Proposal guide

The purpose of this page is to provide guidance to proposers who are submitting ideas to OTF. It includes field level information specific to the concept note and proposal forms along with the worksheet OTF and the program’s Advisory Council utilize to evaluate proposals. A broader overview of OTF’s proposal process, how it performs project oversight, and measures portfolio performance can be found on the Funding model page.

What’s below

Concept Note considerations

Potential Contribution and Relevance to the OTF Goals and Principles

Organizational Profile

  • Where is the organization physically and legally based?
  • If the organization is distributed, where is the main point of contact?
  • Does the organization have any conflicts of interest with RFA, OTF, the Advisory Council, or other RFA-OTF projects?
  • Is the project team an organization, community or an individual?
Organizational Culture
  • Is the organization or its members known within any relevant communities? If yes, what is their reputation and why?
  • What is the organization’s motivation and principles?
  • What are the organization’s member(s) motivation and principles?
Project Profile
  • What are the goals and objectives of the project?
  • Is it a technology research, development, or deployment project?
  • Can project’s effort be explained to external audiences and non-technical people?
  • What tools, if any, currently exist to solve this problem? How is this project different?
  • What problem are they trying to solve and is the solution strategical or tactical?
  • Is the project strategically or tactically important to OTF’s goals, principles and rationale and other OTF efforts? How?
  • Does the effort have any overlap with existing OTF and/or USG supported projects?
  • Is the overlap complementary or duplicative?
  • What is complementary and can it be explained clearly? I.e. geographic focus, technology, organization profile, etc.
  • What are the liabilities and risks of taking on this project? I.e. political personalities, financial concerns, technical controversial, etc.
Human-centric Focus
  • How does the project define its “users”?
  • Is the project’s effort actually relevant to its defined users?
  • Does the project’s defined user base align with the priorities of OTF?
  • Could other priority OTF user groups benefit from this project?
  • Are there existing users? If not, why?
  • How do existing users find the user experience? Is it versatile and usable or useful but unusable?
  • What steps has the projects taken to appeal to its defined users?
  • Does the project have a plan to attract more users and make the project accessible? e.g. do usability testing, hold training sessions.
  • What is their users threat model? Who are they being protected from and what are the consequences of failure?
  • How is the project localized?
  • How is the project representative of those it intended to help and is it appropriate?
  • What experience does the project have with those it intends to help?

Evaluation Criteria

  • Does the project measure success quantitatively or qualitatively?
  • If not, then how would the project demonstrate success of the project to OTF? I.e. Does the project have potential quantitative or qualitative metrics?
  • Is there a roadmap for the project? Is it public/open? If not, why?
  • Does OTF have the capacity to comprehend and manage the project?

Technical merit

  • Does the project clearly articulate the technical problem, solution, and approach?
  • How is the problem clearly justifiable?
  • Does the project clearly articulate the technological objectives?
  • Is it an open or closed development project? I.e. Open source like Android or open source like Firefox OS or closed like iOS.
  • Does a similar technical solution already exist? If so, what are the differentiating factors?
  • Is the effort to sustain an existing technical approach? If so, are these considered successful?
  • Is the effort a new technical approach or improvement to an existing solution? If so, how?
  • Is the effort a completely new technical approach fostering new solutions in the field?
  • Does the project’s technical approach solve the problem?
  • What are the limitations of the project’s technical approach and solution?
  • What are the unintended or illicit uses and consequences of this technology?
  • Has the project identified and/or developed any safeguards for these consequences?

Technical Human Capacity

  • How many technologists are actively supporting the project?
  • How many of the original technologists are still with the project?
  • Is the current team sufficient to meet the project objectives?
  • If more people are needed, how do you plan on obtaining the additional technical expertise?
  • What other responsibilities and commitments do project technologists have? Technical Assets
  • Is there any existing project code or technical assets?
  • Is the existing code or technical assets proof of concept, academic, or production quality?

