Deadline: 14 June, 2018.

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. The benefits of digital infrastructure are numerous: it can reduce the cost of setting up new businesses, support data-driven discovery across research disciplines, enable complex technologies such as smartphones to talk to each other, and allow everyone to have access to important innovations like encryption that would otherwise be too expensive. Sharing code to address common challenges is in principle cheaper, easier and more efficient. It should also be noted that our digital infrastructure is a distinct part of, and inextricably tied to, a larger ecosystem of open source software development.

While the collective action problems that characterize infrastructure funding are well-explored, the economics of digital infrastructure are less well-understood. In 2016, the Ford Foundation funded a report by Nadia Eghbal titled “Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure” that 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 the ability to develop new, innovative research and businesses within it.

The Sloan and Ford Foundations would like to fund a set of research projects to further study these dynamics, with an eye toward better understanding the economics, maintenance and sustainability of digital infrastructure.


Ford Foundation seeks to support proposals addressing a range of issues and a range of different scopes. As part of your concept you will be  asked  to provide a rough sense of the size of your project according to three cost tiers. Please note that the cost tier does not indicate a length of time: proposals may cover any time range, regardless of cost. They expect most projects will fall into a 6 to 24 month time range, but this is not a hard requirement.

Cost Tiers:

  • Small: Under $50k
  • Medium: $50k – $125k
  • Large: over $125k


Who is eligible?
Individuals, Organizations (nonprofit and for-profit) and Academic Institutions are eligible.

If accepted, when would my grant start?
The grant start date would be sometime between October 1st and December 31st, 2018.

If accepted, will my grant come from Sloan or Ford?
It depends – it may come from either, or both. They will work with finalists to determine the best mechanism for each research grant.

Are there restrictions on publication of research?
They expect all output to be made available to the public under an acceptable creative commons license (or similar). If this presents any challenges, they can discuss details if your project is invited to submit a full proposal.

When you say digital infrastructure, do you also mean [insert term here]?
They  encourage a broad definition of digital infrastructure and recognize that this work goes by many terms: open source, open standards, critical infrastructure, and so on.

Deadline for application is 14 June, 2018.

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