In beginning our work with the available funding data (described in a previous post), it soon became clear we needed to clarify some key terms to ensure precision in our analysis. We needed to distinguish the different types of support and the organizations offering that support, as well as how that support was received. Given the various paths funding flows to support services, we needed a vocabulary that accurately described these entities and how they interacted.

For example, while we think of a grant being provided to a service, there is in fact a transaction between the organization providing the grant (a large philanthropy, for example) and the provider of that service. In some cases, this grant isn’t going directly to the provider of the service, but to some intermediary organization that manages the finances on behalf of the service provider (an academic institution or fiscal sponsor). For community sponsored projects, this funding may be going to one or several community members in support of the project without going to the fiscal sponsor or the direct provider.

To achieve more specificity and precision in describing the various situations we’ve encountered in our research, we developed the following key terms. We will be compiling these into a publicly available glossary for future reference and ongoing updates. This is essentially a first draft of our descriptive framework and we look forward to feedback from the community on how these terms are defined and actualized in our current and future research.

Recipients of Support

Service - the open technology or other system supporting research and scholarship.

Provider - the organization that develops, provides, and manages an open technology or other system as a service. A provider may offer multiple services, either as integrated, complimentary, or stand-alone offerings. The key facets of a provider are described below and could be conducted by one organization or shared among various different organizations supporting the overall provision of a particular service:

  • Operational - the entity responsible for carrying out the day-to-day support to ensure the service is provided to users. In a distributed or community-based model of support, the operation of a service may be shared across multiple operational entities, including academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, and even individuals volunteering their time, with all sharing responsibility for the day-to-day provision of the service.
  • Management - the entity responsible for ensuring operations fall within the mission and vision of the organization, as well as planning future operational actions and developments.
  • Legal/Fiscal - the formal entity constituted to meet legal and regulatory obligations, including receiving financial support on behalf of the organization and meeting government tax reporting obligations, if any.

Sources of Support

Support - contributions of monetary and non-monetary grants, gifts, support services, and other resources to providers of a service

Supporter - The individual or organization contributing monetary and non-monetary grants, gifts, support services, and other resources to providers of a service.

Funder - a grant-making or other gift-giving supporter providing monetary support to a provider without any exchange of services or other tangible benefits with limited involvement in operations and governance, though a funder can (and often does) direct that their grant go towards a particular project, outcome, or deliverable.

Sponsor - a supporter providing monetary and/or non-monetary support, usually in the form of sponsorship fees or recommended contributions (i.e. “sponsorship tiers”) in the case of monetary support, or various material and non-material benefits in the case of non-monetary support. This support is usually offered in return for some services or other benefits from the provider, as well as some involvement in the provider’s operations and/or governance. Providers offering sponsorship tiers give those sponsors in higher tiers greater privileges with respect to service access, operational input, and governance contributions than those in lower tiers.

Customer/User - an individual or organization supporting a provider through the payment of service fees or other usage-related costs in exchange for access to the services of the provider but with more limited direct involvement in operations and governance, especially as compared to funders and sponsors.

Some Clarifying Examples

To illustrate these interactions and apply our vocabulary, we offer the following examples:

Funding Data Reporting

As shown in these examples, understanding the complicated relationship between supporters and providers to support services is challenging to untangle. Even with a vocabulary and framework in place, understanding the flow of monetary support is further complicated by the varying amount of data disclosed about these relationships. While large philanthropic organizations and government funding agencies often disclose their funding activities on their website, smaller philanthropies and other funders rarely do so.

Some funders who disclose grant information have chosen to not include critical details about the service or provider they have funded, naming only a legal/fiscal entity as recipient with few, if any, clarifying details about the purpose of the funding. There are likely many reasons for this decision, including concerns about privacy, data management, the visual layout of the information on the website, or other factors, as well as possibly a simple lack of awareness about how important these details can be for a thorough and comprehensive accounting of funding for open technologies and open science initiatives across funders.

Additionally, providers when disclosing their funders often (but not always) include only the names of their key funders and select supporters rather than a comprehensive list of all funders. They often don’t include any clarifying details on their organization’s website about the amount, dates, and other clarifying details about the grant funding they’ve received, though individual researchers will often disclose this information on their professional CVs.

Likewise, academic and research institutions rarely disclose their funding, sponsorship, or other non-monetary support publicly. While many providers disclose the sponsorship tier levels and the supporting institutions in these tiers, the exact amount contributed isn’t often disclosed by providers. High-ranking staff members at various academic institutions have disclosed in private conversations that they are unaware of the total sponsorship contributed by their institution due to a lack of centralized accounting of contributed funds to the various providers and services their organizations sponsor or otherwise support.

Finally, for those providers with multiple services, it can be a challenge to identify which service benefitted from a particular funder’s support without more detail from either the funder or the provider on how the monetary support was used by the provider with respect to their services.


As is hopefully clear from the few examples we’ve provided, the relationship between supporters and providers of services can be much more complex than it might at first seem (a grant to a service), requiring a precise set of terms and framework of understanding to accurately describe these essential interactions. Even with this framework of understanding in place, it can be challenging to access data on the amount of support for a given service or all open technologies and other systems supporting research and scholarship as a whole.

In our next post, we will describe the available funding and financial performance data in greater detail, as well as our methodology for collecting, managing, and analyzing this information for insights on how open infrastructure is funded.

Posted by Richard Dunks