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Program

1330+ session proposals: insights into the RightsCon Costa Rica program

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The RightsCon program is the guiding pillar of our summit series. Every year, we solicit hundreds of session ideas from human rights defenders, business leaders, policymakers, journalists, and more through an open Call for Proposals. These proposals are the bedrock of the RightsCon experience, and help us shape a timely and outcome-oriented agenda on human rights in the digital age.

This year marks our most competitive Call for Proposals cycle to date. We received an incredible 1338 session proposals from 110 countries – nearly 500 more than we received for RightsCon Tunis. More than quantity, this year’s sessions also reflect an unprecedented level of quality.

The growing interest in hosting a session at RightsCon is a testament to both the urgency of our collective work and the importance of convening spaces that prioritize solution-building and cross-sector collaboration. It also means the bar is set high for our team and for the session organizers, speakers, and participants who bring the public program to life.

Explore the Call for Proposals in numbers below and read on to learn more about our approach to building this year’s program.

Making room for new, but connected issues

In line with our new sustainability commitment, we introduced a program category this year centered on environmental justice and human resilience. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback about this expansion of our program, resulting in a number of proposals that integrate learnings from environmental movements around the world, and elevate the efforts of climate, land, and indigenous activists to defend human rights in the digital age.

Surprisingly, we saw a significant number of proposals placed in other program categories that also touch on environmental themes. From data governance in the agricultural industry, to content moderation of climate disinformation, to indigenous-led open-source mapping of deforestation in the Amazon, the future of technology in a warming world is an emerging challenge. Yet it also presents an opportunity for the RightsCon community to stand in solidarity with and support the efforts of environmental actors, in recognition that our work must consider the contexts and ecosystems in which we operate.

In focus: Putting local and regional issues on the map

RightsCon Costa Rica is our first summit based in Latin America and the Caribbean since RightsCon Rio de Janiero in 2012. Much has changed in the region over the last eight years, and as space for civil society continues to shrink, the stakes are rising for activists, policymakers, companies, journalists, and technologists who are committed to extending and defending human rights, online and off. The threats are real, but the resilience of regional actors is formidable, and this bright streak of optimism and creativity carried into the Call for Proposals.

Out of all the session ideas we received, 12% focus on issues specific to Latin America and the Caribbean. These proposals tell a story of success in the face of insurmountable odds: feministas are turning the tide against gender-based violence using the viral hashtag #NiUnaMenos; journalists and creators are finding innovative ways to circumvent internet shutdowns; and industry leaders are stepping up to the plate to align their business models with new privacy laws. They also propose room to strategize on pathways forward through workshops and roundtables.

Language is a crucial part of our efforts to make RightsCon more inclusive and accessible. We reflected on what it would mean to build a truly linguistically diverse summit heading into 2020, and those who proposed sessions delivered on all fronts. The number of non-English proposals nearly tripled compared to RightsCon Tunis, with Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Korean, and Sign Language represented, and 30 sessions are directly related to language, communication, and translation.

Now what?

Over the coming months, we’ll work to narrow down the list of proposals to our top selections, and build a strategic program that emphasizes quality and facilitates connections across different thematic areas. If you submitted a session, you will hear from us in March about the final status of your proposal. Check out our frequently asked questions about the program for more details about the process and what to expect.

How do we build a program from the Call for Proposals? 

The review process for the public program involves three phases. First, the RightsCon team checks each and every proposal to ensure that the selected program category and session format is correct, and that there is sufficient information to advance the session to the next phase.

Next, we hand over the proposals to our Program Committee. Every year, we invite experts in a variety of fields to join the RightsCon Program Committee, and offer guidance on which proposals should make it to the final program. In 2020, 60 individuals from 20+ countries will be taking on this critical responsibility.

The Program Committee’s input feeds into the last phase of review, when our team will take another look at all of the proposals in order to reach a decision. Our evaluation criteria is simple: we’re looking for proposals that are relevant to the RightsCon community, diverse in scope and representation, oriented around outcomes and impact, and novel in approach or outlook.

For us, 2020 is about exploration – expanding the boundaries of our work, creating space for untold stories, and unearthing new dimensions to foundational issues. As community organizers, we take seriously the responsibility to curate a program that feels both holistic and responsive to the needs of a human rights movement in motion.

Curation and connection: A new standard for the RightsCon program

RightsCon has evolved and expanded substantially over the years, but the structure of the program hasn’t always kept pace. Reacting to the fluid and quick-changing backdrop of digital transformation, while at the same time deepening engagement on a set of core issues, is a constant point of tension. Every year is different, and every program is unique.

For RightsCon to serve as an effective space to strategize and interact, we need to organize smarter. The program is the point of entry into the summit experience, and we often hear that the number of sessions and tracks can feel overwhelming, even for RightsCon veterans.

The convergence of technologies and approaches has also complicated the process of dividing sessions into thematic tracks. A rigid structure can stand in the way of generating unexpected collisions and connections. It can set artificial boundaries around conversations that transverse and intersect with a range of related issues.

We’re invested in building a navigable program for 2020 that better embodies the overlapping, kaleidoscopic, and nonlinear nature of human experience in the digital age. The goal is to match careful curation of the issues with an intentional design that improves the flow of ideas (and people) on site. Facilitating a strong participant journey will be a key consideration for our team as the slate of sessions, tracks, and trends for RightsCon Costa Rica takes shape. We have some tough decisions ahead, and as we advance from intention to action, we’ll keep you updated on our progress. As always, we welcome your ideas and feedback.

Watch this space for updates on the program, including the release of our draft session list in April 2020. In the meantime, if you have a question about joining us at RightsCon, visit our attend page for information about travel support, visas, tickets and registration, and other event logistics.