In Australia and New Zealand, the rationale for funding major national digital infrastructure used to be a market failure, so governments needed to step in. However, there is increasing commodification in this sector, e.g. Microsoft has already provided and is developing better solutions. This has caused some funders to reflect on whether to continue investing in this. The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) does not invest in cloud computing for the research community for this reason.
In addition, the linkage to (and knowledge of) international issues such as digital rights is varied. Impact measurement is valued but considered hard to achieve for digital infrastructure. In New Zealand, indigenous concerns are a key part of the local context. Te Mana Raraunga, the Māori Data Sovereignty Network, advocates for Māori rights and interests in data to be protected as the world moves into an increasingly open data environment.
“...The sector [technology] still lacks sustainable business models for most digital infrastructure for social good, especially open source.”
Digital Infrastructure Funding Landscape
- There is wide variation in funding practices, and funders are not very aware of how their underlying values are driving their use of certain practices.
- There is decreasing focus on open calls and more on developing an understanding of the sector and then choosing partners based on this knowledge.
- The perceived high cost of ongoing maintenance for digital infrastructure investments is a key challenge to increasing investments in this area.
- There is a bias towards open-source software, but not necessarily a requirement for it.
- There are sometimes issues getting enough qualified software development staff (beyond junior staff). COVID-19 has also made this harder, as people are changing jobs less.
- National policy can affect government investment. For example, ARDC’s investments are influenced by the strategic plan of Australia’s Chief Scientist.
- There is a shift from funding to collaborating (or even managing the funded projects in-house) to provide funders more control, and thus build more sustainable infrastructure.
- Funders do not necessarily see themselves as funders if they are not providing all support for a project, preferring to see themselves as collaborators as this implies that they are providing ongoing expertise, not only financial investment.
- As is common for funders, they do not want to fund initiatives in the long term. But the sector still lacks sustainable business models for most digital infrastructure for social good, especially open source.