About the Volunteer role in the Mozilla workflow decision chain

This discussion that I started few days ago About gratification for volunteers in Mozilla opened a lot of interesting points but also other discussions privately in the last days.

The first learning that there are volunteers that doesn’t want to join this discussion publicly to avoid any issue in their volunteer life and future in Mozilla. And I will not disclose them of course, the other point is that over 700 people read that so seems a hot topic but is difficult to get engagement, but I cannot investigate further on that because I have another topic to discuss.

I am not worried of myself in Mozilla as volunteer because I am trying to be honest (with these threads, because this is only the second one) and explain the problems to have a discussion that is public and not forgotten after a meeting (also because of my background as mozillian).
A discussion and not a document on Google Drive that will be lost in the various folders but in a public forum, where also people can agree or disagree, but there will be more inclusivity.

What is the meaning of the Volunteer role?
At the time of Firefox OS contribute to Mozilla was amazing.
You got everything you need, phones (also few days before the dead), swag, resources (also books).
Mozilla had a common project to move on, not like now that every team is working on their OKR without any interaction or organization across them. There are teams that are working together of course, but they are like a star in a clean sky. Or a strange universe.

Talking with a lot of volunteers as Reps Council member, a long time Contributor (with a lot of hours spent every week in the past) and someone that you can reach at local events I discovered a lot of different experiences.
The common point is what a volunteer is allowed to do?

My main experience is about contributing with coding and on participation/community management side so for other kind of experiences I leave the thread to you to avoid any misconceptions and confusion.

Mozilla can do all the pages/website about contributing with code and to other area and easily forget after a year (links that are part of my bookmark collection). Without check what people ask on internet (picked few links).

Now to be a volunteer, that is an active contributor, (I don’t want to open a discussion about the meaning of active/inactive, because I hope that Mission Driven Mozillian finally will explain it), you need a huge list of bookmarks.

This kind of one of my tasks in my community, when someone has questions I check if I have a link that help him because it is very difficult to understand the structure, the various teams and how works.
Often new volunteers doesn’t thrust me about the fact that is very complicated and is more than a corporation than a foundation as acting on project management for an open source project(s).

I remember a question in live this year at Fosdem (the biggest European conference about open source) where people asked me how to contribute to Mozilla. Now I have enough experience to say that in this kind of event the people is already skilled to search on internet but looking with their eyes, this is not easy at all.
Also at Fosdem there was a talk about it of 30 minutes, so it isn’t a little topic.

Usually in Mozilla (after Firefox OS) there is no so much time for employees to follow volunteers or contribution. If a volunteer pick a task that is ranked as priority 4, this probably will never be reviewed until is priority 1, if evolve to priority 1 and is not closed in the meantime because there is no interest anymore. At the same time priority 1 are usually taken by employees because there are a lot of stuff to do and in time, so they cannot give the accountability to a volunteer.

So why someone should give hours to work on a ticket/bug/patch/task (or voice to move on the discussion in a big view) if maybe will be reviewed after a year only to discover that to get a review need to be updated, because the code is not aligned with the latest release? And maybe this will be reviewed after many other months when there will be time.
Or in case you know personally one of the employee to ask for a check when they have time. Something that is not scalable, that doesn’t always work and is not so good for inclusivity to new people.
Of course there are tasks perfect for new contributors or for volunteers considered easy or with a mentor that can help but not every team/project works in that way.

This behavior shows that the interest of a volunteer(s) have no meaning for the project, and this happens also on leading new technologies or proposing features/api and so on.
Similar to the Mozilla competitors, so the value that volunteers can bring is ignored but Mozilla is promoted as open source in all of their projects.
That is different to say “we release our project as open source, that follows all the rules (https://opensource.org/osd-annotated) but is not opened easily to open source contributions” like business companies in IT world that do the same.
Again of course this doesn’t happen with all the projects in Mozilla but is a common behavior/management.

