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5 Tips for Selecting Awesome Program Participants: Lessons from the 2021 Open Government Partnership Summit’s International Youth Delegation

2021-12-02T09:15:52+00:0030th November 2021|

By Katie Fuhs

How do you narrow hundreds of applications to a handful of finalists when there are so many things to consider i.e experience, inclusion, commitment, diversity, etc. While Accountability Lab has yet to find a magic formula for selecting program participants in our work, we recently  narrowed 291 spectacular applications to 15 finalists for the 2021 Open Government Partnership Summit’s Youth Delegation. Here are a few lessons we learned:

First, targeted outreach: getting the right applications is much more important than the total number of applications. Before even posting the application, research places to share the opportunity that will most likely get you the best applicants. In our case, we found 75 youth organizations from 25 OGP-affiliated countries working on the priorities of this year’s OGP Summit. We also leveraged our existing networks – most notably OGP and the Open Gov Youth Collective, which were instrumental in getting the word out to youth activists directly. 

Second, effective application sorting: While it may be easier to give the job of screening applicants to the newest or most junior member of your team, the person screening the applications should be well-versed in the organization’s priorities, understand the goals of the program, and be knowledgeable about the field / topics. It is also important that the reader have a good idea about their personal biases and how that may affect how they evaluate applications. We asked our Senior Operations and Programs Officer, Katie Fuhs, the AL youth lead and Open Gov Youth Collective organizer, to read through the applications and pull out those who weren’t eligible. Katie then came up with 57 applicants to move on to the next stage based on their passion, perspective, and experience in one of the three priority areas.

Third, diverse shortlists: achieving particular demographic and equity targets requires prioritisation based on those goals long before the final selection stage. As such, the shortlist needs to set up the final selection for success by providing a mostly even playing field of candidates, making sure that poorly prepared or performing candidates do not have to be selected just to meet particular demographic goals. To secure an even spread of delegates across regions, themes, ages, and genders, we aimed for a group of 30 shortlisted candidates with about 6 applicants from each region, 10 for each thematic priority, and 15 representing women and gender minorities – all with an average age of ~26.5 years old.

Fourth, well-designed selections: when we notified the top 30 shortlisted applicants, we asked them to prepare a policy pitch to present to 3 judges: Katie Fuhs from Accountability Lab, Allison Merchant from Open Government Partnership, and Francis Ametepey from the Open Government Youth Collective. We sent the shortlisted group a detailed outline on the criteria for the pitch and advice on how to prepare, along with a 24 hour response policy to ensure somebody would be available to answer any questions and address any concerns. Participants were made aware of the judging criteria – i) practicality, ii) inclusivity, iii) creativity, and iv) presentation – to ensure a transparent process. All four criteria matched our goals for the youth delegate program – i) ideas that were focused, reasonable, and could actually be implemented, ii) a range of voices in the room that represent diverse communities, iii) ideas that were outside of the box, innovative, and accessible, and iv) individuals with public speaking skills and an ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

Fifth, final confirmations: Have a plan to streamline the final selection process. Going into the final selections meeting without clarity on how the judges are supposed to select the finalist can lead to misallocated or wasted time. We asked the judges to put together their top ten list – candidates who showed up on all three lists were automatically slotted into the finalist list. The judges then discussed the candidates who were on two out of the three top 10 lists – adding some to the finalist list and deciding to come back to others later in the process. Next, each judge was given the opportunity to advocate for particular candidates that they thought should be in the room – whether it was because of their professional experience, unique perspective, presentation skills, or any other aspect of their pitch or demographics. Afterwards, the judges looked at the demographic spread of the finalist list and filled gaps where needed. Finally, we drew up a waiting list of 8 candidates in order of preference, but with the understanding that the waitlisted candidate chosen to replace a finalist will mostly be selected based on the demographic profile of the finalist who withdrew.

This process was by no means perfect, but we feel there were some great wins – for example, 2 out of the 15 finalists have a disability – keeping our delegation in line with the global prevalence of persons with disabilities at 15% of the world population. Additionally, we have our outreach to OGP and the Open Gov Youth Collective to thank for our delegates from Mexico, Jamaica, and the Philippines.

All said and done, we’re incredibly excited about the participants and the program they are about to start! We’d love to hear ideas for how we could have done things differently, so please share your thoughts with us @accountlab on Twitter or at [email protected].

Katie Fuhs is a Senior Programs and Operations Officer for Accountability Lab