Governance in and of science
Given that the purpose of e-infrastructure provision is to support scientists in their work, the governance of e-infrastructure must be seen in the context of scientific activity as a whole. Science itself has a complex and changing governance structure, and it appears that the governance transition processes we are studying are strongly related to these, and in particular to the intersection of endogenous and exogenous governance of scientific activity, i.e. related to where “governance in science” meets “governance of science.”
As described by Gläser (2006) and Gläser and Lange (2007), governance of scientific activity has recently undergone a transformation. Traditionally, the main actors inside science have been individual scientists, who formulated research questions and communicated research results to their peers, and scientific communities, which regulated what questions were asked and what was considered as an acceptable answer, applying a broad set of governance mechanisms. Recognition and advancement being through publication, the role of gatekeepers in these formal communication channels (reviewers and editors) was a powerful mechanism for steering research activities: Scientists who made frequent or more important contributions to the knowledge stock acquired greater influence, more students and followers, and multiple gatekeeper positions.
The publication and archiving of scientific knowledge required the support of learned societies and publishers, effectively locating this major component of the governance of scientific activity outside science itself. Universities and research institutes employed scientists and provided the infrastructure for knowledge production, exercising gate-keeping power in both respects. The role of funding provider gave foundations, ministries, research councils, or even private corporations a place in the governance of science and the ability to guide the activity of scientists towards their (policy) goals. Variations in the relative power of these diverse influences gave rise to public science systems of different types, such as those distinguished by Whitley (2010): state-shared (e.g. continental Europe, Japan), state-delegated (e.g. the UK up to the 80s) and employer-competitive systems (e.g. the US).
Though much of the traditional governance structure of science has remained in place, in some respects structures have begun to change, notably through the success and growth of the scientific undertaking itself. The growth of scientific knowledge production has led to an increased specialization of skills, and the role of individual scientists in formulating and pursuing research questions has increasingly been replaced by teams of scientists or even networks of such teams (see also Jones, Wuchty, & Uzzi, 2008; Wuchty, Jones, & Uzzi, 2007). As resources have not grown at the same rate as knowledge producers, other innovations in research governance structures were implemented - such as performance-related mandates and funding, monitored target agreements, ongoing research assessments and the like, helping to steer the distribution of funds (Whitley, 2010).
The increase in the availability and power of services based on modern information and communication technology (ICT), not least the Internet, has also had an impact on the governance in and of science. In some cases, for example, the Internet has weakened traditional gatekeeping rights, by providing new routes for the exchange of the results of scientific activity (“open access”). Or again, some new facilities and services such as the pooling of distributed computing power, the sharing of primary data, remote access to research equipment, or the activation of external resources for scientific work have shown a potential to change the process of knowledge production itself, and to some extent they have already done so (Bos et al., 2007; Cummings et al., 2008; Foster & Kesselman, 2006; Gläser, 2006).
More broadly still, Benkler (2006) has described how electronic networks enable new forms of peer-production in communities (his main example is Wikipedia). Applying this notion to research activities and to the e-infrastructure initiatives we are studying, it may be important to distinguish between communities of e-infrastructure developers and (other) research users - one dimension explored below. Further, the wider deployment of ICT segments and integrates research activity in new ways; new actors are brought more closely into the research domain, with search engines such as scholar.google (Rieger, 2009) influencing the ranking and online visibility of scholars and digital libraries (Meyer, Madsen & Fry, 2010) presenting new opportunities to make data available (Borgman, 2007). As Heimeriks and Vasileiadou (2008) argue, these and other ICT-enabled changes to research do not represent a radical discontinuity, but complement and add to existing modes of pursuing and communicating research. As we shall see, this applies to the infrastructures examined here, especially as they are still in transition towards becoming established means of doing research.
The broader view of how ICT is affecting the organization of research is beyond the scope of this essay (but see Jankowski, 2009 and Borgman, 2007, for recent overviews); we focus on trends with the relevance to the issue of governance in e-infrastructure. A number of perspectives have been offered on related topics. For example, Fry and Schroeder (2009) have argued that how social sciences address the question of ICT transformations of research can itself be categorized into several different modes, including taking an active (‘advocacy’) or critical part in shaping how this transformation takes place. In this paper, we attempt to identify different modes of governance, which may then play a role in supporting ‘advocacy’ or policymaking3.