Technical Evaluation

  • How does this technical approach and solution contribute to the larger technical community? And how is it measured?
  • How does the project make the technical development process visible?
  • How is the technical development progress measured by the project?

Cost realism, sustainability, and readiness

  • Is the project receiving any financial support from the USG? How is this information disclosed?
  • Is the project receiving any other financial support? How is this information disclosed?
  • Can we discuss the project with existing financial supporters?
  • What in-kind support or other revenue streams is the project receiving? I.e. volunteer developers, service or product sales
  • How do they plan to support themselves in the future?
  • What is the plan to sustain the project in the future? Is it reasonable and realistic?
  • If OTF doesn’t support the project, will it still be realized?
  • Does the project provide a detailed and realistic description of effort and schedule? I.e. is the project capable of creating a work plan including objectives, activities, and deliverable(s)?
  • Is the asking amount reasonable and justified?
  • Are they aware of and comfortable with the Intellectual property language in USG contracts?

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Proposal sections

The sections below outline information important to the review process that we have observed in good proposals.

Proposal Information

  • Proposal title
  • Requested funding amount in USD
  • Project term in whole months e.g. 3, 6, 12, or 24
  • Legal name (This would be the name of the person or registered organization receiving funds from OTF)
  • Commonly used name (This would be the name of the person or registered organization receiving funds from OTF)
  • Primary point of contact (The person responsible for the project and support, if different from above)
  • Primary point of contact’s e-mail address and phone
  • Address of the individual or organization including city, providence/state, postal code, and country

Proposal Summary, 400 words recommended, 1000 word max

This a very brief statement of what this proposal is for. It should only be a few sentences and very succinct without jargon and for a broad audience. Consider this an executive summary or abstract.

Proposal Narrative, 800 words recommended, 3000 word max

Describe the relevant political, economic, or social environment as it affects freedom of expression in the country or region that your project addresses. Identify the needs or problems that exist and explain how your project will make an impact as it addresses those challenges. Provide a synopsis of the proposed project goals, describe what is novel/revolutionary, and include answers to the following questions:

  • What is the problem you hope to address?
  • How is it done today? And, what are the limitations?
  • What are you trying to do, using as little jargon as possible?
  • What challenges will you confront during this effort?
  • Who will care and what will the positive effect be if you are successful?

Includes a deep technical description (if appropriate):

Outline and address technical challenges inherent in the approach and possible solutions for overcoming potential problems. Discuss mitigation of technical risk. This section should demonstrate a deep understanding of the technical challenges and present a credible (even if risky) plan to achieve the effort’s goal. As applicable, this section should answer the following combination of Heilmeier and Internet freedom questions for each proposed capability/technology:

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives technically and succinctly.
  • Explain what is new in the approach and why will it succeed?
  • Describe how the proposed effort uniquely advances Internet Freedom and will ultimately assist freedom of speech and expression
  • Describe how the proposed effort increases or decreases censorship and where new censorship could occur because of this effort?
  • Is the solution buying tactical breathing space for existing problems or driving toward convergence by changing the playing field?
  • If the solution buys tactical breathing space, explain in a substantive way how the maximal amount of breathing space is gained for the minimal cost.
  • If the solution drives toward convergence describe how the solution radically alters the landscape in ways to negate traditional adversary censorship approaches/efforts.
  • How does this solution incentivize the adversary? If the solution were deployed, how might the adversary use the solution to further their own goals?
  • What are potential unintended consequences of the proposed solution?
  • What is the asymmetry for this solution? Given an attacker and defender of the proposal, explain which role is more advantageous (effort, cost, time, etc.) and why? Explain briefly for short, medium and long‐term strategies for both the attacker and defender point of view.
  • If you were to have to defeat your own effort, how would you go about it? (Note: it is perfectly acceptable to identify deficiencies in the effort. It is not acceptable to believe that there are none.)
  • Who could benefit from this technology? Be specific and cite an actual use case.

