Author: Taimour Azizuddin
Our mission at Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI) is to improve investment and resourcing for open infrastructure supporting research and scholarship. To this end, in 2021, we designed the Catalog of Open Infrastructure Services (COIs). COIs is a web-based application designed to provide accessible, comprehensive, and actionable information for funders, users, and other stakeholders to support decision making about funding, adoption, and usage of open infrastructure services.
The prototype of COIs, launched in January 2022, featured 10 open infrastructure services. With the prototype, we solicited feedback from funders, institutional leaders, tool providers, and the broader user community to better understand COIs’s value proposition and areas for improvement.
At a high level, we wanted to:
- Understand how funding decisions are made and identify the opportunities for COIs to be integrated into that process, to help make some steps easier and/or more transparent.
- Find out what information fields on the prototype are helpful/not helpful, what is missing, and what replicates existing funders’ tools from other sources, by having users engage with the prototype.
We conducted 12 semi-structured interviews with respondents from different types of institutions, from philanthropic funders to academic institutions. Some respondents make long-term horizon, moonshot-type funding decisions, while others are very close to the use and implementation of these open infrastructure services in their communities.
Respondents by region
Respondents by Institution Type
The decision-making process for funding open infrastructure
The funding decision-making process varies between different funding organizations. The values of their organization, their strategy and goals, the amount of funding they were deploying, their own resourcing and use cases, and regional and local contexts all played a role in how open infrastructure services were evaluated. We found that big funding decisions tend to have a different level of due diligence compared with small ones, and use cases are particularly important for those who are looking to implement a tool or service for their community to use. Regional context also plays an important role – the Global South and Global North and different countries and communities within these regions often have different standards, criteria, and processes because of language differences, levels of access to Internet bandwidth, and varying needs from local communities.
Despite the variations, there are three general phases of decision-making around open infrastructure:
- Discovery: the process of finding and becoming aware of the organizations/services to evaluate.
- Preliminary information gathering: to answer basic questions around whether the open infrastructure service providers’ values align with those of the funders, and whether the features and functionalities meet the needs of the funder (or that of the community implementing/using the service).
- Detailed analysis: the due diligence process. This is highly variable across funders, from some having a dedicated team of financial analysts pouring over publicly available financial data, such as disclosures to the US Internal Revenue Service on Form 990 (for US-based nonprofits) and conducting custom analysis and reference checks, to simple reviews of the available data and a gut check on whether the services align with what the funder wants to accomplish.
Across all of these three phases, there are opportunities for COIs to help improve information sharing, transparency, and openness.
|Relationship-based, word of mouth, networking.
|Increase awareness of open infrastructure services.
|Preliminary information gathering
|General fact finding, values alignment.
|Surface information and facilitate introductions.
|Due diligence, data analysis often involving custom analytics. Reference checks.
|Provide a standard set of data and analysis in one place.
Overall, just having a reliable and accessible catalog allows different actors and players within the ecosystem to become aware and connect with each other. This can go a long way in improving transparency and making the open infrastructure ecosystem more open. We envision COIs doing more than this and we outline the further value of COIs in the use cases described in the next section.
COIs use cases and value propositions
COIs has the potential to address several needs of open infrastructure funders and decision-makers. These interviews also identified some areas for further development and improvement that would enable COIs to address these needs, including:
- Open value education: some respondents, particularly those at research networks and universities, mention spending significant time and energy on raising awareness of the existence of open infrastructure and educating their colleagues on the benefits that open infrastructure may bring. Including resources for basic information on open values as part of COIs may help bring third-party validation and help build overall credibility and trust for open infrastructure.
- Discovery and relationship building: The current discovery process appears to be the least transparent part of the funding process. Respondents typically relied on relationships and word of mouth to find open infrastructure services to work with and fund; this advantages well-connected individuals and providers, and limits possibilities across the ecosystem. COIs can help improve the transparency and efficiency of the discovery process for open infrastructure, and also provide an opportunity for relationship building as it lists the names of services’ governance members and current funders.
- Information transparency: COIs may help level the playing field between funders with limited resources to conduct extensive due diligence processes and funders with their own analyst teams by increasing transparency. Some respondents mention that there are no generally accepted guidelines for evaluating different open infrastructure services. COIs’s information and approach can help funders’ analysis and make them better informed and more efficient.
- Providers and information sharing: COIs’s success depends on the participation of open infrastructure service providers. IOI should actively engage service providers in future research and development of COIs, such that we can promote the importance of transparency, incentivize service providers to spend time on ensuring their COIs entries are thorough and accurate, and build a community of COIs advocates for other providers.
- Advocacy and sharing success: The COIs prototype mostly tells a story of numbers, but the respondents also see the need to surface some of the narrative and untold story behind those numbers. By providing additional context on the information, COIs has the opportunity to provide a more thorough view of the open infrastructure services listed and use the additional narrative to advocate for increased investment in and adoption of open infrastructure.
Our sincere thanks to the 12 respondents, including Dominique Babini, Iryna Kuchma, Bilal Mateen, Omo Oaiya, Robin Sinn, Evviva Weinraub Lajoie and others, who took the time to participate in and contribute to this work. Their diverse and insightful views have been essential as we chart the future of COIs.
Based on the insights from this investigation and results from our earlier interest survey, we are mapping out a longer-term development and maintenance strategy for COIs. Our aim is to develop COIs from an initial prototype to an integrated service that is more representative of the current open infrastructure landscape, provides actionable information that informs and empowers funders and institutions on where to direct resources, and is valued as a robust, reliable, dynamic offering. We hope to share more about this strategy in a few months' time.