Each year, as October approaches, we on the MozFest team at the Mozilla Foundation get ready to launch our call-for-proposals (CFP) for the next MozFest. Throughout the entire CFP process, we focus on supporting people to submit excellent session ideas for MozFest.
To that end, this post is meant to help you learn about MozFest and opportunities to participate there. To begin, let’s tackle the biggest question newcomers often have about the festival:
MozFest is a unique hybrid: part art, tech and society convening, part maker festival, and the premiere gathering for activists in diverse global movements fighting for a more humane digital world.
In practice, MozFest brings together thousands of people, online and off, who are committed to a healthier, more just and inclusive internet. Together, they share and amplify each other’s work, make new connections, and help shape the Mozilla Foundation’s agenda for the next year. Activists, artists, developers, educators, journalists, librarians, policy-makers, researchers, scientists: all of these communities and more are essential in making MozFest a launchpad for internet health and trustworthy AI collaborations throughout the year.
However, the program itself is curated and scheduled by volunteer community organizers called Wranglers. Mozilla uses a community nomination process each year that invites past organizers to suggest new Wranglers for the next festival. With support from Mozilla, these Wranglers meet weekly for months leading up to the festival and typically attend an intensive, in-person, week-long planning retreat. Most recently, Wranglers came together for smaller amounts of time online for their onboarding process. They create the different spaces (kind of like tracks) at the festival, select the sessions for each space, schedule the sessions, support all of the Facilitators running sessions at the festival, and design and build the actual physical spaces onsite. Spaces are sometimes themed after specific internet health issues, like “Digital Inclusion” or “Openness,” and sometimes themed after particular communities and experiences, like the Gaming, Neurodiversity, and Queering spaces. However, Wranglers have a lot of freedom to re-interpret and invent Spaces each year.
Facilitators run the sessions in each space. Facilitators begin their journeys by submitting a session to our call-for-proposals (CFP). More on that below. After they’re selected by the Wranglers, Facilitators spend months refining and revising their session designs to accommodate different audiences and ensure a participatory, accessible, and inclusive experience for everyone who joins their session. Facilitators meet online and onsite ahead of the festival to connect with each other and help one another. They become the ambassadors of the festival who represent MozFest and each space to the people who attend their sessions.
The festival also depends on community Volunteers who help set up the festival, staff information desks for attendees, and ensure that Wranglers and Facilitators have what they need for their spaces and sessions. These local Volunteers help with wayfinding and connect people in need with those who can help them. They are invaluable to the festival. This year we will explore different volunteer roles to help with online festival support, as well.
We call this kind of power-sharing and interdependence “Federated Design,” and it’s a hallmark of MozFest. Together, MozFest staff, Wranglers, Facilitators, and Volunteers produce a festival that none of those groups could have produced on their own. Over time, as people move from attending MozFest to becoming a Facilitator, Volunteer, or Wrangler, the festival sustains its strong core of community leadership by making sure there are roles available to people who love the experience and want to contribute in different ways over the years.
There is nothing more inspiring than attending a session in which the facilitator captivates the audience through interactive, hands-on, collaborative experience.
What’s the trick to transform a meeting, working group, or information session from boring to fun and motivating? It’s not just one, but several elements that make the difference.
All Mozilla Festival sessions must be participatory, accessible, and inclusive.
- Participatory sessions engage and activate attendees from the start and gets them making and doing.
- Accessible sessions make it possible for the most people with different needs to participate.
- Inclusive sessions welcome participants of different ages, experiences, and disciplines.
To increase your chances of submitting a proposal that is accepted, stay away from "presentation" style session design. We're not looking for people to give a speech, but engage in open conversations, collaborate and work together in real time.
Be sure your session is delightful, fun, or otherwise compelling and engaging for your audience members. Design engagement with a strong sense of purpose and productivity in mind. Make sure that your attendees feel involved in the work of the session and that they see its importance and benefit to them and their communities and work. Online or off, think of yourself as a facilitator, not a lecturer. Your role is to help attendees actively engage with your work, not just to tell them about it.
Think about accessibility as you design your session.
