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The Open Technology Fund (OTF) is a program at Radio Free Asia supporting open technologies and communities that increase free expression, circumvent censorship, and obstruct repressive surveillance as a way to promote human rights and open societies globally. OTF seeks multiple individuals or organizations to support the existing services offered by our Usability Lab and to support new additional services to be offered by the lab. Usability Lab services are only provided to those efforts advancing global internet freedom, within OTF’s mission and core focus areas.
Next deadline: 

There are many secure communication tools that aim to help journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens in at-risk communities in countries with highly repressive governments exposed to significant levels of censorship and surveillance. Unfortunately, too few of these tools have software­ development teams have the research expertise or design support to make tools that are easy enough to use by the majority of these at-risk users. These usability challenges hamper the widespread adoption of these tools. More critically, these challenges sometimes lead to user misconception about tools, which can give users a false sense of security and expose them to even greater risk.

As a response, OTF created the Usability Lab to connect technology-centric projects with service providers capable of providing usability audits and advice that improve the overall user-friendliness and success of internet freedom and human rights technology. In 2016, Usability Lab partnered with Simply Secure to provide usability audits to help analyze and identify any pitfalls that might make it difficult for an average user to successfully use the audited internet freedom tool.

In 2017, OTF seeks multiple individuals or organizations to support the existing services offered by our Usability Lab and to support new additional services to be offered by the lab. Usability Lab services are only provided to those efforts advancing global internet freedom, within OTF’s mission and core focus areas.

Scope of services requested

OTF seeks multiple service partners to help expand its services to better support the community as well as improve knowledge sharing around specific usability challenges facing internet freedom tools. To this end OTF seeks services toward three different objectives:-

  • Objective 1: Provide secure usability services to internet freedom tools where there is a gap in knowledge or capacity.
  • Objective 2: Assist internet freedom tools in establishing and improving their internal secure usability processes.
  • Objective 3: Develop, distribute, and maintain knowledge around secure usability techniques, methodologies and best practices that address the unique challenges experienced by internet freedom tools that are deployed in countries with highly repressive governments.

We expect to offer a request for service partners annually for services that fall under these objectives that prove to advance global internet freedom the most. We expect to accept multiple applications to become Usability Lab service partners. As such, applicants may apply for one or more of the above listed areas of work. Collaborative applications with more than one individual or organization are encouraged.

Applicants do not have to provide all of the listed services and can include additional services not listed, if included with a demonstration of how they will advance our stated goals and best serve the immediate needs of at-risk communities in highly repressive contexts. The following are a list of services we believe we need to accomplish the stated objectives but encourage additional ideas outside these examples:-

  • Assist internet freedom tools to identify specific communities of users that their tools should be adapted to suit their needs, including but not limited to:
    • Mapping of relevant actors through local partners to help relevant user communities.
    • Walking technology staff through a methodology to help them understand the questions to ask of their users.
    • Analysis/synthesis of responses for use by technology developers.
    • Follow-up with developers and users as needed.
  • Documentation of the internet freedom threats facing relevant user communities, for uptake by technologists and developers
  • Conduct user testing and heuristics to discover opportunities and challenges when tools are used by particular communities
  • Consultation with technology project developers and other key staff when appropriate to identify and implement tool interface changes to make them more user-friendly
  • Perform secure usability audits on tools to help identify improvement opportunities and critical issues.
  • Follow-up on specific UX/UI improvements on an as-needed basis

Feel free to submit other specific types of work that may fit within one of the above service areas. Within the application, please specify which of the service areas and specific types of work you could perform.

Miscellaneous requirements


Organizations or individuals applying must be able to demonstrate:-

  • A track record of performing secure usability work particularly under the areas of services highlighted above;
  • An understanding of and a track record of collaboration with communities in countries with highly repressive governments exposed to significant levels of censorship and surveillance and in contexts where rule of law is not the norm;
  • An understanding of the FLOSS and internet freedom community demographic, their culture, and preferences and/or previous working experience in the community strongly preferred;
  • Approaches to these services that emphasize collaboration with and transfer of knowledge and capacity to beneficiaries of Usability Lab will be strongly prefered;

Acceptable applications will be for no less than $5,000 USD and for no more than $150,000 USD, must include the number of hours of work being provided, and the hourly rate per offered service or detail of services offered and their associated rates.

OTF awards are performance-based contracts signed directly with the applicant. Payment is issued on completion of work on agreed upon services outlined in a contract. OTF reserves the right to award less or more than the funds requested as deemed in the best interest of OTF’s priorities.

Schedule of activities

Acceptable applicants will offer to provide the requested services within a 12 month contract term.

05-Oct-2017: RFP is published.
30-Oct-2017: Deadline for any posted questions (feel free to keep up but no promises we’ll get you answers)
31-Oct-2017: Deadline for applications
20-Nov-2017: Estimated date for issuing contracts

Note, we can and may change these at any time. We’ll update this page and the topic here as changes occur.

Selection process

Pre-selection engagement

While we will not be able to review any applications until after the deadline, we very much encourage and hope to support as much public engagement with potential applicants as possible. Here’s how:

Post any questions you may have to this request here. We’ll do our best to answer as many of them as we can before the application deadline.

Submission and applicant details

Applications must be submitted no later than 23:59 (11:59PM) GMT on the date of deadline stated on the OTF website. We do not accept applications submitted via email, Fax, the U.S. postal system, FedEx, UPS and similar delivery companies, or courier. Only applications submitted through this online form will be considered. Applicants that do not meet any of these requirements may not be considered.

Ideal applicants are making use of, support, or develop open and accessible technologies, have a history of promoting human rights and open societies, and/or help advance inclusive and safe access to global communications networks. In addition, the following criteria must be met:

  • 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);
  • Non-profit organization/non-government organization, including U.S.-based NGO, PIO, or foreign NGO;
  • For-profit organization or business in any country;
  • Consortia of multiple people or organizations with one individual or organization designated as the lead applicant;
  • Have demonstrated experience administering successful projects, preferably targeting the requested program area, or similarly challenging program environments where OTF reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations;
  • Ideal applicants must not reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization, whether or not elected members of government.