Information Controls Fellowship Program
The Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) cultivates research, outputs, and creative collaboration on topics related to repressive Internet censorship and surveillance. The 2024 application window closed on February 19, 2024.
About the Information Controls Fellowship Program
The ICFP supports researchers examining how governments in countries, regions, or areas of OTF’s core focus are restricting the free flow of information, cutting access to the open internet, and implementing censorship mechanisms, thereby threatening the ability of global citizens to exercise basic human rights and democracy; work focused on mitigation of such threats is also supported.
Fellows work full-time with a supportive host organization of their choosing for three, six, nine, or 12 months.
Application Process and Award Information
Applications to the Fund go through a two-stage application process and are accepted once per year (the 2024 application window opened on January 8, 2024 and closed on February 19, 2024).
Fellows receive a monthly stipend of $7,000 USD, along with travel and equipment stipends of up to $5,000 USD respectively (depending on fellowship length).
Funding awards are performance-based contracts signed directly with the applicant. Funding is dispersed upon completion of stated objectives, activities, and deliverables per a schedule outlined in the contract. All payments are made in U.S. dollars and will comply with local laws, regulations, and ethics rules.
Successful applicants are paired with an OTF program manager who will oversee all project monitoring and evaluation for the duration of the contract. Monitoring and evaluation assessments are based on predetermined and agreed-upon metrics, deliverables, and goals as laid out by the applicant in the project proposal.
Potential Areas of Focus
- Development and refinement of tools and techniques to continuously monitor internet interference on a global scale
- Investigation of information controls, security, and privacy in popular applications such as search engines, social media platforms, and instant messaging applications
- Leveraging open data to analyze the types of information controls being carried out and what they are targeting
- Testing creative methods and new protocols for censorship circumvention and analyzing network interference measures including all forms of Internet filtering
- Examination of the impact of Internet censorship and use of circumvention tools
- Experimental techniques to limit pro-government manipulation of online discussions
- Researching emerging (state-sponsored) surveillance patterns and analysis of targeted digital threats against civil society organizations or human rights defenders, such as denial of service attacks, social engineering and phishing attacks such as malware
- Studying the roles of machine learning and artificial intelligence in digital surveillance practices in repressive environments
- Investigating how the traits of quantum computing implicate the realm of Internet freedom and exploring opportunities to employ this leap in computing power to evade censorship
- Other novel ideas and approaches relating to the study of global and regional information controls
Things to Avoid
- A focus on countries with minimal information controls
- Working with a host organization you are already affiliated with
- Testing of end-user connections that violate established ethical principles
- Reverse engineering individual apps that are not directly used by state actors to carry out mass surveillance or targeted attacks
Where do fellows work?
ICFP fellows embed with a host organization for the duration of their fellowship.
When applying, applicants can specify any host organization of their choosing. Regardless of whether it is a previous or new host organization, justification needs to be provided in the application. Please note that non-academic host organizations are welcome, as are those based outside the United States. While fellows are ideally able to work locally within their host organization, applicants who wish to work remotely will also be considered with the expectation that a strategy for remote communication will be established. You can find previous host organizations listed in the fellow bios.
For entities interested in serving as a host organization, please email [email protected] for more information.
Applications are open to experienced researchers from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines and can include students and junior to mid-career practitioners with demonstrated ability and expertise. Typically, ICFP fellows have experience in fields such as computer science, engineering, information security research, software development, social sciences, law, and data visualization, among others.
- of all ages irrespective of nationality, residency, creed, gender, or other factors, with the exception that OTF is not able to support applicants within countries that the United States has trade restrictions or export sanctions as determined by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control;
- who demonstrate skill and ability to assist in efforts to overcome information controls;
- who demonstrate a desire to grow their knowledge and skills through a collaborative, cross-discipline approach;
- and who demonstrate a commitment to reach audiences outside of the research community.
How to Apply
We accept applications to the IFCP once a year. The online application will become available when the next window opens. It is a two-stage process.
Stage 1: Submit a concept note via OTF’s online application system.
Stage 2: Applicants whose proposed solutions are deemed highly competitive will be invited to submit a full proposal via OTF’s online application system.
The ICFP Advisory Council, comprising experts in the internet freedom space, will conduct a final review of competitive proposals.
- Projects should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to the mission of promoting freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable and achievable with activities and milestones listed monthly. The overall project goals should extend beyond the traditional research community.
- For the duration of fellowships, the fellow will be expected to work full time with their host organization.
- Any individual based in the United States will need to acquire the appropriate work authorization. For instance, if a student with an I-20 visa intends to carry out their project in the United States, they will need to apply to use Curricular Practical Training for their fellowship.
- Before completing a submission, we strongly encourage you to review our Privacy and Information Sharing Policy.
