Strategies for the Long-Term in Infrastructure Design

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29 March 2007


Dr David Ribes, Research Investigator, School of Information, University of Michigan


In designing information infrastructure, participants are planning for the long-term. The notion of infrastructure evokes images beyond 'a proof of concept,' a 'one-off solution' or a 'pilot project.' Rather, as Bowker and Star have noted, infrastructure is intended to be provide a persistent, ubiquitous and reliable environment. However, in implementing such projects, participants encounter multiple difficulties: how to design infrastructure before it has users? How to secure the continued commitment of participants? How to ensure the perseverance of the project in the face of changing technologies, emerging standards and uncertain institutional trajectories?

We do not yet know how to plan at the scale of centuries, or even decades. Within infrastructure building endeavors, the science of the long-term is nascent. In this presentation David compiles insights drawn from comparative ethnographic studies of projects seeking to develop information resources for the sciences (dubbed cyberinfrastructure or eScience). He outlines competing meanings of 'the long-term' and traces an extended example of a design strategy employed by participants. He argues that strategies of the long-term bring together and manage shifting institutional environments, emerging technologies and the organization of maintenance work.

About the speaker: David is a post-doctoral investigator at the School of Information, University of Michigan. Through comparative research he addresses questions of large-scale and long-term infrastructure design, the epistemic consequences of information technologies (e.g. ontologies), and transformations in the structure of science funding and policy.

This seminar was jointly organized by the e-Horizons Institute and the Oxford e-Social Science (OeSS) Project, involving the OII, the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) and the Oxford University Computing Laboratory.


79 mins

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