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Sustainability and Infrastructure

Early winter has been a productive time for the Incubator! Participants have been reviewing resources; articulating visioning, value, and intention statements; playing with design for community-building events; adding structure to planning meetings; thinking about boards, steering committees, and other bodies; publishing articles; in addition to exchanging with each other in dynamic cohort calls.

Reflections: Sustainability and Infrastructure

The last letter promised some reflections and resources from the first module of the Incubator curriculum. Eventually, expect to see our whole program open and online (begging your patience!); for now a public version of the first module of the curriculum is accessible here. Readers will see it encourages participants to think specifically and expansively about a single challenge they face, elaborates an initial thematic discussion taken up in our first cohort call (more below), and builds bibliographic foundations for the three focus groups of this cohort, governance, community engagement, and cultural infrastructure for open source digital infrastructure projects. I am keen to receive community input on this module -- if you do go click through, please take a minute to drop your reflections in the brief survey linked at the end.

Thematic discussion in our November cohort call focused on sustainability and infrastructure. A short introduction to the history of these terms in English revealed how specific discourses have built up around each. We examined them to explore what is implied is the description "sustainable" and what makes up "infrastructure"? What informs the sense of common sense attached to each?

Appearance of

Appearance of "sustainability" in literature between 1980-2008. Source

The discussion borrowed in part from historian Jeremy Caradonna's Sustainability: A History to draw out that "sustainability is first and foremost, used as a corrective, a counterbalance, and directly tied to climate change." Working towards sustainability in our projects in the incubator thus prompted us to ask, "what are we counterbalancing? what are we correcting?" For many, this required that we zoom out to consider larger social and economic structures. Caradonna suggests working towards that corrective of sustainability requires balancing societal, economic, and environmental factors. Caradonna visualizes it like so:

Ultimately thinking like a "sustainist" (Caradonna's term) requires a multi-pronged consideration that includes the renewability and preservation of resources, their equitable distribution and access (questions of social justice), as well as sound economics. While projects narrow their focus on a single challenge they face within their focus groups, Cara donna's visualitation was a powerful reminder that there is no community engagement without sound governance, no governance without community engagement, and no healthy community infrastructure without resources to support the individuals who build and use it. While projects work on a single challenge during their time in the incubator, intentional design means they're thinking about many things at once.

We also considered the term "infrastructure," drawing attention again to a relatively recent proliferation in usage and buzzword-ification of the term, this time dating to the Second World War. We asked what this history reveals about how we think about and are interpellated (hailed, called into) discourses around infrastructure -- whether in the current political discussions in the US around infrastructure spending or in global philanthropic emphasis on building infrastructure, among others. What does the current emphasis on infrastructure assume of the militarized discourses from which it sprung? Where and how do these discourses imagine power to be held?

Courtesy @AVastMachine

Appearance of "military infrastructure" 1800-1950. Source

In the incubator, considerations of both terms happened alongside introductions across the cohort as participants wrote and shared visioning statements for their projects and worked to narrow down their goals for the next 6 months.


As incubator project leads put together, edit, tweak, and retool their visioning and value statements, many have been playing with the personas and pathways exercises articulated in the Mozilla Open Leadership Series. Across projects, initial articulations of these almost always surfaced men in institutional settings. Projects have been thinking about what less-traveled pathways to encounter of and promotion within projects could look like.

Several projects from across the CS&S family (including the incubator) attended the Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement (CSCCE)'s robust community event in November on Community Governance Models and have been going through the resources gathered and showcased there. Of these, the Community Rules toolkit has floated to the top. Other things incubator participants have been reading about governance include Greg Bloom's "Principles of Governing Open Source Commons."

Another recent resource of note from CSCCE includes their Inclusive Language Glossary, a slightly different effort from the Inclusive Naming Initiative. Both were relevant for our public event in December (discussed below), part of the Building Laterally series hosted by the Incubator.


The Building Laterally: Political Imagination to Support and Sustain Digital Infrastructure public event series is in full swing. We held our second event on December 8. Anti-Oppressive Frameworks in Open Source traced the history of efforts to diversify and build inclusion in open source while feeling out where the future of inclusion and accountability work in open source and digital public infrastructure might be. Coraline Ada Ehmke gave a powerful account of the pushback she and others have received since broaching, implementing, and insisting on the use of Codes of Conduct in open source software since 2013. Her remarks drew attention to the fact that while most open source projects today have a Code of Conduct, that wasn't always the case. Her account reminds us of the real risks individuals took behind things that many now take for granted. Sydette Harry invited attendees to reflect on the opportunities to affirm or deny consent in the practice of building online communities. Her remarks drew attention to the practice of defining relationships, establishing boundaries, and retaining the ability to say no. She emphasized the promises made to listen to and center Black women have largely not been kept and have turned into so much performative lip service not backed up in metrics, impact, or evaluation. Finally, David Ryan Barcega Castro-Harris, an abolitionist organizer and the founder of Amplify Restorative Justice brought a perspective from outside the OS-DPI community to push on the recent emphasis on "enforcement" of Codes of Conduct. He drew out some of the core tenets of restorative justice to suggest alternative frameworks for thinking about addressing harm and building accountability. Robust discussion with the audience took us to enforcement ladders and considerations of governance that continued on Twitter after the event. Check out resources collected in this event here.

Our next event in the Building Laterallyseries is coming up on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. Visions of Mutual Power looks to interrogate assumptions about meritocracy, do-ocracy, and other common frameworks used in discussing governance models in open source and asks what kind of power these different models are able to hold. How can we keep sights on building power in open source, public technology, as we continue to work on democratizing and diversifying? More description and registration here.

For those who missed it, the first event in the series, Labor across the Tech Ecosystem explored what conversations about sustainable work in open source projects might learn from whistleblowers and union organizers across the North American tech landscape. You can still check out resources collected in that event here. All events in the series are free and open to the public.

See You in 2022!

The next module in the Incubator turns to questions and practice of methodology -- moving from the what to the how of building sustainably. Project leaders will begin work with invited experts and mentors and we're excited to collect and share resources and reflections on those engagements. Stay tuned!

As we reflect on the closing of 2021, we at CS&S are continuing to feel out partnerships and collaborations as we imagine the future of the Digital Infrastructure Incubator program. If you're interested in working together, do be in touch.