Request for Proposal: OTF’s Undergraduate Research Program

OTF is soliciting proposals from research institutes to organize an Undergraduate Research Program on topics related to repressive Internet censorship and surveillance.
Mon, 2024-05-20 18:55
Link to Undergraduate Research Program RFP
Submit all proposals by May 25, 2024

About OTF

OTF is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation registered in the District of Columbia. OTF is fully funded by the U.S. Government.

OTF’s mission is to advance internet freedom in repressive environments by supporting the research, development, implementation, and maintenance of technologies that provide secure and uncensored access to the internet to enable all citizens to exercise their fundamental human rights online.

About the Undergraduate Research Program

OTF strives to cultivate the next generation of researchers by supporting undergraduate students to research topics related to repressive internet censorship and surveillance. Through host organizations and the universities, OTF supports undergraduate researchers in the span of 2-3 months to examine 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.

Criteria and the Application Process

The 2024 Undergraduate Research Program (URP) application window is open from now until May 25, 2024. Please note that applications must be submitted no later than 23:59 (11:59PM) GMT on the final day.

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.

Research institutes and organizations with demonstrated track record on internet censorship and surveillance research are welcome to apply. We ask the applicants to provide details in the following aspects:

1. Set research agenda
We ask the applicants to set the research agenda and topics that are related to repressive internet censorship and surveillance by collaborating with the undergraduates.

2. Identify and Recruit undergraduate student researchers

We ask the applicants to identify and recruit a maximum of 10 well-suited undergraduate student researchers as part of the program. Research institutes or organizations should have a transparent recruitment process, selection criteria, and demonstrate how the selection contributes to the research agenda and topics, and the overall goal of the undergraduate research program. Applicants should also demonstrate their efforts to include marginalized populations or underrepresented groups in the internet freedom space.

3. Provide mentorship and guidance for undergraduate students

The applicant is responsible for providing each undergraduate student the following:

a) The level of supervision, advice and assistance necessary to complete the research successfully;

b) In-kind resources such as office space, computing equipment, management, and collaboration opportunities; and

c) Access to information, data, tools or other technology necessary for the undergraduate student researchers; and

d) Introduction and connection with other researchers or internet freedom tool developers that are relevant to the research topics; and

e) Monitoring and assessment of each student researcher’s progress

4. Produce tangible research outputs

We are looking for a clear set of outputs from the Undergraduate Research Program, including but not limited to, research reports that are accessible by audiences outside of the research community.

Potential Areas of Focus

  • Development and refinement of tools and techniques to continuously monitor iInternet 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 iInternet filtering.
  • Examination of the impact of iInternet 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 iInternet 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
  • 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
  • A long-term research project that goes beyond 6 months

Funding Information

  • The URP contracts will be structured to provide research institutes and organizations a fixed monthly amount consisting of stipends for each student and mentor and 10% to account for overhead.
  • Each undergraduate student enrolled in the program will receive a 4,000 USD monthly stipend for a maximum of three months.
  • Each mentor will receive 8,000 USD monthly stipend for a maximum of three months.
  • OTF’s maximum 10% overhead will be applied for the research institute and organizations to allow students to use the labs and facilities.

Important Considerations

  • 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 the program, selected undergraduate researchers 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.

Proposal Submission

Submit the proposal by May 25, 2024.

Schedule of Activities

May 13, 2024 RFP announced

May 25, 2024 Proposal submission due

June 7, 2024 Notification of the determination

Selection Process

The criteria for selection of the successful proposal will include adequacy and completeness of the proposal, general experience, qualifications, review of prior work, and response from references. Those short-listed may be requested to attend brief follow-up calls. Although the price will be an important factor, it will not be the only factor considered.

OTF reserves the right to accept or reject any or all bids, to take exceptions to the RFP specifications, and to waive any requirements stated herein.

OTF reserves the right to make an award based solely on the proposals or to negotiate with one or more vendors. Issuance of this RFP, preparation, submission, and evaluation of bidder responses does not commit OTF to award a contract to any vendor. The award of the contract does not guarantee the award of work orders under that contract, which will vary based on need and availability. OTF reserves the right to cancel or modify this solicitation at any time for any reason within its sole discretion without liability.

Other Provisions

OTF, in its sole discretion, will make the final determination as to the acceptability of all work products due hereunder.

The vendor shall not issue, or permit to be issued, during the period covered by this contract or at any time thereafter, publicity in any form respecting the work hereunder or the fact of its participation herein, unless such publicity is first approved in writing by OTF.The awarded contract will be based on OTF’s standard contract terms, including a termination for convenience provision, and will also include the relevant U.S. Government provisions, which are attached here as Appendix A.

Link to Undergraduate Research Program RFP