This post is authored by Ahmed Medien, MozFest 2021 Wrangler for the Openness Space.
MozFest is the Mozilla Foundation’s flagship community festival held every year. It is a forum and space (many spaces) for thinkers, technologists, makers, builders, learners, and first-timers to come together and learn from each other. Just like with the Internet Health Report, released every year by the Foundation, MozFest focuses on aspects of what makes the internet a space for hope and creativity, as well as warranted scrutiny and introspection. MozFest and the internet health report themes revolve around fundamental values such as openness, access, security, decentralization, and inclusion. In 2020 and 2021, Wranglers like myself chose different names for the festival “Spaces”, exploring the theme of Trustworthy AI. We elected to use more explicit vocabulary and fuse many more worlds and vocations to AI, such as accountability, activism, neurodiversity, culture, and heritage, etc.
As nominations to join the MozFest 2022 team as Wranglers and co-designers have started, I want to share my insights from my experience organizing virtually for a successful and impactful event.
One of the most marking traits of the Wrangler team every year is the diversity of thought and expertise. This is incredibly beneficial to professionals and students to learn from each other as planners and project managers in different areas of practice and industries. Throughout the event planning process, Wranglers held several “peer exchanges”. Wranglers exchanged thoughts on topics they are working on, projects they were interested in, and even new recipes (Ceviche!). Thoughtful exchanges are plenty, and overall, the entire experience is a unique opportunity to learn from a few dozen professionals in an engaging, very friendly space. This is enough to draw festival alumni back to the wrangling experience. Alia Elkattan, 2019 returned as a 2021 co-wrangler. From her perspective, she loves wrangling “because you get to become part of a community that has very similar hopes and ambitions for what we want the internet to be, but is also a diverse enough group that you learn from people's very different interests and backgrounds.” Former wranglers can contribute to the Mozfest experience as mentors and remain active members of the community.
You will experience the joys of partnering with people with whom you share the same values and passion, working together towards the same goals.
Planning for MozFest 2021 happened during renewed waves of COVID-19 in most parts of the world which ruined the possibility of any chance for a physical opportunity to meet and work together. That being said, virtual Zooms were often eventful and very engaging with dedicated time and space for Wranglers to unwind, learn about other members’ lives, cities, hobbies, side projects, research, favourite board games, and office setups.
MozFest is marked by what the team calls “federated design”, which essentially means a decentralized process that puts more decision-making into the hands of the Wranglers to choose and “design” their Space including the shape of the program in that particular space e.g. skill share workshops, media sessions (registered audio and video), workshops, panels, lectures, etc. This is crucial for open dialogue, questions, suggestions and brainstorming among team members of the same Space and between Spaces.
The design and planning phases are structured where Wranglers are invited to accomplish several tasks and achieve milestones as the planning progresses. This will include communication, customised calls for applications for different Spaces (choice of specific words here will appeal to diverse audiences, can make first-time applicants feel more confident about their proposals), collecting proposals, evaluating them, and designing a final program and schedule that works for Facitialitors (presenters of the sessions), Volunteers, and attendees.
Perhaps the most tangible effect of organising a large community gathering of hundreds of sessions and workshops and a productive, knowledgeable group of volunteers is tangible learning of new fields, policy or otherwise, about the internet and technology. For example, the Openness Space at MozFest 2021 hosted sessions and workshops on many important topics such as:
- Trustworthiness of open data
- Open data technology and API for knowledge sharing
- A conversation about legislating around data-sharing and data-ownership with a member of the European Parliament
- Open-data for scientific research
- Understanding what metadata is
- Open-meta for open curriculum and educational justice
- Coding “in public.”
- Open gender-specific data
- Open content moderation policy and decision-making
- Soliciting data from the public
- Regulating AI and AI ethics
It is not just the themes or policy area that makes the learning exciting but the opportunity to learn from passionate organizers, industry professionals and renowned organisations who dedicate their time to share their skills, organisational knowledge, and studies with a broad audience.
You will sharpen your project management skills by working with people in teams to accomplish one task: a successful experience and a large-gathering event. That is invaluable in itself: learning how to manage resources, time, expertise, expectations is a tremendous skill for any career and every job.
In conclusion, Wrangling is a fun and learning-by-doing process that does require dedication. You are expected to brainstorm ideas, but also to attend weekly calls, coordination calls and spare hours for traditional communication support, including answering questions from Facilitators and participants. There is an entire vibrant community of MozFest participants, including the staff and a massive community of Volunteers who tune in every year to help with frequent questions and production questions during the event. The work of the event Volunteers is not just indispensable but also quite remarkable. Together, everyone works to achieve one goal. Wrangling at MozFest is a shared experience that will help you establish new bonds with great people from everywhere with whom you will continue working, partnering, and creating.
If you’d like to become a MozFest 2022 Wrangler, please contact Zannah Marsh, Program Manager - Federated Design, at [email protected]
Ahmed Medien, 2021 Mozfest Wrangler, works at the intersection of content credibility and open knowledge. He provides legal research advice on regulatory frameworks for digital content moderation and trust and safety online.