CS&S Launches Digital Infrastructure Incubator

The Digital Infrastructure Incubator will connect a cohort of open source digital infrastructure projects to research and experts

CS&S Launches Digital Infrastructure Incubator

Research on open source digital infrastructure communities has led to actionable recommendations to improve practices. However, to change practices within an active project, digital infrastructure teams need 1) to be informed by best-practices developed through research, and 2) to be supported and accountable through the process of real world implementation. With the increased importance of digital infrastructure, and proliferation of small grant-funded teams, it is critical to close the gap between research recommendations and real world practice.

CS&S is proud to announce a new pilot program, the Digital Infrastructure Incubator, a part of the 2020 Digital Infrastructure RFP. We join a cohort of an incredible group of 13 recipients. This work is supported by The Ford Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Omidyar Network, and the Mozilla Open Source Support Program in collaboration with the Open Collective Foundation. Among the recipients, our colleagues at Simply Secure are focusing our work on supporting teams to improve their practices in the real world.

Our pilot program will focus on a cohort of open source digital infrastructure projects. This incluabor will aim to put projects through a period of focused effort with the aim of exiting with greater stability and maturity. At the end of the incubation period, projects will be more aligned to their goals and values across three high level themes: governance, sustainability, and community health. We are hiring a program manager to lead this effort!

Research from the first Digital Infrastructure RFP helped inspire our proposal. That research referenced the need to help “... communities share best practices, at scale, and receive sustainable support” (Sinders) and “seek out opportunities for training and professional development around FOSS project planning and management” (Chua and Jacobs). This guidance is challenging for projects to implement without support and training (from peers and experts), freedom to iterate on solutions, and space reflecting the realities of making change in human systems.

Common themes in the existing research included governance, sustainability, and community health. For example, leveraging “good practice for lightweight, result-oriented FOSS project structures” (Lindinger et al.) speaks to difficulties in implementation of governance and community health (difficult to address inclusion with no shared decision making framework), and long term project sustainability (single points of failure). Encouraging projects to “actively recruit and mentor women developers to your project” (Dabbish et al.) speaks to community health issues, but is also a governance issue (pathways to leadership) and sustainability issue (recruit/retain new contributors). Ensuring a “project leadership team and plan remain strong… plans for software access, storage, archiving” (Timmes et al.) addresses sustainability concerns, as well as governance and community health issues (succession planning). These three research-based recommendations will be at the root of work our cohort projects will pursue through the Digital Infrastructure Incubator.

Supporting digital infrastructure teams with relevant, timely research-based support to expand their capacity is critical. A core goal of this work will be connecting people across disciplines and projects and to key research. To expand our impact,we will document the realities of implementation, and iterate transparently. We are grateful to the funders for supporting our work in a way that enables a deeper engagement with a cohort of projects.

Please stay tuned for more as this program launches in 2021!

More about the Digital Infrastructure RFP:

$1.3M in grants go towards making the web’s open source infrastructure more equitable

Major Philanthropies Tackle Inequality By Strengthening How Open Source Code Is Developed And Maintained.

Detailed descriptions of each grant can be found in this overview document.


Lindinger, Elisa, et al. The Roadwork Ahead: Evaluating the Needs of FOSS Communities Working on Digital Infrastructure in the Public Interest. 2019, https://recommendations.implicit-development.org/assets/IDE_REPORT_2020.pdf.

Dabbish, Laura, et al. “Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion in Open Source Digital Infrastructure Projects.” Ford-Sloan One Pager - CMU Final.docx, 2019, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fzDB5mKVkOwj2Gb-BFIxFGoFRKLq6x43/view.

Timmes, Frank, et al. “Digital Infrastructure in Astrophysics.” arXiv [astro-ph.IM], 8 Jan. 2020, http://arxiv.org/abs/2001.02559. arXiv.

Sinders, Caroline. Learning From Open Source Communities to Combat Harassment. 2019, https://www.fordfoundation.org/media/5539/ford-sloan-one-pager_sinders-final.pdf.

Chua, Mel, and Stephen Jacobs. “Conceptual Mismatches: What FOSS At-Large Might Learn from the Study of PyPI.” RIT Ford-Sloan One Pager Final.pdf, 2019, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1EoRtBpE0o_5NG-p10xzK5kundXfCfpVl/view.