New for RightsCon 2022: propose a social hour or private meeting

➔ Why host a private meeting?

➔ Why host a social hour?

➔ How do I learn more?

The dates are set for the 11th edition of RightsCon, which will take place online from June 6-10, 2022, and the Call for Proposals will officially open next week! 

The RightsCon program is sourced directly from the Call for Proposals: we review hundreds of session proposals from all around the world in order to build an agenda that reflects the most urgent priorities and challenges for human rights in the digital age.

An effective session is structured around a goal, suited to the format, and designed with the participant experience in mind. Over the years, in both online and offline iterations of RightsCon, we have adapted and strengthened the different formats available to session organizers. With partners and peers, we also experimented with closed-door options and free-flow spaces, and sourced ideas from outside of the Call for Proposals.

As we head into the next decade of our Summit Series, we feel ready to introduce these pilot formats into a more open submission process. We believe expanding avenues to shape the program, while also ensuring these opportunities are accessible to the whole community, will increase the quality and diversity of the program content. 

That’s why, in 2022, we are excited to formally integrate two of our formats into the Call for Proposals: private meetings and social hours.

We know from experience and have learned from past organizers that both formats fulfill a specific need for our community, and translate into flexible, collaborative spaces to advance your work. We will look for proposals that meet our core evaluation criteria (relevant, actionable, original, diverse, participatory) and achieve a set of unique requirements, detailed below.

Because of the special and exploratory nature of these formats, the RightsCon team will review these sessions internally and consult the Program Committee when necessary. (The Program Committee will continue to evaluate submitted proposals for all other formats). Once proposals are selected, as part of our session excellence process, organizers can expect tailored support, resources, and training in the lead-up to the summit. 

If you’re interested in hosting a private meeting or social hour at RightsCon 2022, read on to determine which format is best suited for your work, and learn how to shape your idea into a successful proposal.

Why host a private meeting?

Private meetings are closed-door and invite-only, and bring together key stakeholders to contribute and commit to a plan of action. Capped at 25 participants, the format creates a controlled environment for decision-makers and community leaders to propose and consult initiatives, and dialogue about sensitive or thorny topics that require a deeper level of trust and security.

Access Now recognizes RightsCon’s importance as a civil society-led platform for communities and users at risk, particularly as authoritarian tactics continue to creep across borders and seep into digital spaces where human rights actors organize. To push back on these evolving threats and crackdowns, our team is investing in the private meeting format to ensure critical voices are not left out of the conversation or silenced by omission. 

In 2021, for instance, Access Now hosted a private meeting at RightsCon with digital security experts from the Computer Incident Response Center for Civil Society (CiviCert) network and representatives from internet content and service providers, in order to create more effective channels of communication to resolve sensitive situations that place people and communities at risk. CiviCert members continue to coordinate with the influential companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, and Cloudflare, and discuss challenges and best practices to protect users.

Private meetings, like all session formats, start with a goal. What do you want to achieve in the room, and how will participants help you get there? Before you dive into the proposal form next week, take some time to learn about participatory session design. (Here’s a resource from our team that covers the basics on structuring and facilitating a session where everyone is invested in your goal.)

Once you’re comfortable with the concept of a participant-centered session, take your proposal one step further. Our team will use a set of questions to inform our review and selection of private meetings for the RightsCon 2022 program.

📝 Does the proposal seek an outcome that couldn’t be achieved in a public session?

Remember that the goal and outcome of a session are different. A goal describes what an organizer intends to achieve in the room, while an outcome is a measurable end result or indicator of success, often produced post-session.

For example, an organizer of a community lab may intend to collect feedback on a digital security toolkit (goal) in order to create a more usable, network-centric resource (outcome).

📝 Does the proposal identify key stakeholders who are critical to achieving the outcome?

Who do you need in the room? Unlike public sessions, which are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, organizers of private meetings can handpick the people who are invited into the discussion. We like to use a power-interest matrix to map out the roles of different stakeholders in our projects, but there are many other options available. (Our friends at BSR even developed a five-step approach to stakeholder engagement.)

📝 Does the proposal put forth a mechanism for continued collaboration among stakeholders after the session ends?

An effective private meeting builds momentum. Even for experienced facilitators, one session isn’t sufficient to resolve all the problems and pitfalls that lie ahead. Use the time wisely: explain the benefits of contributing to a shared outcome and set the foundation for future points of action. 

Why host a social hour?

Social hours are hosted in an integrated networking platform, which lets people hop in and out of conversations, form partnerships, ask questions, share ideas, and find common interests. 

As we iterate on the online summit experience, we aim to strengthen the structured formats in the RightsCon program, but we also understand the value of informal, self-directed spaces for our community to connect. These “open spaces” – which consist of social hours, performances, and other creative events – are meant to recapture the magic from our in-person summit, and recreate the feel of coffee chats and chance encounters.

First introduced at RightsCon 2021, social hours created a sense of solidarity, serendipity, and parallel play. Some featured conversation and collaboration around a certain region, program area, or intersecting theme, while others served as drop-in hours to meet funders and private sector leaders.

We heard overwhelmingly positive feedback on the format from all corners, now we want the RightsCon community to take the lead, let your creativity flow, and adapt the space to work for you. The questions in the proposal form will help shape your vision for the social hour and ask you to consider how the RightsCon community will benefit from the social hour.

🧩 Which networks or stakeholders do you hope to bring together? How will you reach and engage your intended audience?

Social hour is all about connecting and building trust. Do you plan to gather human rights defenders from a specific country or region to deepen coordination efforts? Do you want to match funders with potential grantees, or introduce privacy researchers and humanitarian practitioners?

We encourage you to think critically about the partnerships that you aim to facilitate, and map out who is the “ideal” participant for the social hour and which tactics and key messages you will use to welcome that person into the space.

🧩 What topic will you discuss? What opportunities or activities will you offer to help participants learn and build trust?

Remember to design your social hour with a topic in mind. Develop a list of ideas, questions, or concepts to open up the conversation, and don’t be afraid to include icebreakers, games, story circles, musical performances, and other creative activities to create a fun, relaxed environment.

We will look favorably at proposals that correspond to our intersecting themes (which cut across most or all program areas), or that can advance cross-sector and cross-regional collaboration. The themes for RightsCon 2022 include: disability rights, public health, environmental sustainability, gender justice, Indigenous rights, racial justice, migration, and youth and children’s rights.

How do I learn more?

Get your session ideas ready, and stay tuned for the launch of the Call for Proposals! You can subscribe to the RightsCon Rundown and follow us on Twitter to receive updates about the program, and check back on our website next week for resources, answers to frequently asked questions, and instructions to submit a proposal.

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