In our engagements with infrastructure service providers, one of their biggest challenges we’ve repeatedly heard is the need for more stable funding for infrastructure services. Providers are developing more innovative strategies to sustain their work. However, through our conversations and analysis of funding trends, it became apparent that funding in the open infrastructure space remains largely unpredictable, and many providers continue to search for more stable and reliable sources of revenue to ensure the sustainability of the services they provide.

In understanding how a stable and reliable model for funding open infrastructure in research and scholarly communication could be architected, we looked at how public utilities, in particular water utilities, are funded around the world.

Today, we share a report from our preliminary investigation into water utility funding. Drawing on some of the preeminent literature and guidance on the topic from widely respected organizations (the OECD, WHO, and IRC), we highlight some key lessons for funding a robust infrastructure of open services. Key to this is understanding knowledge as a public good, like water, electricity, and natural gas, and how these vital public goods are best funded for reliable, robust, and sustainable supply in the long term.

Key lessons

  1. Strategic financial planning at the national and international levels is important. The OECD advocates for this as a “high-level multi-stakeholder policy dialogue process” that builds on a variety of tools to describe and understand financial flows, as well as concrete guidelines for policy makers to evaluate and adjust public policy.
  2. Tools are available for researchers, funders, policymakers, and service providers to understand and track funding sources for water supply and sanitation, and to find the right mix between the various means to provide sustainable services in various communities around the world. These tools include the 3Ts (tariffs, taxes, and transfers), and Trackfin.
  3. Further categorization of costs provides a more nuanced understanding of the involved costs and recovery mechanisms, and supports sustainable cost recovery. Ultimately, financial sustainability becomes a conversation about the clarity and depth of the understanding of the financial planning involved in a service, rather than a set of particular organizational structures.


We would like to thank Catarina Fonseca, ChiaKo Hung, and Katharina Meyer for their early and extremely valuable feedback on this work.

This work was funded by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter
Baldwin. Additional information about how our work is funded can be found here:

We welcome all questions, comments, and feedback on this work – please email us at research [at] investinopen [dot] org.

Social media image by Luis Tosta on Unsplash.

Posted by Richard Dunks & Jerry Sellanga