Open source software is at the heart of… well, virtually everything online. But while much of it is diligently maintained in some ways, in others it doesn’t get the kind of scrutiny that something so basic should have. Grants worth $ 1.3 million were announced today, spread across 13 projects to ensure open source software and development is done in a fair, sustainable and responsible manner.
Research projects will examine a number of questions about how open source digital infrastructure is used, maintained and otherwise affected. For example, many municipalities are relying on and constantly creating this type of infrastructure as the need for government software solutions increases, but what are the processes by which this is done? Which approaches or frameworks are successful and why?
And what about private companies contributing to large open source projects, often without consulting each other – how do they communicate and share priorities and dependencies? How could this be improved, and with what costs and benefits?
These and other questions are not of the type that a single local organization or government is likely to spontaneously take up, and of course, the costs of such studies are not insignificant. But they were deemed sufficiently interesting (and likely likely to generate new approaches and new products) by a team of experts who sorted through around 250 applications over the past year.
The grant-making operation is funded and organized by the Ford Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Omidyar Network and the Mozilla Open Source Support Program in collaboration with the Open Collective Foundation.
“There is a shortage of funding to examine the needs and potential applications of free and open source infrastructure. The public policy issues behind open source have been the missing piece, ”said Michael Brennan, who heads the grant program at the Ford Foundation.
“The president of the foundation [Darren Walker] once said, “a just society is based on a just Internet”, ”he quoted. “Our question is therefore to know how to create this Internet only? How do you create and maintain a fair Internet that serves everyone equally? We actually have many more questions than answers, and few people fund research into these questions. “
Even finding the right questions is part of the question, of course, but in basic research it is expected. Early work in one area can seem generally frustrating or inconclusive, as it is as much about establishing the scope and general direction of the work as it is about suggesting actual plans of action.
“The final portfolio was not only about the ‘best objectively’, but how do you find a diversity of approaches and ideas, tackle different aspects of this work, while being representative of the diverse and global nature of the project? “Says Brennan.” This year we also accepted research and implementation proposals. We want to see that research contributes to building this equitable and sustainable infrastructure. “
You can read the full research summaries here, but these are the short versions, with the name of the nominator:
- How are COVID data infrastructures created and transformed by the builders and maintainers of the open source community? – Megan Finn (University of Washington, University of Texas, Northeastern University)
- How is digital infrastructure an essential response in the fight against climate change? – Narrira Lemos de Souza
- How do perceptions of injustice when contributing to an open source project affect the sustainability of critical open source digital infrastructure projects? – Atul Pokharel (NYU)
- Support projects to implement research-based best practices when governance, sustainability and inclusion needs are needed. – Danielle Robinson (Code for Science and Society)
- Evaluation of partnerships for municipal digital infrastructure – Anthony Townsend (Cornell Tech)
- Implement recommendations for open source infrastructure funders with guides, programs and templates – Eileen Wagner, Molly Wilson, Julia Kloiber, Elisa Lindinger and Georgia Bullen (Simply Secure & Superrr)
- Indian case study on governance, implementation and private sector role of open source infrastructure projects – Digital Asia Hub
- Will cross-company visibility into free and open source shared dependencies lead to inter-company collaboration and efforts to maintain shared dependencies? – Duane O’Brien
- How do open source tools contribute to the creation of a multilingual Internet? – Anushah Hossain (UC Berkeley)
- How digital infrastructure projects could integrate cooperatives as a sustainable model of work –Jorge Benet (Cooperativa Tierra Común)
- How do technical decision-makers assess the security ramifications of open source software components before adopting them in their projects, and where can systemic interventions on the FOSS ecosystem be targeted to collectively improve its security? – Divyank Katira (Internet & Society Center in Bangalore)
- How can African participation in the development, maintenance and application of the global open source digital infrastructure be enhanced? – Alex Comninos (Research ICT Africa (RIA) and University of Cape Town)
Projects will receive their grants soon, and later in the year (or whenever they’re ready), the organizers will coordinate some sort of event where they can showcase their results. Brennan made it clear that funders do not take any part in projects and do not curate or publish research themselves; they just coordinate and offer support where it makes sense.
$ 1.3 million is an interesting number. For some, they are peanuts. A startup could burn that money in a month or two. But in an academic context, a hundred thousand dollars can make the difference between a job done or a quitting. The hope is that small injections at the base layer level will produce a better environment for the kind of support the Ford Foundation and others provide through their other philanthropic and grant-making efforts.