OTF fellowship contracts are 3, 6, 9 or 12 months in duration. From time to time OTF may consider applications to extend existing contracts beyond the initial project period. Any such decision will be subject to availability of funds, satisfactory progress of the applicants, and a determination that continued funding would be in the best interest of program priorities.
Monitoring & Evaluation
OTF views monitoring and evaluation as a way to learn from our fellows and share lessons learned with future applicants. This improves the collective knowledge of the community and thus contributes to its sustainability.
Because payment is dispersed at monthly intervals upon completion of stated contractual goals, successful applicants can expect regular contact with both their host organization and OTF project manager. Monitoring consists of monthly reports and phone, email, or in-person discussions and consultations as needed. Fellows are required to submit brief monthly updates about their work to OTF and their host organization, and are encouraged to share highlights with the OTF community. This allows others to review and comment on the ICFP community’s work, encouraging collaboration.
The adviser or responsible person at the host organization, in turn, provides a “traffic light” report to OTF evaluating their fellow’s progress. This report, detailed below, is the basis upon which stipend payments are released to fellows on a monthly basis.
A “green light” from the host organization signals that the fellow is on track and funds can be released. A “yellow light” from the host organization signals that while funds should be released, there are some concerns that need to be flagged to OTF. A “red light” from the host organization signals that progress has been interrupted and an intervention is required. The host organization recommends “stop payment” and OTF, the host organization, and the fellows discuss possible remedial steps to either get back on track or terminate the fellowship.
What time is the application due on February 19, 2024?
23:59 (11:59PM) GMT
Can I apply if I don’t have a host organization to propose?
Yes, you are welcome to apply. Should your application be reviewed favorably, we will work with you to identify a suitable host organization.
Does the proposal need to be technical in nature?
An application should include technical components but is not required to be solely technology focused.
I am confused by the answer above – what do you mean by ‘include technical components’? Does this mean there has to be some kind of technical or digital methodology or output if the subject focus is technology?
Yes, an ICFP fellowship project should include a technical output. For example, one fellow created a dashboard with internet shutdown data and analysis for other researchers and individuals interested in the topic. We recommend reviewing the projects of previous fellows in order to get a better understanding of the types of outputs this can include.
Regarding the instruction to avoid ‘focus on countries with minimal information controls’ – is this instruction intended to exclude projects examining western countries? (i.e., the US has many and extensive information controls rapidly developing in response to ‘fake news’ and informational threats but obviously doesn’t have traditionally as controlled an environment as some non-democratic countries.)
Our goal is to support efforts that aim to advance Internet freedom in the world’s most repressive environments. Ideally, this means we support individuals who are:
- working on projects that will directly benefit those living in the world’s most oppressive censorship and surveillance environments; with repressive information controls.
- located in or have direct experience with communities in the Global South;
- come from or have direct experience with repressive censorship and surveillance environments;
- come from or have direct experience with underrepresented and/or targeted minority groups, including those with a focus on human rights, LGBT, journalism, media, or activism.
Does the proposed project have to focus on information controls in a specific country?
No, fellowship projects are welcome to undertake broader research projects around surveillance and censorship.
What is meant by the question “How will the results of your research be accessible to a non-technical audience?” in the application form?
We are looking for more information as to how the project outputs will accommodate audiences outside of the research community to generate real-world impact. For example, writing a blog post, publishing an op-ed, creating an infographic or otherwise ensuring that the outputs of your research reach their intended audience.
What fellowship length should be included if the applicant is uncertain at the time of submission?
There is plenty of flexibility to adjust the length during the review process. Please provide the best estimate possible in the initial application and it can be adjusted accordingly.
How concerned should an applicant be with the word limit in the application form?
While brevity is appreciated, the applicant should include the content deemed relevant to assessing the application. Please note that applicants who move past the initial review round will be asked to complete a proposal form where longer descriptions are expected.
Are you still accepting applications for seasonal fellows? Your application instructions do not mention them like in previous years.
Yes. We offer fellowships of 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. We have adjusted the program to remove the distinction between seasonal and senior fellows. Thus, all fellows now receive $7,000 per month.
Does an applicant need to be a PhD student to apply for a fellowship?
We welcome applications from students at any level and those unassociated with any academic institution who have an interesting and relevant project idea.
Are full-time doctoral students eligible to apply for the fellowship? If awarded the fellowship, would they be required to suspend their studies for the duration of the fellowship?
Doctoral students are not required to suspend their studies if the fellowship project is in line with their studies. But the fellowship does require that the equivalent of a full-time effort be carried out over the course of the fellowship.
If I am changing status (PhD to postdoc) and host organization (faculty to a laboratory) within the same Western-based university, is this a problem?
Your status is not an issue. If you intend to have your host organization be the university you attend, please note that one of the things that is listed to avoid is “Working with a host organization you are already affiliated with.”
