Open Source for All

Open Source for All: A call to action for community needs.

The term “Open Source” is often used to only define software development — specifically the promotion, creation and distribution of free software and the ability for it to be used, changed and shared by anyone. When we examine what working in the open means, we unpack a call to action that is familiar – a movement rooted in community efforts in which success hinges on the need for everybody to be present, participating and proactive.

Our exploration in “Open Source for All” starts with Ca.pture. It is a youth-driven digital storytelling program designed to capture cyberbullying stories from our city and to develop open-source digital skill building activities that empower youth to prevent, navigate and intervene in electronic bullying. Through this program, we onboarded 12 youth as our Youth Council who, over the period of 8 months, collaboratively developed an open source curriculum for their peers and educators to share their stories of cyberbullying. It resulted in a community effort in advocating for safe spaces, creating better resources for countering online bullying and to empower youth to take leadership roles. Through the Ca.pture Youth Council, we realized there was a growing interest amongst the youth in furthering their knowledge and their desire to contribute to a safer, accessible and more inclusive online experience.

We identified and recognized the gap in youth voices when creating policies and structures within the spaces that youth inhabit, both offline and online. Mozilla and Hive Toronto staff designed a Open Leadership day for the interested youth that would allow them to identify an issue in their community and to create a solution with open source.

The morning kicked off with a presentation and discussion of what open source is and the role that Mozilla plays in its history of supporting open working and open leadership. Youth were asked to reflect upon their journey into the space — how they became interested in online spaces, their work with Ca.pture and what working open means to them. The room buzzed with excited chattering — one could hear the snippets of reflections overlapping with each other. Many affirmed the need for community efforts, education, visibility, multiple voices and the need for equality in their open source definition.

During the afternoon, youth had the opportunity to utilize information, resources and conversations gained from the earlier session. The idea was to first identify an issue in the community and then use Open Source culture to come up with a solution. We used the “Open Canvas” work sheet adapted from “Lean Canvas” as a guide to conceptualizing and plotting steps to execute the project. Each of the youth had the opportunity to share an issue they recognized in their community and propose an open source solution, taking us through their “Open Canvas” worksheet. As we soon discovered, there was plenty of information, resources and ideas that most of the youth had expanded out of the letter-sized printer paper.

As we’ve seen in the past, giving youth the opportunity to share their experiences results in projects that truly reflect and address the needs of that group. We moved to workshopping the youth’s proposals on a whiteboard, opening up the conversation to all participants. As is the root of open source, an idea is generated and improved upon with the assistance of the community.

Our first youth, Gwen, presented a need for an open source directory of LGBTQ+ youth safe spaces in the G.T.A. She identified that most of the available LGBTQ+ youth resources are largely in the city, specifically downtown Toronto area, and are inaccessible to young people living in the suburbs. Gwen noted that access to transit in Toronto is challenging and in addition, commuting is an issue for safety and a barrier to many youth facing systemic oppression. As Gwen lead us through her open canvas project, she cited public libraries, schools, community centres and other communal public meeting spaces as contributors who could help with not only building a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth, but also creating awareness, resources for education and information to LGBTQ+ youth and allies. Gwen also noted that this directory needed to be available both online and offline as access to the internet and web is still a challenge in many suburban areas — in particular, youth have limited facilities to go online. Additionally, queer and questioning youth find it difficult to enter spaces that are LGBTQ+ adult-run because of the insecurities that are more commonly felt in younger ages of questioning gender identity. Gwen emphasized the need for all these resources to be primarily open sourced by youth, placing the priority of “by youth for youth” in the forefront.


A picture of a youth, Gwen, standing in front of a white board after presenting her open soure project idea - -- an open source directory of LGBTQ+ youth safe spaces in the G.T.A., generated by youth for youth with assistance from adult allies.

Gwen presenting her open source project — an open source directory of LGBTQ+ youth safe spaces in the G.T.A., generated by youth for youth with assistance from adult allies.

The next youth, Linda*, identified a problem in Toronto schools that stemmed from her personal narrative. Linda entered a school on a default selection, as many young people are subjected to, but she soon realized how unhappy she was. She didn’t fit in and wasn’t getting the education she was looking for. Linda approached counsellors and teachers in the school for more information and solutions, but wasn’t presented with any answers that addressed her needs. She recognized that adults did not understand her experience or have the resources and capabilities of addressing her concerns, so she took it in her own hands. Linda researched and talked to students at other schools, finally she found what she was looking for: alternative schools. She read up on the various choices and what an alternative school education looked like. She visited the schools, talked to teachers and students there, quickly realizing that this was the right fit for her. She transitioned into her choice of alternative school and is much happier. She now looks forward to going to school and being involved in the community. Linda wants to share her experience with other young people and encourage others to do the same. She proposes an open source platform for youth across Toronto to add their stories about their school experience. She hopes to have a list of different schools complete with student reviews available to all. One would be able to organize it by district, or types and/or program offerings. This project would partner with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and individual schools, teachers and counsellors to promote youth voices in education and as a way to inform their decision-making.

Our last youth, Carol*, also focused on her school experience. She identified the overwhelmingly large student body that was unhappy and how youth expressed their desire to be involved in decision making and policy informing within their school. She added that youth voices are often dismissed as unimportant and irrelevant. Carol proposed an open source website that would allow students to share their stories, review their school experience and have educators access this information. This would amplify youth voices and truly reflect the youth experience in school. Carol cited a few of her resources — from a safe space for students to meet to coding skills to build the open source website. She envisions the contributors to be both students in school and adults helping to bring awareness of this resource. This website would be youth run by a youth council and would capture experiences that the council could take to teacher meetings and forums. Their goal is to have policy makers in education involve the youth council, drawing from these youth experiences, to inform decision making and policy structures in schools across Toronto.

There were many interesting findings from the Open Leadership day. All youth reported originally thinking that open source just referred to software development and that unless you knew how to code, working open wasn’t for them. Once the youth council understood the foundation for open source, they realized it was a tool they could utilise in their community. The open projects proposed by the youth are all rooted in recognizing a gap in service and using open to address and create a solution. Working open and leading open is in essence advocating for people to come together, learn from each other and collaborate. It is bringing forward all voices to inform a bigger picture. Open source culture is not just for software development, coding and online initiatives. As leaders in web literacy, digital inclusion and decentralization, it’s important to acknowledge the role the internet plays in community access and needs. Our youth council demonstrate and advocate for open source to truly reflect inclusivity, diversity and accessibility.

*First names of youth have been changed for privacy reasons.

Many thanks to our Hive Toronto youth council members. Host your own Open Leadership training in your community, read more here.