2023 Digital Infrastructure Insights Fund RFP The D//F (Digital Infrastructure Insights Fund)

DEADLINE: Due Date Proposals: October 1st 2023

The D//F (Digital Infrastructure Insights Fund) is a multi-funder initiative by Ford Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Omidyar Network, Schmidt Futures and Open Collective sustaining a platform for researchers and practitioners to better understand how open digital infrastructure is built and deployed.

We’re creating a body of research and implementation insights that advance our goal to ensure a public commons of technology, is sustainably developed and maintained, for the benefit of everyone.

Open Digital Infrastructure is a distinct area of focus that sits in intersection with a number of critical technology ecosystems such as cybersecurity, data, and the internet.

More insights are needed to distinguish how this digital public good (=open code, policies and standards) and its creators can be supported best.

Our approach is interdisciplinary. Inter alia,

we are looking for analyses on how underlying free and open-source software (FOSS) interacts with politics, sovereign responsibilities, diverse economic sectors, and the advancement of knowledge in the sciences and beyond.

we aim to back the development of pertinent work that examines the convergence of open-source software and digital infrastructure with social movements focused on democracy, rights, justice, the environment and scientific research.

we seek to investigate the issue of under-maintenance and occasional undermining of FOSS, as well as explore any geographical or other disparities within the communities responsible for providing and sustaining these software components amid evolving regulatory and socio-technical circumstances.

Our 2023 RFP thus invites new proposals to study the production, maintenance, governance and use of open digital infrastructure, looking at, but not limited to, the aspects listed below in our Funding Scope.

We believe that newly created knowledge can sometimes be best put into effect via pragmatic interventions like frameworks, policy work or strategic communications. Small-scale prototype implementations that translate prior research findings into practice are thus also invited next to original research, quantitative as well as qualitative methodologies.

Key Facts

Due Date Proposals: October 1st 2023

Selection of successful projects completed: October 25th 2023 (tbc.)

Research period must start: Between December ´23 and February ´24

Grant Amount: We seek to support proposals addressing a range of issues and different scopes that are in a ballpark between

$50k – $125k for 6 – 12 months projects, managed via Open Collective (exceptions possible for 18 month-proposals)

Number of Grants: We expect to select a total number of ca. 7 projects from the RfP #3.

Funding Scope

Open Digital Infrastructure – a Digital Public Good

The majority of code powering the Internet, creating operating systems or enabling application software to run is the result of the recombination of Open Source-infrastructure; like programming libraries, compilers or the implementations of open communication protocols. These components are created by individuals, volunteer communities, in research institutions and SMEs or other corporate environments.

Together, they form a foundation of free and public code that is designed to solve common challenges – firstly, in programming, but when applied, also to provide a multitude of core functions for society.

The benefits of open digital infrastructure, whether code, policy or standards, are numerous: it can reduce the cost of setting up new businesses, support data-driven discovery across research disciplines, enable complex but everyday technologies such as smartphones to talk to each other, and allow everyone to have access to important technical innovations like encryption that would otherwise be too expensive.

The production and governance of this common “toolset” is guided by standards, rules, decision-making procedures, and sanctioning mechanisms – and embedded in multiple large systems like the economy or law. Nadia Eghbal released a seminal report titled “Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure” in 2016 that described how the development and maintenance of digital infrastructure often favor specific corporate or government interests over the broad needs of the public. This can lead to significant risks to the open internet.

Collective action problems have been well-established over the course of research of the last 20 years, while f.i. the industrial organization of digital infrastructure was less well-understood.

In general, there is a growing need for specialized and updated knowledge about the production, sustainability, and security of FOSS – Infrastructure from different actors, as reliance upon those digital components also grows.

Among the areas that could be addressed by such research & prototypes are:

Longevity & Sunsetting: Open Source -Software Infrastructure Lifecycles, their social and technological underpinnings

Boundaries of Openness: Ideological Foundations, political economies & applied challenges in FOSS Open Source and its intersections with emergent technologies, data pipelines etc.

Tech law and other regulatory considerations for the long-term sustainability of digital infrastructure

Global Shifts & Localization: Demographics and further narratives of maintainership

Social, Material, Environmental (…) Dimensions of Sustainability

Of individual activity, responsible consumption and institutional support: Relationships between user-innovators, companies, academic institutions, & other entities in FOSS

The Human Infrastructure in Digital Infrastructure

Digital Public Goods & the Public Interest: Context Analyses, economic/legal frameworks & applied practice

Sectoral Adoption & Usage of Open Source from Basic Research to Field Work and Operations

Models & Measures: Defining and Demonstrating f.i. Risk & Criticality in ODI

History & Ontologies: Learning from Public Works and other large scale ecosystems for the custody and care of ODI

Legacy & Updates:  Bridging past and future paradigms of Software Development, Security and DevOps


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