On working open in a closed world

At Mozilla, we talk a lot about how working in the open can benefit our communities. As Mozillians, we come from a lot of different backgrounds and experience levels in terms of “openness,” and have blogged and blogged and blogged about this subject, trying to fight “community debt” and keep people active and involved using open processes to collaboration. As David Boswell pointed out at a recent talk,  a lot of this is the expanding nature of our communities; while he was able to reach out to one or two people when he wanted to get involved fifteen years ago, now there are hundreds of listservs and tools and thousands of people to engage with.

At Ada Camp this weekend, I had a wonderful conversation with other feminists about hospitality and its absence in many communities. Working open is, for me, a form of hospitality. When we use phrases like “Designing for Participation,” we are actually inviting people into our work and then gifting it to them, asking them to share in our creativity, and using the power of the collective “hive” mind in order to create something beautiful, functional, and delightful. We should be continuing to embrace this gift economy, recognizing contributors in ways that they both want, and in perhaps less tangible ways.

There’s a section of the book The Ethical Slut (pardon the title) that I’ve always loved. The authors propose that love and affection in our society is engaged a mythical “starvation economy” and claim that many of us have been conditioned since childhood to “fight for whatever we get, often in cutthroat competition with our brothers and sisters.” They assert that people who believe in starvation economics are often possessive of their work, friends, and things, believing that anything they get has to come from “a small pool of not-enough” and has to be taken from someone else. Further, anything that they have can only be taken from them rather than shared.

I believe that creativity can be conceived of in a similar fashion. If there’s anything that working for Mozilla has taught me, it is that there are always enough (usually too many!) ideas to go around. Embracing creativity as a collaborative process is central to our ethos, and working “default open” should not just be about the final work, it should be also about the journey to get there. Inviting people to provide input into the story as well as the final product will not only make our events, projects, and products better, it will inspire a new kind of work and motivate our communities to find their impact because they have a say in the projects and products they love.

While making project pages public, inviting volunteers to meetings and workweeks, and using public forums rather than personal emails are a start to working in the open, there is still so much more that we can be doing to ensure that a multitude of voices are included in our process. We can learn a lot from other open source communities, but I would posit that we can also be learning from activist communities, non-profits, corporate trainings, and others. We’ve already begun with our speaker series “Learning from other non-profits,” but I look forward to seeing how much more we can do. Breaking down the silos can help us empower and grow our communities in ways we didn’t think possible.

As the community building team asserts,

Mozilla has reached the limits of unplanned, organic community growth.

For many people, one-on-one and personal interaction is the most important part of community, and until we create processes for creating and maintaining these connections as well as systems for mediating the inevitable conflicts that arise within communities working together toward a common goal, we have failed as advocates and community builders.

To that end, I am working with my colleagues to bring process-based solutions into conversation and indeed into the structure of the organization. From Mozilla “guides” who will help contributors find their way in an increasingly confusing contributor landscape to training in non-violent communication and consensus, we want to provide our communities open solutions that make them want to continue contributing and creatively collaborating together. We can do other things as well, like running exciting meetings with innovative structures, providing fun tasks to volunteers, and keeping personal connections vivid and electric with possibility.

On holidays, many Jews traditionally open the door and make a plate for any person who has no place to go. Reinterpreting that for our own creative processes, I would say that we should open the door and leave a place in our work for new people and new ideas because, as we have seen, there is enough. There is always enough.



3 thoughts on “On working open in a closed world

  1. Pingback: Why I feel like an Open Source Failure | jennie rose halperin

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