Digital Infrastructure Research RFP

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Digital Infrastructure Research RFP

Leila Zia
Hi all,

The Sloan and Ford Foundations have made a request for proposals with
the goal of funding a set of research projects to further our
understanding of economics, maintenance, and sustainability of digital
infrastructures (especially as they rely heavily on volunteer
resources).

You can find more details about it at
https://ford-foundation-6.forms.fm/digital-infrastructure-research-rfp.
The RFP is pasted at the end of this email as well.

Best,
Leila

Contact
[hidden email]

Deadline
Jun 13 at 8:59pm In your local timezone (GMT -7)

Questions due
Jun 13 at 8:59pm In your local timezone (GMT -7)

Timeline
6/13 - Concepts Notes Due
7/13 - Full Proposals Invited
9/4 - Final Proposals Due
10/1 - Final Decisions



Background

Everything in our modern society, from hospitals to banks to social
media platforms, runs on software. Nearly all of this software is
built on “digital infrastructure,” a foundation of free and public
code that is designed to solve common challenges. The benefits of
digital infrastructure are numerous: it can reduce the cost of setting
up new businesses, support data-driven discovery across research
disciplines, enable complex technologies such as smartphones to talk
to each other, and allow everyone to have access to important
innovations like encryption that would otherwise be too expensive.
Sharing code to address common challenges is in principle cheaper,
easier and more efficient. It should also be noted that our digital
infrastructure is a distinct part of, and inextricably tied to, a
larger ecosystem of open source software development.

While the collective action problems that characterize infrastructure
funding are well-explored, the economics of digital infrastructure are
less well-understood. In 2016, the Ford Foundation funded a report by
Nadia Eghbal titled “Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our
Digital Infrastructure” that described how the development and
maintenance of digital infrastructure often falls to communities of
volunteers who take it upon themselves to maintain this infrastructure
in their own free time and for little or no money. Unsurprisingly,
this leads to significant risks to the open internet and the ability
to develop new, innovative research and businesses within it.

The Sloan and Ford Foundations would like to fund a set of research
projects to further study these dynamics, with an eye toward better
understanding the economics, maintenance and sustainability of digital
infrastructure. Among the questions that could be addressed by such
research are:

What makes an open source project “critical digital infrastructure”?
How should we measure and prioritize support for digital
infrastructure projects? How do organizations know what digital
infrastructure they rely on and how do they assess the sustainability
risks in these projects?
What is the role that private companies should play in maintaining a
stable ecosystem of open source technology? What are the tradeoffs
involved between private sector, government, and/or volunteer
maintenance of digital infrastructure? What parallels are there to the
maintenance and support of other public goods, and what can we learn
from those parallels?
How could we better sustain the open source community? What is the
relationship between money and sustainability for digital
infrastructure projects? In which situations does money help or hurt?
What defines a maintainer of a digital infrastructure project? What
incentives do they have to maintain a project and how are more
contributions incentivized? Are certain skills or expertise expertise
missing or weak in the open source community, such as management
experience, and how might they be strengthened?
What are barriers to diversity and inclusion in the public interest
infrastructure space? What are the barriers to entry to this community
and how might we break them down? And how does open source software
contribute to or counter efforts to build a more equitable society?
What are the critical security weak points in our digital
infrastructure? How do we mitigate those weak points?

These questions are intended as prompts and ideas - concept notes do
not need to answer these questions specifically and respondents are
welcome to pose their own questions. We also open to broader
interpretations of "digital infrastructure" and are happy to field
questions about whether work is in scope prior to submitting a concept
note.

Scope

We seek to support proposals addressing a range of issues and a range
of different scopes. As part of your concept we will ask you to
provide a rough sense of the size of your project according to three
cost tiers. Please note that the cost tier does not indicate a length
of time: proposals may cover any time range, regardless of cost. We
expect most projects will fall into a 6 to 24 month time range, but
this is not a hard requirement.

Cost Tiers:

Small: Under $50k
Medium: $50k - $125k
Large: over $125k


Full Proposals & Decisions

Concept notes will be accepted until 11:59pm on June 13th, though we
encourage early submissions. A panel of advisors will review
submissions and provide their input to Ford Foundation and Sloan
Foundation. Full proposals will be invited by July 13th. Final
determinations on proposal invitations will be made by Ford Foundation
and Sloan Foundation. Final proposals will be due by September 14th
and final funding decisions will be made by October 1st.

Criteria

Who is eligible?

Individuals, Organizations (nonprofit and for-profit) and Academic
Institutions are eligible.

If accepted, when would my grant start?

The grant start date would be sometime between October 1st and
December 31st, 2018.

If accepted, will my grant come from Sloan or Ford?

It depends - it may come from either, or both. We will work with
finalists to determine the best mechanism for each research grant.

Are there restrictions on publication of research?

We expect all output to be made available to the public under an
acceptable creative commons license (or similar). If this presents any
challenges, we can discuss details if your project is invited to
submit a full proposal.

When you say digital infrastructure, do you also mean [insert term here]?

We encourage a broad definition of digital infrastructure and
recognize that this work goes by many terms: open source, open
standards, critical infrastructure, and so on.

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Re: Digital Infrastructure Research RFP

Federico Leva (Nemo)
Leila Zia, 09/05/2018 21:22:
> The Sloan and Ford Foundations have made a request for proposals with
> the goal of funding a set of research projects to further our
> understanding of economics, maintenance, and sustainability of digital
> infrastructures (especially as they rely heavily on volunteer
> resources).

Do you think experimental (technial) projects to further open access
would be within scope? (I mean things like https://dissem.in/ , although
they don't seem to need funding right now.)

Federico

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Re: Digital Infrastructure Research RFP

Leila Zia
Hi Nemo,

On Wed, May 9, 2018, 23:42 Federico Leva (Nemo) <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Leila Zia, 09/05/2018 21:22:
> > The Sloan and Ford Foundations have made a request for proposals with
> > the goal of funding a set of research projects to further our
> > understanding of economics, maintenance, and sustainability of digital
> > infrastructures (especially as they rely heavily on volunteer
> > resources).
>
> Do you think experimental (technial) projects to further open access
> would be within scope? (I mean things like https://dissem.in/ , although
> they don't seem to need funding right now.)
>

I highly recommend you check with them directly at
[hidden email] . If I have to guess, I think it's not
unlikely for this kind of project to be a fit if you package it as a
case-study to answer some of the questions posed by the RFP.

Best,
Leila


> Federico
>
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