential.

I also wanted a broad set of responsibilities, but not another CEO or co-founder role right now. I wanted to be working alongside highly motivated people who I can learn from. And I wanted a sector that moves fast, that isn’t “stuck” in the ways that international development can get stuck.

Enter Mozilla!

Believe it or not, there was a role and organizational combination out there that fit like a glove! I’m really excited to be joining Mozilla.

Most people know Mozilla for our web-browser Firefox. Some people might even know that Firefox is an open-source project, with thousands of volunteer contributors alongside staff. Fewer people know that Mozilla is a mission-driven, change the world, non-profit. We are promoters and protectors of an internet that is open and free, a hotbed of innovation, a platform for economic and social development, for bettering humanity.

Practically, we build great products and technologies (some that you see like Firefox, and some that you don’t, like the standards that allow you to watch a video in your web-browser) that embed the values of Mozilla. For example, when you’re using Firefox, you’re not uploading your personal information like when you use Chrome — privacy and user agency are values we care about and are native to our products.

Beyond products, we also build educational resources and courses (for high skill and early web learners), do policy advocacy, help support people making technology for news organizations, help support people who are trying to bring open standards to science, develop tools and alliances and products to bring the web to the “bottom 2 billion”, etc. Lots and lots!

This is a cool video that explains more:

So, what am I doing here? I got to create my own title and I’ve chosen “Participation Sherpa” (clearly a descriptive title versus hierarchical one): I think I’m beginning to know what that means!

As you can glean, there’s a lot going on at Mozilla. With roughly 20,000 volunteers; another ~1+ million people participating in our education networks, developer networks, fellowships and advocacy work; and ~300 million product users, there are a lot of people involved. This interaction of people and impact is beautifully messy and has developed rather organically. But it’s creaking in places. People are not getting as much value as they could from their interactions with Mozilla, and the mission is not benefiting as much as it could from their participation.

My role is to help Mozilla evolve this participation relationship by leading the architecture of a strategy, a new team and the cultural and structural elements that supports this. It means working on strategy and operations, working with people around the organization to run experiments, helping staff and volunteers optimize the way they are working (building communities, building participation opportunities), and learning from all the activity already going on. The exciting part is that I’m reaching into and implicated in literally every part of Mozilla.

Logistically I’m based in Toronto, for now! And it’s a 6-month contract, for now!

I’m fired up and found a great first answer to “how do I follow-up my incredible years spent with the very special Engineers Without Borders Canada”!

The sun rises on my last day working for Engineers Without Borders

I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have served this community and cause for the past 15 years. Every single day has been filled with hope, with people who refuse to accept the status quo, who channel their anger at the injustices they see into smart and bold action. EWB and EWBers have shaped me into the person I am today.

Thank you, to all of you.

Our job is not done. Inequity abounds and we have not learned to live harmoniously together or with this earth. I am buoyed with the knowledge that there is no more powerful force in the world than a large group of thoughtful, talented people who believe in their hearts that it is perfectly ordinary to change the world.

I remain a committed member, volunteer, and monthly donor of this organization.

A special thank you to Parker for your friendship, dreaming together for the first 10 years, and then entrusting me with the past 4. And to Boris, a remarkable leader I’ve learned so much from, and who I’m certain will achieve more than I can now dream as EWB’s next CEO. Good luck to the whole team, including Alexandra and James.

The final and most important thank you is to Sari Stillman, my partner in life.

Courage, emotion, intuition and love … and engineering!

University of Calgary Commencement Address – June 9, 2014

By George Roter on receipt of a Honorary Doctor of Laws

Thank you President Cannon, Chancellor Dinning, Dean Rosehart for this tremendous honour. Thank you fellow graduates. And thank you to the incredible supporters of these graduates who are here today—this day is as much yours as anyone else’s.

Since Chancellor Dinning has already set the stage by increasing my likeability, let me begin with a caveat and a thinly veiled attempt at applause! The caveat: I wrote this speech on the plane from Toronto this morning. Why? Well, exactly 59 hours and 29 minutes ago, as the dawn broke the darkness over Toronto, my amazing wife Sari and I welcomed our daughter Aliyah into this world.


As you can imagine, I’ve had about 8 hours of interrupted sleep, in total, in the past 4 days. That makes me about as sharp as most of you were while writing the final lines of your 4th year, Master’s, or PhD theses. I’m convinced that the chronically underslept engineer is why someone came up with the brilliant design idea called “factor of safety”.

Now that I’ve set expectations appropriately, I’d like to tell you an old East African parable.

“It begins with a great, powerful typhoon, with a torrential driving rain that flooded the land. After the storm had subsided, an unforunately monkey found himself stranded on an island. In a secure, protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling, thrashing about in the water, in need of assistance. With love in his heart for all living creatures, the monkey resolved to help the fish.

A tree precariously dangled over the spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey inched bit by bit, far out on one of the tree limbs. He reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Quickly, the monkey scurried back to the safety of his shelter and he, ever so carefully, laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement. Soon, the fish settled into a peaceful rest.

Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.”

When I first encountered this parable, I thought the lesson was an obvious one: The world is full of armies of monkeys, travelling down roads paved with good intentions.

