Friday, September 18, 2015

Mozilla Movement Building: Strategies for Global Awareness

As Mozilla Foundation dives into strategic planning for movement building, Mark Surman asks how Mozilla can help the soon-to-be 5 billion online users to understand how the web works and how to wield it. Part of this is involves structuring our services to be more internationally and globally sensitive. 

As a global organization, Mozilla has a number of international collaborators. Some are people we’ve engaged over the years -- like Webmaker mentors, Mozilla Reps, localization contributors -- and others are allies in the digital teaching and advocacy fields -- like our Hive partners and the net neutrality coalition organizations.  To effectively structure our services to be welcoming and accessible to all of our friends, I think we first should think about the world view we want others to share, and how we can do that.  

We’re awesome at: designing teaching materials, organizing events, convening people, and training them. Building off of our face-to-face meetings with community members and allied organizations, we can continue meaningful communication via Vidyo meetings, Discourse, and other channels. 

Given an understanding of what already have (community and software) and do (teach, mobilize), as an organization we could be more effective at helping others if we consider:

Awareness and precision about our language
While we may never understand all the cultural nuances and idiosyncrasies of the communities with which we engage, we need to be more deliberate with our words.

Example 1: In the UK and Europe, “advocacy” means lobbying rather than grassroots engagement or increasing public support. In effect, our Advocacy Team is perceived as a team that works to influence the votes and actions of public officials and legislators -- at best, confusing, at worst, alienating potential partners.

Example 2: Love Bombs -- our way of showing appreciation and recognition to Maker Party contributors. This terminology was problematic in Colombia, with its history of civil war and inner-city bombings. We were asked to supply certificates of participation recognition instead, which was an easy fix.

Sensitivity around activism
In many countries, being an activist and standing up to the government or a powerful corporation is not only uncomfortable, it can be downright dangerous. This extends to social media presence. When we ask our community members to sign a petition or to teach people about the dangers of online surveillance, we should keep in mind that sometimes we are asking them to engage in high-risk activities.

Example 1: We have a potential MozFest participant who is hesitant to join us because he works to measure network security in Iran, and use the data to call out the government on their nefarious surveillance measures. He is worried that a representative of his government could see a photo of him social media or learn about his work, and effectively blacklist him from visiting his home country.

Example 2: An ally of ours in Mexico works to surface online censorship strategies used by the government to target protesters. Last year, 43 student teachers were presumed kidnapped and killed due to their stance against the Mayor’s wife’s corrupt activities. The government had followed Twitter conversations to find the students, and blocked information regarding safe routes out of inner-city protests. Our ally has already been Doxxed and received death-threats for his work, and while he has no desire to stop calling out the government, he is hesitant to host campaign materials on his servers in case those get attacked.

Understand that local Mozilla communities are not divorced from local society
A few of our Mozilla communities have very different societal structures from the ones many of us live in and understand. We expect all Mozilla Communities share our mission to promoting openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web, but we are not asking individuals to treat each other in any certain way -- nor should we.

Example: In recent years, our communities in India and Bangladesh have struggled to collaborate internally partially because of their histories with caste systems. We have a Rep who came from a lower-caste and became a successful Red Hat engineer. He’s struggled to work with his community because he is not their idea of a leader.

A nuanced view of Internet Policy + Advocacy issues
If Internet Policy + Advocacy is going to be a focus of our work, we should keep in mind that not all campaigns or bills are binary, and that sometimes a preceding big educational campaign could be critical to both changing the details of a bill and a successful petition.

Example: In Mexico there is a bill for net neutrality with parameters around protecting net neutrality that are quite good. However, within the bill there are 2 abhorrent sub-laws discussing data retention and collecting geolocation information. To say “we support this bill” means saying we support these two sub-laws as well; to say we don’t means we don’t support the net neutrality clauses.

What we could do/are doing for our communities:
Our communities need teaching kits, media resources, access to repos of open source tools, and localization of these resources. This means the language we use when creating them has to be simple and clear. We also need a much more defined localization strategy: currently, it’s hard to find resources on (unless they’re part of the Hive network), and there’s no language support.

Our communities respond well to face-to-face training and events; case in point, our Webmaker mentors trained under the train-the-trainer model. While these are very resource heavy for us, we should look at them as a long-term investment. If we bring people together in real time, listen to them, and help them better organize and discover roles, we can later depend on these structures from a remote location. Visiting our communities where they are could provide us with a better understanding of their realities.

In line with training, we could look for an effective way to recognize the effort our community members are contributing. In many cultures (e.g. Latin America, India), recognition of participation can go a long way -- certificates, stamps of approval, and titles can legitimize our community members’ involvement in the eyes of their families, friends, and employers.

Targets and measurement
Clear benchmarks that our contributors are working towards help drive participation. If we are up-front with what we are asking of them, and if the opportunities for success and failure are transparent, community members may engage more readily, and help us measure the success of their efforts.

Example: During the Maker Party campaign in the UK in 2013 our partners were unclear of what we were asking of them, and as such the participation was lower than we’d hoped. We were also unclear on what we were measuring -- number of Maker Party events and number of Webmaker (desktop) users -- and some of the feedback we got was about seemingly pushing our product through their networks.

Communication / Feedback loop (software)
Clear channels of communication with our staff, including ways to request resources and training, transparent systems of how we evaluate where to invest and why, and ways for community members to share their thoughts. We already have Discourse, and some very motivated staff members who are in constant contact with community members. For scale and global engagement, however, we need an intake system that eases communication with existing and new community members, and we need it to be systematic rather than personal. If I understand correctly, Regional Coordinators are helping to fill this gap.

Mozilla is unique in its structure and mission. By gaining a more sensitive approach to leveraging our community, we become more effective at helping others stand up. And with a better understanding of different realities, we can help many more millions shape the Internet they want and need.

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