Effective funding means understanding unusual needs.
Infrastructure projects have some needs that set them apart from projects and products at the application layer which might seem counterintuitive to funders more accustomed to supporting the latter.
- The maintenance of digital infrastructure is essential to the security and resilience of the digital world. However, these activities suffer from being perceived as neither very innovative nor very visible – both qualities on which public funders especially tend to focus attention.
- In the context of digital infrastructure, the second and third implementations of a new standard are not only helpful, but necessary. A minimum of two reference implementations is necessary to advance a protocol to Draft Standard at the IETF, for example. Having several implementations of a protocol also means their developers need to agree on its functionality, even if it hasn’t completed the standardization process. This can help curb quasi-standards, in which one application implicitly defines how a protocol works, allowing it to make crucial changes without consulting the ecosystem.
- People who draft standards will not necessarily experience how their work impacts actual users. Whether there is a feedback loop between standard writers, implementers and services varies a lot. This knowledge lies with the people who run services on the basis of an implementation.
“Funding for maintenance is hopeless.”
“The development of libraries is difficult to fund; it’s not very visible.”
“[A project developing a quasi-standard] makes too many policy decisions. Other developers then build around it at great expense.”
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Providing examples of good practice for lightweight, result-oriented FOSS project structures can help communicate their benefits and make discussions about governance less dogmatic.
Facilitating dialogue between different actors in the field of open-source infrastructure (e.g. by supporting events that attract both communities and companies), can help both sides better understand their respective work culture and find ways to adapt.
Opening channels of communication and knowledge exchange with existing groups of experts who work on non-coding tasks can make it easier for FOSS infrastructure projects to reach out to them. This can help foster respect for the people and the work, and lead to greater appreciation for these positions within the community.
Explicitly support maintenance. Avoid focusing solely on innovation.
Support second and third implementations. This will help level the playing field and foster a healthy dialogue around standards.
Encourage knowledge exchange between people who work on standards, those who implement them, and those who provide services around how standards impact users.
In discussions about adoption, be consistent with the values of the ecosystem. Focus on scale rather than growth.
Work with your applicants to create a budget that avoids project “bloat” – especially with short-term funding.