Personas and Pathways for Growing Communities

This activity is designed to help you identify potential users and contributors, understand their goals and motivations, help them find a way into your project, and grow them into strong, committed community members.

For beginners


This is a short writing/thinking exercise. Best done with a partner or small group, but can also be done alone.

Target Audience

Open science project leads and Mozilla Study Group leads seeking to attract and grow communities of contributors around their projects


  • A timer
  • Pen & Paper
  • A way to take notes


Your open project needs users and contributors, but how can you find them, get them involved, and keep them engaged and active in your community? One way is by creating and using "personas" and "pathways" to help you plan and test how you'll interact with new contributors.

About Personas

“persona” is a tool commonly used in the design world, to help create products and experiences that work for real world users (aka “user-centered design”). The persona is an imaginary user, based on real-world observations and understandings of actual potential or current users. The persona becomes real to the designer, and is used as a tool to test features and experiences (for example, a designer might ask “Would our user persona, Rodrigo, who is an avid photographer and technophile but also an introvert who’s protective of his private information, like feature x of our social media platform?”).

Personas may be composites of several real-world users. The power of the persona is in its specificity; a good persona feels real, and helps a designer (or project lead) put their own perspectives aside and empathize with the needs and motivations of users.

Sample Persona

Rashid is a PhD student in astronomy at a university in Southern England. He’s outgoing and a snappy dresser, favoring skinny jeans and colorful cardigans. He lives in on-campus housing and after a long day at the lab he usually rushes home to see his wife and infant son.

Rashid took an intro Java programming course long ago, as an undergrad, but his research now demands Python skills. Because of the competitive nature of his lab, he’s reluctant to ask colleagues for help. He follows Mozilla Science Labs on Twitter, has some exposure to and interest to Open Science, but is hesitant to share his data for fear of being “scooped” on an important discovery.

About Pathways

Once we have a persona, we can imagine how they might interact with our project. Let's imagine that this process has a few phases.

  1. Discovery - How they first hear about the project or group.
  2. First Contact - How they first engage with the project or group, that intial interaction.
  3. Participation - How they first participate or contribute.
  4. Sustained Participation - How their contribution or involvement can continue.
  5. Networked Participation - How they may network within the community.
  6. Leadership - How they may take on some additional responsibility on the project, or begin to lead.

If we've constructed a good persona, we can clearly see a progression of steps. Example (using Rashid)

Sample Pathway

  1. Discovery - Sees poster advertising study group around campus.
  2. First Contact - Attends a meeting of the group, and is encouraged to return in a follow up email.
  3. Participation - Asks and answers questions during the help session.
  4. Sustained Participation - Attends several "hackathons" sessions throughout the semester.
  5. Networked Participation - Invites some of his colleagues from his lab to a session.
  6. Leadership - Agrees to present an intro session on Java, and creates a learning resource to contribute to the group's repo.

As you create your pathway, ask yourself, what needs to be in place to move your persona along this pathway? What are the potential pitfalls for your persona, in terms of skills, time, motivations? Once you have a sense of this story, you might list solutions to any challenges. Here are examples:

Steps to Complete

  1. Brainstorm

    In groups of two, read through the following questions. Take notes! Each person should answer the question in caps in the time provided. Use a timer to keep time for each person.

    • Who is the person you most need in your community or on your project?

      Think of skills and attributes, but also give them identifying details.

    • What are that person's motivations and needs?

      Think of what might draw them to your project, what is the value for them?

  2. Write

    Create a short description of your persona. See above "Rashid" for an example.

  3. Plan a Pathway

    Using the structure above, describe a pathway for your persona. What are the steps through this project? What could be stumbling blocks for user?

  4. List your Solutions

    For each potential stumbling block or barrier your user might encounter, list a solution that you'll work into your design of your group or project.



A fictional user, based on real-world observations of actual or potential users. Personas are used to test and shape the design of a product or experience, so that the final design responsive and relevant to user needs.

Follow-up Resources & Materials