Authors: Esther Plomp, Lena Karvovskaya, Yasemin Turkyilmaz – van der Velden
From the 14th of April until the 7th of May, the Mozilla Foundation launched the “Movement-building from home” – a series of online meetings. The topic of these meetings was activism, community building, and maintenance in the special circumstances around COVID-19. Below follows a summary with some of the key points out of these meetings and some resources that were brought together by all the participants.
Throughout these calls, it was inspiring to hear about the ways that people deal with the new situations caused by COVID-19. Everyone is experiencing similar challenges but shows the remarkable ability to adapt to these changes, and we felt connected through our compassion and understanding during these unusual times.
The sessions were hosted by Abigail Cabunoc Mayes and Chad Sansing from Mozilla Foundation. There were four sessions per week to enable people to join at their preferred time. The calls were open to anyone interested in online community and movement building and sharing experiences. The notes and recordings are available online:
- Week 1: Online Meetings (Notes, Recording)
- Week 2: Community Care (Notes, Recording)
- Week 3: Personal Ecology (Notes, Recording)
- Week 4: Community Management (Notes, Recording)
- Bonus episode! (May 26th)
- See also the additional resources for each of the calls
Each session started with a check-in where participants wrote some information about themselves in a collaborative google document, as well as their expectations of the call. After the check-in, the discussion topic of the week was introduced by Abby, as well as the functionalities of the tools used (Google Docs, Zoom). This was followed by some expectations that Abby and Chad had of the participants of the calls. To facilitate an inclusive and accommodating environment we were referred to the Community Participations Guidelines. Issues could be reported to either Abby and/or Chad. Now that a secure environment was established, the goals of the call were outlined based on the topics of the different weeks. After this introduction, the participants got to contribute their experiences on the topic. Abby and Chad summarized the experiences and added their comments to the document. In the next part, Abby and Chad introduced the content that they have prepared and answered questions. Every call included break-out rooms (2-3 people) where participants could have more intimate discussions related to the topic of the meeting. Finally, reflections and take away points from these break out discussions were summarised, and participants were directed to other resources and means to stay in touch with the community.
Week 1: Online Meetings
The first week focussed on our positive and negative experiences with online meetings. The participants listed some successes and challenges:
To host a successful online meeting, you should first choose an accessible platform that meets the needs of your community in terms of privacy and safety (see some examples of platforms here). It should be clear what participants require from the call, and you should follow up with anyone that could not attend the meeting. You should be explicit about the types of contributions you expect from participants, such as note-taking, facilitating the discussion or keeping time. It is good to allow for asynchronous contribution through a collaborative note-taking document to make space for questions as well as contributions from anyone that could not attend. You should document your meeting through e.g., a recording, captioning, or a summary. To facilitate more interaction, participants can be split up into smaller groups using break-out rooms. When your meeting has ended, it should be clear what the next actions are, and how participants can stay in touch with you and each other.
Week 2: Community Care
The second week on ‘Online Meetings’ focussed on community care which was defined as:
all of the ways in which you show attention to and care for your community members across different dimensions of accessibility, equity, and inclusions, from caring meeting times to compensation to hitting pause when things go wrong to take care of people first, etc.
Community care is basically any care provided by an individual to benefit other people in their life. The participants listed some successes and challenges:
Here are the take home messages from this call:
- Ensure belonging by MIMI (make it more inviting), set up enough structure to provide a clear purpose, while maintaining enough flexibility to care for each other, and people’s safety and privacy.
- Repeating foundational practices such as the Community Practice Guidelines while checking-in with the community members, and showing gratitude and recognition.
- Flexibility and prioritization for adjusting to the new norms. What are elements you must sustain, what can be de-emphasized to reduce overwhelming?
- Assessing needs, especially those around privacy and security and communicating risks involved with various platforms.
- Being prepared about how to disagree. Taking an increased response time to overcome fear-driven defensiveness and sharing key information and gathering responses ahead of time to limit surprises.
- Careful and caring moderation. Generating new communication channels when necessary while avoiding duplication/overload.
- Reframing professional development & training by asking what people need to do, by offering training on not only new online tools and risks involved but also on new life and work balance demands. Using collaboration and mentorship to show care and build capacity for continuity.
- Opting-in social time to help members to feel belonging to their community by doing lightweight prompts such as google street map tours of hometowns, pet parades and virtual play dates.
- Expect to make mistakes and rehearse taking responsibility and moving forward from them.
- Ensuring sustainability by re-assessing roles, responsibilities, and contribution pathways, identifying what matters most to continue online, and scanning for funding opportunities.
Week 3: Personal Ecology
Personal Ecology is a term that is not well known outside of Mozilla’s community. It refers to self-care in a wide sense of the word: things one does to stay happy, healthy, and engaged with one’s work.
