The amazing, overwhelming Knight-Mozilla Fellowship applicants

2014 applicants

It was great fun watching the applications to the Knight-Mozilla Fellowship roll in. People applied from all over the world. We got 102 more applications than last year. More women applied. More awe-inspiringly qualified people applied. It's been a humbling and exciting experience. So, how'd we get to this point of a wealth of amazing applicants, and where do we go next in the process?

Rundown of the numbers

  • Applicants for 2014: 265
  • Applicants for 2013: 163
  • Percentage increase in applicants: 62%
  • Women applicants in 2014: ~50, 20% of total applicants
  • Women applicants in 2013: ~10, 5% of total applicants
  • Example geographic distribution, 2014:
    • Argentina - 29
    • US - 88
    • India - 15
    • Kenya - 6
    • Germany 7
  • Example geographic distribution, 2013:
    • Argentina - 9
    • US - 47
    • India - 6
    • Kenya - 3
    • Germany 3
  • How'd people hear about the Fellowship? (question only asked 2014)
    • Twitter - 47
    • Friend/colleague - 35
    • List serv - 20
    • Current Fellows - 16
    • In-person event - 16
    • La Nacion - 11
    • Facebook - 11
    • Mozilla - 9
    • Misc people, blogs, modes of communication - 2-4 each

Getting more applicants

This was the second year we conducted a traditional application process. We had a good template to work from, the 2012 Knight-Mozilla Fellows had already completed their Fellowship when the application opened, and the 2013 cohort was months into their Fellowship. Applicants had a much better idea of what to expect from the Fellowship and we had a better idea of the types of concerns people had. We conducted several Q+As on our community calls and spruced up the Fellowship section of the OpenNews site with a more extensive FAQ and description of the growing community of Fellows.

As the referrals show, the Knight-Mozilla Fellows themselves have been an important way that new applicants find out about the Fellowship. Many applicants mentioned meeting Fellows at in-person events or following them on Twitter. These personal connections are built throughout the year, and then with a focused two-month application window and individual recruitment, we heard from many more applicants this year. By having a solid plan for recruitment and a distributed network of allies and ambassadors, the applicant pool grew in both size and in quality and level of experience of the applicants.

The focused two-months of promotion and personalized outreach resulted in a steady stream of applications, and then a flurry right before the deadline: 95 applications this year arrived in the last two days, with 18 coming in the final hour alone. Last year the final days were also busy, with 58 applications in the last two days. Interestingly, six of the eight people who became Fellows applied within two days of the deadline. And one applied within 11 seconds. Will be interesting to see if this last-minute trend of Fellows continues, and learn what we can do to help nudge more people to submit that application.

Getting more women applicants

We made an explicit effort to recruit more women applicants as well as applicants who represent all of the types of diversity of the communities we serve. And, it turns out that when you make that effort, people actually apply.

I asked people for feedback and advice over the past year about how to recruit women in tech and one of the things I kept hearing was about needing to give people lots of opportunities to get "asked" to apply. This is good advice in general and we were sure to add explicit and implicit asks throughout our marketing materials. Beyond that, person to person outreach was really key here. I posted to women-in-tech list servs like Tech Lady Mafia and Ada Camp and asked for help spreading the word, which people did via Twitter, forwarding to other list servs, and personal recommendations and support. I also emailed individuals specifically asking them to recommend women and people in other under-represented groups in technology for the Fellowship. This explicit ask, rather than a general call for recommendations, is something I read about as being helpful in getting a diverse array of event speakers and that was definitely true here as well.

I would also attribute the increase here to the same dynamic at play with the overall increase in applicants: year-round relationship building. Targeted follow up over the summer helped push people to click that submit button, but the real work is in getting to know people and communities all year so the first communication wasn't an out-of-nowhere ask.

Maintaining a balance of geographic distribution

It was extremely encouraging to see that the geographic distribution of applicants held steady from 2013 to 2014. In 2014, there will no longer be a Fellowship news partner in Europe, but it is clear that it did not deter applicants from that region. In fact, we got more applicants from Germany this year even though last year two news partners were in Germany. Again, this can largely be attributed to the existing networks we have in Europe and the presence of so many Fellows and alumni.

One noteworthy difference is the increase in the number of applicants from Argentina. This is also attributable to the presence of a Knight-Mozilla Fellow in the region as well as the strong promotion and community building efforts of La Nacion. Similarly, the networks of Ushahidi and Internews Kenya resulted in more applicants from Kenya and throughout Africa this year. And even as a larger proportion of news partners will be in the U.S. next year, the amount of American applicants only rose 5%.

OpenNews works with organizations all over the world to support hack days and that year-round work was reflected in personal referrals from hack day organizers and numerous examples of applicants finding out about the Fellowship via in-person events. Many people also keep up with us via Twitter, and the online and offline opportunities for engagement help reinforce one another. Plus, each interaction is another chance to offer another "ask" to applicants to finally push them to go ahead and apply.

What next

It's going to be a busy September. By the second week of September, we will notify all applicants of their application status. At that point semifinalists will move forward to an interview round. We'll follow up with people not selected as Fellows about all the other ways they should stay connected to OpenNews. After interviews with semifinalists, we'll move to a finalist stage of interviews with news partners. Fellows will be notified of their status by early October. Public announcement of the 2014 Knight-Mozilla Fellows will take place at the Mozilla Festival in London on October 25-27.