Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI)’s mission is to sustain effective digital infrastructure needed for open knowledge to flourish. Over the past year, we have worked to grow our team, evolve our governance, further our understanding of this field, and deepen our relationships with new and existing stakeholders. We have been gathering information and building our understanding of the open infrastructure landscape: what has been done in this space, the roles and relationships among organizations working to advance a similar and/or shared mission, and the big trends and challenges that our community faces.

As our research and operations evolve, we realized that it is crucial for us to revisit and articulate our “why”: why we are here, and why we are doing the work that we are doing. Having a clear articulation of our role and aspirations will allow others to align with our work and channel our diverse experiences and resources into furthering a shared, collective effort to increase investment in open infrastructure (as well as help bring focus to our team).

In this post, we hope to share some of our processes and work so far into thinking more deeply and intently about the following questions:

  • What are our aspirations as an organization?
  • What is the role IOI wishes to play?
  • What is our theory of change?

This is ongoing, open work - we invite you to think along with us, ask questions, challenge our assumptions, and share your experience and perspectives.

Open infrastructure as the default in research

Witnessing the increasing corporatization and commoditization of research infrastructure and services, we and many in the community felt the need to react and respond. This urgent need to “fix the system” underscored the design of the initial vision at IOI’s founding and first strategic plan. However, as we think about a roadmap forward and identify our role in it, we also realize the need to go beyond reacting and think deeply about our aspirations – the long-term changes and future that we would like to collectively bring about.

As we started working with our new members of governance and staff in February, we designed our first organization-wide Strategy Retreat to begin exploring what this long-term aspiration looks like. The conversations in the Strategy Retreat enabled us to design our strategic roadmap for 2022 (we hope this share more on this shortly). In the first phase of this roadmap, we focussed on understanding ourselves as an organization, and understanding the broader space in which we’re situated. We then hope to use this knowledge for the second phase of this roadmap, focused on changing ourselves and the space. During this transition between these two phases, we organized a team retreat as a dedicated space for us to reflect on the conversations that we’ve had with knowledgeable experts, take stock of what we’ve learnt and further articulate our role and vision.

As we reflect on our work and look to learn from other movements at the team retreat, two models in particular resonated with us: the open-source software movement and government open data. Open-source tools have now become the default for the tech industry- there is a shared understanding and recognition of the potential of open-source software in accelerating innovation and allowing everyone to participate in this work. Similarly, there is a growing expectation that government data should be publicly available. These two analogues of cultivating a culture of openness, transparency, and accountability in these adjacent spaces based on a collective understanding and broadly shared expectation inspired us to explore what a future where “open infrastructure is the default in research” looks like, and how we can reach this goal.

A theory of change

When it comes to understanding our role and our theory of change, we intentionally started by considering our “destination” – the change that we are working to create. From there, we worked backwards to identify the preconditions that are needed to enable this change, and then the interventions that will bring about the change.

As we went through this exercise, we found ourselves identifying preconditions and interventions that IOI will not be able to effectively contribute to. We hope that this theory of change will inspire other organizations that share our vision to align with it, to come into better conversations and more synergistic efforts towards our shared goal.

The preconditions necessary for open infrastructure to be the default in research that our team have so far identified are:

  1. Open Infrastructure services are usable, reliable, robust, and deliver critical value to users;
  2. A culture that recognizes the value, opportunities, and challenges open infrastructure provides exists;
  3. A memorable, compelling, evidence-based, and well-resourced case for the value of open infrastructure can be made for different audiences/ interests;
  4. Open infrastructure is collaborative, complementary, and interoperable;
  5. Funding mechanisms are more adaptive, creative, and comprehensive to meet the long-term, persistent, and dynamic needs of building sustainable open infrastructure;
  6. Stakeholders are more collaborative, cooperative, and mutually supporting;
  7. Open Infrastructure is designed, managed, operated, and governed for and with various stakeholders; and
  8. Open Infrastructure services are well-led, well-governed, and well-staffed by motivated, passionate experts.
Two concentratic circles. The inner one details the long-term change we would like to create, the outer one has 8 post-its, each with a necessary precondition.
A draft theory of change by our team. This is work in progress - we are working to integrate feedback from stakeholders and governance to further refine this work (more in the section below).

Next steps

With this theory of change prototype, we are engaging our governance members and stakeholders in conversation. The aim of these conversations is not only to gather our knowledge and experience to co-create pathways towards crafting a shared aspiration, but also to build this process as a shared experience that encourages our stakeholders to exchange ideas and take ownership of a coherent, shared vision as it relates to their particular mission and goals.

Some questions we are interested in exploring:

  • What are other preconditions that are necessary to enable this change?
  • What assumptions are embedded in our conception?
  • What interventions will bring about our desired change? What’s likely to work, and what has been tried before?
  • What are our respective roles within this theory of change, and how do we use this as a tool to foster better conversations and collaborations?
  • Outside of the research and scholarship space, who may be interested and able to contribute to advancing this goal?

We’d love to hear your ideas, questions, or thoughts – please use this form to share your feedback.

Social media card image by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.

Posted by Emmy Tsang