So what means for Mozilla be a volunteer? Someone that works with the people in lives (like a rockstar), promoting, localizing, write documentation, supporting and organize events.
But this is only a part, contributors in Open Source projects and Foundations are part of the decisions not only the last step: promoting and talk with the public/users.

Take Firefox OS: organize events, promote it, mentor people because it is something not easy for Mozilla to scale globally (because after all the human part is not so huge like the other competitors).
Take again the various campaigns by Open Innovation team, take the old campaigns (that I remember all of them also if their website doesn’t exist anymore but volunteers keep doing lists).

The feeling is that Mozilla remembers of their volunteers only when they need us for their decisions as priority every year (there are exceptions, take this discussion as my overall experience in the last 6 years).
Can be VR, IoT (with the previous version like Common Devices), Rust, A-Frame, Android, WebMaker, Program closed after 1 year or 2 etc (is a long list) and other abandoned where is not clear to public what is the relationship (Thunderbird).
And the volunteers are the people in the battlefield that are not part of the important things like decide the direction.

Personally I preferred when the Open Innovation team was called Participation (for me this is still the real name) because it was clear what is doing. Work with volunteers to move on things instead be in the middle between Mozilla and volunteers.
Mission Driven Mozillian started with the point that a lot of teams have a Community Manager (or more) that often are not collaborating with other teams members and is a no-sense.
Of course again this doesn’t always happen and every time, this is a long time experience in different years.

Basically for veteran volunteers is easy, they know people to ask things but for new is very difficult. Think this in a region/local/country without a community how much can be painful start to do stuff.

Isolate is not the best thing in an Open Source project and seems that the only role/person across the various team is the volunteer :-/

What Mozilla can do?

Put the volunteers as part of the discussions, not only at all hands (when it is possible to join meetings for a NDA volunteer) but also on big discussions (not the last part of the process) because Mozilla is losing the trustworthy from the community (look on internet discussions if you cannot go on open source events) and losing the fight against other competitors that do better community involvement (also if the volunteers are not part of the discussion).

In my experience my feeling in meetings was “ok I am listening but after all I will not do anything of what you suggested/discussed/promoted” and these is painful for a long time contributor like me and many others. And also for whom contribute/d in a lot of projects outside Mozilla.
Often I am afraid that I go to events not so much for the event but for the friends that are there, in other words the Mozilla manifesto is not a part anymore.

Just a point this is not an attack to a person or a team but an observation of my experience in over 6 years inside the community.
A lot of things are changed/evolved but is not enough for me (as example) because it is blocking me to do new contributions and enjoying doing them (also to lead by example).

The floor is yours, thanks if you had time to read all this big message (maybe can be classified as rant) but I think that I am not the only thinking this.

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Hi @Mte90,

Thanks for sharing your opinion here, I really understand your frustration especially because I know you have been really interested in technical contributions in the past.

One of the things that I’ve been really focused in the past years have been thinking about how we can design community strategies to solve many of the things you mentioned here, the reality is that old projects, especially the technical ones, are really difficult to optimize for that kind of expectations we had in the past. Firefox desktop for example moves at the speed where a volunteer with just a few hours a week will have troubles to keep up with a lot of employees investing their full day to work on development on fast 6 weeks release schedules.

At the same time I want to acknowledge that we have made huge progress into optimizing, surfacing and engaging into non-technical contributions to many many projects in the past two years as part of mission driven mozillians campaigns and we have been able to deliver great value to both teams and contributors, the reason for this is that we have been open by design since we started these projects, and the increasing contributor numbers in each campaign and project signal that we are in the right direction.

I would be really interested in hearing more about the places where your expectations do not match today, we are actively helping design more healthy community strategies and experiences but you have to understand that our time is limited and we usually focus on the projects that can deliver more value to the project and volunteers (which sometimes is a tricky balance to find).

At the same time one of my personal goals it’s always to enable a space where volunteers can feel empowered enough to drive their own initiatives that can amplify the value on the things that are really important for Mozilla, and I would also love to know what are the things missing to enable you to do so.


