This section explores the role that the Foundation’s strategy, and the ways in which it was and was not articulated, played in the perception and success of the F&A program. It also explores the experiences of F&A staff and the influence that structural shifts inside the Foundation, including leadership and strategy shifts, have influenced staff and programming. This section relies largely on interviews with Foundation staff and, to a lesser degree, on the voices of program participants.
When asked about the goals of the Fellowships and Awards program, Mozilla Foundation staff had a variety of responses:
- “Support and connect internet health leaders that are working in different capacities to mitigate threats to the human centered internet.”
- “The focus of the fellowships and awards programs is about lifting up good ideas, and some sort of maybe critical and innovative views on ways to solve for problems that we're encountering in our digital lives today.”
- “Connecting technical activists with civil sector organizations to hopefully push and point out how the public sector needs technically savvy activists on their side. That should be a need-to-have in your organization.”
- “Building leaders, teachers, creators … in tech activism.”
- “On the whole, investing in people and projects that address pressing internet health issues. “
- “For people with ideas that don't necessarily fit neatly into other contexts. For people who have established some community / track record in a related space that they can then activate and strengthen through the Moz experience.”
- “To resource/incentivize people and groups to solve challenging problems related to the health of the internet. Those big, intractable, sticky problems that we don't have answers to — we give fellowships and awards to incentivize folks to figure them out. ”
The F&A staff is rich in expertise and experience, and has an excellent reputation in the field and amongst funding recipients.
- Mozilla has a lasting, central focus on people as changemakers. The commitment to that vision is evident in the people and community building that is central to all of the F&A programs, and those aspects were commonly cited by participants as some of the most valuable. Mozilla has shone in their capacity to convene, relationship build, curate cohorts, etc.
- There was wide recognition of and reverence for the level of knowledge and expertise in-house at both the Corporation and Foundation. Program participants and ecosystem stakeholders benefited from relationships with both.
“Everyone at the Mozilla Foundation that I interacted with was incredibly open and welcoming and helpful. There were some really great people that really, really helped me. People that were involved in some of the communication stuff that I was able to practice presentations with, or that were able to help me sort of change my script a little bit...that support was available.”
- Some funders expressed that they felt very confident that with Mozilla, their money would be well spent because of staff expertise in program design.
Given the value that the F&A staff adds to programming and participants’ experiences, there is an immense opportunity to empower the F&A staff through improved leadership, communication, and collaboration.
The F&A team noted a historic lack of a consistent strategic vision for the program, particularly with regard to internal clarity around program goals and intentions.
Staff related a historical lack of clarity and focus around programming priorities and intentions in their work over the last five years:
- How broad and/or specific should programs be? Some staff, for example, asked if the right balance is broad enough that they get people looking at issues from different angles, but not so wide that individual recipients feel alienated or unsupported.
- What is Mozilla’s unique niche/strength/value-add to the space? There seemed to be many answers to this question, some in tension with others.
- Who is a Mozilla fellow? There was a diversity of opinions among staff and lack of clarity amongst fellows as to who the ideal candidate is -- where in their career, what level of expertise, what personality type, etc.
- Similarly, staff reported different understandings around whether fellowships and awards are the Foundation’s changemaking mechanism or the end goal of their strategy.
- Staff also held differing opinions around the distinctions between Fellowships and Awards – are they different? In what ways? Overall, staff insights demonstrated that there was a need for a more cohesive vision of how the different funding mechanisms should be leveraged, and the value of a unified F&A program. Different staff members stated:
“Awards tend to go to scrappier, more novice actors. Fellowships tend to go toward, especially Senior Fellows, to ‘shiny objects’. It's always been a bit dissonant. An award goes toward an idea while fellowships go toward an individual.”
“Fellowships and Awards teams are separate, have different expertise. Fellowships are less institutionalized in a way. Work has benefitted from pulling from both sides. Starting to standardize stuff has also been helpful.“
“There does seem to be … a perceived difference between fellows and awardees, I actually think there's much more that they have in common than they have that's different.”
The varied responses that F&A staff had in defining the goals of the program points to the larger need to clarify program strategy in direct response to Mozilla’s theory of change. In contrast to the strategic vision highlighted in Mozilla’s literature (and outlined in the Program Overview section of this report), staff responses did not emphasize the Foundation’s stated goal of “broadening global understanding” of internet health, and also underemphasized the long-term, movement-focused objective of the strategic frame. Clarifying the connections between program design, strategic vision, and actionable aspects of the theory of change will empower funding recipients to pursue work that directly aids Mozilla’s goals while making the impact of the program clearer and more consistently understood.
