Program Structure

Oct. 4, 2021
Simply Secure

Written by Simply Secure

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This section explores participants’ experiences with the structure of the F&A programs – the schedule, length, cohort, etc. It relies heavily on interviews with alumni.

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Although most respondents reported having an immensely positive experience working with their cohort or fellow grantees and cited the networking and collaboration inherent to the program as beneficial, participant experience with program structure and cohort interaction varied widely.


  • Participants largely loved working in groups of smart, driven people with whom they could bond and collaborate.
  • Participants had very positive experiences whenever they got to share their work with other funding recipients and see what everyone was working on -- especially for awards programs.
  • Some program participants lamented the fact that they didn’t know what their peers were working on, and that there wasn’t space built into the program to share each others’ projects.
  • While many enjoyed it, the cohort experience for fellows varied widely. Cited reasons include:

    • Fellowship timelines (Fellows didn’t always start at the same time as others in the cohort).
    • Being a one-off fellow (Fellows were occasionally not part of a cohort, like Senior Fellows). Senior Fellows noted not having access to the “full” fellowship experience, and noted a missed opportunity in not using Senior Fellows as mentors.
    • Lack of opportunity to socialize built into the program.
    • Lack of emotional support built into the program.
    • Being in a new city/country due to host org placement/program demands.
    • Personality clashes between the fellows in a cohort.
    • Isolation / alienation due to the fellowship experience (being in a new/temporary environment and job, not having content/topic overlap with other fellows, some begin and end at different times).
    • Note: These issues were heard from participants across the five-year timeframe, not just from recent participants whose fellowships and awards intersected with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Opportunity

Participants generally want more opportunities for in-person contact with their cohort and/or fellow grantees.

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Fellowship length and schedule made it difficult for some fellows to achieve their desired goals, and sometimes resulted in an interruption to their careers that felt like a post-award “cliff.”

  • 10 month to 1 year programs were often cited as too short for meaningful change/success. Participants said it could feel like just scratching the surface of an in-depth community based project, for instance. It was also challenging to build in time to look for next steps while balancing project work.

“10 months isn’t much time to get settled in, get work done, find your place in the community and then secure your next job or funding. Especially as this community relies a lot on trust, familiarity and recommendations are really important for being able to stay in this kind of work after the fellowship ends.“

Fellow, 2016


  • Participants described two years as a potentially stronger model. For instance: one year to build, start implementing, and make connections; and one year for refinement, expansion, and tracking success.
  • Part-time fellows struggled with balancing different responsibilities.
  • While fellows highlighted conferences and travel as critically important to their fellowships, they are additional priorities that fellows have to manage in the shorter timeframes of the fellowship.
  • Recipients with families and/or other responsibilities (such as a mortgage) found the fellowships a bit “risky”, because of the semi-permanence and having less financial stability than a day job, and traveling is not possible for all.
  • Many recipients referenced a post-fellowship/award “cliff:”

    • Some hosted fellows felt that they had a “fake job” at a host organization for the award period, which left them feeling stranded at the fellowship’s end.
    • Fellows said they had to start planning for after the fellowship 6 months before it ended -- and if you were in a 10 month program, that could be distracting and stressful. Some said such support would help keep funding recipients in the internet health space. Many felt they realized this too late, and felt unprepared for after the funding period, so there was a strong desire for help off-boarding from the fellowship.


Opportunity

More inclusive consideration around balancing different responsibilities related to life stages, would help make the programs more accessible: e.g. balancing the amount of traveling/conferences with external obligations (like family), possible social exhaustion, completing projects within the time frame (especially for shorter funding periods).

Opportunity

More inclusive consideration around balancing different responsibilities related to life stages, would help make the programs more accessible: e.g. balancing the amount of traveling/conferences with external obligations (like family), possible social exhaustion, completing projects within the time frame (especially for shorter funding periods).

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Funding recipients shared differing views around program accessibility, equitability, and transparency – particularly with regard to opportunities and resources.