Project Objectives, 500 words recommended, 2000 word max

State the specific objectives you hope to achieve through the proposed activities. In many situations, an objective is similar to a milestone. The objectives should address the specific needs or problems identified in earlier sections. Often, one to five objectives are sufficient. In most cases, OTF pays projects on completion of an objective.

This section should demonstrate a deep understanding of each objective, its challenges, and introduce a credible (even if risky) plan to achieve the objective. If the objective is technical, outline and address technical challenges inherent in the approach, possible solutions for overcoming potential problems, and discuss mitigation of technical risk.

Each objective should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.): reasonably measurable, and therefore capable of being evaluated; limited in scope and time; and identify specifically what will be achieved with the funds requested for the particular project. Also, be sure to distinguish objectives from activities. For example, “to hold a workshop” is a proposed activity while “determine the online safety awareness and literacy of the population” is an objective.

Suggested format

Objective 1

  • Paragraphs and/or bullet points

Objective 2

  • Paragraphs and/or bullet points

Objective 3

  • Paragraphs and/or bullet points

Project activities, 500 words recommended, 2000 word max

Describe the planned activities of your project i.e. description and name, type (e.g. application version, video, website, report), event (e.g. code sprint, workshop, training), planned approach, what does accomplishment look like, duration, and associated objective. If the project requires funding from more than one source, please describe any other funding you have obtained, or hope to obtain.

If the project activity includes an events, provide the following information:

  • duration (number of days or hours per workshop or seminar)
  • planned topics and formats (lectures, discussions, brainstorming, role-playing, code sprints, hack-a-thons etc.)
  • number and profile of expected participants, speakers, and trainers

If the project includes code, application(s), publication, or website(s), please describe:

  • philosophy and purpose
  • how content will be created (in-house, outside contributors, translation, re-printing, etc)
  • target audience(s) and mechanisms for developer, reader, and/or user feedback
  • expected circulation or download numbers and distribution or usage numbers
  • permissive or non-permission license for usage
  • for sale or without charge
  • length and frequency of each new update, issue, or new posting
Suggested format

Objective 1

Activity 1

  • Paragraphs and/or bullet points

Activity 2

  • Paragraphs and/or bullet points

Activity 3

  • Paragraphs and/or bullet points

Budget details, 500 words recommended, 2000 word max

Rationale for the proposal cost should provide a detailed breakout of how the money will be spent and how prices and rates were determined. Provide labor costs, miscellaneous expenses, materials, hardware, software, required to complete activities. Note, OTF pays on completion of activities and deliverables.

OTF may ask the proposer to justify listed rates by providing examples of equivalent rates for equivalent talent, past commercial or government rates, or previously approved rates.

Please list all materials, supplies, equipment, and software. OTF may request as an attachment at least one quote from a vendor for any equipment and software requested in the proposal.

Suggested format

Objective 1 - $16,000

Activity 1.1 - $6,000

  • Labor, Software Developer, 5d - $4,000
  • Hardware, Spectrum analyzer, 1qty - $2,000

Activity 1.2 - $10,000

  • Travel, 5 participantsSoftware Developer, 5d - $9,000
  • Venue, Spectrum analyzer, 1qty - $1,000

Sustainability, 300 words recommended, 1000 word max

Describe how the project is going to maintain its operations, services and benefits beyond the proposed timeline and OTF funded effort. What are the proposer’s medium-term to long-term goals? What is the proposer’s vision and support strategy? How is the proposer going to ensure the work is not lost beyond this support?

Other support information, 300 words recommended, 1000 word max

Cost sharing and/or matching is not required but will be carefully considered – most likely positively. Please provide a list of the supporters, whether the funding is still active or proposed, the level of support you received, type of support i.e. grant, contract, service license and a short description of the projects being funded. Indicate whether this support is monetary or in-kind, domestic or foreign. Also, provide the names and contact information for any other funding organizations to which this proposal is also being submitted. Of specific importance, indicate if you have received funding from other government or government funded organizations, in particular RFA, the BBG, Department of State and/or USAID.