- Plan activities that can be approached several different ways to accommodate for your audience members’ needs. You might invite small-group discussion before whole-group discussion or give time to contribute to a shared doc instead of speaking.
- Avoid planning activities that rely on a single mode of engagement or expression. For example, don’t depend entirely on physical activities that require a lot of moving around (that might exclude disbaled people with physical or spatial challenges) or entirely on whole-group discussion (that might exclude introverts or people who need interpreters or translators to participate if those folk are not available to your session).
- If you have materials to share with audience members, have a plan to share them well ahead of time in formats that are easily accessible by screen-readers and think about high-contrast color schemes and large print that make documents easy for people to read, as well.
- Mind your pacing, too.
- Try not to cram so much stuff into your session proposal that you go too quickly and lose people.
Consider accessibility guidelines like these ”Accessibility Guidelines for Presentations” from the Society for Disabilities Studies as you imagine your session proposal. It’s also always a great idea to share your proposal with people who have lived with disabilities and can give you authentic feedback on your ideas.
Think through your session plan and content to make sure it is inclusive, safe, and welcoming for everyone. Here are a few examples of how to do that:
- Be sure to represent key stakeholders in any resources you share and to consider partnering with co-facilitators from key stakeholder groups, as well.
- Think about how to structure activities and conversations to help people feel comfortable and safe speaking honestly with each other. Provide guidelines for discussion, or establish them with your audience through a quick brainstorming activity, to remind people of how to treat each other with kindness, curiosity, and affirmations.
- Rehearse what you might say if someone in your session needs help to participate more fully or to hold space for others to speak.
- Account for your own biases and design against them to make sure you invite as many different people to participate in your session as possible, not just those you imagine to be the “right people” for your audience. Imagine having 5, 15, or even more than 25 people in your session: how would you help them all feel included? Imagine an 8-year old attending alongside a 80-year old; a novice next to an expert; this will help you ensure that your session is inclusive for everyone.
Decide what you want to get from your session as part of your design process. You probably already have a good idea of the content and kinds of experiences you want to share with audience members. You might already know what you want them to get out of your session. You can check by asking yourself questions like these:
- What do you hope to achieve?
- What are your goals?
- How can their participation help you?
- What can you learn alongside them?
- Whose insights do you need to really improve your work, and how can your session help you gather those people and ideas together?
You should leverage your session not only to amplify and share your work, but also to advance and improve it in ways you couldn’t without the help of the community.
Build in a call-to-action for your audience members as part of your session proposal. That could be giving participants an opportunity to exchange contact information with you and each other in a voluntary and secure way so that you can follow up with each other after MozFest. You might research how to provide a voluntary, opt-in, email sign-up form for a newsletter or share your project’s social media details and invite people to follow you.
Have an idea of what you might do together beyond the session and share it before the session ends. You might contribute to one another’s projects, join each other’s online communities, or start something new together. Imagine your session as a specific moment and place to check in with each other while combining your efforts for a healthier internet and trustworthy AI throughout the entire year.
The work of the community is what makes MozFest tick! We would love to see your work show up at the festival to strengthen the movement. Here are some reasons why you should submit a session proposal:
- Raise awareness of local and global internet health and trustworthy AI issues and solutions.
- Teach people a new approach, skill, or technology related to internet health and trustworthy AI.
- Improve your facilitation skills.
- Share your work.
- Reach more people with your message.
- Connect with like-minded individuals and communities.
- Invite new contributors to join your projects and communities.
- Network with staff from MozFest and other organizations in the internet health movement
- Push for more trustworthy AI to create new partnerships and collaborations.
- Network with funders, media, and others who can help sustain and amplify your work.
If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to MozFest, be sure to ask yourself what you hope to achieve with your sessions. Then you can design an experience that will help you, as well as your participants, meet your goals.
You can also keep up with all the latest MozFest announcements by signing up for our newsletter, following the festival on Twitter @mozillafestival, and asking MozFest staff and veterans for help on the MozFest community Slack. All three are great ways to connect with people and organizations promoting internet health and more Trustworthy AI around the world.