But I’ve come to understand this parable differently, especially in the past few days.

In the parable, the monkey’s intentions weren’t empty. These intentions were supposedly driven by love, for all living creatures. That begs the question, “what is love?”

I think I understand it now. Love was the uncontrollable surge of tears I felt when I first saw my daughter in her mother’s arms 60 hours ago, the automatic and repeated “I love you, I love you, I love you, I’m so proud of you” that I spewed forth as a blubbering mess through those tears.

Love was the deep, insatiable curiosity that ran through my mind as I watched young Aliyah sleep and dream on that first day, her breath changing and eyelids flickering, deeply aware of when her sleep was moving between shallow, REM cycles and deep sleep. What could she possibly be dreaming about less than 12 hours out of the womb?

Love was the deeply intuitive sense that I developed even by last night: One type of crying to let us know she was hungry. Another, nearly undetectably different cry to let us know her diaper was full of poo.

And speaking of poo, love was the running commentary at about 1am last night at what was filling her diaper. I honestly would have never guessed at the intense interest I would have of colour, texture, density and volume of her shit. Nor would I have guessed at that pure joy this would bring me.

Right now, love is standing up here on stage delivering a speech to 600 deserving fellow graduates and yet the overwhelming emotion is missing my new daughter and not being able to imagine my life without Aliyah.

The fabulous author Jonathan Franzen once wrote that love is “a bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are.”

So back to the monkey’s love for all living creatures. I doubt it. Just as I now doubt that I myself love all of humanity, or that I love nature. Or that I just love my Android phone, or that I love House of Cards, or this suit that I’m wearing.

Loving any of these things, or even ideas, doesn’t require me to give up anything of myself. Contrast that with loving Aliyah. When she falls and hurts herself—as she inevitably will—that will hurt me at a constitutional level. When she behaves in a way that I would disapprove of, or makes choices I find distasteful—as she likely will—that will tear a little hole in my heart.

And so back to our monkey.

Did he love that fish as the parable claimed? I doubt it. Otherwise, his intentions would not have been so devoid of empathy and context. And while his actions of literally going out on a limb to save the fish were physically dangerous, his choices did not in any way threaten his sense of self.

That leads me to the monkey’s choices and how they were made. Now, perhaps this was because he was only a monkey, but that monkey’s choices surrounding the rescue struck me as lacking any decent technical analysis.

He didn’t sit back to calculate the moment arm of his venturing onto that limb, and whether it was structurally sound enough to avoid catastrophic failure. He certainly didn’t build a partial differential equation that would solve for the variability in the water’s surge, to allow him to take probabilistic approach to assessing the risk of the branch being enveloped in water. Based on this parable, it’s clear this monkey wouldn’t be graduating with a degree in engineering here today.

But the question is this: Was the lack of technical analysis inherently bad? Isolating this for the moment from the broader context of the fish, should the monkey have been more technically minded.

If you take the cue from how all of us were trained as engineers, the answer is obvious: The monkey’s approach was distinctly lacking rigour. In engineering, we worship at the altar of careful calculation, of breaking down problems into their constituent parts, of coming up with multiple alternatives that we can judge against specific criteria. Every course I took in University, and every purely engineering analysis I have come across since has had the same fundamental approach.

What I’ve learned over the past 15 years in my work with Engineers Without Borders is that this approach—which I interpret as an attempt to remove intuition and emotion from decision-making—is both severely limiting and a dramatic practice of self-deception.

In fact, my experience is that the most powerful contributions we make as engineers are when we fully embrace the intuitive and emotional side, in combination with our technical prowess. My own example is telling.

15 years ago, like you are today, I was graduating with a Bachelor’s in Engineering. Also like many of you, I was considering what would come next. Along with my classmate Parker Mitchell, there was this idea of creating an organization called Engineers Without Borders. What was the idea born out of? A deep technical analysis of global poverty, the various organizations and entities working on that problem and it’s root causes? A clear set of options about how to structure an international organization? A well-developed set of policies and project management processes?

None of the above. In fact, I believe to this day that if we stopped to really think through what we were going to do, we never would have started. Let me try to capture how outrageous this was:

Two privileged 22 year-olds, who had never been to Africa, Asia or anywhere else where poverty was endemic, who had precisely 8 work terms between them of experience, and no resources except a few credit cards. These two people were setting out to tackle one of the world’s most complex challenges, not satisfied with helping a few people get out of poverty, but with a mission to change how the world tackles poverty. They were going to start a movement of thousands of engineers and engineering students across Canada, with a goal of changing how engineers approach their role and contributions to society.

And yet, Parker and I sparked a match that grew into a burning flame of social change, stoked by the incredible contributions of hundreds and thousands of amazing leaders and EWBers. While none of this would have been possible without our engineering training, it also would not have been possible without the emotion and intuition and passion of the thousands of people on whose shoulders I stand today.

In fact, I strongly believe it was emotion and intuition that carried the day through the most important moments. Responding to my leadership failures—the disappointment they represented and the hurt they caused others—with a renewed energy to try again or to try differently. That was driven by emotion and intuition. Constantly revising a vision, coming up with new ideas, never settling—emotion and intuition. Thousands of mind-wrenching, ambiguous decisions on what to do and how to do it—emotion and intuition.

