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Strategies for the Long-Term in Infrastructure Design

26 Mar 2007

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 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?

In this presentation, David Ribes 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.

This seminar was jointly organized with 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.