Amira Dhalla
Jul 25, 2018 · 8 min read
Mozfest 2017 (photo by Erik Westra)

Do you run an annual conference or event where you convene a community from around the world? How often do you ask yourself if the event is intentionally created to welcome and support a diverse group of people? How often do you measure and evaluate the support you give your attendees?

Designing events for global participants can sometimes be tricky. There are a lot of additional considerations to be made, far beyond the regular conference planning. And these can happen well before your event! Such as, does your event application support budgeting of people with lower income or in areas of lower income? Does your session proposal submission process offer support for those who don’t speak English as a first language? Is there a fair and equal way in which everyone is evaluating session proposal submissions?

At Mozilla, our annual event Mozilla Festival (Mozfest) is meant to be a gathering for our global community and a focal point in our movement for a healthier web. It happens every year in October in London and brings people from over 50 countries together to discuss the future of the web — ps. Session proposal submissions are still open until August 1st!

This year I’ve been working with the Mozfest team (particularly the amazing Sarah Allen) to have conversations on how we can better support our global, more international community at Mozfest. While this project is well within my role as Lead of Global Programs at Mozilla, it started as a passion project because of my desire to continue to diversify the spaces we were bringing people together.

It’s my hope that by sharing our process for diversifying and supporting our global community others can leverage ideas for their own events. The process I have shared below is by no means definite, as there are many additional things that can be done and many other practices I’ve personally witnessed at events that I would love to one day be included in an event like Mozfest.

Okay, so what did we do? Let’s start with the initial work that laid the framework for the steps we would decide to take in 2018.

Part A) We did research

I did 1–1 interviews with over fifteen individuals to understand what worked well at previous Mozfests and where they needed additional support. These individuals were past Mozfest attendees, session submission participants who didn’t get selected to attend Mozfest, and Mozilla staff. I wanted a mix of feedback from different perspectives to see the various angles of support that people needed. After stripping the notes of personal details so feedback could remain anonymous (this was important to people as staff didn’t want to look like they were being critical and participants didn’t want it to affect future attendance opportunities), I organized the data in seven themes. From there, I did an analysis of the root problems of each theme and came up with potential action items we could implement in the 2018-year. These action items would become the base for many of the steps we decided to take this year.

Part B) We checked our data

To understand where our attendees were coming from I did an analysis of our past attendee data for two years. I organized our data by country and by continent to get an idea of what areas were underrepresented and what areas had an abundant of participants. As a bonus, I compared the location data to the location data of other Mozilla projects to see how in-person or virtual events differed in terms of location spread. It wasn’t surprising to see that individuals from African and Asian continents were much morel represented in our virtual events but much less visible in-person at Mozfest.

Part C) We checked the data of others

I find it common for events/conferences to say they have participants from x amount of countries or participants traveled x amount of miles but I don’t usually see data from exactly where. I find that the x countries and x miles give me little context when considering the diversity of an event. For conferences that convene global audiences I’m always curious as to how many of the countries present represent ‘western’ countries? Or how many people attending don’t speak English as a first language? Or how many international participants did they have versus local participants? It’s not as easy to find this information online and the only way I knew to get it was to ask other organizations directly. Fortunately some were willing to share and this helped provide a benchmark for where Mozfest stood in comparison, as well as where we could strive to be in the future.

— —

We started with the research and assessments to give us an idea of where we wanted to work towards. Next up, we developed our strategy. Although we would have loved to do everything we needed, we couldn’t do every action right away due to capacity and resource constraint. So we decided to focus on what we could control in the next six months and evaluate other actions in future years.

Here are 13 steps we are taking for Mozfest 2018:

Step 1) We shared the research and what we learned with Mozilla staff and Mozfest Space Wranglers. Our Space Wranglers are a collection of Mozilla staff and volunteer contributors who curate the different spaces at MozFest. Sharing the research allows them to better understand the issues, build empathy for our global audiences and consider them in the design of their 2018 space.

Step 2) We started asking people where they live and where they are from in the session proposal forms. We didn’t do this before for privacy reasons but we found that having it allows evaluators to understand the potential session leader and their diversity elements with more details. By including both where they live and are from, we are also allowing people to self-identify in a way that is comfortable and representative of themselves.

