#Mozfest pt. 2: Working in the open

Mozilla Festival, beyond being fun, was most important for us because it really pushed us to think about the “how” – how do we build momentum towards our ambitious goal of changing relationships to electronics?

If there is one thing we’ve learned working over ten years in global development, it’s “how matters”.

Ugo and I have ideas that we are very excited about, and it’s natural that we get “attached” – even to the most minute detail.

“Working in the open”, as Mozilla calls it, is to practice a very intentional and mindful “non-attachment” to projects – it means bringing in people who are motivated by the same things but letting your community shape, and sometimes control, outcomes. (Mozilla has developed most of its most famous products together with distributed, online communities. It’s new product Popcorn is a shining example of that.)

We attended Gunner‘s impromptu talk on “working in the open” and it was like drinking two liters of the most amazing coffee (blog notes here). We’ve had a chance to reflect, and here is where we “think ahead and think aloud”.

Gunner in action – photo by Flicker user Paul_clarke on CC license

Gunner proposed that working in the open does not mean anarchy, instead it means being clear about who is convening, who is driving an effort, but guaranteeing that these people are accessible and responsive. This is achieved from the very beginning, he claims, “before anybody gives a damn” about your project: blogging, being communicative and creating real opportunities for expressions of interest and volunteering.

All things we have been trying to do. (But it’s not easy, especially when both of us cannot work fulltime on this yet.) In the end, if we are not quick enough to engage people and bring them in, we have nobody but ourselves to blame.

One of our biggest challenges is engaging volunteer techies and repairers between events and getting firm commitments to attend. We’re experimenting with Meetup and we have an email newsletter, but paradoxically those who are most likely to get involved are not as permanently online as we are. Achieving horizontal, virtual community will not be as easy for us as for the Mozilla’s of the world.

We are now working with dedicated non-repairer volunteers in north London – where we have been popping up longer – to help organise and promote events in December, which will be our six month “birthday”. (We would like to head this direction in Brixton, but we are still too new, we are working on building a corps of repairers.)

Another thing Gunner raised which is super important was creating a mythology and a joint narrative in a community, and this is something I’ll be honest, we had not really given enough thought to.

In reflecting, this is a natural human need, to feel a part of something that has a history, has a face. This goes with the human desire for fun, for feeling good.

So we’ll be commemorating our half birthday at Belsize Community Library in December and we hope everybody is there to help us narrate our beginnings! (The results of which we will share here.)

And there we can share how we’ve decided to create a flexible structure for our exciting new work in 2013 (including developing online projects), and how community members can get more involved.

I remember having this massive headrush comparing Gunner’s wisdom about being a “principal” in a community to what I learned from working with social movements in different countries. Many of the lessons were the same and many of the pitfalls were too.

One of the things I most liked and felt most challenged by was the idea every open community should strive towards the day when the “principals” of a community are like the “roadies” or the cleaners. The more mundane their tasks, the better. An open community drives itself.

In the interest of “working in the open” – soon we’ll be starting an email list (update: you can join here) for those who would like to roll up their sleeves and help Restart Project grow – we would love for it to include not just those who have attended events in person, but those who have cheered us on virtually.



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