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What type of work do we like to support?

OTF considers a proposed effort ideal when it addresses:

1) OTF’s primary focus of access, privacy, security and awareness;
2) The proposal’s primary objectives are research, development, or implementation efforts;
2) The proposal can demonstrate how the effort will positively affect those living in oppressive environments;
3) The requested amount is reasonable and falls within the parameters set for each specific fund and/or fellowship.

In addition, we prioritizes supporting forward-thinking and innovative ideas that take into consideration the biggest obstacles facing the Internet freedom community such as user-interface, adaptation and community cultivation, new adversary strategies, etc.

We Provide Contracts NOT Grants

It is important to note that OTF provides contracts based on proposals and scope of works submitted. We do not provide grants. This means proposed objectives, deliverables, and timelines must be clearly included in all applications.

We Support Projects NOT Overhead

The Open Technology Fund generally does not support standalone costs which are not directly associated with the completion of objectives or deliverables. For example, indirect costs such as operational or administrative expenses for the hundreds of requests for support we receive each year are not supported. This is in part due to the contractual vehicle OTF relies upon to support projects in the Internet freedom space. This policy ensures that programmatic funds are focused on the objectives specifically outlined by Congress.

In the very limited instances where OTF determines that an overhead cost would be permitted, such costs cannot be greater than 10 percent of the overall cost of the project. Projects seeking an exception bear the burden of clearly demonstrating how the lack of such an inclusion will prevent the completion of the project’s objectives.

Overall Criteria

While each fund and fellowship programs have their own unique set of criteria, all submitted ideas are all measured against the following basic criteria:

  • What is the quality of the idea? Does it exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to the mission of supporting technological tools and projects that empower world citizens to have access to communication networks that are resistant to control and allow them to communicate freely, privately, and anonymously?

  • Does it contribute or have relevance to OTF’s primary focuses?
    Access to the Internet, including tools to circumvent website blocks, connection blackouts, and widespread censorship;
    Awareness of privacy and security threats and protective measures, including how-to guides and trainings for circumvention tools;
    Privacy enhancement, including the ability to be free from repressive observation and the option to be anonymous when accessing the Internet; and
    Security from danger or threat when accessing the Internet, including encryption tools.

  • Are deliverables and milestones listed clearly? Does it clearly articulate a measurable set of evaluation criteria and milestone metrics?

  • What are the qualifications of the applicant and/or their team? Do they have demonstrated working experience doing the tasks they propose?

  • Does it improve the lives of those living in the most oppressive environments? Which geographic regions and/or countries that will benefit from the proposed effort?

  • What potential exists for collaboration within the broader Internet freedom and human rights technology community?

  • Who are the target beneficiaries? e.g. youth, ethnic or religious minority, women, academia, general population, journalists, activists, etc.

Specific to the Internet Freedom Fund

  • To what extent will the proposed effort likely sustain itself beyond the requested support? Do the costs of the proposed effort and the types of expenses outlined make the project fiscally realistic? What is the project’s current state and funding history? Is it a new or a pre-existing effort?

  • Is it cost effective? Are overhead and administrative components as low possible? Are all items listed in the budget necessary and appropriate. Please note that cost sharing is strongly encouraged and is viewed favorably by OTF reviewers.

  • If it is a technical idea, does it have technical merit and is it innovative and/or essential? Are the chosen methods and strategies appropriate for the problem you are trying to address. What is the on-the-ground usability, privacy, and security standards of any technology proposed? (Please note, high preference is given to projects that are FLOSS.)

  • What are the stated or otherwise known limitations and challenges of the proposals chosen solutions and their ability to undergo red teaming or alternative analysis?

  • If a research project is proposed, how does it directly impact the real world outside of academia?

The Application Process

The OTF review process is focused on maintaining a high degree of accountability while simultaneously lowering the barrier of entry for nascent groups with good ideas. Our transparent decision-making processes creates a strong, ongoing feedback loop between OTF and applicants. While each fund and/or fellowship review process may differ slightly, they generally follow the following basic format.

Review a “Request”, also known as a Public Call for Applications
1) Each fund or fellowship starts with a “request,” or public call for applications, which is posted on the OTF website. Individuals start the process by filling out the application associated with each request.

Applications are tailored to solicit key information as quickly as possible, without creating unnecessary obstacles for applicants with little or no prior fundraising experience. Be as clear and to the point as possible. Your applications must be submitted via the OTF website no later than 23:59 (11:59PM) GMT on the deadline date listed on the request. Please note that English is the language of record for all applications, and those submitted in other languages may not be reviewed as competitively as those submitted in English.

