Opening-up opportunities, listening, empowering

by Alina Mierlus

Almost three weeks ago, I flew to Cluj (the hearth of Trasilvania) to be part of the first Mozilla Romanian Community meet-up. It was a tough decision to go, as I’m trying to lower my participation in community events and keep focus on new projects.  But Ioana (who organized and planned the meet-up)  finally convinced me – telling me that we’d try to make the meet-up different and even more, offering me the task of advancing the meetup’s agenda.
And, in the end, I’m very happy that I finally decided to go.  It was a very productive and constructive event and it made me leave Romania feeling inspired, motivated and optimistic.

Mozilla Romania Community

Below I’m going to highlight the things that most impressed me there:

  • diversity of community participants:  Mozilla Romania is a community network with participants of different ages, individuals doing their own projects, Mozilla staff, companies such as Softvision, non-profit organizations such as Ceata or participants in Student Labs as ROSEDU.
  • more than 50% were people I never met before (except maybe via twitter or mailing list).
  • I met Alper, 16 years old, who has been organizing for a while Webmaker and Programming events in his town. He shared with us how hard is to be a teen who wants to do stuff and does not have much support from local organizations because of his age. This brought into conversation the difficulty for under 18 Mozillians to participate in the broader Mozilla Project (e.g. accepted as Mozilla Reps).
  • Support and build local social initiatives: during the session where we sorted out topics, there was a good number of social initiatives, or… how to start working with organizations that already help people acquire new technical skills. Valentin is already part of the Digital Kids program, Alper is trying to do something with organizations in his city, Dan shared his experiences with the YearUP program in Mountain View, I shared some of the experiences trying to ignite a Hive Barcelona Community. There are lots of opportunities to work through this in a future.
  • Mobile – a strong testing community - In Romania, the testing community has been growing for a long while and especially, in important tech. hubs such as Iași and Cluj. There were not so many conversations about FirefoxOS or WebApps, but more  about testing or how to get more people involved into FirefoxOS project through testing.
  • Community Building and Tools – those were two main sessions with  lot of participation and interest. One of the questions was: “How do we make Mozilla.ro community a strong community support network?”. There are individual contributors who want to do things and help advance Mozilla’s mission but don’t know where to go and whom to ask when they may need it. One of the approaches to this was, apart of “just do it” – to take advantage of Mozillians.org social network (a better use of tags, group and skills categories) so you can find your “go to person” or your mentor. There have been other topics such as making events more visible or turning the local get involved page more attractive.
  • Participants from major Academic and Tech hubs in Romania: participants came from cities like Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi and Constanta, Hunedoara, Carei. And of course expat Romanians from Barcelona, Berlin and Mountain View.
  • We had the meet-up (and planning meet-up) in two amazing co-working spaces in Cluj: ClujHub and Cluj Co-work!

moz-ro

 

Overall, the meet-up was really productive, I think. Ioana and Alex will come with more details about what’s next, after we finish documenting it. We started it with an interactive plenary around: challenges to contribute in a community project, the importance of individual, decentralized contributions and demand of permission vs. good communication. The goal of the meet-up was to see how to work together more efficiently and avoiding unnecessary conflicts.

I think that we achieved a big part of this goal. Of course, there is more to do, and most importantly, lead as individuals, document and then share back next year.

What I took with me from all this experience is the optimism that communities in Mozilla can be seen differently, not just a resource. Community is a group of like-minded people and organizations who work for a common goal. Yes, some communities produce resources: as documentation, word of mouth marketing, tools, products and others. But one of the things there are often ignored are the signals that a community produces.

The question here is how to help the community produce useful and meaningful signals (not noise) – signals that can sometimes drive the project into new directions and even contribute to decision making processes. Probably the answer is: a different approach to community building – meet-ups are opportunities, not events where suffocate people with top-down agendas and topics. Agendas should be for empowering and motivating, for listening and then building.

There are tons of positive and interesting signals I received from the Mozro meet-up and I’d probably write more abut later. Until then, thanks to Dan Gherman, Ioana, Brian King and Alex for helping with the pre-planning!