Author: Timothy Elfenbein

In order to better understand and articulate the foundational needs for open infrastructure services to be viable in the short-term and sustainable in the longer-term, at Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI), we see a need to better understand the types and sources of labour that underpins the development, maintenance, and reliable operation of the infrastructure services that researchers, scholars, and other knowledge workers rely on. For IOI, it became essential to understand labour in relation to the provision of open infrastructure services to better guide funders to invest in supporting the labour needs of service providers.

Timothy Elfenbein, IOI’s former Research Affiliate, led this research project. The project consisted of an extensive literature review of labour arrangements in the open infrastructure space, interviews, and then relied on abductive reasoning given the breadth of labour and its nuances.

At this stage, this project seeks to provide an analytical framework to ask valuable questions about labour from the perspective of an organisation acting as a funding intermediary. How to answer those questions, and to test the adequacy of the answers, will be the focus of subsequent phases of the research.

colleagues working together on a workstation
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Scope of the Research Project

Given just how expansive the topic of labour is, we decided to focus on the structure of labour contracts. In principle, work arrangements are secondary to organisational needs for labour and how they fulfil those needs. However, the idea behind selecting work arrangements as a starting point is that exploring the nature of the relationship between firms and workers can provide a solid starting point for further understanding the labour-industry complex.

To further understand these work arrangements, we decided to move away from looking at labour analytically (using the Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) approach) but rather take a more descriptive approach which gives information about the situation of those working for infrastructure organisations as well as aspects of the strategies those organisations use to provision for their labour needs. The additional benefit of taking the descriptive approach is it also helps to assess and quantify labour that is not directly paid by the organisations that utilise them. Whether these work arrangements are classified as volunteer or in-kind (indirectly paid for by an external organisation), they must be accounted for. This helps to recognize better how organisations enter into formal and informal partnerships through labour deployment.

In analysing the work-arrangement classifications, several assumptions underpinned the whole process:

  1. The most significant budget line in open-infrastructure organisations is for wages, salaries, contractor fees, and the third-party provision of labour. In other words, the highest cost of providing infrastructure services is labour.
  2. Most of the labour force of open-infrastructure organisations are characterised as information, knowledge, or technical workers.
  3. The labour directed toward open infrastructures is best approached through its organisational embedment.
  4. All of the labour required for the development and maintenance of open infrastructures needs to be accounted for, even when it is not directly remunerated by the organisation deploying that labour.

Further defining work arrangements also helps clarify how labour has been affected by social and technological changes that have altered the permanence, spatiality, and perception of labour. These trends in organisational forms and work arrangements, and their attendant consequences, provide a basis for describing the disposition of labour in open-infrastructure organisations.

For example, in the ’80s, a “standard job” or full-time employment, defined by Kalleberg et al. (2000, p. 257) as “jobs where work is performed on a fixed schedule, at the firm’s place of business under the firm’s control and with the mutual expectation of continued employment.” However, labour has shifted from the previous standard format in the contemporary world. It now takes different forms depending on attachment, the flexibility of location, and how much control over the work the employee has.

Research Findings

After reviewing the literature on work arrangements, we sought to create our classification, focusing on aspects that seemed most applicable to the narrower set of organisations and workers in IOI’s scope. The organisations of interest to IOI are committed to being mission-driven, community governed, and oriented toward non-profit forms of value creation.

The process started with a list of work-arrangement categories from the literature review. In a second iteration, we decided were made to consolidate some types (i.e., on-call and seasonal work) and to introduce two new categories (i.e., non-remunerated direct employment and subsidised), creating a list of nine categories listed below:

  • Full-time (>35 hours per week)
  • Part-time (<35 hours per week)
  • On-call and seasonal (variable work hours)
  • Non-remunerated
  • Agency
  • Subsidised (compensation by another organisation)
  • Contract / freelance/contingent
  • Subcontracting (vendor on-premises)
  • Platform-mediated

Two principles emerged as the most significant for the classification, underlying the principal axes of differentiation: employment vs. contract relations; and direct vs. third-party relations. Organising the categories under these axes enabled the reorganisation of the list into a diagrammatic table as a two-by-two matrix.

Matrix of the four main work arrangement classifications
Matrix of the four main work arrangement classifications

These categories and classifications may be useful in describing the social infrastructure of particular services, and potentially as indicators of organisational health.

Next Steps in the Research Project

We are excited to have distilled the wide range of work arrangements into four main categories, as exhibited in the table above. However, this classification is currently in a preliminary stage, resulting from multiple iterations of literature review and proposed types and classificatory principles. There is a need for further testing, analysis, and articulation. An immediate next step could be to develop comprehensive definitions for the categories. This will involve delving deeper into categorization and classification research and reviewing data-gathering instruments used in empirical studies.


Kalleberg, A. L., Reskin, B. F., & Hudson, K. (2000). Bad jobs in America: Standard and nonstandard employment relations and job quality in the United States. American Sociological Review, 65(2), 256.

Posted by Invest In Open Infrastructure