  • Some recipients felt very positively about the transparency of the program and the Foundation at large – from the interview process, to their requests for feedback, to funding transparency and requiring all work to be open source.

“They tried to make everything as open and communicative as possible – there's no way that it could've been more transparent. It was wonderful.”

Fellow, 2016


  • Recipients raised concerns about some perceived cases of nepotism/relationships-based access and/or shoulder-tapping leading to better opportunities for some over others.
  • There was a strong sense of favoritism, especially felt about Senior Fellows/Fellows in Residence. There was a perception/question by some: “What do Senior Fellows even do?”
  • The lack of transparency around how discretionary funding (given at the executive level) was allocated led some fellows to feel that they needed to advocate for themselves directly to executive leadership in order to be noticed.

“You may be a Mozilla fellow, but that doesn’t mean that while you’re a fellow you’re going to be mentioned by [Mozilla] at all.”

Fellow, 2019


  • It wasn’t clear to many why some recipients received special resources and opportunities compared to others (between types of funding programs or from Mozilla/the executive team). Even with understanding that programs had different funders/budgets, it appeared unstrategic or random.
  • When recipients did work with the Mozilla Foundation communications team, they had very positive experiences, but not all recipients received communications support, and some felt it was offered inequitably, or that they were unable to utilize it well when offered.
  • Some cohorts reported needing to self-organize, advocate for, and get funding for (to varying degrees of success) initiatives that felt imperative to their program’s success and benefit. For example, science fellows organizing a summit, or policy fellows organizing a policy tour.
  • Some funding recipients cited a lack of research independence especially in tension with MoCo policy. Staff noted this was also a tension in recruitment -- to what extent do they recruit people with precisely aligned goals, values, and policy objectives as the Foundation or the Corporation?


Opportunity

Interviewees identified that there is an immense opportunity for Senior Fellows to act as mentors to non-senior fellows

Opportunity

Clear delineation of available resources and their sources (Mozilla, other funders, etc) would help improve transparency and access to resources across programs.

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Funding recipients expressed an inability to understand how Mozilla defined “success” and reported a strong desire for Mozilla to be more proactive in communicating its goals for fellowships and awards.

  • Some funding recipients felt unsure what a “good fellow” or “successful project” was, or how Mozilla felt about it when it was completed.

“Do they like my project?”

Fellow, 2016

“I really think [Mozilla] needs to sit down and think about what a successful project is.”

Fellow, 2019

“It's not that easy to understand what the outcome they expect from a fellowship.“

Fellow, 2016


  • This also affected power dynamics. It was not always clear who recipients were trying to “please” and more clarity and transparency could help design around that.
  • Competition-style awards, with two rounds, like the NSF WINS program, were effective and helped give participants a sense of what Mozilla is looking for.

Opportunity

There is potential for improved communication and increased impact if expectations are established and managed from the beginning. Many interviewees advocated for Mozilla to take a more proactive role in their communications in order to make expectations and lines of contact and support clear. This will help to manage relationships for staff/funding recipients across programs.

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The COVID-19 pandemic radically changed the experience of funding programs, but participants largely felt that Mozilla rose to the challenge.

  • While most participants surveyed and interviewed for this evaluation participated in Mozilla programs pre-pandemic, those who did experience pandemic-adjusted programming largely reported a streamlined experience of working remotely within their fellowship or award.
  • Most did lament not being able to have a full, in-person experience, and thus noted that they would have been willing to commit more time to online convenings and trainings to make up for the richness of in-person meetings lost. While they appreciated Mozilla’s attention to possible Zoom fatigue, interviewees said they’d rather gain as much from the fellowship as possible, even if that means more time online.


Opportunity

Pandemic conditions present an opportunity to reframe what a Mozilla fellowship fundamentally is. Without the opportunity for travel and in-person connection, what space is there to create a rich, robust experience? Developing this type of fellowship model could enable the Foundation to open programming to more people without facing the logistical barriers that usually come with global programming. Such changes could also increase accessibility for people who are at different points in their life or career (e.g. those with families) or with different lifestyles or responsibilities.