Announcing Invest in Open Infrastructure

By dwhly | 14 May, 2019

Today, together with a set of global partners, Hypothesis is proud to announce the formation of Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI) — a new initiative to dramatically increase the amount of funding available to open scholarly infrastructure.

Projects like Hypothesis are extremely difficult to begin, grow and sustain over time. We were fortunate to have had early believers on Kickstarter, and then stalwart supporters in over the last 8 years in foundations like Sloan, Mellon, Shuttleworth, Knight, Helmsley and Omidyar. However, this foundation support is still insufficient to the longer term, larger funding required to bridge to a sustainable future for most open projects, including ours. Foundations tend to support early projects, but that support usually falls off with time. The kind of mezzanine funding that a for-profit technology might find from venture groups in later stages is simply not available within the ecosystem of non-profit, open-source projects.

The core problem is that the true consumers of scholarly infrastructure — namely the researchers, scholars and their institutions and agencies which form the gross majority of users — have the means to sustain it, but lack the structure to do so. The libraries know of a few platforms that they need and provide direct support, but there are hundreds of other projects for which there is no visibility at the institutional level, because they’re still early, or because researchers rather than institutions themselves depend on them directly. Projects like Hypothesis, like any technology infrastructure trying to scale over years to maturity, need ongoing funding until sustainability can be achieved.

What is needed is a coordinating system which can identify, track and assess open infrastructure across diverse categories and constituencies and make recommendations to funders who can pool their resources to sustain it. This coordinating system is exactly the idea behind IOI.

The system we imagine has two parts. One is an assessment and recommendation function called the Framework. The Framework will conduct a regular census, both of infrastructure projects, but also of needs from institutions and researchers. It will identify the projects that are in need, what funding they need, and then make recommendations to fund it. Those recommendations can be acted upon by any organization.

The second part we imagine is a function called the Fund. The Fund will act on recommendations made by the Framework, and will pool funds from a range of institutions and agencies to do so. There may be multiple funds for different geographies, different sectors, or different parts of the lifecycle. Other funding sources may act independently. The framework will gather the activity of the various funding sources and use that data to further help coordinate.

Assembling such a system is a complex undertaking that will take time. There are many stakeholders with diverse needs, perspectives and restrictions. We are the beginning of a process now, but I believe that we have the beginning of a strong coalition with whom together can accomplish this vision.

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