Web literacy and leadership

We’ve been talking about ‘leadership development’ since early on in the Mozilla Learning (aka Academy) planning process. Basically, the idea is to get more people to teach and advocate for web literacy. If we can create a global network of these people — and help them be great at what they do — our whole web literacy agenda moves faster and is more likely to succeed.


This sort of leadership development is something we’ve been doing through Hive and fellowships for years. What’s become increasingly clear over the last month or so is: a) this has become one of our core strengths and b) it is one of the biggest places we could have impact going forward. This has lead us to the conclusion that leadership development should be one of the core elements of our overall learning strategy. With this in mind, I want to lay out some initial thinking about what we mean by ‘leadership’, describe the kind of impact we’re trying to have and pose some questions we need to answer.

The basics

Let’s start with some basic definitions. For discussion purposes, the kind of ‘leaders’ we want to find and develop are:

Leaders = people who in one way or another are helping others to read, write and participate on the web (aka ‘web literacy‘).

These leaders could be helping others through teaching or mentoring. Or through organizational change or learning projects. Or by explicitly designing and organizing programs to promote web literacy. I consider all of these to be acts of leadership that advance our cause.

When we talk about ‘leadership development’, we are describing the process of:

Leadership development = helping these people become more skilled, self aware and networked by getting them working on concrete projects.

The approach that we’ve been using — and will continue to develop — borrows from the field of service learning. We focus on hands-on, experiential learning where people develop skills by working on a project in service of a bigger goal aligned with Mozilla’s mission. These experiences simultaneously: a) help people become better at hard skills (e.g. coding or research); b) provide opportunities to learn soft skills (e.g. teamwork or mentoring); and c) contribute concretely to the work of Mozilla or a partner organization.


Ultimately, there are two core places where we hope this part of our strategy will have an impact:

Global = more people teach and advocate for web literacy.
Personal = individuals have more skills, confidence and opportunity.

Combined, these things create both a talent pool and motivational economics that will build momentum. And, ultimately, they make it more likely that we will succeed with our overall agenda of universal web literacy.

On the global level, we are already having a meaningful impact. Hive, Mozilla Clubs and our fellowships are already resulting in:

  • University students sharing web skills with friends. (Maker Party)
  • Educators weaving web literacy into their teaching. (Hive)
  • Scientists teaching other scientists about open data. (Science Lab)
  • Coders helping activist organizations adopt open tools and thinking. (Advocacy Fellows)
  • Organizers bringing together others to teach web literacy. (Mozilla Clubs)

The question we have to answer at this stage isn’t ‘can we get more people doing this stuff?’ but rather ‘how many people? and with what sort of downstream impact?’

Which brings us to the second point about giving people more skills, confidence and opportunity. We do this on some level already through our existing programs, but not systematically. I believe we need:

Learning experiences and curriculum that help people a) develop strong open source leadership skills that b) make them more effective and c) open up new personal or career opportunities.

In some sense, this is simply about helping people hone certain aspects of their web literacy skills on a very deep level. One person might want to develop better research (read), open data management (write) and knowledge sharing (participate) skills so they can mentor their peers. Another might want to develop better content harvesting (read), web design (write) and online community management (participate) skills to create a piece of interactive online curriculum. And so on.

In both examples, these are skills that are a) useful in the kind of web literacy work we want people doing and b) highly valued in the job market. A key part of creating a robust leadership development strategy is implementing a method to consistently help people hone these skills and find opportunities to use them both in our work and on the job market. This is a part of the process that Mozilla is not yet skilled at as an organization.


We’re nearing the end of phase one of our Mozilla Learning (aka Academy) planning process. I’ll post an update on this later next week.

In the meantime, I can say with confidence: leadership development will be one of the key strategies Mozilla invests in to advance web literacy.

I’ve outlined the ‘why?’ (more people teaching and advocating) and the ‘what?’ (service learning programs that develop leaders) above. What we need to do in the next phase is map the ‘what?’ to the ‘how?’. Key questions about leadership development programs will be:

  • What specific impact do we want to have here? By when?
  • What skills and mindsets do we need to develop to have this impact?
  • What skills and experiences do emerging leaders want? Partners?
  • What curriculum and experiences are needed to develop these skills?
  • Pragmatically, how do we align and integrate our existing programs?

The good news is that the existing Hive, Mozilla Clubs, Science Lab and Advocacy Fellows teams have already started to dig into these questions at our recent retreat in Whistler. For example, the Science Lab team created an initial outline of a basic ‘working in the open’ on-boarding curriculum for leaders. And the Hive / Clubs (aka Mozilla Learning Networks) teams started to develop a quite advanced operating model that integrates many of the existing activities that we have in place across these programs.

Over the next couple of months, these teams will take a next step in answering these questions and coming up with a more detailed theory of how our leadership development program will work. As I noted above, I’ll post more about the overall process next week.


  1. João Menezes replied on | Reply

    Really interesting strategy. Our Interaction Design community here in Brazil (through IxDA) has been focusing on creating workshops and learning materials licensed under a CC license. It’s a very important source of discussions for the open web, and I’m pretty sure IxDA’s vision connects to Mozilla’s. I’m a long term volunteer for both, so that makes me really happy.

    Kind regards and keep it up.

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