What documents or files should be submitted alongside the application form?
The only document specifically requested is a CV or resume.
Is there a need for references to be submitted along with the application?
References are typically requested at the proposal stage.
If I already have references, may I include them on my CV?
Yes, please feel free to include them.
I cannot check if my CV was uploaded. Is that normal?
Yes, our proposal platform doesn’t provide confirmation that the file uploaded. We’ll notify you if there is an issue.
Can an individual apply with more than one project with the same host organization? Should they submit more than once?
Individuals can apply with more than one project with the same host organization. This can be done so either in one application or multiple applications.
When are applicants informed as to the final status of their application?
We do our best to provide applicants with a final determination four months after the application deadline. That said, many factors can delay the determination, including if a host organization declines to participate and another needs to be identified, an applicant needs additional time to respond to the review feedback, or the ICFP Advisory Council requires additional time to review the proposal.
How many applications does ICFP receive? How many fellowships are then awarded?
We have received anywhere from roughly 50 to 120 applications and have awarded between 6 and 12 fellowships. That said, nothing prevents OTF from supporting a larger number should it be justified.
Can an applicant apply with the same project for several host organizations?
Please submit a single application. The application form allows an applicant to select two host organizations for this reason. Should neither of those organizations work out, we can work with applicants to identify alternatives.
Is this fellowship and its stipend compatible with other commitments over the same period of time (e.g. another job)?
The ICFP request page states “For the duration of fellowships, the fellow will be expected to work full time with their host organization.” This does not foreclose individuals from having other sources of income but does require that the equivalent of a full-time effort be carried out over the course of the fellowship.
When do fellowships usually start?
In 2022, fellows began their projects between June and January.
What would be the latest date to begin a fellowship?
The program does not have a requirement for a start date. In general, an applicant’s fellowship term should begin prior to being eligible for support from the 2024 application round.
Can fellowships be done while fellows are employed at another organization?
Fellows are expected to work full time on their project. Some previous fellows have maintained part-time positions but full-time positions are not allowed.
Does OTF assist successful international applicants with obtaining visas and the relocation process?
OTF can provide a letter demonstrating employment for the visa application process but navigating the overall process is left to applicants and their host organization. The travel stipend included with the fellowship can be used for relocation but any assistance beyond that would need to come from the host organization.
Can fellowships be done remotely?
Yes. The application page states “While fellows are ideally able to work locally within their host organization, applicants who wish to work remotely will also be considered with the expectation that a strategy for remote communication will be established.”
For fellows working remotely, can funds be used to pay for co-working spaces or other services that will provide a healthy working environment?
Fellows are free to use their stipend as they wish once the monthly payment is transmitted.
What exactly is required from the host organization?
Please email [email protected] for more information on the obligations of a host organization.
How do I find a host organization?
We encourage you to look at the previous host organizations (check out our fellow bios to learn about previous host organizations) or to identify suitable ones that have expertise in the subject-matter you’re interested in. Should your application be reviewed favorably, we can help you identify a suitable host.
Should we speak to the host organization before we submit an application?
We encourage applicants to speak to the host organization prior to submitting their application, but this is not a requirement. In your application, please provide justification for your host organization selection.
Is it possible to work jointly with two host organizations? For example, could one work with both a host organization that has the technical capability to supervise the project and then another that is based in the country where the research is taking place?
While fellows can only have one host organization, we welcome additional collaboration with other organizations.
Should an applicant still apply if they intend to propose a host organization they are already affiliated with?
While we strongly prefer applicants work with an organization they were not previously or currently associated with, we still consider all applications. Please note that if funding is already available for your project through this host organization and this project would be carried out absent OTF support, OTF is unable to provide funding.
Are any funds provided to the host organization to assist with travel or related expenses involved in meeting, collaborating with and supervising a fellow?
No funds are provided to the host organization. More information on the duties of a host organization can be found by emailing [email protected].
Is it acceptable if I am based at one university but collaborating with a university located in a different country?
Yes, that is acceptable.
Could the host organization be a law firm or a company? Are they supposed to be a NGO?
Applicants can specify any host organization of their choosing. Justification needs to be provided in the application. Non-academic host organizations are welcome, as are those based outside the United States. Please avoid working with a host organization you are already affiliated with.
Should you still have questions, please add them to this public spreadsheet and they will be answered in a prompt fashion. If your question is not appropriate for a public forum, please email [email protected].
Recently Funded Fellows
Information Controls Fellow
Classifying and framing different types of internet shutdowns
Information Controls Fellow
Increasing the reliability of censorship resistance systems in the global VPN infrastructure
ICFP Advisory Council
Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan; co-founder of Censored Planet, a global censorship observatory
Tech & Governance Advocacy Coordinator at Derechos Digitales