This reflects my own opinion, not the Reps Council’s (if that needs to be said). Last week I was very busy at an exhibition and therefore was not able to write earlier. This also brings me to my first point (in no particular order):
Time to catch up
There is so much going on. Even with me having time to read mails and delete/move the ones that I didn’t need to act on, I still had a lot of communication to catch up with. And that is only the communication I receive. We are not talking about all the videos on AirMo or Discourse topics here. Maybe we could look into how we distribute all necessary information to volunteers? (Yes, I will talk about communication below, which will instantly contradict this sentences here, that is the challenge to solve!)
Communication & Information
While we have sooo many channels (Wiki, IRC, Meetings, Mailing lists, Discourse, Telegram, Slack, Matrix, Mattermost, Mail, 1:1 chats, …), there is still not enough information flow towards volunteers. Either the selection of the channels or the amount of them might be the problem, really hard to say. What I know though is that channels like slack are really not open.
There are at least 2 slack networks I know of, one being the Firefox one, the other Mozilla. What is happening on those channels? What is it used for? What’s the goal of them? Do we need those additionally to IRC? Do we want to replace IRC? What I know is, that all Slack channels I’ve encountered so far do not have any possibility to register for as a volunteer. I’ve not bothered to complain about this in the past, but I feel this is a good way to do so now. This is in no way “defaulting to open”. How many of those discussions happening there are really internal worthy? Why is that the case?
Another topic I’d like to talk about in this section is the term “business value”. Talking with several volunteers, that term doesn’t really have a good association with it for volunteers. While volunteers are very driven by Mozilla’s manifesto and vision, the term “business goals” has a very stale taste. In most cases this amounts to financial and growth goals, while we have Mozilla’s mission in our mind. In Mozilla’s example this is basically the same (with the Corporation fully owned by the Foundation), but nevertheless not all volunteers feel comfortable with that term.
Communication of things Mozilla does
We are really bad at communicating what new exciting stuff Mozilla is doing. There are new repositories on GitHub daily, and other stuff that is harder to be tracked. For example there is a meta bug about “Photon” (Firefox GUI refresh) on Bugzilla, and there was a work week around that recently, but there is no public information about it all that would enable volunteers to get into it.
How can we make sure that new things are easily accessible and known to volunteers? With the right premise this is even okay if the project doesn’t exist anymore in 2 months due to it being an experiment.
Also recently George Roter posted two GitHub repositories on a Telegram channel most people didn’t know about. This is a lot of information to gather, but I’m sure there needs to be a way to make it easier to aggregate new projects and initiatives without the need of waiting for an official blog post months after project initiation, or tracking github and wiki edits daily.
Also most new projects are not built for participation. These come out of a functional area and therefore are known to employees. Volunteers however don’t know the background of them and even though in theory they are open on Github in terms of source, the whole project is not participatory.
Transparency of decisions
With all of this in mind, i still have the feeling that I don’t know the background of a lot of decisions that are taken on a daily basis. I highly doubt that I just miss those, I don’t think it’s as open as I want this to be. With me being on Reps Council, I of course get quite a few messages with more background, but this is a really small group and everything is under NDA. This doesn’t help me to provide background for my fellow community members because I can’t talk about it directly. Mitchell blogged about this quite some time ago and the Reps Council also took part in an experiment to document decisions on Bugzilla. While I like the idea, I’m not 100% sure that this is solving the problem of having transparent decisions, since this only tackles the documentation of it, not the process of actually coming to a decision. I’m fully aware that we can’t do every decision in the open given our media attention. But maybe we could evolve that and do it in the open if we can get the image of actually doing it in the open and that those things are not decisions yet? This seems to have worked quite well with the new logo.
For volunteers without NDA this gets even worse. This means relying on information that is out in blog posts and on mailing lists (and for a lot of communication also posts coming from the media without any possibility to verify it within minutes and feeling confused). For this specific problem I don’t think it’s too much communication, I think it’s not being involved in the decision making itself. If we can get to a process where decisions are being taken in the open, I actually don’t think that this call for input for an open letter would have been necessary.