Personal ecology means “To maintain balance, pacing and efficiency to sustain our energy over a lifetime.” – Rockwood Leadership Institute, Art of Leadership
At the beginning of the meeting, some prompts were offered to the participants:
The big idea behind personal is that taking care of oneself is among the responsibilities of an activist, leader or community manager. Self-care must be a strategic: It requires intent, caring, and frequent self-assessment and support from others.
“You can’t sustain a movement if you don’t sustain yourself.” – Akaya Windwoo
The crucial part of this call was a self-care assessment. The participants were invited to make a copy of the inventory prompts below. Ten minutes were devoted to ranking once response on each item from 1 (never) to 5 (always).
- I have time to play in ways that refresh and renew me.
- I am energized and ready to go at the start of my day.
- I regularly get a good night’s sleep.
- I effectively notice and manage stress as it arises.
- I can execute my current workload with ease and consistency.
- I have time to daydream and reflect.
- During the day I take time to notice when I’m hungry, tired, need a break, or other physical needs.
- I periodically renew my energy through the day, every day.
- I eat food that satisfies me and sustains my energy throughout the day.
- I often have ways to express my creativity.
- I have time to enjoy my hobbies.
- Those that love and care about me are happy with my life’s balance.
- I spend enough time with family and friends.
- I take time to participate in fun activities with others.
- I feel connected to and aware of my body’s needs.
- I take time to pause and reset now and again.
- I am satisfied with my balance of solitude and engagement with others.
- I make time for joy and connection.
- I feel at peace.
- At the end of my day I am content and ready to sleep.
After the ranking was done, the participants were invited to make lists for themselves of:
- Things to continue.
- Things to improve or increase.
- Things to try or work towards.
The meeting was completed with everyone writing down one powerful next step they will take.
Week 4: Community management
The fourth week we were asked about the successes and challenges we experienced in community management. Several examples of successful online communities were listed by participants: Mozilla Open Leaders (including its “daughters”: Open Life Science, eLife innovation, Open Post Academics, and OpenScapes), the Carpentries, the Software Sustainability Institute, rOpenSci, The Turing Way, The Athenas, and the Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement (CSCCE).
In a time of crisis, such as during COVID-19, a community manager should give hope and be emphatic, but also be realistic and transparent about the situation. Abby introduced a community management principle: the Mountain of Engagement. A sustainable community should have two things: 1) new members and 2) a way for existing members to grow within the community. These two things involve different levels of engagement (on the Mountain). First there is the ‘discovery’ level, where members first hear about the community. Then there is the level of ‘first’ contact, where they first engage with the community. After first contact, new members can contribute to a community in the ‘participation’ phase. When this contribution continues they reach the ‘sustained participation’ level. They may also use the community as a network (‘Networked participation’) and eventually take more responsibilities in the project in the ‘leadership’ level. It is good practice to consider how you will engage your members through these various levels from the start of your project or community. Your members will have different requirements and needs, depending on which level they are at:
- Discovery; where the promotion of your community is important, which can be done through having a public repository that has an open license so that it is clear for others what they can reuse.
- First contact: your community needs to have a clear mission, and multiple communication channels to make it easy for people to get in touch. This includes offering some passive channels which allow them to just follow the community.
- Participation: Personal invitations to contribute work best. In these invitations you should set clear expectations by having contributing guidelines and a code of conduct (to which members can contribute). It is also good practice to let your participants know how much time and effort is expected from them if they want to contribute. By allowing your members to contribute at their own terms you allow them to take ownership of their contributions.
- Sustained Participation: It is important to recognise the contributions of your community members, as well as to allow for their skills and interests to move the community forward inline with the community mission.
- Networked Participation: Your community should be open to mentorship and training possibilities to allow members to grow. You can also think about professional development and offer certificates to members.
- Leadership: Leadership should be inclusive, and involve value exchanges. It should be clear what is expected of community members when they take responsibilities. Leadership can take many forms and can come from anyone within the community.
It is also important to recognise that your community members can move up and down these levels of the Mountain of Engagement. Sometimes they will even need to depart and come back to your community at another time. To help move members forward it is important to assign them timebound and specific tasks in accordance with their capacities and recognise their contributions. Not everyone in your community needs to contribute and engage at all opportunities.
In a time of crisis, it can also be important to focus on the things that really matter right now, rather than overburden your community members. Here it is important to ask your community members about their needs and preferences. You can, for example, consult them on their preferences for communication platforms in order to meet where they are. Patience and reflection are great goods in these situations, as they allow us to think more deeply about why we work in certain ways and what we can learn from working online. It is important to realise that anything we build up now can also be used when a time of crisis is over!
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