Transition to stable infrastructure provision
Star and Ruhleder (1996), in discussing general characteristics of infrastructure emergence, point to the fact that infrastructure provision emerges out of a certain setting with a certain history. They characterise the provision of infrastructure as embedded (in other structures, social arrangements and technologies), transparent (i.e. pre-existing, standardised, self-explaining, and invisible except in breakdowns), of more than local and short-term scope, learned as part of membership in a community, and shaped by conventions of practice in these communities (and shaping them in turn). They highlight evolutionary, systemic, and relational aspects of infrastructures. Others have argued that the transition of heterogeneous localised systems into more stable infrastructure provision requires adaptation and mutual adjustment in several respects (technological, social, organizational, cultural, legal, institutional, etc. properties) and the development of gateways (e.g. standards, protocols) which permit the linking of the local systems (Jackson, Edwards, Bowker, & Knobel, 2007). Along the same lines, Iacono and Freeman (2006) stress the bridging of boundaries between organizations, disciplines, countries, and the scaling up of the ventures as major challenges in e-infrastructure development. In relation to discipline boundaries, Fry and Schroeder (2009) have discussed the relationship between structures in e-infrastructures or e-research and questions of resource concentration and pluralism versus task certainty within disciplines, though the role of research technologies also on occasion cuts across these boundaries. Bany Mohammed and Altmann (2010) understand infrastructure as a public good, ubiquitous and ‘sustainable’ in the sense that it is “independent of specific funding streams” but sustained by “business models that guarantee the provision of the necessary funding” (Voss, Procter, Hewitt et al., 2007).
These points raise the larger question of what an ‘infrastructure’ consists of in the cases discussed here. No summary answer can suffice for all our cases, though it is worth noting, first that unlike the infrastructures that are normally considered as such (transport, energy, communications – which support whole populations), the infrastructures discussed here are infrastructures that support a particular part of the population, namely, researchers (Bany Mohammed & Altmann, 2010); and secondly that many (as mentioned) are transitioning from being ‘projects’ to becoming established as longer-term (infra)structures. In terms of governance, this transition and emergence of an infrastructure is in our view best described by the following six constructs.
1) Size and scope. A process of scaling up, i.e. growing activities in size and scope, is one of the major characteristics of the establishment of an infrastructure (Avery, 2007; Foster & Kesselman, 2006; Iacono & Freeman, 2006; Jackson et al., 2007; Star & Ruhleder, 1996). The providers of locally constructed and delimited systems are linked or assembled into larger networks. In the process, the number of providers and users grows and extends beyond the original areas of use. This growth, of course, has wide-ranging consequences for the governance of the system. For instance, local control systems need to be replaced by distributed but coordinated controls, and mechanisms to deal with reverse salients, i.e. the challenges, limits, and sticking points of system development need to be established (Jackson et al., 2007). An additional perspective on the coordination of the larger scale sociotechnical systems for research is that if there are long-established mechanisms within a particular discipline community, such as in the physics collaborations studied by Shrum, Genuth and Chompalov (2007), then bureaucratic organizations can overcome some of the issues of trust and governance that beset the emerging collaborative infrastructures that we are concerned with here, where socio-technical barriers against cross-disciplinary, cross-organizational or cross-national collaboration have to be overcome (Iacono & Freeman, 2006).