I’m replying only because I read this post (thereby increasing the view count) and if I don’t put a reply it may later be counted as “doesn’t want to join this discussion publicly to avoid any issue in their volunteer life and future in Mozilla”.

It is just today that one of the communities I am a part of started working on adding a local language to voice.mozilla.org. No swags involved, no phones involved, no resources (other than web resources) involved. The value of the direction Mozilla is taking in generating a corpus like this was implicitly understood by the people of that community. They were not worried about Mozilla not having had them on the discussion table because Mozilla had chosen the right direction.

Now, has Mozilla always chosen the right direction all the time? Perhaps there’s mistakes been made. Perhaps in hindsight, Firefox OS being KaiOS and getting major share in a market like India may sound like Mozilla made a bad decision in the past. But, I think the fact is that some decisions are tough to make but easy to criticize.

I do not understand the flow of your argument completely. It is perhaps got to do with us being non-English speakers. But, I do not understand why you have linked to various websites like whatcanidoformozilla.org, codetribute, bugsahoy, etc. What is the argument you are making here? Is the existence of these resources bad? Should they all be shut down? Are you saying that they should all be merged into one?

What I understand you’re saying is that it is very hard to tell people how to contribute to Mozilla. I agree. It is hard. In fact, Mozilla India just redesigned their website because of exactly this problem. Is it Mozilla’s problem that the challenges that the open web is facing has been growing exponentially fast? Machine learning had nothing to do with the open web a few years ago. Virtual reality had nothing to do with the open web a few years ago. Internet was not that of things, but that of webpages in the past. C++ was enough. Android wasn’t so popular. Google, Amazon, Facebook, weren’t so evil. World over privacy violating laws were not being drafted. Surveillance was not easy. Internet wasn’t being cut into lanes.

Is it Mozilla’s fault that so many things are happening at once? That most of these things are harmful for the open web? That Mozilla is one of the few who can and does fight for the open web?

Which decision on direction could have been made better with volunteers being a part of the decision?

Which “competitor that does better community involvement” is Mozilla losing the fight against? Google? Microsoft?

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You have to know as a volunteer contributor that you are not in the workflow decision chain.

Mozilla is a hierarchical organization with bosses and boards.

Volunteers are welcome to contribute and some voices are respected advisors but you are not and will not be a decision maker.

Mozilla releases open source tools, works openly(ish), but it is not governed openly, and as @nukeador points out this maybe more efficient for a technical org releasing a browser.

I disagree here. I would said “you are not the final decision maker for some projects”.

One of the things we are trying to keep encouraging is that communities come up with fully community-driven projects and initiatives, and this includes governance. One clear example of this is the Reps program that, while funded by MoCo, its governance is lead by volunteers.

@nukeador I am glad to hear that about reps, funding and allowing community governance is an interesting model plus it meant Reps survived the efforts of many to reshape or eliminate program over the years. This seems more sustainable.

My contributions were more on the MoFo side the last eight years. If we had used a similar approach maybe some of the stuff and communities we built would still be around.

Everything we built is gone.

Maybe a new community governance model for a program like Reps will help.

I would avoid making such statements if you don’t have something to prove it. I’ve been involved (initially as a volunteer) since the Reps program foundation and I don’t think there has been many people trying to eliminate it.

On governance, as a Reps program manager (appointed as staff) I keep my efforts working with @Ioana and the rest of the Module peers to make sure the program governance keeps evolving and adapts to the different environments and direction Mozilla takes in the future.

My big doubt about it is: how many of this new contributors joined the community or only the event and disappeared later? I remember different discussions about post-event engagement but right now I never saw something for it.

It is something already written in this thread and in the other one (and in the new that I will open).
Mainly I think that the balance is not often to the volunteers but the priorities of Mozilla itself. This is blocking the community to grow or to evolve without any support on long term but also clarity about the future of projects (not only Firefox OS but also WebMaker, Thimble, Mozilla Club etc.).
As like right now where there is a lot of investment of resources on VR but is not clear the future of that because not everyone can access it, so maybe is better to work on improve the browser API support? I don’t know, but this kind of discussions with the first users of Mozilla (volunteers) products is missing.