I’ve witnessed the same in so many others, especially around choices about where they should apply their energies in life. My friend and UofC grad—now fellow UofC grad—Dave who is applying his mechanical engineering degree to working for a solar energy company in Kenya. Jason and Eli, UofC grads who work on environmental policy. Dena, a UofC grad who is working to spark a revolution in how engineering is taught. And my fellow graduate today and good friend, Patrick Miller, who is dedicating his immense talent to shaping our urban landscapes. All of these powerful choices were based on a foundation of technical competency, and driven by emotion and intuition.

But sometimes those choices don’t work out, which brings us back to our monkey again. What we realize when hearing this parable is that the monkey is not someone else, an “other”. We are all the monkey.

We can’t hate him any more than we can hate ourselves. We can’t deride his naivete any more than we can deride our own. We can’t make him our enemy without realizing that enemy is within each of us.

And that takes me to a view of the world we live in. A world that has been badly stewarded by generations who came before us. A world that needs us.

I believe humanity is at a turning point. We are faced with a multitude of complex challenges. A changing climate, concentrating wealth and increasing inequality, dwindling natural resources, changing global power structures, among others. Among others.

These challenges are different. The 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration last week reminded me just how different these challenges are. Defeating the Nazis was the defining challenge of our parents’ and grandparents’ time. Storming Juno Beach required bravery and courage. The enemy was clear, the existential threat was palpably urgent, and we knew what we needed to do.

The challenges that our generation are facing are a silent D-Day. Instead of a clear enemy, we are all the enemy. Instead of palpable urgency, the threat is diffuse and hard to see. And instead of clear actions, it is tremendously ambiguous as to how we should act or what is needed.

Faced with this, we have options: We can stand down, choose willful ignorance, engage in self-interested defensiveness, or wait. This is largely how the world is responding today.

And it’s understandable. It’s relatively easy to react to my own privilege—in comparison with my friend Sahada in rural Ghana, or the hundreds on the Siksika First Nation struggling to recover from last year’s flooding— it’s relatively easy to respond with acts of charity. It’s much harder to even ask the question: Does my privilege require their deprivation? What is just and what is right? And that’s before even approaching solutions that will address the fundamental problem.

So let me bring this back to you, fellow graduates. All of you will be on the front lines of these challenges, especially those of you who choose to work in the oil and gas industry. Our climate is changing, it’s urgent that we do something, and this industry is clearly important in any solution.

Faced with this reality, I urge you to be as brave and courageous as those who stormed Juno Beach. Please, don’t ignore there’s a problem. Please, don’t be defensive in justifying your career choices and the quality of life this industry avails you. Please, worst of all, don’t declare that the enemy is either the oil companies themselves or the activists who oppose them.

Instead, as an engineering graduate, recognize that you—every single one of you in this room—has more power than you might think. Great power. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in the past 15 years with Engineers Without Borders, it is this: That young people, young engineers like all of you absolutely have the power to change the world. That’s not a slogan, it’s a fact. You absolutely have the power to change the world around you.

But only if you choose to. Only if you remember the parable of the monkey and the fish. You must have the courage to see yourself as the monkey. Embrace your emotion and intuition even if they increase the risk of failure. And, most importantly, you must find and embrace love, the kind of love born out of a revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are.

On my graduation day today, my daughter Aliyah has redoubled my own efforts and choices. My wish and hope is that she will inspire yours. Congratulations, and good luck.

She arrived!

Dear Friends,

As the sun crept up into the beautiful clear sky over Toronto Saturday morning, our daughter Aliyah Davida Elena Rotman was born.

George was crying, Sari was smiling and Ali snuggled up to mum ― everyone was healthy, and it was so … human.

“It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.” ― Ursula Le Guin

So what is the power in Aliyah’s name?

First, the universe told us that we chose wisely. Aliyah Elena means “ascend, shining light” ― she was born right at sunrise.

Aliyah is a Hebrew, Arabic and Persian word meaning to ascend or go up. Our central wish for her life is that she ascends to her highest self.

Davida is the name of George’s late-aunt ― an artistic, political, iconoclast and teacher, who also strangely loved the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. Just as Davida ― and the two of us ― have followed our passion, so to will we encourage the same for our daughter.

Elena was a name that we both just loved, meaning to shine a light. In our hearts, we hope to raise a lovely human being, who through empathy and optimism will light people up.

And finally, her surname, Rotman. Aliyah is part Sari and part George, part Stillman and part Roter. So rather than stick with patriarchal tradition, or establish a new matriarchal tradition, or burden Aliyah’s children (if she choose to have any) with a hyphenated name, we’ve chosen to create a new last name. We know that this is strange, a bit radical, and perhaps a bit foolhardy. But Rotman it is ― a little bit of each of us.

Thanks to all of you for your support and advice over the past months.

With love (and a great deal of fatigue and new baby induced giddiness),

Sari and George
P.S. – Pictures to follow, but only if you click here to let us know that you want them.