Learnings from participating in MozFest 2015

Earlier this month, I was invited to facilitate a workshop on community retention at MozFest 2015 and I wanted to share some of the things I learned from my two-day experience in London!

Before heading to MozFest, I worked with Amira Dhalla (from Mozilla) on workshop facilitation prep. We Skyped twice and worked together to make sure I was as prepared as one could be for my first MozFest workshop.

With no idea what to expect and the mantra of “embrace the chaos” playing on repeat in my head, I flew to London as ready as I could be for MozFest.

Friday, Nov. 6

Friday afternoon was dedicated to orientation for facilitators and getting them feeling comfortable within the large nine-floored space at Ravensbourne College. Before orientation, I met Ani Martinez from Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh in the hotel lobby. We instantly connected and became MozFest buddies. (Apparently, the buddy system is recommended for all first timers and I was surprised to see how naturally it happened.)

I spent time exploring the venue, which had nine floors, each dedicated to a different subject (ie. open science, open journalism, youth zone, etc.) We had buffet lunch as a big group and sat around in circles introducing ourselves, talking about best conference practices and spent time making signs to draw attendees into our space. It felt very much like running for student body president in high school.

After a few hours of this, we moved into the Science Fair, which highlights attendees most innovative creations. As a participant, I set up a table with littleBits and craft supplies and let MozFest attendees and their families come by and play. The Science Fair was my favorite part of the entire conference. Teaching attendees (especially the kids), reminded me of being a camp counselor, which were some of my favorite summers. :raised_hands:

littleBits was by far one of the most talked about tables during the Science Fair-- at least 250 people stopped by in just a few hours. It was the best ice breaker I could have asked for. I made a number of great connections (mainly with educators) and created buzz that lasted the entire weekend.

Saturday, Nov 7

On Saturday morning, all MozFest attendees attended the opening ceremony with guest speakers, attendee stories and MozFest general information. What I found most interesting was how they described the design of the conference: “open chaotic, like the web”. They spaces were designed to be open, so attendees can jump in/out of them (like web pages) and they are owned/accessible to all of us. It was empowering to be around so many people who believed in making things that matter.

After the opening ceremony, it was game time. There were hundreds of different pathways running at the same time, and I joined a number of them which related to what we do. Here are a few of the highlights:

Community Research Workshop: The workshop was run by two individuals who worked for Mozilla. While it was a fairly basic workshop, it was still a good exercise. Failure is expensive on a number of levels, not just ($$). Asking good questions is the best way to avoid this and it’s important to remember that not all questions are equal.

Key takeaways:

  1. Do not ask yes/no questions. There is a time and a place for yes/no questions, however, you’ll receive more valuable insights if you leave your questions open ended.

  2. Do not lead the participant with your questions. Leading the participant into giving you the answers you’re looking for sheds light on what you want to hear, not necessarily what they want to tell you.

  3. Do not make the participant feel judged. If you’re looking for insightful information, it’s important that the participant feel like they are in a safe space.

  4. Ask follow up questions. This is a way to dig deeper on a particular topic.

The workshop exercise was to turn to the person next to you and interview them about the last time they volunteered, using the key takeaways above. We spent 10-minutes interviewing each other, practicing and then reported back our findings to the larger group.

Really awesome quote I saw relating to this from Erika Hall, co-founder of Mule-Design:

Collaborative Community Spaces Workshop: This workshop was focused on designing physical collaborative spaces. Each of us partnered with our neighbor and spent 45-minutes dreaming up what our dream space would look like. When starting, it was important to take a step back and think about a number of questions:

-Who will be using the space?
-What’s the purpose of the space?
-Who are the experts?

We determined a number of key elements for this space:
-It needed to be authentic.
-It had to be a place where serendipity could naturally occur.
-Being flexible/modular was critical.
-We wanted a variety of tools included in the space to help spur creativity and collaboration.
-Lastly, there needed to be an element of facilitation, run by community experts

While the workshop was based on physical spaces, many of the key elements above apply to designing online spaces, especially authenticity, serendipity and flexibility.

Community Partnerships: There was some concern amongst Mozilla Club members about partnering with different types of organizations. As part of littleBits Global Chapters, we encourage partnerships with organizations that share a similar mission such as Ladies Learn Code, Hour of Code, Coder Dojo, Fab Labs, etc.

Community Retention (my session): This session was focused on best practices for retaining online and in person communities and about 25 people showed up (which is a great turnout for a session at MozFest). I started the session, with a littleBits ice breaker. Since the session was focused on community (which when broken down are made of connections), we made new ones using littleBits. I handed out powers, inputs and outputs randomly to attendees and they had to quickly make something that did something. Once they did, they had to introduce themselves and what they make.

This was definitely a popular (and different) ice breaker:

I then introduced the participants to our community and gave them some insight into some of the issues many communities face while growing:

  1. Less participation.

  2. Knowledge sharing.

  3. More collaboration.

On large sheets of white paper, we wrote out some of the problems and then brainstormed other issues that the participants were having. We broke down into groups and came up with best practices/tools to help solve these shared issues. After meeting in individual groups for 30-minutes, each group shared back their suggestions/findings.

1) Encouraging collaboration
-Make clear what you need
-Monthly calls are a great way to bring people together
-Meetups (in person + online)
-Create a softer atmosphere
-Twitter #Chat

2) Creating leadership in the community
-Share the workload
-Institute a mandatory rotation
-Make roles clearer
-Encourage the community members to step up and get involved in different levels
-Encourage p2p learning

3) Meeting spaces
-Create a central hub for people to meet
-Bridge the channels
-Determine channel roles
-Make sure the spaces are accessible
-Code of conduct/self-policing

4) Oonboarding
-Add tutorials
-More 1:1 support
-Periodic check-ins/follow ups
-Anticipating user journeys
-Sample types of users

5) Clarity of vision
-Create a sample motto
-Clarity of member criteria
-Balance of structure + freedom
-Who benefits? Ensure mutual benefits.
-Network vs. community

Popup make sessions with MozFest kids!

Kids began following me around the conference once they found out what was in my purple tacklebox. They stopped me and so they could build and try out the bit. I ran 3-4 popup make sessions with groups of different kids (each around 2 hours long), which was definitely one of my highlights! One of the boys below, has a social disorder and his mother talked to me about his issues connecting with other children. After building with the littleBits, he couldn’t stop, and even starting teaching some of the other kids how to use them. His mother was thrilled seeing him interact with other children in a way she had never seen before.


Wow @nickweinberg!!! Beautiful post :smile: I really enjoyed reading about your experience and the way you introduced it. This whole thing about online communities is so interesting, and I see that there is a lot of science behind it.

Please keep sharing things like this. It’s really valuable to know about your strategies and methods to maintain a vibrant community like this one. All these concepts are new for me but there is something about this topic that calls my attention and makes me want to learn more.