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. Last year, I wrote about the importance of this surprisingly fragile but critical infrastructure, and the dangers in store when it fails.

Now the Ford and Sloan foundations have come together to support a new wave of research exploring the economics, sustainability, and maintenance of this digital infrastructure—with an eye to strengthening it in ways that benefit us all. We’re seeking research projects that explore questions like:

  • What makes an open source project “critical digital infrastructure”?
  • What role should private companies play in maintaining a stable ecosystem of open source technology?
  • What are barriers to diversity and inclusion in the field of digital infrastructure?
  • How can we better sustain the open source community that maintains digital infrastructure?

In 2016, the Ford Foundation funded Nadia Eghbal’s report, “Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure.” In it, Eghbal 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 challenges in developing new, innovative research and businesses within it.

If you’re interested in submitting a concept note, we encourage you to read Eghbal’s report, as we are primarily interested in the scope of digital infrastructure as she defines it there. But we’re also eager for your creative thinking, and hope you will use the questions above as inspiration for your own.

We will accept concept notes until June 13, 2018. Read more about the process and criteria, and submit yours here.

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