Organization and/or individual background, 400 words recommended, 1000 word max

Describe your organization or individual’s qualifications for this particular project, including its history and past work. If appropriate, provide information about its mission, size, geographical reach, professional, and social character, and registration or incorporation status, including date. Identify the key individuals, whether paid staff or volunteers, who will be in charge of carrying out the proposed project and describe their most relevant qualifications, biographies, and links to resumes/CVs.

References, 200 words recommended, 1000 word max

Please provide names and contact information for two or more individuals who know you or the organization’s work or the work of its key staff and volunteers.

Similar/Complementary efforts, 400 words recommended, 1000 word max

Please include information on:

  • What other projects address similar problems?
  • How do these projects relate to this project?
  • How do these projects complement this project?
  • Are any of these projects competitive? If so how?
  • How do these other projects compare to this project i.e direction, philosophy/values, and features?

Community Interaction, 400 words recommended, 1000 word max

Identify related current and/or future involvement and interactions with the Internet freedom community. This includes Internet freedom, human rights, ICT, information security, or cyber security research efforts, products, reports, tools, etc. that have been contributed to or presented publicly at conferences, online, or that have been adopted to widespread use in this broad community. Provide brief descriptions and the dates of release or disclosure.

Project Evaluation, 400 words recommended, 1000 word max

Please include information on:

  • Will the project have a measurable set of evaluation criteria and milestone metrics against results?
  • Are these metrics both quantitative and qualitative? If no, why not?
  • How difficult will an assessment of success or failure be?
  • What metrics will the project use to demonstrate success or failure?
  • Will these metrics be made publicly available?
  • How frequently will these metrics be updated?

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Evaluation worksheet

The below worksheet is used by OTF staff internally and our Advisory Council to evaluate proposals. The scoring system for each area is 1 is ‘poor’ or ‘very weak’ and 5 is ‘excellent’ or ‘very strong’ and 0 is considered non-applicable. In general, those with higher aggregate scores will make it farther in the process.

General thoughts

The below is asking you for those general thoughts you have after reviewing a proposal. It is a space to include comments and questions for areas we do not specifically ask for a rating. Comments and questions posted here will be aggregated back to the Advisory Council and to the proposal authors.

Things that you liked about this proposal

Any high level or low level specific bits that got you really excited or that you like about this proposal

Things that concern you about this proposal

Any high level or specific low level bits that leave you feeling uneasy or not good about his proposal

Red flags

This is for dire warnings, notice of very serious dangers, and likely disasters

Specific topics

This section is asking you to score and comment on specific proposal topics. Comments and questions posted here will be aggregated back to the Advisory Council and to the proposal authors.

Scoring system: 1 is ‘poor’ or ‘very weak’ and 5 is ‘excellent’ or ‘very strong’, 0 denotes more information is needed – see questions for proposal author –, and n/a for sections the reviewer does not want to rate.

Project overview ___

Considerations on project overview: Are the project’s goals clear? Are the projects goals realistically met by the proposed solution? Does the proposal identify and acknowledge what the challenges will be? Does the proposal state how it is done today and the limitations? Is it clear and specific who could benefit and what will the impact be if the project is successful? Does the proposal cite an actual use case? Does the proposal state how much it will cost and how long will it take?

Objectives identified ___

Considerations on objectives: Does the proposal state a clear set of objectives and tasks for the proposed effort?

Appropriate methods and strategy ___

Considerations on Methods and Strategy: Does the project propose methods appropriate to the goals and objectives? Does the project effectively apply its stated methods? Does the proposal suggest modified procedures in response to changing circumstances? Will the project fill a potential need or function that is currently unfilled, be reinventing the wheel or creating a solution in search of a problem? Is the proposed solution viable in the real world?