*The application associated with the Internet Freedom Fund and Core Infrastructure Fund is called a concept note. It must include clear deliverables, a timeline and a sustainability plan.

Applications Reviewed by the OTF Team
2) Once submitted, applications including concept notes, are reviewed by the OTF team. Applicants may be contacted with questions and or comments to solicit additional clarifying information. Please note that fellowship applications will also be reviewed by host organizations and/or partners. (Up to a month.)

Acceptance or Rejection Email & Feedback
3) Applicants are contacted via email and informed whether their application has been accepted or rejected. At this phase, fellowship applicants are asked to submit a scope of work and Internet Freedom Fund applicants are asked to submit a proposal. Both applicants are provided with a submission deadline.

If rejected, applicants are provided with feedback on why funding was not approved.

Alternative Sources of Support
Please note, in some cases, we may value your idea but for, numerous reasons, may not be able to support it. If this happens, we will refer you to alternative sources of support.

Review of Proposals or Scope of Work
4) The OTF team will review submitted proposals and scopes of work. At this phase, both proposals and scope of works are evaluated against more stringent criteria. Applicants may be contacted with questions and or comments to solicit additional clarifying information. They will also be provided with guidance on how to improve the overall quality of the proposal and/or scope of work to ensure it is ready for Advisory Council review. (About two weeks.)

Advisory Council Review
5) Proposals and scopes of works are sent to the OTF Advisory Council for review.

The Advisory Council is made up of diverse experts who understand in depth various relevant fields and issues as they relate to Internet freedom, and volunteer their personal time to sit on the board. Their role is to expands OTF’s project oversight capacity, expertise, perspective, and accountability. They ensure that unintentional duplication of efforts are avoided, provide independent verification of programmatic assessments, and identify strategic parallels in complementary fields. At least two reviews from Advisory Council members are required before a proposal can move forward.

To ensure independent evaluations, protection of at-risk users and applicants’ intellectual property rights, all Advisory Council members complete a Conflicts of Interests Disclosure Form and Confidentiality Agreement upon joining the Council and before reviewing any proposals. In addition, for due diligence these conflicts disclosure statements are reviewed by the appropriate legal counsel. At the end of this phase, we will alert you whether your scope of work or proposal has been rejected by the Advisory Council. (About two weeks) If it has been accepted, you will not hear back from us until the following step has been completed.

Project Reviewed by the appropriate Executive, Legal and Financial Departments
6) Approved proposals are reviewed by the executive, legal and financial departments. They ensure that the project contract are legally and fiscally compliant. This can implicate a variety of project issues including around budgeting, invoicing, timelines and staffing. The OTF team member responsible for the project will assist an applicant in completing this step.

Contract is Drafted and Issued
7) A contract issued which must be signed and returned to OTF. The contract includes standard provisions for U.S. Government funded agreements.

Project Oversight
8) Each OTF project is managed through contracts that have provisions for consistent and diligent oversight that move beyond the minimum accountability safeguards and requirements called for. In addition, payments are only made once OTF determines that contract deliverables have been satisfactorily completed.

Monitoring & Evaluations
Each project is required to provide monthly project reports providing detailed status updates on progress and impact, responding to OTF questions or concerns, and identifying any challenges encountered.

Changes to Contract
If during the contract term unforeseen challenges to completing the deliverables arise, scope modifications are discussed and contracts can be amended to make sure the project continues to meet OTF’s mission and goals, and ensure appropriate use of funds. This approach accommodates the unpredictability of supporting emerging technologies by allowing for “failures” while protecting the integrity of the projects’ performance and OTF’s investment.

The OTF Website
In an effort to stay true to open communication principles, uphold a policy of transparency, and increase project oversight, the OTF website provides the maximum level of information possible without jeopardizing the projects themselves. In doing so, OTF encourages public scrutiny and makes every effort to respond to information requests.

Third-party Technology Audit
In addition, OTF retains the discretion to require an independent, third-party technology audit. This mandatory contract provision allows for a detailed, independent verification of the project’s progress along with quality assurance on privacy or security claims made by the project. Not only do these external audits provide support for the strengthening and development of OTF projects, they have become the foundation upon which independent projects such as the Open Integrity Index base their assessment of privacy and security properties of everyday communications tools. Furthermore, OTF’s emphasis on open source development allows a large community of peer reviewers to provide independent code audits and tool reviews. Accordingly, OTF actively solicits feedback from industry experts.