Report Back on RightsCon Community Calls: Rethinking the RightsCon Program

► Purpose of the calls

► Insights from the community

► Restructuring the Call For Proposals process and timeline

► What’s next?

We’re back to share the second installment of report backs from our community consultation calls! This report provides a summary of the discussions focused on the Call for Proposals, the program timeline, session modes, structure, and size. A huge thank you to the members of our community who took time out of their busy schedules to engage with us on our mission to build a better RightsCon.

Purpose of the calls

Between October 17 and November 9, we hosted a series of six consultation calls with session organizers. We collectively assessed elements of the RightsCon program design, such as the Call for Proposals timeline, decision-making procedures, program structure and size, and the execution of session formats. The calls were organized based on session modes (hybrid, online, and in-person) to facilitate focused discussions.

On October 30 and November 7, we hosted two open calls for session proposers who have previously participated in our Call for Proposals. During these calls, we reviewed the proposal submission and evaluation processes, discussed the selection criteria, explored ways to improve transparency, and gathered suggestions to holistically rework the program timeline and process.

Session organizers also shared their experience preparing and delivering sessions at RightsCon via our session organization survey. 89.5% of responders rated their experience organizing a RightsCon session as “good” or “excellent”, and 55% shared that their session achieved the outcomes they had identified. While we are excited to hear about the positive experiences many of our session organizers had, we want to keep improving and adapting our summit to meet the needs of our community.

Insights from the community

During the consultations, participants shared key insights they gained from organizing sessions at RightsCon or similar events, as well as the types of support they would like to receive to more effectively participate, organize, and deliver their sessions.

Online sessions

When we transitioned to an online model in 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we embraced the potential of online convening for lowering barriers to participation and fostering inclusivity. We also learned that there are pain points and limitations to convening a global community online across multiple time zones. Online session organizers highlighted opportunities to improve interaction from participants and maintain active engagement throughout their sessions as areas for enhancement.

To address these challenges, participants asked our team to:

  • Indicate which sessions will be recorded and available for rewatch anytime on the Summit platform to help participants navigate the program and build their personal schedules on the Summit Platform
  • Increase connectivity funding for participants in the Global Majority to facilitate their online engagement
  • Research different tools and avenues for interaction and engagement between online participants
  • Create spaces for online session organizers to connect with each other before and after the summit to encourage collaboration and shared learnings

In-person sessions

Following three years of convening online, in-person session organizers were excited to reconnect and to form new partnerships in San José, noting RightsCon’s role as a multi-stakeholder platform. While a majority of the surveyed organizers in this category rated the quality of in-person production and technical support as “good” or “excellent,” they also identified areas for improvement, including the lack of space for informal discussions, overcrowding in some of the rooms, and the need for longer time slots per session.

Suggestions for improvement include:

  • Provide more quiet spaces at the venue for informal meetings
  • Have room monitors play a more active role in managing capacity in sessions with limited seating space
  • Ensure more outdoor spaces at the venue to promote participant wellbeing
  • Increase the time allotted to sessions
  • Allow more time in between sessions for participants and organizers to make use of the room and connect with each other

Hybrid sessions

RightsCon Costa Rica was our first hybrid event and an opportunity to bring back the magic of an in-person summit while building on the strength of our vibrant online platform. Although excited about the opportunities of a hybrid format to broaden accessibility and participation, some session organizers encountered challenges in engaging their online and in-person audiences equitably, and adjusting to different time zones. Some of the takeaways from the conversation were:

  • Include targeted facilitation techniques for hybrid formats in the session organizer trainings and research innovative production tools and session structures to help sync both audiences
  • Increase the number of hybrid sessions
  • Factor in more time for the online and in-person speakers to settle in and coordinate before the session begins
  • Provide dedicated spaces at the physical venue where participants and/or speakers can join online or hybrid sessions

Restructuring the Call For Proposals process and timeline

The Call for Proposals is the pillar of our community-centered program. For RightsCon Costa Rica, we received a record breaking 1,882 proposals, up 40% from our previous record high in 2020.
We’re happy to see the enthusiasm our community demonstrates every year to participate and host sessions at RightsCon, however, a program of this size comes with both challenges and opportunities for session organizers, participants, and the RightsCon team.

