A Framework of Open Practices

This is the second in a series of posts describing findings from industry research into best practices around open, collaborative methods and how companies share knowledge, work, or influence in order to shape a market towards their business goals. This blog post introduces a framework of open practices co-developed with the Copenhagen Institute for Interaction Design (CIID) that may help other organisations as they evaluate and implement open and participatory strategies themselves.

Mozilla has been developing open source software and managing open source communities since its inception. Some of the most significant innovations in Firefox came from outside the boundaries of the organization — such as tabbed browsing, pop-up blockers, and the awesome bar. Further, crucial factors to Firefox’ global success, such as product localization and technical support, were only possible through countless hours of work and dedication of external communities and contributors. With Add-ons, Mozilla also took a major architectural decision with Firefox: not to build every feature, but to focus on basic excellence and then create opportunity — and a platform — for others. This allowed more people to deliver more value to Firefox users, creating completely personalized web experience.

Revitalising Open and Innovation

Firefox is widely considered as a landmark in open source software production, and the use of several different open practices (as we call them) gave Mozilla a way to compete asymmetrically with much larger organizations.

In the subsequent decade since Firefox launched, Mozilla’s portfolio of technology projects has become much more diverse, and this in turn calls for a more systematic way to identify competitive advantage through open practices. We’ve experimented with different practices in order to solicit external ideas and foster research-based relationships. Recent examples include the Mozilla Awards grant program, and the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge, and sponsoring projects at the margin of Mozilla development, such as the C-to-Rust translation project Corrode. And with the revival of the Test Pilot program, the Firefox team has a way for users to try out experimental features and to help determine which of these ultimately end up in a Firefox release.

From Experiments to Strategy

We’ve been encouraged by the outcomes of these explorations. We therefore broadened efforts in working with users, developers, and industry allies in a more structured and comprehensive way.

We researched activation techniques to build communities and work across organizational boundaries — throughout the product lifecycle — in multiple industries. Many of the techniques and practices identified were not new, but their goal-oriented application and scale in different technology ecosystems clearly was.

However, just knowing what others do is only the first step. Adapting and applying your learnings to your own working processes and mind models around product and technology development is another. For that reason, we developed a framework that could help guiding decisions, supporting our conversations and thinking.

A Framework for Considering Benefits of Open Practices

As we said earlier: Being Open by Design demands clarity on why you’re doing something and what the intended outcomes are. Together with CIID we took a closer look — through the lense of a software and technology organisation — at key benefits of open practices. We organised a list of 12 key potential benefits into three overall categories, in which companies are competing:

Benefits of Open Practices

In our study of organisations that are building value using open practices, and of the literature of Open Innovation, we’ve furthermore distilled six major ways of building value together with an outside community or organisation.

Gifting, or simply giving away something of value for others to adopt in creating value for themselves, is not a novel one: the “loss leader” has been with us for many years. However, this practice has seen increasing adoption by commercial software firms where development costs may be sunk, distribution costs are zero and they are able to capitalise on the resulting installed base.

Co-creating Together, i.e. inviting others to contribute to a set objective or project is familiar in the open source environment, and has become more widespread in other industries, where it has been applied to the entire product development cycle, from setting strategy, to designing, building, to broadening mindshare.

Soliciting Ideas, or asking a question or giving a challenge to either specific communities or ‘the crowd’, isn’t quite a novelty. But driven by technology over the past years this practice is now much more efficient and scalable, and has developed into a tool that is delivering visible and measurable value.

Companies are increasingly able to create value by closely studying usage patterns, and offering subsequent enhancements of products and services. Learning Through Use is the way we have characterised this type of offering: in the new age of constant connectivity and Big Data, offerings built on such practices are more prevalent and value-generating than ever.

Many organizations are finding ways to Enhance the Value Exchange between individuals or organisations, via services or technology platforms, and through this interaction create new kinds of businesses and value reliant on the interaction. This type of practice is prevalent among Internet businesses.

Lastly, by looking outside to larger societal, shared agendas, organisations are achieving business objectives through Networking Common Interests to build mutually-reinforcing commercial relationships with the power to attract a passionate community. Or in other words: facilitating a diversity of networks and communities in such that activities achieve more together than possible for a lone actor. This is a well-established practice (one can look at standardisation activities in this light, for example), but it is now enabled on new and unprecedented scales by the internet.

The three overall benefit areas outlined earlier can be considered in relation to the six methods of interaction in a matrix. We have used this simple framework to facilitate exploration of potential opportunities for Mozilla. We typically do this by considering all the stakeholders in any given technology ecosystem, and from there asking ourselves, “how might we engage them through these different approaches?”.

Framework of Open Practices

It’s a practical impossibility (and therefore not the best use of time trying) to produce an exhaustive list of open practices. That wasn’t our goal. And you will probably find enough practices today that may blur the boundaries in this model: Open source projects, for example, may represent Creating Together, but they may equally be about Gifting or even Networking Interests. The point of this framework, then, is to stimulate thinking about how you arrive at value creation, rather than to be concerned with the details of any specific practice.

In upcoming blog posts, we will explore this framework in more detail, through stories of organisations which successfully applied combinations of open practices to realize their specific objectives.

Gitte Jonsdatter (CIID) & Alex Klepel