title: Proposal: Addressing the term “meritocracy” in the governance statement
Hello Governance folks,
As part of the our work on diversity and inclusion within Mozilla communities, Emma Irwin and I have a proposal to rearticulate the main principle of Mozilla’s governance statement. This proposal does not seek to change how Mozilla is governed, only how we talk about how Mozilla is governed, which may be reasonably be regarded as contentious.
The first line of Mozilla’s governance states, “Mozilla is an open source project governed as a meritocracy.”
The use of the term “meritocracy” to describe communities that suffer from a lack of diverse representation is increasingly seen as problematic: it proceeds from an assumption of equality of opportunity. There is now quite substantial evidence  as well as opinion  that we should challenge this usage.
At the same time, I believe that the rest of the articulation of how the project functions (“authority is distributed to both volunteer and employed community members as they show their abilities through contributions to the project.”) remains a reasonable description of how we aspire to work. It asserts that people’s contributions are what counts, not their employment affiliation or the personal relationships they may have. I believe we are able to acknowledge that this approach remains imperfect. Mozilla does support other measures (through outreach and recruiting, policies and process improvements and tooling) that can help address the biases inherent in a system where people gain authority based on their past delivery.
To sum up: -Declaring Mozilla to be a de facto “meritocracy” fails to acknowledge evident bias in representation in the project. -The word “meritocracy” itself has become a bone of contention which is unhelpful to us. -Meritocractic principles remain highly desirable and should be explicit. -We should also acknowledge the importance of measures we take to debias how authority is distributed.
I seek to avoid making this an unnecessarily complex (or indeed contentious) change, and after discussing with a number of interested people, I would like to suggest this as the new summary of our governance principle.
“Mozilla is an open source project. Our community is structured as a virtual organization. Authority is primarily distributed to both volunteer and employed community members as they show their ability through contributions to the project. The project also seeks to debias this system of distributing authority through active interventions that engage and encourage participation from diverse communities.”
I believe that this is a change that minimises disruption and reflects how the leadership of the project seek to govern it.
It’s customary to gain consensus among the main stakeholders for any change before it is proposed on Governance. In this case, however, I feel that the number of stakeholders is potentially vast. I believe that there should be a period of review in the governance forum (a week?), and would welcome guidance from moderators on what they believe would be appropriate.