Lack of internal clarity was felt by program participants, who noted that strategic decision making was not effectively communicated to them, making it difficult to contextualize their work.
- Similar to funders and stakeholders, recipients reported a lack of clarity around Mozilla strategy shifts and how such moves related to program design and success. Funding recipients often felt that they and/or their work didn’t align with Mozilla’s strategy or objectives at the time, and got less attention/less press or boosting as a result. This led to the perception that when alignment existed it was “magic” rather than intentional.
- There was a perception from participants that Mozilla funded what it “liked” and didn't provide input on scoping, meaning that applicants and recipients weren’t guided by Mozilla to understand what kinds of projects are manageable or not within the program’s framework.
- On the whole, interviewees didn’t identify particular shifts or frameworks in their discussions of Mozilla’s strategy; rather, they discussed strategy shifts in vague terms because such frameworks were unclear or elusive to them.
- One staff member shared that part of the difficulty of identifying a lasting strategy comes from the nature of Mozilla’s field: It’s hard to have a constant strategy if you're always trying to be on the cutting edge, and if your hands are in many pots. The Foundation tried to balance being on the cutting edge with being relevant to a significant population of the general public. Staff related that there was pressure to be moving to the next thing, which sometimes meant that there wasn’t enough space and time to sunset older projects or programs in a way that gracefully seeded connections to that next thing Mozilla wanted to be working on.
- Staff spoke to the fact that fellows often brought expertise to MoFo that they didn’t have or couldn’t resource in-house within the staff. This has helped Mozilla to stay on the cutting edge and bring energy and expertise to their objectives of the moment. “Fellows can help us figure out what to do while advancing their own career.” Some staff also reported that this has sometimes led to an “over-reliance” on fellows to account for expertise that didn’t exist in-house.
There was broad encouragement that Mozilla determine their focus areas for the time period, and then recruit accordingly, so that they can match fellows to opportunities internally. “Overreliance” can also be mitigated through more structural support for fellows (clear expectations, mentorship, career opportunities) and more staff with specific technology expertise.
Strategic consistency was challenging due to tensions and misalignments between program design, Mozilla goals, and funder goals.
- Executive discretion and other organizational fundraising priorities have historically interrupted strategic programmatic work. Funding pathways (and thus funders’ priorities) had the tendency to take precedence over the F&A program strategy that did exist, both because of the Foundation’s reliance on project-based external funding and because of the lack of an overall, guiding strategy. Historically there has not been funding available to support the work to build a more integrated, intentional strategy across the F&A program.
- Funder-driven projects meant programs have had to be separately or jointly branded.
- Sometimes operational and program shifts came directly from leadership without clear visibility into the strategic decision making behind them.
- Individual programs (and relatedly staff) were siloed in line with funding sources and fundraising needs. Participants sometimes noted that the different tracks were unnecessarily separated — they would have liked to work across disciplines with other fellows.
- Some funders noted that they tend to come to the Foundation with ideas; the Foundation hasn’t often come to them. Funders wonder why this dynamic exists.
- One staff member noted that these tensions are challenging in large part because resourcing a cohesive strategy across programs would be a fundamental shift in terms of budgeting and how the Foundation approaches fundraising. In its current form, budgeting means that programs are individually funded out of structural necessity, but this creates offshoots that aren’t always aligned with strategy.
Mozilla could benefit from developing a framework within their strategy to establish their own agency within the funding and program design process. This can include a set of funds that are “unrestricted” or completely up to the strategic discretion of Mozilla. On a larger scale, the Foundation can consider whether they should generally follow the lead of the funder with respect to new program ideas, and/or should Mozilla also have a primary vision that funders support?
Mozilla is a boundary-pusher, which is one of its major strengths. Pushing boundaries, though, comes with challenges. As one funder stated, “You can’t design a program that’s frictionless, and you shouldn’t.” There is an opportunity to lean into this boundary-pushing, innovative work Mozilla is known for with balance – including stronger expectation-setting, communication, and support systems to navigate the inherent friction that comes from innovation and change.
High-level changes in leadership, strategy, and staffing have destabilized the program and given rise to lasting concerns amongst staff.
- The Fellowships and Awards program suffered from a lack of leadership over the evaluation period – there was no VP and no director for the programs for about 40% of the time considered. This not only had an impact on the staff, but it also had an impact on program focus, communications, fundraising, and overall consistency.
