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.

About the speakers

  • Dr David Ribes

    Research Investigator, School of Information, University of Michigan

    David is a post-doctoral investigator at the School of Information, University of Michigan. David completed his PhD in Sociology and Science Studies at the University of California (2006). His research is based on three years of participatory ethnography with GEON, the geosciences network. His dissertation is entitled ‘Universal Informatics: Building Cyberinfrastructure, Interoperating the Geosciences.’ David traces the work of participants as they develop an ‘umbrella information infrastructure’ and shows how they are simultaneously building a technology platform, a scientific institution, and a new organizational form for interdisciplinary collaboration.