As part of our goal to foster transparency and a clear understanding of how we build the RightsCon program, we reached out to this year’s applicants to discuss refining the Call for Proposals process and reducing barriers to organizing and participation.

In these calls, we received the following suggestions:

Process and timeline:

  • Shorten the time between the close of the Call for Proposals and the announcements of results
  • Communicate the status of proposals earlier so organizers and speakers have enough time to apply for visas, secure funding, and guarantee their presence at the summit
  • Communicate the Call for Proposals and Community Support Fund decisions at the same time
  • Announce the Call for Proposals launch date and timeline further in advance

Selection criteria and support:

  • Provide further support and resources to non-English speakers during the application phase
  • Provide templates of successful proposals, which clearly demonstrate application of the evaluation criteria
  • Increase transparency around evaluation criteria the role of the Program Committee and the review process
  • Give clear feedback on why a proposal was rejected
  • Assign a fixed quota in the final program for proposals from the host region and RightsCon newcomers
  • Clarify the evaluation process for multiple proposals from a single organization and clearly articulate the maximum number of proposals that can be accepted per organization or individual
  • Provide more guidance about the technical aspects of each format in line with session goals
  • Provide the option for organizers with similar sessions to connect and possibly merge and host a single session together

Diversifying the program

The RightsCon Costa Rica program was the most expansive in our 12 years of convening, spanning 638 sessions held online, in-person, and in hybrid formats across 19 distinct program tracks. Gender diversity continued to be a defining force for our program, reflected in 64.4% of sessions led by women, nonbinary, bigender, agender, or genderfluid organizers. Over half of this year’s session organizers had never participated or organized a session at RightsCon before and brought with them a welcomed wave of innovation and fresh perspectives. As we celebrate our community’s enduring growth and diversity, we are also conscious of feedback concerning the program’s scale, complexity, and execution.

To counter these challenges, we asked participants in the consultations to share their thoughts on the diversity of representation in the program and how we can facilitate more organic networking and connection-building during the summit.

Suggestions included:

  • Promote more grassroots organizations and enhance representation from the Global Majority and marginalized groups
  • Facilitate increased access to regional and upstream funders as well as high-level speakers
  • Include more spaces to network and connect outside the program
  • Organize dedicated spaces for thematic and regional meetups
  • Broaden the scope of the program by introducing a category for unlisted themes or topics
  • Give more space to sessions focused on dissecting and formalizing a problem rather than just presenting solutions
  • Scale back the number of sessions in the program
  • Offer more flexibility in regards to program scheduling and room setup to better accommodate people with disabilities and different cultural contexts

Cultivating connections beyond the summit

Members of the community shared their wish to see continuity from the movement-building that takes root during RightsCon. As conveners, our aim is to harness the vibrancy of the summit and multiply it into 365 days of community. We heard your requests to:

  • See follow up from sessions in the form of webinars, articles, etc
  • Be a part of a year-round community of practice
  • Have access to a repository of session resources and materials

What’s next?

With the valuable suggestions shared by the community, the RightsCon team is ready to plan the program for RightsCon South Korea! We will continue to meticulously review every component of the program, incorporating the insights from the community, and making sure that our processes and commitments are clear and transparent. We remain dedicated to improving the RightsCon program, including the Call for Proposals process, session formats and structure, as well as aligning key program timelines with other key event milestones (such as the Community Support Fund).

Our sincere thanks go out to all those who contributed to these conversations. If you weren’t able to attend the calls but wish to share your thoughts on improving the program, please feel free to connect with us anytime via email at [email protected].

Sarah, Luis, and the RightsCon team

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