Looking back, and moving forward: Mozilla and internet health

Mozilla has always had a clear mission: make sure the internet remains a global public resource, open and accessible to all. While this mission has stayed constant in the 20 years since Mozilla.org launched, the ways we have pursued this mission continue to evolve.

At first, Mozilla’s focus was building an open source Firefox browser as a way to open up the web and give people a real choice in how they access the internet. Firefox is still the biggest part of Mozilla’s work today. It’s a huge lever for bringing the principles in the Mozilla Manifesto to everyday people — and influencing the way the internet market works.

In addition to making Firefox, Mozilla has also been part of a global movement of people trying to make the principles outlined in the Mozilla Manifesto real. This started with the free and open source software movement that grew up in the late 1990s, where Mozilla was just one of many players. And it continues today as more and more people step up to work on digital rights, open education, net neutrality and a wide variety of other topics.

We know that Mozilla is at its strongest when it is both reaching 100s of millions of consumers in the market with great products; and also actively supporting and participating in the broader movement that exists around internet issues.

With this in mind, the Mozilla Foundation — the non-profit parent to the social enterprise that makes Firefox and Pocket — decided in late 2015 to focus 100% of its efforts on growing this internet health movement. The aim was to draw links between issues like privacy, openness and digital inclusion, which Mozilla and its allies have worked on for years. And also to support people and organizations around the world working on these issues. The idea was: Mozilla needs to be investing heavily not only in market strategies, but also in the movement.

We made this decision almost exactly three years ago — and we have come a long way since. Earlier this year, we set out to reflect and evaluate our progress on this movement building strategy so far. Today, we are sharing the output of this work: a deep, rich, 90+ page account of Mozilla’s movement building work over the past three years. It’s the first time we’ve conducted such a thorough accounting of Mozilla Foundation’s work. And in the spirit of openness, we want to make sure our findings — including both our successes and our challenges — are out in the open for all to see and engage with.

Some background

Our decision in 2015 to focus on the internet health movement manifested as our three-year strategy. The Foundation reshaped its team and its programs to focus on three main tools: an annual Internet Health Report that pulls together research and thinking from our allies around the world; fellowships and awards that support and recognize leaders in the movement; and campaigns that rally citizens to call for laws and products that make the internet healthier. The Foundation also continued to evolve MozFest as a gathering point for the movement.

Rolling out this strategy — and, more recently, evaluating it — was an open, collective process. It involved our community and our allies as well as staff from across different Mozilla organizations. This reflects something we’ve known for a long time: Mozilla is a part of a movement much bigger than itself, and is at its best when it works with and supports people from across this movement.

Our findings

The Mozilla Foundation 2016–2018 Program Evaluation was finished over the summer. Read the full report.

Among our key findings:

  • The ‘internet health’ concept is proving a useful tool as a way to make links between issues Mozilla and its allies work on — and explaining these issues to a wider audience
  • While different orgs may use different monikers — digital rights, open source, internet health, etc. — the movement of people working on internet issues is growing
  • Mozilla has transformed significantly. The thought leadership, fellowship and campaign capacities developed in recent years are valued by partners and allies
  • Collectively, Mozilla and its allies are well positioned to tap into current public concern about the platforms and the internet — but have yet to succeed in doing so
  • With this in mind: Mozilla needs to get much clearer in its messaging. It needs to crisply state ‘what winning looks like’ and then go after it with all its energy

What’s ahead

It is clear from the evaluation that Mozilla’s focus on internet health has value and momentum. However, there is still a long way to go before the idea of making the internet healthier is a mainstream issue, alongside issues like climate change or consumer safety. And, within Mozilla and the movement, there is still a great deal of work to be done to increase the diversity of voices and ideas shaping the internet health agenda. We have momentum, but there is much more to do.

As an initial next step, the Mozilla Foundation team is starting to tackle one of the key challenges outlined in the evaluation: defining what winning looks like.

Specifically, the team is asking: which internet health issues are at once most urgent and concrete enough to make real progress on over the next few years? Is it possible to dramatically shift the advertising economy so that it relies less on surveillance? How could we make real progress on issues related to gender online over the coming years, truly making the internet safe, welcoming and accessible to all? Can we stem the trend toward the unfettered rollout of biometrics — and give us all control over our digital bodies? If we can develop a clear and realistic path forward on one or two issues like these, we can build on our momentum and turn it into real change.

Over the course of the coming months, the team will be starting a number of conversations on these questions — and, more importantly, looking for allies, partners and grassroots leaders who we can work with and support on whichever issues we end up focusing on. If you are interested in being involved in this conversation, reach out to Sarah Watson, one of the people who is leading the process.

Again, I hope you’ll take the time to read the evaluation report.

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