Between October 31 and November 4, 2022, Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI) organized our first Funders Summit, where we brought together over 80 funders, budget holders, and other key stakeholders involved in the financing and resourcing of open infrastructure to collaboratively explore and discuss a shared framework for investment in open research infrastructure and test out building an alternative funding mechanism.
In our previous blog posts, we shared a summary and resources from the Summit. We also discussed the design and takeaways from the collective fund pilot.
Throughout the event, we were very grateful to have Bianca Kramer, Katherine Skinner, and Elena Denaro acting as our “learning partners”. They observed and noted the dynamics and conversations as the event progressed. Below, we share our event reflections as an asynchronous discussion between Bianca, Katherine, and Emmy Tsang, IOI’s Engagement Lead.
There’s an appetite for new strategies for investing.
Katherine: The positive tempo and tone and the deep participation by many of the attendees signal that there is a hunger for these discussions and that IOI is a team that can provide the grounding (research), the convening space, and the facilitation to help that process forward.
The Summit provided building blocks for future conversations and actions.
Katherine: This event helped establish shared knowledge and built some connections. It opened a vibrant space for discussion over what information, organized in what ways, might help to inform decision making around funding. Some sessions gave connection points between participants and interest in use cases. Can this initial energy be built upon so that it moves from passive interest to active opinions? What information and settings could enable this transition to happen, even for a handful of the participants?
The need to define terms
Katherine: One of the consistent themes throughout the event was the marking of troublesome terms and ones that different participants may have been using differently from one another. Terms that arose included Open, Infrastructure, Governance, Community (along with Community-based, Community-led, Community-governed, and Community-owned), Data, Equitable, Diversity, Funders, Incentive. Values, Venture Capital, ROI, Transparency, Nonprofit/not-for-profit, Critical Infrastructure, etc. For the future, it might be helpful to pose the question “why do we need strong definitions in order to move forward and how do we build strong-enough definitions so that this isn’t a continued barrier?”. The sense of missing definitions stalls action – it also points to some sense of fear (of being misunderstood, of funding the wrong thing, of being led astray by data).
Bianca: It may not necessarily be about the need for one shared definition, but it may be important to recognize the plurality in definitions/conceptions and the way these influence funding decisions, e.g. by recognizing the risk of ‘‘forcing’ one definition upon the ecosystem.
Emmy: For me, this circles back to trust. This need for clarity/definition is perhaps a symptom of the lack of trust in the room (especially knowing that many participants are new to this space and to each other). As event organizers, we did not spend enough time helping build trust between participants. Perhaps just providing a space for participants to share what these terms mean to them would already help the trust-building process.
Stakeholders might not know why they’ve been convened together and what “hats” they are wearing.
Katherine: The multi-stakeholder environment was never fully “marked” and the participants were not always aware of the different hats they were wearing or how those might be affecting their experience of the event and the ideas and discussions they engaged in. There was a lot of talk about and struggle toward alignment – of values, of definitions, of perspectives – throughout the event that might deserve to be marked and interrogated, and these frictions and frustrations may have arisen from different stakeholders that weren’t given names/hats/identities in a way that felt referenceable.
Emmy: This is really helpful to note for future convenings, especially one that involves many stakeholder groups. Providing space for participants to name the kinds of experiences and skills they’re bringing to the table and how that may affect what they think will form the foundation on which they can build alignment and shared roadmaps.
The push-back on venture capitalistic (VC) models
Katherine: I was struck by the degree of pushback that we saw to VC approaches and to taking cues/learning from the VC model. It might be useful for IOI to really interrogate the why and suggest how it could help us think about giving timeframes, success expectations, return on investment, risk-taking, and other elements through a new lens, in a short blog post.
Bianca: I think it’s interesting to consider whether the aspects of VC that generated the strongest pushback are relevant for the discourse, and if not, if dropping the VC angle is sufficient.
Emmy: It was clear from the Summit that any attempt to adapt VC approaches/learnings in funding open infrastructure needs to be carefully thought through and discussed. This includes providing space for the community to reflect further on and unpack our reactivity and preconceptions towards VC and other capitalistic approaches. These conversations will hopefully help uncover and form a solid foundation of shared community values upon which we can move forward with experimentation. We’ll be exploring this in more depth in the coming months, as it’s a big topic to unpack!
The layers of ambiguity around the collective fund
Katherine: Regarding the collective fund, there were two competing discussions. One was how collective funding decision(s) might be reached, i.e. how a fund could be governed, granted, and tracked. The other was about who could/would participate in the collective fund as 1) decision makers, 2) providers of funding, and 3) recipients. Calling these out as separate issues might have assisted with the conversation. In particular, having some sort of a “parking lot” apparatus for things that simply couldn’t best be resolved in this event in discussion (e.g., could a particular funder participate) may have helped to advance the conversation.
Bianca: Also, as part of discussions around the governance of the fund (both for the collective funding pilot and for the future fund), questions were asked about what the decision-making role of IOI was/would be. As part of trust building, it would be good to address this in future communication and be transparent about the envisioned role of IOI in decision making.
Emmy: I think understanding how participants reacted to and navigated these layers of ambiguity was one of the most important objectives of the collective funding pilot. It really helped us learn about where we need to specify and provide further clarity upfront.
This Summit is only possible with the hard work of the following people:
- Sara Ramos and Carla Brites Santos (Learning Day) for supporting the initial event design.
- María Delfina Cernello de Herbert, Ana de Choch Asseo, Etienne Van Dam, and Camila Oeyen-Sorondo (Linguistic Services SA) for simultaneously interpreting the Summit’s core sessions into Spanish and French.
- Bianca Kramer (Sesame Open Science), Katherine Skinner, Elena Denaro (Greaterthan), and Tomomi Sasaki (Greaterthan) for their support in learning capture and facilitation.
- IOI research affiliates and Summit panelists for lending their time and expertise to this event.