Technical feasibility ___

Considerations for technical feasibility: Does the proposal clearly state the efforts technical goals? Are objectives articulated technically and succinctly? Does the proposal explain what is new in the approach and why it will succeed? Does the project increase or decrease known attack surfaces? Does it create new surfaces? Does the project buy tactical breathing space for existing problems or push towards convergence by changing the playing field? Does the project identify any expected or past hurdles in achieving technical goals?

Red team ___

Considerations for red teams: Does the proposal identify or recognize potential incentives to an adversary? Does the proposal consider potential illicit uses of the project? Does it discuss how an adversary might use the solution to further their own goals? Does the proposal identify potential unintended consequences of the project? Does the proposal identify and understand the proposed projects asymmetry? Given an attacker and defender of the project, does the proposal explain which role is more advantageous (effort, cost, time, etc.) and why? Does the proposal explain medium and long‐term strategies from both the attacker and defender point of view. Does the proposal discuss how to defeat the project, identify its deficiencies, or does it presume there are none?

Usability ___

Considerations for usability: Does the project demonstrate a high degree of usability/accessibility? Does the proposal demonstrate external demand i.e., demand originated from potential users rather than from would-be patrons of some possibly hypothetical set of users? Does the projects focus impact either a small number of high value or at-risk users or a more general large numbers of users?

Sustainability ___

Considerations for sustainability: What is the project’s plan for future development/implementation? Does the proposal state if the project has other funding sources? Does the project currently receive any U.S. government funding? Does the project identify any cost sharing or matching for the proposed effort? Will the project be able to support itself by the requested funding, community sources, or other in-kind or indirect support? Does the project have a diversified funding/support stream i.e., how dependent would the project be on OTF?

Collaboration ___

Considerations for collaborations: Does or should the project support a collaborative open source community? How does the project facilitate inter-project collaboration, including: talking with other projects doing similar things and identifying potential points of overlap; acted/planned to modularize code to enable others to reuse? Do the proposed deliverables assist other OTF projects/goals beyond this one project? Do the proposed deliverables assist other Internet freedom projects/goals beyond this one project?

Rationale ___

Considerations for rationale: Is the proposed project and its trajectory in-line with OTF’s principles and goals?

OTF Program mission:

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) is a next-generation program by Radio Free Asia that uses public funds to support Internet freedom projects that: Develop open and accessible technologies supporting human rights and fostering open societies and Promote inclusive and safe access to global communications networks.

Guiding principles:

freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press, open exchange of ideas and information, open Internet, Internet freedom, forward-thinking ideas and innovation, open philanthropy, transparency, accountability, alternative methodologies, new technologies, and collaboration

Program goals are to support:

Research in how Internet interference on modern communication networks occurs and to discover the technologies and methodologies that can circumvent interference; Development of the technologies required to circumvent censorship and increase communication safety; and, Implementation of circumvention tools for widespread use and adoption amongst non-technical citizens affected by censorship, interference, and illegitimate surveillance.

Cost realism ___

Considerations on cost realism: Is the budget realistic and commensurate with both the project needs and time frame? Is the project going to require funds immediately upon proposal approval?

Qualifications ___

Considerations for qualifications: Are project team member(s) clearly identified, along with work experience, in the proposal? Does the project’s team posses the skills uniquely qualifying them to complete the proposed scope of work? Does the project team have a history of successful work related to the current initiative? Does the project have a core team (leadership, developers, etc.) dedicated to this project? Have team members worked with at-risk communities in the past?

Evaluation ___

Considerations for the ability to Evaluate: Does the project articulate a measurable set of evaluation criteria and milestone metrics against results? Are the metrics both quantitative and qualitative? How difficult will an assessment of success or failure be?

Recommendation: Yes or No

Do you recommend supporting this proposal’s statement of work for the requested amount?

Reviewer comments:

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