This is an guest post authored by veteran MozFest Wrangler and Wrangler Mentor Alia ElKattan.
As a Wrangler for the Decentralisation space at MozFest 2019, reviewing session proposals was one of my pre-festival highlights. The first look at the long list of submitted proposals became the first glimpse of our space coming to life. MozFest is crafted by its Facilitators and participants, and the call for proposals is where we start understanding and getting increasingly excited about the upcoming iteration of the festival.
Even though MozFest will look different this year and some sessions will be online, these sessions are the foundation of the festival, and we hope will maintain the essence of all we love about MozFest.
Many sessions are facilitated at MozFest every year, but far more are submitted. I looked back at my experience reading proposals last year and sought the insights of my Wrangler cohort to give you a better understanding of how to write a successful MozFest proposal and what wranglers look for in those proposals. Whether you’ll be a first-time MozFest attendee (welcome!), or have been to many more MozFests than I have, I hope you can benefit from the tips, reminders, and examples below. So, first things first!
While we go through every submission, a strong title makes your MozFest session immediately standout and helps Wranglers read your proposal with more context and a clearer idea of what to look for. It’s best to avoid titles that are too broad or vague. For example, a proposal named “Building better AI” tells us very little about what your focus is, and would hardly stand out amidst the other sessions, many of which could be discussing similar topics. For example, here are two much more helpful titles from Decentralisation sessions in 2019: “Patterns to help communities build healthy AI datasets” and “Decentralised and personalized AI, with privacy by design,” which were run by Fionntan O’Donnell, Rachel Wilson, and Charmi Chokshi. Both discussed building better AI, but these titles gave us a better sense of the different areas of focus in their submissions.
Your title is an important place to start, but we certainly don’t expect it to tell the full story of your session. Throughout the proposal you can describe your session in greater detail, including why it is important for MozFest and how you plan to conduct it.
A successful proposal also showcases why the session is important in context of internet health, how it connects with the specific space it is being submitted to, and which audiences and communities the session is for. MozFest is not just a tech conference; it is a place for us to discuss, build, and reimagine a healthier, more equitable, and more inclusive internet. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to first question whether your session is a good fit for MozFest’s goals and spirit. A product demo for new software your team has been building, for example, is a poor fit for MozFest if it does not relate to any of the themes or spaces regardless how technically impressive it is. A proposal sharing software that supports healthier internet or AI systems with the goal of introducing participants to how to utilize and benefit from it, however, would be better suited.
While it’s important to highlight your connection to broader internet health goals, Wranglers also look for sessions that fit their particular spaces. The MozFest session “Decentralised disaster road mapping & route planning”, submitted by Janet Chapman to the Decentralisation space, clearly drew that connection in both the title and description. The proposal started, “Crowd2Map and OpenPlannerTeam together will show the potential of road mapping in OpenStreetMap (OSM) and decentralised routing tech for disaster mapping.”
When selecting MozFest sessions that will become the foundation of the festival, Wranglers want to see that a Facilitator is well-positioned to talk about the topic specified. One way to do so is to explain your own relationship to the topic and to share any relevant experience or engagement you’ve had with it.
In the aforementioned proposal, Janet outlined her relationship to the topic by writing:
Crowd2Map Tanzania is a crowdsourced mapping project that was born 4 years ago at MozFest! We map rural Tanzania using mobile apps (for locals on the ground), open data and satellite mapping in OSM. OpenPlannerTeam builds tools that enable route planning using nothing more than a browser to bring route planning to the many, not the few.
This explanation in the session description let us know that the facilitators had experience with their session topic, were personally engaged with road mapping, and had a unique perspective of the Tanzanian context to share.
Thinking about why you should facilitate a session is not meant to be a discouraging factor or limitation, however. We seek proposals from as diverse a group of people as possible, with varying levels of experience, engagement with internet health, and exposure. You do not have to be an expert or have years of extensive experience to facilitate a session about a topic you are interested in. While it is helpful to reference relevant experience, you can also talk about reasons you became interested in the topic, why you are passionate about it, or a unique or underrepresented perspective you may have.
For example, another proposal in our space was submitted by Winnie Makhoha for a fireside chat where participants explore and question their reliance on technology, and their experiences with its failure. For such a proposal, you can mention experiences you’ve had, such as ones specific to your city or country, that have drawn you to the topic or inspired the interactive activity.
MozFest sessions are meant to be interactive, and Wranglers want to see that you are mindful of that in the proposal. There are many ways to engage participants, like:
Whatever you choose, make sure you clearly state it in your proposal so wranglers know that you are prioritizing participation. In a festival as dynamic as MozFest, it is difficult to estimate how many participants will be attending a session. A strong proposal would be flexible, too, and mention how facilitators would be able to work with and adapt to different numbers and needs of participants.
Thinking about how to make your session interactive can help you think about your target audience and what you expect out of your participants. At the same time, make sure your proposal is not limited to an audience with sophisticated technical knowledge. Just as you cannot control the number of participants you bring in, you cannot anticipate the levels of background knowledge your participants will come in with. It can help to think through how to make your session as accessible as possible to a broader audience, and write your proposal accordingly.
A successful MozFest proposal likely has a clear, descriptive title, identifies its relevance and importance to the festival and the space it is being submitted to, explains the perspective or background the facilitator will bring into the session, and prioritizes participant interaction. Ultimately, however, what we are looking for are proposals in line with the MozFest spirit, these can be imaginative ideas, forward-looking discussions, new and inclusive approaches, or equitable solutions. If you care about building and maintaining a healthy internet for all, we hope you'll share that with us because your sessions are the foundation of the festival.
Thank you to Emrys Green, Tina Götschi, Jon Tutcher, and Mark Boas for their help with this blog piece.
Alia ElKattan joined MozFest as a Wrangler for the Decentralisation Space in 2019, after spending a year co-building a game on AI bias for the Mozilla Creative Media Awards. She’s now coding for academic research and a Wrangler Mentor for MozFest 2021.