Webmakers and community leadership component – Engage and Empower

by Alina Mierlus


There are many things coming together around webmakers – the new community that Mozilla is building for the next years: from working around an open event kit, to a self-organizing engagement platform or the “Summer Campaign” (an umbrella concept for web maker events/campaigns held during the summer).

Even more, Jess wrote some posts on community members and local webmakers that really goes in line with my thinking. Participating in those webmaker and learning communities of practice during the last few months and meeting various local Barcelona makers, museum professionals and educators, participating in @webcatBCN‘s monthly meet-ups, made me reflect even more on what I’m doing and the impact it could have on the local society and global projects I’m volunteering for.


And what I see in all this is a huge potential to advance the open web in areas we never considered before. I foresee a promising DIY culture I had never expected. Educators tinkering with Arduinos and Scratch, museum professionals thinking of bringing the Wikipedia and Web in their museum, and web developers or designers hanging out again in local communities to share practices.

When I think about webmakers my vision goes much beyond the typical community of developers: I see in that webmakers group – researchers, designers, creatives, teachers, innovators, facilitators and even folks working with local government departments. An open ecosystem including public spaces, universities, schools, open spaces and more.

And seeing all this, my considerations on community building have deeply changed. For example, I believe that Mozilla needs a different kind of community to move forward and go big in areas such as mobile, Identity or education.

But still, there is an opportunity to start growing and take on leadership. Mozilla core contributors and veterans have something as important as competence, a good understanding of project’s history, a great sense of responsibility. This is enough to help others find their place in the community.

Community leadership component in everything?

I’ve been thinking for a while what makes you and other people become a leader in your community, locally. And I’ve been asking myself which kind of people made me feel empowered, inspired,
motivated. “Leadership and information can’t be given (mentor) but taken (mentee)” is what was said by one of the participants in GlobalMelt last year (an inter-community leadership workshop). Which are the things that help folks
on a community to become leaders, or to be influential? Or to become a learning referent for others? I’ve always been a supporter of the idea that a good servant leader can catalyze better local community networks and help create a more open, healthy ecosystems.

Events are probably the best example of scaffolding the community leadership component. From informal micro-events, meet-ups, to designjam-like events, camps, learning labs or hack days. I’ve learned a bunch of things by running and supporting others to run those kinds of events. The way you support or inspire new communities to be built is another example of scaffolding the community leadership component (and I’ll have a longer blog dedicated only to this).

Owning?

The tendency to “owning” is very common among most of free software communities and groups (although it’s going against the very core of the software freedom value).

“If what we’ve worked on for decades, from free software products to open source culture has become mainstream and had a huge impact in the world, why people in those communities, or even those communities as a whole, are not influential?” – that was a question raised by a friend during a local community meet-up. That made me think about another question I read in a post-it during the GlobalMelt workshop: “Why open source / free software is still considered a subculture?”

A few months ago, I found an interesting excerpt of Make Magazine , the owner Manifesto – “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it” - making me think about how much free culture (local) communities have to learn from maker ethics.

Being influential requires this open ownership approach and a good dose of servant leadership. And specifically referring to Mozilla here, I’m sure that most of the “veteran community members” have both knowledge and understanding of history. The question is: how do you open it to other people and make it meaningful (for both you and others)?

Hyperlocals, newcomers, the mission and alignment

“Helping users build their sovereignty on the Internet” is a broad mission and a very complex one given the current state of technology innovation and its impact in all aspects of social life (the platforms war, increasingly user generated innovation, even more increase of elegant consumption of the Web, the need of our Public institutions to keep pace with the new digital literacies, etc.).

I’m looking back at the core Free Software movement mission statement: ensuring the freedom to use, learn, modify and distribute the software. It has been more than 20 years since those statements were firstly written, with an unbelievable impact on the present state of technology, but with a more modest one in the end user (both on practice, learning and modifying, and aligning with the values).

What could we learn from older practices of free software (and even core Mozilla) communities, how local members could become connected and influential leaders, how the way newcomers are invited into a projects should change? In other words, how could local communities adapt to change? Although, some may have already done…

In the next posts I’ll explore more on what I think hyperlocals are, how to understand newcomers and which (and how) old and new practices could be aligned.