About me

Opening-up opportunities, listening, empowering

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!

 

Webmakers and community leadership component - Engage and Empower


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.