Narrative Futures is a series of different future scenarios created to spark inspiration on how we can shape the digital future in a collaborative, sustainable and equal way. We set out to break with current narratives that are introduced by Big Tech. Our goal is to reclaim digital infrastructure in the public interest – and start a conversation about how get there. Each starts with a potential future (🚀) and the current problem. (📌)

“Groundbreaking approach brings an end to the subscription trap”

April, 15th 2035 – For years civil society organizations have faced a shared struggle: The tech subscription trap. This trap has cost the whole sector millions of philanthropic money that went into the pockets of Big Tech instead of supporting social causes. This problem has led social movements into a dependence that they were unable to liberate themselves from. An initiative led by a group of progressive funders is now putting an end to this drain on funds. With every new grant they issue, they add a special budget line for tech infrastructure support that can run for as long as five additional years after the end of the project. Their goal: Empower social movements to make smart, future-proof tech choices.
2022: Interview-based research with civil society organizations from Germany shows clearly: Digitization creates dependencies. Many organizations struggle with the unpredictable costs-models for subscription-based digital tools and infrastructure services. That, in combination with vendor lock-in, creates a situation for growing civil society organizations in which they become trapped in cost-intensive services. Migrating data and communities to alternative services due to a lack of interoperability and vendor-lock is oftentimes not possible or very time intensive.

Challenges civil society organizations face are:

  • A lack of expertise and strategy development when it comes to selecting the right digital tools and infrastructure.
  • Deployment and maintenance of self-hosted, open-source infrastructure requires expertise and dedicated staff that organizations lack.
  • Open-source infrastructure lacks usability.
  • Commercial subscription models lead to dependence and vendor lock-in. While the subscription models are convenient at first, with a growing community and change of subscription modalities the price can suddenly blow the budget.

Starting points:

  • To help grantees avoid the subscription trap, funders emphasize the relevance of far-sighted tech infrastructure choices by issuing additional budgets for digital infrastructure and allowing grantees to maintain them beyond the scope of the project itself.
  • Funders provide strategic support for digital transformation with a focus on interoperable, open-source infrastructures that foster independence and resilience.
  • To improve the usability of open-source tools, funders might support interoperable, open-source infrastructure and add a budget line dedicated to usability tests and security audits.