Movement Building and Web Literacy: What’s Next

This is?the second of a two-part?blog (see part I here)

Mozilla?can apply what?we’ve learned from?digital grassroots organizing?to help millions more people become web literate, and move from passive consumers to active citizens of the web. Here are three big opportunities:

Integrate grassroots advocacy into the Mozilla community. This means deeper investment in building our ground game for the web. Though the landscape could change, policy priorities and community interest intersect in the European Union and in India at the moment (on issues like net neutrality, data retention, surveillance). India is home to a very large number of people just coming online. It’s a tremendous opportunity for Mozilla to engage on net neutrality and web literacy — and what happens in India will influence how a huge % of the planet comes to understand the importance of these issues.

Invest in our email list?so?that?we can mobilize at a moment’s notice. Right now, Mozilla has one of the largest email advocacy lists dedicated to web issues in the world. We can empower millions more people by engaging them via email. A global email list is a powerful weapon for protecting the largest public resource on the planet. It’s also an audience for other things Mozilla has to offer — ?including products and learning opportunities. Not all populations rely on email the same way — its usage isn’t universal. We also have to invest in non-email channels where needed.

Fill the information gap. “Online life” is quickly just melding into “life” and threats to that life mean more people are paying attention. in fact, we know from research that people are worried. ?How can I avoid phishing scams? How can I fight government overreach into my private data? What’s a good password look like? What can I do if my credit card is hacked online? How do I hide my search history? People want and need to know more about how to be good web citizens; how to be empowered and smart online. Yet, where’s the creative, clever, poignant, share-ready content to fill in the blanks? How do people get answers so they become confident web citizens?

What will it take?

Here’s where I recommend we focus some energy, and invest in tactical experiments:

Map an agile path for grassroots community building. I use “agile path” because we need to approach the challenge with a beginner’s mind. There’s a lot we don’t know about building a grassroots organizing infrastructure as Mozilla. How will Mozilla’s community respond to calls to action? Who will raise their hand to help build advocacy strategy in a given region, country, or city? What’s the best way to support local leaders? How do we listen to the community members telling us which issues should be priority for Mozilla? How do we partner with policy, brand, participation, communications, product and other teams who also care about community engagement?

Invest in email best practice and the best practitioners. This means as an organization we need to grasp the importance of a virtual community (such as an email list) as a living, breathing thing that needs careful care and nurturing. Right now this work is under-resourced and therefore under-performing in many respects. Peer organizations have staffs larger than ours managing email lists smaller than ours. Email list and community management is a skill, science, art, and craft and the very best at it are in demand (in a growing number of sectors). Better resourcing will lead to careful and smart engagement strategies that keep our community primed for calls to act on the things we all care about.

Invest in design and community-generated content. There’s been much written lately about how important design is to business — I would argue that design can also play a crucial role in the business of movement building. How can we make content with the right look and feel, in the right voice, delivered at the right moment?

Mozilla is like no other organization, and leaning into what makes Mozilla so special will yield incredible growth, and impact — we’ve seen it work for our nascent digital advocacy program. Leveraging our incredible community + building email capacity + investing in great content will help many more m(b)illions become web citizens — not just passive consumers.

Movement Building at Mozilla: What We’ve Learned

(This is Part I in a two-part?series)

Mark asks in his blog post: How can we help m(b)illions more people understand how the web works and how to wield it?

Before joining Mozilla I worked with organizations like, Habitat for Humanity, and CREDO. Though none of them are quite like Mozilla, these organizations provide useful context for understanding how Mozilla’s change-making work is typical (or isn’t). I tend to view Mozilla’s work through a movement-builder’s lens.

As we look at how Mozilla can impact web literacy in the next 1 – 3 years I wanted to explore what we’ve discovered doing digital issue advocacy at Mozilla, and how that might shape our planning. I think at this moment we have an opportunity to leverage Mozilla’s unique strengths — including our incredible community + building email capacity + investing in great content will help many more m(b)illions become web citizens (more details in a follow-up?post here).

How is Mozilla similar to other movements for?change in the world?

In a few fundamental ways, we’ve learned that Mozilla is like many other global grassroots movements.

Our movement is as diverse as the people who use the web. Like with any issue movement, people discover Mozilla’s campaigns in lots of different contexts and their investment may vary. (My colleague Sara Haghdoosti wrote a great post about how we might think about these levels of engagement.)

Our issues are in the mainstream. Mozilla’s issues are now in the mainstream. We can thank whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, data breaches by major retailers and credit card companies, and government surveillance overreach for an upswell in concern and interest. There’s never been such high demand for clarity and practical insight from so much of the global public on issues previously relegated to the “geeks.”

Mozilla needs allies. Working in coalition is vital — just as it has been, for example, for the climate movement. We’ve connected with dozens of organizations on our priority issues — from Electronic Frontier Foundation on net neutrality to Digitale Gesellschaft on German data retention to on net neutrality in India.

The organizations caring about the web around the world are legion, and together we are much stronger than if we stand alone.

We grapple with scalability, logistics, and infrastructure challenges. Every global organization is tackling how to build, facilitate, and manage grassroots community at scale — and localization is but one of the challenges. Should we build a centralized, top-down campaign structure? Or should we build an infrastructure that gives tools for organizing to people around the world? How can we use software like Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) to reach the right people at the right moment? How do we localize campaigns quickly when a crucial moment hits? These are tough logistical challenges that face any movement building organization today. Mozilla is no different.

What makes Mozilla unique?

After a few years of digital advocacy,?we also know more about what makes?Mozilla unique compared with other movements — and how our “unicorn-ness”?helps us win campaigns for the web:

  • Mozilla is both a company that builds products and a non-profit organization with a user-centric mission. Our products, such as Firefox, compete in a global marketplace. Very few nonprofits or NGOs can wield a big stick in a major consumer market in the same way Mozilla can. We can shape markets, and we can shape policy.
  • Mozilla relies on policy experts to establish a strategic roadmap and theory of change. Mozilla is growing its team of policy experts around the world to help navigate the complexities of net policy.
  • Our community was here all along. Most movements spend a lot of time and resources building grassroots communities from scratch. Mozilla has been building community since its inception. Tens of thousands of people around the world are already connected to us — before we ever began serious grassroots organizing. This is a giant leg-up that most organizations would envy.
  • We campaign in the open. We are champions of open source, and we work in the open. Decision-making, policy strategies and campaigns are going to be in the open as much as possible. Open source builds stronger products — I believe it also builds better movements. Few organizations have a Manifesto that compels them to work “in the open.”

What will Mozilla’s?next era?of impact look like?

Read?the next blog (Part II here)