Digital Infrastructure Research

Last modified by Unknown User on 2018.06.17 at 08:54:21 PDT

This space is being used to develop a response to the Ford Foundation's, "Digital Infrastructure Research RFP".

Problem Being Addressed (summary & interpretation of Roads & Bridges report - not a element in the Concept Notes template):

Much of the digital infrastructure on which commerce depends has been generated and is maintained through Open Source Software (OSS) projects and open communities. Open Source Software tends to be initiated, created, and maintained through social modes of production, rather than traditional capitalist modes of production in which the creator makes proprietary claims of ownership to maximize profits. Instead, the project freely distributes code and other resources under open licenses with the hope of maximizing social value through use not restricted by proprietary intellectual property claims. The process of social modes of production has generated significant innovation and in-turn has lowered the barriers for cycles of creativity and innovation through the development of gratis and libre digital infrastructure including frameworks, languages, standards, applications, development tools, etc. These intellectual assets have been used extensively by for-profit and public organizations as critical elements of their value chain and operations. Social modes of production frequently struggle to resource continuing maintenance of digital infrastructure products and services as the demand for their software product increases without corresponding levels of resources to supply maintenance and development. This problem is endemic to the mixing of production models, as traditional for-profit companies and corporatized public agencies prioritize maximization of profit, there is the tendency toward free-riding on OSS to increase profit margins and pass the additional revenues on to equity holders. It is in part the financial Free-Riding effect of start-ups, venture capitalists, and for-profit companies that has put the sustainability of OSS digital infrastructure at risk and along with it, the well being of the organizations that rely on it. The conundrum facing OSS communities and the users of OSS digital infrastructure is how to preserve and nurture the benefits of social modes of production, while also ensuring that corporate free-riding is reduced to a level that allows for product sustainability and growth.

Narrative Questions (from Concept Notes template)

What is your research question? (100) (final draft)

Most organizations considering OSS are unfamiliar with authentic open models of production, or how to assess the relative health of OSS communities. Decision makers lack resources to responsibly determine the reliability and sustainability of infrastructure which they depend upon. With such resources, “business readiness,” could be assessed while project success could be furthered.

How do potential investors assess the readiness of open source software projects and the communities that support them: What characteristics and behaviours are most beneficial--and are they present--to ensure the successful formation and operation, as well as long term sustainability of open source communities of practice?

Why is this question important to answer? (200) (final draft)

Open source software is now recognized as a feasible alternative to proprietary software, and a viable model for production, resulting in a growing number of projects and supporting communities of practice. Each of these projects and communities create their own cultures and cooperatives resulting in a variety of production and organizational models, without clear metrics for assessing their effectiveness and appropriateness, i.e. “readiness”. In addition, open source’s success has given rise to nefarious actors/motives who seek to capitalize on the movement's popularity, without qualification/investment. Identifying leaders, maintainers, contributors, free-riders, and even charlatans, is critical for successful adoption.

This research, and resulting outputs, will provide the resources necessary for decision-makers to assess the business-readiness of both the OSS infrastructure and the communities that enable it. The transparency these resources provide, we believe, will result in better decisions, and reduced risk, improving the potential for innovation, where cost reduction, collaboration, and sustainability are critical factors in success.

In addition, project maintainers will benefit as they may use the same resources to help inform their own plans and priorities--where to invest--so that their community can mature, become more dependable, and itself, “business ready.”

What research method(s) will you use to answer this question? (200) (final draft)

The research design will employ mixed methodologies including literature and artifact reviews, surveys, environmental studies, and interviews supplemented by historiographical analysis of specific projects and corporate users. The intent is to use iterative triangulation to derive variables that describe “business readiness” to be integrated into a maturity-indexing assessment tool. The tool will be openly reviewed for comment and improvement. The investigation will include:

  • Literature review of expert and popular sources to identify business and management expectations of a range of stakeholders when assessing OSS infrastructure relative to business needs.
  • Analysis of standard industry documentation—RFP/RFI’s, VC prospectuses, etc.—to identify expectations considered by decision-makers, investors, and end-users when assessing OSS infrastructure relative to business needs.
  • Interview industry leaders to identify expectations when assessing infrastructure.
  • Literature review of expert and popular sources to identify successful open source projects and key metrics that define successful projects, leading to review of OSS projects based on the previously identified quantitative metrics.
  • General surveys of OSS community and business leaders to identify projects perceived as “successful”.
  • Observational techniques to understand the environment and behaviors of OSS development and practices.
  • Interviews with OSS maintainers to identify best practices.

