The Language of Contribution Metrics

TL;DR: Share your thoughts on the language we use around contribution metrics here (anyone can contribute):

Then if you have the time, here are some of my thoughts on this topic…

What does language have to do with metrics?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that working with data and metrics is a clean and scientific-like process of running queries against a database or two and generating a report. In many ways, I’m glad it’s not as simple as that.

Metrics are only as good as the things they enable us to improve. Which means while metrics need to be grounded in good clean data, they are primarily for people; and not just for people to read.

In their best incarnation, metrics motivate people to change things for the better.

At this scale, motivating people is definitely more art than science which gets us to the topic of this post: the language that frames our metrics.

The project this conversation relates to is building a dashboard to measure the number of active contributors to the Mozilla Foundation. Counting is a *reasonably* clean task on it’s own, but the reason this project exists is to support our goals to grow Mozilla at scale (10x at first, 1 Million Mozillians in time).

The language we use to frame the numbers on this dashboard does impact on how well the dashboard motivates us to ask tough questions of our plans and processes in relation to this goal. So it’s an important part of the dashboard UX.

My intro to this project was framed as such: “Our goal for 2014 is to ship 10,000 contributors”. And as someone who likes agile development, hacking things together and getting things done, ‘ship’ is a word that appeals to me and I think resonates for many at Mozilla, but it’s also internal parlance. Not secret by any means, but intended for a particular audience.

Where this language becomes ‘trickyish’, is having this conversation in the open (our plans are open and acknowledge this challenge). Our contributors are not a product, and the word ‘shipped’ might not sit right with them.

So how do we talk about growing contribution without risking taking away an individual’s feeling that contribution is something they choose to do?

It’s not a challenge unique to Mozilla, but our approach to working open might enable a unique solution.

This anecdote is from my time at WWF, and I think highlights the risk we are talking about:

I remember looking at supporter comments in response to the question “what prompted you to give?” which we asked at the end of our donation process. Though this story accounts for the minority of our respondents, there was a recurring theme where people’s records show they have responded to something like a unique marketing URL in a TV ad and donated to the particular issue highlighted by the ad in question; but they would go on to make comments like this: “Nothing *prompted* me to donate. I did so off my own back, because I care about [tigers/pandas/etc] and I myself decided I should do something to help.”

Many people (supporters/volunteers) strongly want to think they are entirely responsible for the things they choose to do.

But organisations recruiting supporters at scale know that you have to actively do things to bring people on board – from marketing and advertising through to welcoming and community management and much more. Fundraising 101: if you don’t ask you don’t get.

Traditional non-profit organisations, due to the economic pressures of effectively fundraising, skip this conversation and focus on the story of how support directly impacts the end goals of their mission… e.g. £10 can X. They cannot afford to lose the profitability of their fundraising in order to better talk about the challenge and process of fundraising (at least at scale) even though these business-like processes exist to support the same underlying mission that supporters care about.

But Mozilla’s way of working is far from traditional, so I think we’re in a great place to talk about why and how we’re counting contribution and more excitingly we can open up the tools that we hope can motivate staff to grow contributor numbers, so they can be used by the community too (this is another blog post to follow).

For now though, let’s talk about the word ‘shipping’.

Does the phrase ‘shipping contributors’ help you think at scale? Or does it sit uneasy? What word would you use instead?

Please join the conversation here:


  1. Great post Adam. I should mention we are making some progress on the data collection for the larger community dashboards we’re going to build as well. We may have something in the near future that could help you in the data collection aspect of your work. Here’s the wiki on what we’ve got thus far:

    Let’s sync up soon about how you’d be able to leverage this for your data so we can ensure consistency in all the views we (the collective we that are mozilla) publish. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Ben, and yes, I’m looking forward to joining up the foundation numbers with all of Mozilla.

    Though we’re aiming to ship an interim dashboard quickly, the joined up solution is the end goal, so we’ll be planning for that in our immediate activities.

    And I’ve just joined the CBT Systems & Data working group which includes Blackhole/Wormhole/Etc so will get to grips with that in more detail soon.

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