Sarah Allen, MozFest Director, on how to collaborate with 2,000 participants. Online Discussion Notes.   Recently updated !


FabRiders’ Network-Centric Resources Project supports the development of people-powered and participatory resources that establish assets for networks and communities. Our past online discussions have focused on developing content with and for communities and network’s, such as Soraya Okuda and EFF’s Security Education Companion and Heather Leson with IFRC’s Data Playbook, or around collaboration tools like the one we did with Adam Hyde on FLOSS Manuals and Editoria.

On January 17th, 2019, Sarah Allen from MozFest joined me for an online discussion looking at the Network-Centric Resource as an event that brings people together to collaborate.

Important points from the discussion:

  • MozFest is a seven-day festival that takes place in the final week of October, celebrating and promoting a healthy internet.
    • MozFest House is the first five days of the festival with films, workshops, conferences, and talks, all focusing on Internet health and showcasing the diversity of the Mozilla network.
    • MozFest Weekend is the gathering of roughly 2000 individuals, attending 320 workshops sessions, provided by around 600 Facilitators.
  • The MozFest Weekend is designed for individuals to come with an idea and leave with a network. It’s not about panels and presentations, it’s about participation. The goal is for everyone that comes to the festival to be engaged, involved and participate in projects and ideas.
  • Organising themes and content for MozFest begins in April at a retreat bringing together the year’s cohort of around 50 ‘Space Wranglers’ – the individuals who will select and organise the content.
    • Spaces‘ might be called ‘Tracks’ at other events. Wranglers will define their ‘Space’ based on the priorities and issues that they find relevant for their work.
  • The call for proposals for sessions begins in June and ends in August. Last year, there were 900 proposals submitted. 
  • In September, we make the final selection of sessions. Three hundred twenty proposals were accepted this year.
  • There are around 600 Facilitators, and the period between proposal acceptance and the Festival on the last weekend in October is about getting the sessions ready.
    • MozFest has a very diverse range of attendees, and facilitators must plan for not knowing who will show up for their session.
    • We ask facilitators to think about ‘not what you can do for participants, but what can your participants do for you.
  • A federated model is used to organise MozFest, with a core team of around seven or eight individuals, who build the frame and the 50 wranglers, build out the content. 600 facilitators, will enable all the participants that come to their sessions to collaborate in their work.
    • After the retreat in April, weekly calls are held for the wranglers to discuss challenges up until the week of MozFest, when everyone convenes and begins to build and organise at the venue.
    • In the run-up to MozFest, we hold several online coaching sessions for Facilitators. And introduce them to the Facilitator Handbook. On Friday at the start of the weekend, is the Facilitator Orientation Session.
  • Sarah’s values around working open and empowering others to take part and have agency sustain her. She feels lucky to work with this community as she can see the power of bringing these people together.

Resources & inspiration mentioned in the discussion.

The online conversation in full


Notes from the conversation.

MozFest is a seven-day festival that takes place in London and the UK. It’s not about Mozilla but those that come to participate in it.

It happens at two different venues, MozFest House and MozFest Weekend, both are particular event for a particular audience.

MozFest weekend is a crazy loud set of 320 sessions – we aim to have something for everyone. Cater for all ages, such as the Youth Zone, where an eight year-old might be running a session. MozFest is very much about choosing your own adventure.

There is also a Dialogue and Debate space, where you can listen to someone talk about data collection in South Africa or concerns around AI.

The MozFest weekend is where we get 2000 people to come together – everyone who participates holds the design and execution of the event. There’s the Wranglers who run the spaces (or tracks) that help design the festival.

MozFest is about keeping the web open free and accessible to all, these issues are brought to a retreat in April where the space wranglers pick them up and make them their own. Wranglers come from all across the globe, diverse skill sets and ages – what do they want to talk about? How do these issues impact them?

We make the call for sessions in the Summer, last year we had 900 sessions submitted, and the wranglers then select 300 sessions and ask the Facilitators to join the team and help to build MozFest.

How can we help the facilitators build a session. It’s a one hour piece that becomes a chapter in a book that becomes MozFest.

The spaces are defined around narratives- narratives that are coming from the space wranglers’ communities. There is a continuous design iteration, that is about what matters to the wranglers – and bring those responses. Bringing the experiences. The Facilitators bring their own experiences and then the participants get added to the mix on the weekend. The attendees respond to the session and put in their own experience.

The schedule isn’t finalised until the end of MozFest. You come with an idea and leave with a network.

The hope is that their projects move forward, a lot of great work takes place in the sessions. But also great conversations happen around the event. The session is just a moment in the ark of the work that is going on but the work is continuing. So it isn’t a one off, but part of a longer process.

MozFest is not about panels and presentation. We are here to build and design together –

There is an intentionality in the call – what do you want to get from the participant. Don’t come with something you want to tell, but come with your questions and challenges.

No slide-decks and no panels, we want to get the participants engaged and contributing.

Some facilitators get the format but others have to change their frame of how it work.

It’s not about selling – it’s about coming to get inputs. You are having conversations all the way through MozFest.

In this day and age – what MozFest – what the Internet can do is give a platform for broadcast to anyone. If you bring people together – getting people to travel thousands of miles – it’s about engaging them, not broadcasting.

You can embroider at MozFest!

The diversity means you don’t know who is going to come to your sessions.

The federated model: the core production team is seven or eight – they build the frame of the weekend – the frame holds the content, which is the schedule – and the wranglers own that – and then it’s the facilitators and then the pariticipants.

In the federated model – we want people to help us make it better next year – it’s ‘how can WE make it better next year’

It’s not about the hierarchy – there’s a levelling – there’s not a hierarchy – everyone’s contribution is equally important.

We want to make the conference as an accessible as it can be. We ask facilitators to come for the whole weekend. They carry the weekend.

We get facilitators to learn about their participants right at the beginning of a session by doing a really quick go-round and ask participants why they came to the session. We hope facilitators can think on their feet and shift gears if they figure out that they have a completely different group of people in front of them.

Aspiration has a yearly event – NPDev – that is very much in the DNA of MozFest – these participatory events are not proprietary and the

Sarah produced a MozFest in 2013 and she didn’t see herself as a Techie – that first MozFest – she felt welcomed – sense of opportunity to collaborate – she feels that is the heart of what it is and it’s been important to

Practicing working open – wants to be able to empower others to be part of the event. Welcoming other and make sure that they have agencies – When you talk about working ‘open’ – it’s ultimately about collaboration – it’s about slowing down so people can give you opinions and also help you figure out how to make it better.

She feels lucky to work in this community. She never thinks she’s the one who is going to solve the problem, but knows – the other people will be able to solve the problem.

It’s really important to ask people why they came to the session and what do they want – so it’s seen as a level set.

Breaking people down into small groups early in the sessions is critical.

The wranglers first get together in a retreat – they are locatied all across the globe – so they have one moment – where they then come together – after that we have a once a week call to bring everyone together to ask questions and also tell stories about what’s going on. We also get the seasoned wranglers to guest on those calls,

Then a few days before MozFest we come together and physically start to build the space.

The wranglers self-organise and communicate routinely – they are a support team for each other. Past wranglers –

We are learning about note-taking – we are struggling. We do have everything on Git Hug – all the sessions and take collaborative note-taking – have more note taking

Record and get people to blog – Also in Network –

People can get involved – follow @mozillafestival – in June we will ask for proposals for submissions –

120 stipends –