- Lack of long-term strategic vision and consistency in program design led to staff feeling like they’re facing the same challenges over and over and/or completely reinventing the wheel too often. They shared that it has been difficult to iterate on past lessons learned.
- Programmatic decision-making (like leadership changing strategy, asking for specific appointments of Senior Fellows, or funding specific discretionary awards) was often unclear to staff. As the ones who were tasked with implementing these programs, these decisions were sometimes seen as a signal of unforeseen shifts in programmatic direction or one-off efforts. Note: this was particularly exacerbated by the leadership gap for the F&A team for an extended period of time, and is improving with the more recent hires of Bob and Hanan, but trust and change management takes time.
- Due to high turnover and lack of consistent leadership, staff felt they were on their own for much of the time. This made it very difficult to develop cohesive or consistent strategy or communication, and left staff undersupported.
- Program Officers lacked clarity around their programs and how they fit into the bigger picture strategic goals of the Foundation.
- These gaps and changes led to the siloing of staff within their programs. This, over time, has resulted in limited sharing of resources or ideas, protectiveness of specific programs, and fears around agency. This siloing has made team-wide work difficult.
- Being a Program Officer often meant juggling the mental health of 10-15 people every day, plus navigating relationships with funders, host orgs, and the rest of the F&A team, often with little to no support for the staff member themselves.
“Trust the expertise of the staff and the teams that you've built more, and give those people more pathways to grow and trust that the people who are doing the work can step up and can take on more and can contribute more and can grow in their roles. There's not a ton of room to grow within a job, I think folks kind of tend to come in here, they get one individual job, and they just kind of stay in that track for a really long time. I think that across all the jobs of the Foundation, I think that's something I would like to see the Foundation think about more is like, how do we give people the space to grow in the roles that they're in? And how do we trust in their expertise, and trust that if we allow them to grow in these ways, it's actually going to contribute more to the work and it's going to be additive to the work that we do?”
- Some staff wonder if their expertise was mismatched to the programs they worked on, or are unclear if expertise in the program specifics was needed. The F&A team has historically had a lot of generalists, and some staff members said that the team could benefit from having more issue specialists to support funding recipients.
- Desire for the success of the funding recipients to be the shared success of the program and the team, not only of the individual.
Staff desire for increased transparency around budget and decision-making can help lead to better strategic alignment and consistency.
Increasing F&A staff agency and support is an opportunity to strengthen programming and the team itself (e.g. more decision-making power, access to program officer-specific discretionary funding to support specific projects or people, and more resources for staff development).
Fellows could also benefit from having access to issue specialists, whether they are staff hired in-house or past alumni that act as house topic-area mentors.
Data accrued through the F&A program has the potential to help bolster and strengthen the internet health ecosystem, yet inconsistent data collection and management in the program has prevented Mozilla from utilizing this pool of information to its maximum potential.
- Over many years of F&A programming, the Foundation has accrued a great deal of data and information to bolster the public interest technology space and iterate on its programming. There have been many efforts, such as Mozilla Pulse, to share the expertise and innovations of the F&A participants and projects into the public. As a champion of open work in general, Mozilla is seen as an exemplar to the ecosystem of working in the open.
- There hasn’t been consistent structure, tooling, or infrastructure to house data. Inconsistent data collection and lack of adequate data structures have made collecting and narrativizing historical data on F&A people and projects challenging:
- Data was inconsistently collected across programs and archived in different places, with differing permissions, and large gaps in collection for some years.
- It would take staff a huge amount of time and energy to do simple things (like send a newsletter) because of this lack of consistent data and structure for all programs.
- It was very challenging to do big-picture F&A program analysis without a single home for data and consistent collection across programs. Storytelling around the program has been challenging without up-to-date, consistent data – finding relevant details could be very difficult. Relatedly, it was challenging to measure impact over the years.
The challenge may be sometimes - especially when crafting the applications - we tend to change every year, everything that's in the application. So, it's harder to track and harder to show [shifts] or impact.”
Mozilla is currently overhauling its internal data governance structure and system, which represents an immense opportunity to consolidate the existing data on the F&A program and combine it with a people and projects repository that helps tell the whole story of the program. This includes bolstering Mozilla Pulse as a resource, and learning from the historical holes and inconsistencies in the F&A data to build a model that can grow with the F&A program – improving learning, visibility, and collaboration within the Mozilla community and the broader ecosystem.