The Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) cultivates research, outputs, and creative collaboration on topics related to repressive Internet censorship and surveillance. The 2021 application window will be open from May 17, 2021 until June 30, 2021.
Setting the stage
The Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) supports examination into 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.
- Three, six, nine or twelve month fellowships available
- Usually offered to postdoctoral, doctoral students, and experienced researchers with demonstrated ability and expertise
- Monthly stipend of $5,000 USD
- Travel stipend of $1,250 to $5,000 USD depending on the fellowship length
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. Information controls is a cross-disciplinary field, so applications are open to people from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines and can include students and junior to mid-career practitioners. To get a better sense of the ICFP community, you can read about fellows from round one, round two, round three, round four, round five, round six and round seven.
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 fellowship descriptions.
For entities interested in serving as a host organization, please email [email protected] for more information.
Criteria and the application process
For a full rundown of the application process, head here.
When are requests for applications made?
The 2021 application window will be open from May 17, 2021 until June 30, 2021. Please note that applications have to be submitted via the OTF website no later than 23:59 (11:59PM) GMT on the final day. The fellowship window is open once annually.
If you’d like to be notified when this and other OTF funding windows open in the future, sign up to join the OTF-announce mailing list.
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 clients
- Testing creative methods of censorship circumvention
- Examination of the impact of Internet censorship and use of circumvention tools
- Experimental techniques to limit pro-government manipulation of online discussions
- Analysis of targeted threats against civil society organizations, including Internet filtering, denial of service attacks, and targeted malware
- 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
- 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 traditional audiences.
- 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 Terms of Service.
All ICFP fellowship applications are reviewed by the OTF team; selected applications are also then reviewed by an independent Advisory Council review panel comprised of experts with deep knowledge and insight into topics related to information controls.
OTF awards are performance-based contracts between OTF and the applicant with payment occurring through a monthly stipend subject to approval each month by the OTF Program Manager and supporting host organization. OTF reserves the right to award less or more than the funds described under such circumstances as it may deem to be in the best interest of the program priorities.
Application requirements, submission, and deadlines
Project and Budget Periods
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 compulsory 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, their host organization, and 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.
- Individuals 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 (OFAC).
- Individuals who demonstrate skill and ability to assist in efforts to overcome information controls.
- Individuals who demonstrate a desire to grow their knowledge and skills through a collaborative, cross-discipline approach.
- Individuals who demonstrate a commitment to reach audiences outside the research community.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: At what time is the application due on Wednesday June 30th?
- A: 23:59 (11:59PM) GMT
- Q: Can I apply if I don't have a host organization to propose?
- A: Yes, you are welcome to apply. Should your application be reviewed favorably, we will work with you to identify a suitable host organization.
- Q: Does the proposal need to be technical in nature?
- A: An application should include technical components but is not required to be solely technology focused.
- Q: I am confused by answer above - please what does 'include technical components' mean? Does this mean there has to be some kind of technical or digital methodology or output if the subject focus is technology?
- A: Yes, an ICFP fellowship project should include a technical output. We recommend reviewing the projects of previous fellows in order to get a better understand of the types of outputs this can include.
- Q: Is this fellowship and its stipend compatible with other commitments over the same period of time (e.g. other job)?
- A: 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.
- Q: When do fellowships usually start?
- A: In 2017, fellows began their projects between June and October. In 2018, fellows began their projects between September and January.
- Q: What would be the latest date to begin a fellowship?
- A: 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 2022 application round.
- Q: Regarding the instruction to avoid 'focus on countries with minimal information controls' - is this instruction intended to exclude projects examining western countries? ie 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.
- A: Yes, the program's funding requires that the focus be on non-western environments
- Q: Are you still accepting applications for seasonal fellows? Your application instructions do not mention them like in previous years.
- A: 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 $5,000 per month.
- Q: How many applications does ICFP receive? How many fellowships are then awarded?
- A: 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.
- Q: 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?
- A: While fellows can only have one host organization, we welcome additional collaboration from other organizations.
- Q: When are applicants informed as to the final status of their application?
- A: We do our best to provide applicants with a final determination by September 1, which is also the earliest state date for a fellowship project. That said, many factors can delay that result such as if a host organization declines to participate and another needs to be identified, a fellow needs additional time to respond to the review feedback or the ICFP advisory council requires additional time to review the proposal.'
- Q: Can an applicant apply with the same project for several host organizations?
- A: 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.
- Q: Can fellowships be done while fellows are employed at another organization?
- A: 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.
- Q: What exactly is required from the host organization?
- A: Please email [email protected] for more information on the obligations of a host organization.
- Q: Does an applicant need to be a PhD student to apply for a fellowship?
- A: We welcome applications from students at any level and those unassociated with any academic institution who have an interesting and relevant project idea.
- Q: How concerned should an applicant be with the word limit in the applicant form?
- A: 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.
- Q: Are any funds provided to the host organization to assist with travel or related expenses involved in meeting, collaborating with and supervising a fellow?
- A: No funds are provided to the host organization. More information on the duties of a host organization can be found by emailing [email protected]
- Q: For fellows working remotely, can funds be used to pay for co-working spaces or other services that will provide a healthy working environment?
- A: Fellows are free to use their stipend as they wish once the monthly payment is transmitted.
- Q: Does the proposed project have to focus on information controls in a specific country?
- A: No, fellowship projects are welcome to undertake broader research projects around surveillance and censorship.
- Q: What is meant by the the question "How will the results of your research be accessible to a non-technical audience?" in the application form?
- A: 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.
- Q: What fellowship length should be included if the applicant is uncertain at the time of submission?
- A: 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.
- Q: Should applicants reach out to the host organization themselves or wait for OTF to do so?
- A: We encourage applicants to reach out to host organizations prior to submitting an application. Nonetheless, we are happy to help facilitate introductions after applications have been submitted if necessary.
- Q: Should an applicant still apply if they intend to propose a host organization they are already affiliated with?
- A: 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.
- Q: Does OTF assist successful international applicants with obtaining visa and the relocation process?
- A: 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.
- Q: What documents or files should be submitted in the application form include?
- A: The only document specifically requested is a CV or resume.
- Q: Is there a need for references to be submitted along with the application?
- A: References are typically requested at the proposal stage.
- Q: Can fellowships be done remotely?
- A: 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"
- Q: Are countries from the Global South considered non-western?
- A: For the purposes of fellowship considerations, yes. Any countries that institute significant information controls outside of the US/Canada and Western Europe are potential areas for research.
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]