What Does Openness Mean to You?

Openness at Mozilla, part 2

This post is part 2 of the Openness at Mozilla series. Read part 1, Building an Open Movement for Internet Health.

Three years ago, I started Mozilla Open Leaders by mentoring a handful of champions in the internet health movement. Since then, I’ve seen the powerful impact that movement building and open practices have on the health of the internet.

That’s why I’m thrilled that my team, the Open Leadership & Events team (OLE, affectionately pronounced olé), is working to help Mozilla, as well as our friends and allies, in our efforts to work more like a movement. We want to support and mobilize leaders fueling better machine decision-making on an open, free and healthy internet. We’re starting with a survey! Each week, a member of the OLE team will be publishing a blog post focusing on one question from this survey.

Photo by Richard Balog on Unsplash

It’s my turn this week, and I’m focusing on the first question: What does openness mean to you?

Why are we asking this question?

Open has a broad range of definitions — I’ve heard more than a few in my time with open source, open science and Mozilla. I want to know which ideas resonate with the people in our movement. This is a great opportunity to listen to and learn from a community that has championed openness from the beginning.

As we’ve grown, our work has evolved along with our way of working. What does openness mean for today’s Mozilla?

Why is this question important to me?

I spent years misunderstanding this concept because I didn’t think it was an important question to answer.

I first heard about open source as a first-year computer science major. I asked my friend to help me install Linux on my laptop so I could do my homework without visiting the (dark & sometimes smelly) computer lab. He explained that Linux was “free and open-source software” and used the phrase “free as in speech not free as in beer”. This meant nothing to 17-year-old me who had never tasted beer or questioned free speech, but I nodded in agreement in front of these upper-year computer scientists.

A couple weeks later, I created a free Gmail account and I didn’t see how this free service was different from the other. Without answering this question, ‘open’ is just another free service.

Years later, when I finally answered this question for myself, I saw how openness drives collaboration and leadership and ultimately leads to innovation.

How would I answer this question?

A couple key definitions and stories have influenced most of my thinking around openness today. In particular, the history of the term “open source” helped me see my place in this movement. You can read the long version of this story in my blog post How to bring openness to a closed community.

The first definition I resonated with came from the Mozilla wiki:

Working Open: Public and participatory. This requires structuring efforts so that “outsiders” can meaningfully participate (and become “insiders” as appropriate). — Mozilla Wiki

Openness means being both radically public and radically participatory.

Radically Public: Anyone can install and use Linux, just like Gmail, but with Linux, I can also see every line of code, every person involved, and a long history of discussion that went into building the product.

Radically Participatory: I can use and give feedback on Linux, just like Gmail, but with Linux, I can be more than just a user. I can also join the development discussions, influence decisions, become a co-creator and make changes to the code.

This idea becomes even more powerful when applied to more than code. How many more scientific breakthroughs would we see in public and participatory research? What would an open government look like? Would we approach AI solutions more ethically if this work was done in the open?

The past few years, I’ve focused on bringing openness to leadership. I’ve learned that being open as a leader empowers others to work openly with you. This thinking led our team to the Open Leadership Framework and this next definition:

Open Leader: An open leader designs and builds projects that empower people to collaborate within inclusive communities. — Open Leadership Framework

The longer I think about openness, the more I’m convinced that openness and open leadership are what’s most needed to tackle the problems we face on the internet today.

How would you answer this question?

Please join the discussion! How would you answer this question for Mozilla? For your community, organization, or project? For a healthier internet? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. Have feedback, questions, or suggestions? Let us know at leadopen@mozillafoundation.org or @MozOpenLeaders. Learn more about the OLE team and our work here.