RightsCon 2021 Call for Proposals is now open!

This is the second installment in our 2021 Call for Proposals blog series. You can read the first  installment in the series here. The next and final installment will be published in the first week of December.

Today we’re officially launching our Call for Proposals for the 10th edition of RightsCon (June 7-11, 2021)! You have until January 19, 2021 to submit your session proposal.

Read out guide

Every year, the RightsCon public program is sourced and built from the ideas that come through the Call for Proposals. Session organizers not only shape the agenda on human rights and technology, but also ensure that critical perspectives are represented and uplifted at our convening.

RightsCon is a community of communities. We connect stakeholders from around the world – policymakers, industry leaders, activists, technologists, researchers, lawyers, designers, journalists, creatives, and more – in order to advance collective action. From the #KeepItOn coalition to the Brussels Principles to the Toronto Declaration, our Summit Series continues to set standards and produce outcomes that are reframing the digital debate around human rights.

Hosting a session is one of the best ways to tap into our network of experts, find solutions to tough problems, form unexpected partnerships, and situate your work within the many movements that converge at RightsCon.

In 2021, as Access Now embarks upon an online summit experience, we are committed to expanding our accessibility and inclusivity efforts, and offering a platform to people who are traditionally excluded from global conversations about technology. Last week, we reflected on the concrete steps we’re taking to curate an interconnected, cutting-edge public program. Today, with the launch of our Call for Proposals, we’re excited to unveil what we’ve improved and what will look different about the program process this year.

At the close of RightsCon Online, the overwhelming majority of session organizers who responded to our survey – 97.6 percent – expressed interest in running another session on our platform. However, some organizers shared the challenges of hosting an effective, participatory session in a new online environment. Many of the changes outlined below are in direct response to this feedback, and we remain open to input and ideas on ways to strengthen our convening model in this new context.

A redesign of our session formats

When we transitioned to an online summit in 2020, we made the decision to refine the number of online session formats supported in our public program. The refining process continued in our planning for 2021, and ultimately resulted in five formats:

Three of these formats – community labs, strategy sessions, and panels – are full-length (60 minutes), and will be hosted live. Two formats – lightning talks and tech demos (8-10 minutes) – will be recorded in advance and made available for participants to view during the summit, with the option for speakers to conduct an AMA via discussion forum. You can read more about the specifications and limitations for each format in our Guide to a Successful Proposal.

In the proposal form, once you select a format, a series of tailored questions will appear. These questions should guide you to think critically about what you want to achieve with your session. Choose carefully: once you submit the form, you won’t be able to change the session format at a later point, due to the unique logistical needs and constraints of each format.

A focus on redistribution of power

As conveners, it is our responsibility to root out the assumptions of power, and to engage individuals and communities who are excluded from powerful spaces by design. However, we’re also entrusting session organizers within our program to act with intention and to uphold our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Diversity is one of our core criteria for evaluating and selecting sessions for our program. As always, we welcome proposals that explore technology’s intersection with gender, race, ethnicity, disability status, economic status, or other social/personal identities. When you submit a proposal, you should arrange speaker/facilitator lineups with care and consciousness of not only regional representation, but also representation of communities in each region that are traditionally pushed to the margins or forced out of global convening spaces, such as Indigenous peoples, Black communities, and people with disabilities.

Once proposals are selected, we’ll review the program holistically, and audit each session to ensure all perspectives that are integral to the conversation are represented. Access Now upholds a no tolerance policy for men-only panels (“manels”). We will also look critically at sessions that only feature perspectives from communities which perpetrate and benefit from systems of oppression, including but not limited to: colonialism, racism, patriarchy, classism, and land and resource exploitation.

We may reach out to organizers to offer feedback or recommend speakers/facilitators in sessions where these standards aren’t met. In rare circumstances, we may pull a session from the schedule if it violates our policies.

Before the Call for Proposals opens, take a moment to read our Code of Conduct, which establishes principles and expectations for engaging at RightsCon and other Access Now events. If you have ideas on ways we can improve and better serve our global community, reach out to us at [email protected]!

A refreshed approach to participation and session design

Online sessions require skilled facilitators to guide the discussion and deepen learning opportunities for participants. Access Now is partnering with an experienced facilitation coach, Dirk Slater, to revise and renew our approach to session excellence, with the aim to strengthen the participant experience. To complement that change, we have added “participation” to our list of evaluation criteria, which we use to select sessions for the public program.

When you submit a proposal for a full-length session, you should be able to answer the questions: What do I want to learn from participants? How will they help me achieve my session goal? RightsCon isn’t a space for passive listening. Interactive exercises, polls, live chats, collaborative note-taking, and other engagement methods will not only result in a better session for participants, but will also lead to unexpected discoveries and more robust outcomes.

For lightning talks and tech demos, the participatory aspect is evaluated differently. Before you submit a proposal, you should be able to answer the questions: What will participants gain from my talk or demo? How will I make them care about the topic or tool I’m presenting? A useful starting place is to think about the last time you listened to a talk or presentation and walked away with a new perspective or skill.

A more cohesive journey for session organizers

The Call for Proposals is only part of the journey. If your proposal is accepted into the RightsCon program, you will transition from a session designer to a session organizer, and our team will work with you to develop and refine your session concept.

The session excellence process for full-length sessions includes hands-on training with our facilitation coach, detailed guidance on the resources and tools available to you, and opportunities to meet and connect with other session organizers. Speakers for lightning talks and tech demos will also receive guidance on how to prepare and deliver an impactful recorded session.

Stayed tuned for our next blog post, which will dive deeper into participatory session design and effective learning strategies.

How do I get started with my proposal?

You’re on the right track! Now that you know what to expect from our 2021 Call for Proposals, follow our checklist to submit a session proposal:

  • Consult our Guide to a Successful Proposal for information about session formats, program categories, and evaluation criteria.
  • Create an account or log into our proposal portal.
  • Fill out the session proposal form.
    • Pick the program category that best fits your session concept.
    • Define your goal – what do you want to achieve with your session?
    • Choose the format that will help you reach your goal.
  • Confirm the participation of your facilitators and/or speakers.
  • Check the form for any errors, inaccuracies, or spelling mistakes.
  • Review and agree to the terms of Access Now’s Code of Conduct.
  • Note the program timeline – you’ll hear about the status of your proposal in March 2021.
  • Submit the proposal on or before January 19, 2021 at 11:59 pm Pacific Standard Time.

Keep in mind that you can always save a draft of your proposal and come back to it later, once you’re ready to submit. You, as an individual, can propose a maximum of five sessions for consideration. However, you should aim for quality over quantity: we would rather receive one well-crafted proposal than five unfocused or broad ideas.

Good luck, get drafting, and remember that our team is here to help! You can reach out to us at [email protected] with any questions that aren’t answered on our website or in the guide. In the meantime, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter, the RightsCon Rundown, to stay up to date on our 10th anniversary summit.

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