Recently Mitchell posted her thoughts on how the Mozilla Foundation might go about expanding the scope of its activities, in response to posts from various other people. Mark Surman’s post in particular is interesting in its proposal for how the Mozilla Foundation might adopt a broader and more participatory approach to defining its future scope and role; to some degree his proposal contrasts with Mitchell’s thoughts about building concentric circles starting with the current focus on software development, where [the] next circle out would be pretty closely related to this, the next circle a little less so, and so on.
I think what we’re trying to do here is analogous to creating a product roadmap and a product plan for the next release, in essence defining what Mozilla Foundation 2.0 should look like. As with a product plan, one approach is to look at existing product features of the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla generally and see how they could be incrementally improved and extended; I read Mitchell’s concentric circles idea as an example of this.
Another approach is analogous to product planning based on user feedback, market research, and so on: do lots of brainstorming (the more brains the better) on what overall goals people might want the Mozilla Foundation to help facilitate, evaluate the various goals to see how they fit with the Foundation’s and Mozilla’s nature and resources, and then decide which to pursue. These approaches are not mutually exclusive of course: new product releases typically incorporate a mix of enhanced features and completely new features.
As I see it, with his scaffolding + support + investment idea Mark is proposing a particular type of participatory approach to defining how to create an open web, with the Mozilla Foundation encouraging the generation and collection of new ideas and providing a platform for people to do this (the scaffolding phase), working with others to filter the entire set of ideas down to a suitable subset (the support phase), and then proceeding to implementation for a smaller subset (the investment phase). I think this general approach is worth looking at, with the actual details (how do we encourage people to contribute ideas? should we set up a wiki for collection of ideas? should we give people grants to flesh out ideas?) up for discussion.
Of course in practice user feedback can be of limited value. When planning a new product release many of the ideas submitted by users are either quite limited in scope (fix this bug) or are too vague or broad to be useful (make it work better). However I still think seeking broader input is useful: We can gauge the popularity of ideas already proposed, see if there are fairly obvious possibilities previously overlooked for some reason, determine broad themes in terms of what people are looking for, and quite possibly get some genuinely useful and interesting new ideas. Since encouraging participation is one of Mozilla’s core values, having a more participatory process for planning the future of the Mozilla Foundation makes eminent sense.
A key challenge in doing this successfully will be qualifying proposed ideas to see which might be most suitable. I think we should judge proposals on at least two criteria:
How and to what extent will they advance the cause of an open participatory web?
How consistent are they with the Mozilla DNA.
Using the second criterion requires that we have a reasonable consensus on what the Mozilla DNA actually is. I’ll write more on this topic in my next post.