What data or other resources will you use to answer this question?  (200) (Final Draft)

The project’s research design depends heavily on data gathering from public sources--published reports, project websites/repositories, etc.--which will be triangulated with data gathered through private sources, such as RFP/RFIs, prospectuses, etc. used to invest in digital infrastructure. In addition to this documentation, formal surveys and interviews of business decision-makers and OSS project community members including maintainers, will be conducted.

Although publicly available resources can be accessed through academic libraries and archives, access to privately held data, and the availability of business decision-makers and OSS community members, will require professional networks and relationships. The Open Source Initiative enjoys an international reputation as the stewards of open source software, with an extensive membership of open source software projects and affiliated communities, as well as relationships with government and industry representation through a variety of partnerships and initiatives. This unique relationship provides access to individuals, projects, and communities who will have access to resources valuable to this research.

  • Organizational metrics (OSS projects and adopting entities): users & staff, revenue & costs, adoption & contributions, etc.
  • Operational practices (OSS projects and adopting entities): community & communications, roles & governance, development life-cycle, technical infrastructure, business methods & models, etc.

What is your vision of success? (200) (final draft)

Success is achieved with the delivery of empirically derived characteristics and metrics, which can provide investors and adopters a framework for understanding authentic behaviors, and assessing alignment, across OSS digital infrastructure projects and communities. Further, the same dataset should simultaneously help OSS maintainers reflect and improve authenticity to better position ("make ready") their projects for investment, adoption, and sustainability. The research conducted, and artifacts generated, can serve to improve engagement across communities, while reducing risk and improving outcomes for both adopters and maintainers.


  • Adopters and maintainers of OSS projects.
  • Investors, consultants, and policymakers assessing OSS.


  • Improved understanding of open production models and how to estimate the “business readiness” of a project and community.
  • Better and more informed decision-making on the part of potential adopters and existing maintainers.
  • Enhanced willingness by adopters to appropriately invest in the OSS project and community to reduce business risk.
  • Improved OSS project business readiness and continuous improvement among open source communities of practice.

Needs of marginalized and under-represented communities:

  • Ensure that the data and report is available in accessible formats and licenses, with a commitment to libre and gratis distribution.
  • Ensure research collection and subjects recognize and represent community diversity.
  • Multi-language presentation.

Tell us more about the project team and collaborators. (200) (Final Draft)

The Open Source Initiative (OSI): Global non-profit, promoting and protecting OSS, development and communities; championing software freedom through education, collaboration, and infrastructure; certifying OSS licenses through stewardship of the Open Source Definition, and; preventing abuse of the ideals and ethos inherent to the OSS movement. As the founders of the OSS movement, the OSI is internationally recognized as the authority in issues related to licensing, community, policy and practice.

Red Hat Open Source & Standards (OSAS): Seated within Red Hat, OSAS is dedicated to ensuring success among upstream communities that influence Red Hat's products through direct participation in OSS infrastructure, supporting community events that help promote projects, and education, ensuring adoption and sustainability.

Ken Udas, PhD: Principal investigator. Dr. Udas has led a number of OSS infrastructure adoption processes and overseen externally funded research and service projects.

InduShobha Chengalur-Smith, PhD: Associate Professor at University at Albany. Research interests include, and refereed publications on, virtual communities, OSS and technology adoption and Implementation.


We recognize that communities are strengthened through diversity in thought, experience, and demographics. We are committed to consider the role of diversity in OSS communities and sustainability within the context of the research and the execution of the project.

Created by Patrick Masson on 2018.06.05 at 14:37:55 PDT

Submit feedback regarding this wiki to

This wiki is licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 license
XWiki Enterprise 7.4.2 - Documentation