Introduction

Last updated 5 months ago

Thank you for being apart of the the OTF Advisory Council and being crucial part of our application review process. We are excited you have with us and couldn’t do what we do with your participation. While the role is voluntary, the council plays a critical role in the OTF program. As an OTF AC member, you are a necessary check on our decision making process, an augmentation to OTF’s collective knowledge, and a trusted OTF liaison within our the communities we engage together.

We depend on you being an external and independent set of individuals as a primary grounding for our commitment of openness and non-competitive practices. The information and guidance we receive from outside experts like you in this role continues to raise vital considerations -- often for the first time -- during our decision making process. Through the trust you have in your own communities and the trust you have in OTF, you bring an important anchor of accountability to OTF. As an ambassador of OTF in those communities, you introduce OTF -- and vice versa -- to otherwise unreachable projects, fellows, or new initiatives to consider supporting.

The benefit is felt most by the applicants and those struggling on the front-lines. We consider it an honor and a primary role of ours to pass on what you give us to them. Time and time again, we hear from applicants how valuable the feedback is from OTF. We hear this equally from applicants who were dismissed and approved. We see the results with better first-time and new applications from people and places that surprise us. In return, we hope that you gain valuable insights on emerging solutions to tough and interesting challenges that align with your own interests.

This public document is meant to offer basic information to help AC members, applicants, and the general public understand the role they play for OTF. We recognize this document could be improved and encourage you to leave comments that will help us do so.

Background

Currently, when OTF mentions the Advisory Council, it is referring to a group of almost 40 individuals who had been asked to voluntarily review applications originating from OTF’s website. You can see a current and past list of all Advisory Council Members on our website. Since 2012, OTF has transitioned from having a single concept note application to having several applications with different focuses. For example, there are now multiple fellowship programs with specific focuses, a rapid response application, and two more general funds.

Accordingly, OTF’s Advisory Council is already made up of separate review panels for these specific initiatives -- including funds, labs, and fellowships. In nearly all cases, OTF does not make a final decision without receiving at least two AC member reviews. This is a requirement of ours towards fulfilling the community and compliance expectation that OTF will have an independent group of relevant experts reviewing applications. These collective review panels together will make up OTF’s Advisory Council. Individual members of a review panel would also be referred to as an OTF Advisory Council member. Each review panel will share a base set of purposes outlined on each initiatives pages. You can see all the AC members for each initiative on that page as well. For example, the Internet Freedom Fund has around 20 AC members regularly contributing reviews while the Information Control Fellowship has 3.

By the time any application is put in front of the AC, it has gone through a rigorous review by the OTF team. For most of the initiatives, an applicant is first required to submit a short expression of their project idea, respond to a number or questions from OTF, then invited for a longer expression of their idea, again respond to numerous rounds of questions and requests for additional information, and then advanced to be reviewed by the AC. We make all of the documentation up to this point available to AC members. Applicants are required to address the feedback provided by the AC. From your feedback, we will then again ask a number of questions and make our final determination. All AC members can view this final set of information within our application system, including our final determination message. Well less than 5 percent of applications OTF receives are sent to the AC for review. Your review provides us with critical insight on how we allocate our scarce resources.

While the overall workflow is the same, each initiative does have slight differences, such as: when the AC is engaged or if there are host organizations also submitting reviews, the evaluating criteria, or rhythm for each initiative will be different. That means the review workload and expectations we hold for each AC members is not the same and accordingly, our expectations. As such, AC member contributions are weighed individually by the OTF team members bottom-lining initiatives. At least once annually, they decide to transition AC members from an active reviewer status to an emeritus status and/or to introduce and bring on new AC members. We’ll provide more details on expectations and workload for those initiatives that have these details defined.