Step 3) We allow people to submit session proposal in different languages. We actually have done this for a couple years but reinforcing it this year and adding an email that people who don’t speak English as a first language can contact will allow those of diverse languages to feel supported along the application process.

Step 4) We created a Gitter chat for individuals who need support with their session proposals which they can use to ask questions like “what does it mean to create an engaging and participatory session” and “how many people will show up to your session?” We have Mozilla staff and our Space Wranglers continuously hanging out in the space and available to answer questions. Gitter is a great tool to use for this type of engagment as it’s easy for people to join, manage their settings and look to see what others have asked.

Step 5) With the help of Zannah Marsh, we created this blogpost called “7 Steps to a Great MozFest Proposal” and we linked it in the proposal submission form. This blogpost focuses on our expectations for potential proposals and what is required to submitted a successful proposal. We’ve also been working with our global community to translate the blogpost into Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Swahili and asking their help to share with those communities.

Step 6) We did a Ask Me Anything on the MozFest Twitter. Together with Zannah, we encouraged our Space Wranglers to join us and answer questions for potential attendees. We had a lot of fun, increased engagement on the Twitter channel with global participants, and shared some really helpful tips. Such as this one, you can view 2017 accepted proposals on Github to see what type of proposals were accepted last year.

Step 7) With the leadership of Chad Sansing, we’ve been openly and collaboratively developing a new rubric that our Space Wranglers can use when evaluating session proposals. This will allow all sessions to be viewed equally. We’re also adding sections of the rubric that focus on diversity, as defined by the Mozilla Community Participation Guidelines, to ensure that it is a consideration in proposal selection and an element in all spaces.

Step 8) We developed a list of diverse communities who we thought would be interested in submitting session proposal and have done direct outreach to them. Including joining their community calls, sending emails to their lists, and working with staff to encourage the community to apply. We’ve directed them to our Gitter chat, AMA and blogposts for additional support.

Step 9) We are creating a communications plan (thanks Kristina Gorr) and designated outreach people so that all communication leading up to the event is calendared and organized. We have also designated one person who will provide travel and visa support (everyone needs an Amanda Lee Gaffar). These actions will immensely help staff dealing with participants, ensure an organized process while not overwhelm participants with too many emails and standardize communication so everyone is receiving the same information.

Step 10) We held a call and are giving more direct support to Mozilla staff members who are inviting global community members to MozFest to ensure that everyone has the same information and expectation when it comes to supporting our global community. We are specifically targeting this cohort to empower them to be leaders for our global community.

Step 11) We are improving our wayfinding information. We are making sure people with dietary restrictions have a special place to get their food at MozFest (because food can go quickly at conferences!). We are ensuring the language stickers that participants add to their name tags to indicate which languages they speaker are bigger and more visible. We are also increasing the advertisement and sharing of quiet spaces and prayer rooms that are available onsite.

Step 12) We are collaborating with an individual who will focus on Diversity and Inclusion at MozFest. This individual will help design the space and work with the speakers and participants to make sure they feel welcomed and supported. As well as further unpack some of the the issues we’ve uncovered in our research.

Step 13) Our event space at MozFest is large and can feel overwhelming for some so last year we opened up our conference space a day early for those who indicated that they have accessibility needs. This year we are opening it up to everyone, and especially encouraging our first-time participants to come and get acquainted to the space at a quieter time.

— — — — —

I hope these ideas and practices help when designing your next event for diverse and global communities. Opening and developing spaces for a large group of people from different backgrounds is a continuous learning process for us all. If you have other practices that you have found work well please share them in the comments!

Mozilla Festival

MozFest is an annual, hands-on festival for and by the open Internet movement. Every year, bright minds from around the world build, debate, and explore the future of our lives online. In this publication, we invite everyone to share their thoughts and start conversations.

Amira Dhalla

Written by

A teacher, learner and sharer of all things gender, tech, privacy, and equity. Currently studying human rights and technology.

Mozilla Festival

MozFest is an annual, hands-on festival for and by the open Internet movement. Every year, bright minds from around the world build, debate, and explore the future of our lives online. In this publication, we invite everyone to share their thoughts and start conversations.

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