As a newbie to the civic tech realm, and having recently graduated with a Major in International Relations, this past year I have looked for engaging activities that could help me find the sweet spot between my degree and my interest in safe digital technologies. That’s how I became a Wrangler at Mozilla Festival (MozFest) 2022.
If you are unfamiliar with MozFest, you don’t know what you are missing!
MozFest is Mozilla’s annual event. As I always try to explain to my friends and family, and if you have been a long-time user of Firefox, Mozilla Foundation is the non-profit behind Firefox — yup, the browser —, which is working fiercely to keep the Internet alive and accessible. They are doing tons of work towards healthier digital spaces.
MozFest is more than a tech conference. It is a hybrid community-driven, participatory, interdisciplinary, and playful event in which art, tech, and society convene. This event takes place every year in March with a great number of sessions, workshops, art and media galleries, social and fringe events, facilitated and attended by people all over the globe.
How did I become a Wrangler?
She believed it would be an amazing opportunity for me to get to know people of various disciplines from all over the world that could help me understand how a person with a non-technical background can participate in building civic technologies and a healthier internet movement. She nominated me to be a Wrangler, a that’s how My MozFest trip began.
What does it mean to be a Wrangler?
Each year, MozFest aims to select a cohort of Wranglers from around the world, with diverse backgrounds, skills, interests, and perspectives. This amazing group of people is the co-designers who shape the MozFest program.
On a weekly basis for over 6 to 7 months, we met with the MozFest team to start self-organizing into teams — centered around a thematic “Space” — and work together to build community, invite and curate session proposals that explore and expand on the theme we choose.
During my wrangling experience, I learned new skills such as communication, facilitation, community-building, project design, online collaboration platforms, and most importantly, building relationships and making new personal and professional connections with brilliant collaborators from around the world, who I now call my MozFest family.
What was my general experience at MozFest as a Wrangler?
I was proudly part of the Decolonized AI Futures (DAIF)Space, along with a group of five people from India, the United States, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and México, who gave life to the space by posing three main questions: What does it mean to decolonize Artificial Intelligence (AI), why does AI need decolonizing and what does this entail?
For us, the Artificial Intelligence we believe to be global is far from it. African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Black, Indigenous, and people who have been racialized as ‘ethnic minorities’ have largely been kept apart from the development and implementation of AI, treating Western perspectives as objective universal truths. As we envisioned, this was a space for the Global Majority to discuss and engage AI in real life and envision a future for AI that involves a meaningful dialogue of values.
It was an intense experience due to the speed, the work between different time zones, and the diversity of tasks we needed to engage with for our space to happen. However, at all times it felt like a family get-together and learning. From March 7–15, I was surrounded by people all over the world and specifically voices from the Global Majority, to discuss if a future of decolonized AI is possible and how we can (re)define a more optimistic future.
Apart from co-designing the space with my colleagues, I was able to take on the communications co-coordination and technical main point of contact for facilitators to learn how to take their sessions to the next level at the festival with an immersive experience using Mozilla’s technology: Hubs, a 3D virtual space, and Spatial Chat, a virtual space to hang out and engage in cool conversations.
As it was an unknown technology to me, I must share I learned hand-in-hand with the facilitators, but it was a thrilling experience as I saw them design an inclusive and interactive experience following a basic tip given by Dirk Slater for Adult Learning; learning and awareness-raising happen in stages. For that, facilitators designed conversations that included activities, discussions, inputs, deepenings, and synthesis immersed in a 3D experience.
Key takeaways from my first time at MozFest:
- You do not need to be tech-savvy to fit in, you just need to be passionate about the topic. This was one of my main concerns when I join the Wrangler community. And the feeling disappeared during the first sessions, seeing that, although there are experts in the room, the focus of the festival was that all people interested in making the internet a better place, had a voice in this community-driven experience.
- Yes to Federated Design! At first, I was thrown by what first appeared to be all about creating chaos throughout the design of the festival. As a process based mainly on volunteer organization and led, top-to-bottom, it was so powerful to learn a new perspective and way of collaborating. A unique project can only take part if it involves a unique process. MozFest provided us full ownership to curate our space since its roots, or what they call ‘Federated Design’. In simple words, the MozFest core team handled us the key for their most important gathering, allowing us to connect, collaborate and create together.
- Create a space in which the differences make a difference. As we started to design the space, it was clear that we aimed to design an immersive experience for an international festival and work towards decentering the dominant culture around Artificial Intelligence. The Space highlighted that Wranglers, volunteers, participants, and facilitators were not visible minorities; but part of the global majority. We successfully brought a diverse community of knowledge guardians, researchers, technologists, activists, journalists that will continue to work toward decolonizing AI.
The possibilities are endless for an Open Heroine to collaborate at MozFest. As I keep looking for thrilling experiences and engaging in communities that allow me to learn from my colleagues and share my knowledge, I have the privilege to be part of the OH community of women that are working in open government, open data, and civic tech.
I can definitely see myself, or any of my amazing colleagues at the Open Heroines community, designing an immersive and inclusive experience at MozFest as a Wrangler or as a facilitator. There’s so much knowledge, expertise, and most importantly, passion and care to share and make others part of the different important conversations around a more humane digital world. So keep tuned! You might see a discussion, workshop, or an art and media installation led by the Open Heroines next year at MozFest 2023.
Mar is curious and passionate about the intersection between technology and social studies. She has worked with the public and private sector, academia, and civil society leading social projects, as well as their institutional communications strategy, aiming to create an interactive storytelling experience with social impact related to peace culture, cybersecurity, education, youth and sexual rights, and civic tech.