This discussion showed that the values often doesn’t follow the facts, like be inclusive of the volunteers on decisions and not (only) on the promotion.

This was an example on when mozilla reinvent the wheel with a high fragmentation of resources and clarity to new volunteers after a while with an easy forget of what was already did. Seems that is not learning from the past and has a short memory…

I am not saying that, I am saying that there isn’t only that. Few years ago the topic was Web Literacy but after a while this “wasn’t interesting enough” so abandoned, moved to advocacy to crypt your data or net neutrality and again after a while not interesting anymore (like also for EU copyright).

I think that all of them will be a start. We are the first evangelists of mozilla so we can offer insights that maybe others don’t see because we have a long-time memory as example.

Yes (but also others), looking on how much their community grows and gather new people, do better evangelists and are more attractive compared to the Mozilla brand.

This works a bit because there is mozilla direct support but is not evolving fast as is should be required. I am wondering of others community driven projects because MozReps has like 8 years but was happened in the meantime.

I am sorry because seems that I am attacking @nukeador but because I know him in person and is one of the people that interact more with volunteers understand better that a lot of things are not clear and not evolving.

That’s the point when I say that the values exists but not the facts, because the approach inside the foundation are different team by team.
Basically is easy to see the difference in a team when approach community management, check if there are 3+ years or people that was part of the community.
The approach is very different because they learned the needs of the projects but also of the people.

I think the post we published back in 2017 about “Open by Design” describes well the situation at Mozilla

Historically a lot of internal teams and projects have acted under the “open by default” policy and that might have resulted in some of the frustrations you are describing.

My point here is that I think we can solve with good designs for some new important projects but we can’t solve this for all of them right now. That’s why for example my team is focusing on the important present and future opportunities for mozilla and invest our time there instead of every other existing project.

@nukeador I like the new model for Reps a ton.

I don’t want to call out historical facts to “prove” my position when people are still employees, but you know there were efforts to reshape or shut down the reps program.

Reps survived because of the power of the contributors.

I think the governance model with Mozilla funding but using a hand off approach makes sense.

The frustration @Mte90 feels is real. Nothing like seeing every project you have contributed to get shut down year after with no say.

For me this happened with the web literacy map. We worked so hard on version 1.0 and then our 1.5 fork. You will find no mention of 1.5 anywhere. Staff did not like our 1.5 version then decided to do Web Literacy Map 2.0 not in the open and invite only “experts.”

Then web literacy got shut down so I guess it didn’t matter.

Before MoFo exited the learning business is was a bit chaotic. Goals switched quarterly after each board meeting. You had to appease soft funders more than goals and contributors.

You didn’t want to cause to big of waves as this caused tensions between employees and their bosses. I may believe in something…but enough to cause a friend strife at work…not that much

We switched names every other day and actually never even settled on one before the entire effort to increase web literacy got shut down.

Sad part is contributors knew the projects were destined to fail and our warnings went unheeded. For example there was no way possible we would get 500 Mozilla clubs in 100 cities up and running in a year.

The Reps model for a project makes more sense because Mozilla shouldn’t be in the “running programs” business, there is enough proof that the failure rate is too high, but should support programs that align to the Manifesto.

Mozilla works best as a philanthropic entrepreneurial activism engine.

Another shut down project was Firefox OS.

As it was, at the time, I had been contributing to the project since I received a Flame device, several months before. I was invited to the December 2015 All Hands, where I met the owner of the feature I had been working with, and we planned together what we would do for the next 6 months.

They got lots of people involved, staff and volunteers including myself, they gave out a lot of Sony devices during the Singapore Leadership Summit and a few months later they killed the OS, leaving a lot of people very disappointed indeed!

I felt really awful and left out. I was very, VERY angry! So much that I stopped contributing for some time!

I started again a few months later due to contributing to Mozilla had become part of my life for more than 8 years then (11 at the present time). But I’ll never forget how disappointed, left out and angry I was at that time!