Also, this is not only about transparency of leadership-level decisions, this also boils down to team’s decisions as already mentioned here before in terms of the Community Development Team’s recent decisions and WebExtensions.
As of now, Mozilla’s goals for 2017 are still under NDA and were only posted in the NDA category of Discourse. Volunteers without NDA as of now still don’t know what Mozilla’s specific goals are for this year, making it really hard to plan. Even if Reps for example now what the goals are, they can’t talk about it and this makes it very hard to guide communities with their planning and focus. To be honest, I don’t see why these goals can’t be public, as I’m hearing “default to open” every few weeks, but that is definitely not living by that principle. What is Mozilla’s leadership team afraid of? Media? Failing in the open?
At the community meetup we had recently in Switzerland I presented the Open Innovation Team’s OKRs (including Community Development Team and Reps) instead of the Mozilla goals, but most volunteers did not really care about those since it doesn’t affect them in their daily work. They would rather hear about Mozlla’s goals as well as functional team’s goals they work with.
Employees working in the open
One of the problems here might be (speculative) that new employees are not anymore living by the “open” and “community” principles we built on in the early days. While there are sessions about community while onboarding new employees, I’ve seen quite a lot of employees who really didn’t care about community or would have made it easier for community to participate in the past years. This is certainly not an easy topic, but this should be the case for every single employee. While some do an exceptional job and going far to facilitate as much as they can to make it easier and more appealing for volunteers to join their part of the projects, some just might not have the right background (or even contradicting OKRs) to do so. It takes time to foster a community, and Mozilla employees should do so, even if that means “getting less done” in the short term.
Since Firefox 42 I’m on the Firefox cross-functional weekly team meeting invitation list. This is a private meeting that talks about all issues Firefox that are interesting for several functional teams. I think this is a great example of a meeting that could be public and would help to understand the goals and what is going on around Firefox. As far as I know Erin now let’s the meeting be recorded and that should be available for NDA’d Mozillians, couldn’t find it so far though. I think we should go a step further than NDA for this one though. (Erin, great work though! Really appreciate your enthusiasm when it comes to community)
Hard to get in touch
As already mentioned previous in several posts here, it is really hard to get in touch with employees. Recently when I needed a contact for the Rust team, I asked my local hackerspace who is really interested in Rust and didn’t go through any channels I would have for myself. Due to that I had an answer within minutes, instead of possibly days.
Henrik’s team is working on integrating Phonebook and Mozillians as far as I know, this might make it easier. But then we also need to make sure that employees are actually there for the community to be contacted, and that they can make time to do so.
Change of direction
Having a vision is not enough for most volunteers, I’d say. With changing focus every 6 months and no goals to hold on to, this makes it very hard to stay contributing as already mentioned from others. A lot of the core of this problem is within the communication problems and decision making being transparent mentioned above. I’m sure that with a transparent decision making process as well as public goals this would look way different. We probably could even do experiments without having a bad, confusing feeling within the communities if we properly explain what is happening and what the risks are.
Currently due to lacking goals and background, a lot of communities feel uncertain and this creates a very unhealthy situation. What I’m hearing a lot is “why should I be working on that since it will be killed anyway in the future?” instead of “this is a great experiment, I want to be part of it and make it a success so we can work on it further”.
Other way for NDA
As of now, having an NDA gives you quite some additional information. It’s up to everyone to deal with this. Personally I think it’s nice to know what is going on even before there is a blog post, but still I can’t talk to my local community about it and guide them. Most things that are currently under NDA don’t strike me as being necessary to be under NDA apart from the whole “it will create a media article, we need to be careful there” perspective. Is there a better way to handle this kind of information? Do we need to set the expectations of that kind of communication differently? Can we come to a point where we have open discussions about these kind of things and go back to the roots where the corporation and all volunteers are on the same level again? On that note, I completely understand there are other topics that have nothing to do in the open (financials, deals with partners, etc), but that is just a really minor part of the informations that are shared under NDA.
Quite a lot of points, I agree