2) Embeddedness in user communities. Strong involvement of science communities in e-infrastructure development and deployment has been described as beneficial (Avery, 2007). Several of the properties of an infrastructure listed by Star and Ruhleder (1996) can be reduced to the question of embeddedness in the user communities. When a system has achieved this status, it will be transparent to its users and connected to other systems, structures and social practices in the communities. In addition, it will be part of the socialisation into these communities and new members will be taught its use and significance. The new support systems and applications discussed in this paper did not appear out of nowhere; they were typically conceived by scientists, adopting important elements and input from existing services (computing centres, instruments, data archives, etc.) and utilising existing contacts to funding and other stakeholders. These scientists may themselves belong to the communities of users – in some cases with support from developers and computing engineers – or they may belong to a developer community of computer scientists and engineers searching for possible uses of their tools and applications among domain scientists. In the second case, we would expect that at least at the start, the embeddedness in and interaction with the user communities is low, leading to problems of interdisciplinary collaboration between computer and domain scientists that have been described frequently in the literature (Barjak et al., 2009; Berman & Brady, 2005; Iacono & Freeman, 2006; Voss et al., 2007a). Others have stressed that the analysis of information and communication technologies in scientific practice benefits from the perspective of sociotechnical interaction networks (STINs) in which humans/organizations as well as material and electronic ‘nodes’ interact and become tightly and sustainably interwoven with each other (Kling, McKim & King, 2003).
3) Purpose and responsibility. As Star and Ruhleder (1996) stress, an infrastructure is not reinvented each time it is used. In order to undergo a successful transition, goals of and responsibility for an ICT-based facility or system of supporting science must change at the juncture of institutionalization (Mackie, 2007). Developers and providers must adapt to the change in the purpose of their activity - from the pursuit of research goals, which include the production of new knowledge, in the form of publications, software codes or artefacts – to the ongoing maintenance of a service to other scientists and potentially to customers outside of science. Within this transition and where applicable, the degree and form of involvement of the private sector also has to be decided. Secondly, and related to this, responsibility for the infrastructure must pass at least in part out of the hands of scientists and scholars into the hands of (newly constituted or existing) management bodies, which include administrators and technicians. This transition also entails achieving the best mix of centralised and decentralised decision-making and safeguarding interoperability in decentralised institutions and ensuring the transparency and accountability of resource provision and involvement of users. The necessity of providing and administrating a robust service will also result in a larger degree of automation and exclusion of human interference in day-to-day operations, a requirement noted by Iacono and Freeman (2006).
4) Elementary mechanisms of coordination. The notion of governance of interdependent activities is clearly linked to that of coordination. The discussion of the relative advantages of organizational hierarchies on the one hand and markets on the other to achieve economic coordination of interdependent activities was put forward by Williamson (e.g. 1971, 1975). Markets support the coordination of actors whenever they wish to exchange clearly described and priced goods. In an organization or hierarchy, coordination is achieved by routines, procedures and orders which are supervised closely and enforced. Others added to these mechanisms of coordination: Streeck and Schmitter (1985) distinguished spontaneous solidarity (community), dispersed competition (market), hierarchical control (bureaucracy), and organizational concertation (association). Powell (1990) and Thompson (2003) stressed the significance of networks as a form of coordination. Accordingly, in cases when the value of a commodity is not easily measured and expressed, the relationship between the organizations involved is as important as the commodity itself. It needs to be trust-based, long-term and reciprocal to facilitate successful exchange. In networks, actors are not as independent as in markets, but less interdependent than in hierarchies. The starting points of e-infrastructures are those of communities and networks (interorganizational, sociotechnical) coordinated by means of solidarity and trust. In order to make them sustainable, stronger forms of coordination (routines, procedures, and orders) need to be established, typically linked to (virtual) organizations (Iacono & Freeman, 2006).
5) Formality of governance relates to the extent to which agenda setting and decision making are structured by pregiven sets of rules or institutions and how compliance with these decisions can be enforced. Wittek (2007) describes how formal and informal forms of governance are linked to differences in the incentives motivating compliance, differences in the relationship between the actors, and differences in the source of legitimacy. Formal governance rests on material incentives (e.g. revenues or other resources, lower costs, opportunities for future development) and vertical relationships in which control is exercised by superior positions in the hierarchy or by either clients or vendors. Legitimacy is based on legally enforceable rules and routines laid down in contracts or binding agreements. Informal governance uses only social incentives (e.g. reputation, esteem), is characterised by horizontal relationships in which peers state and monitor the goals of coordination, and does not have strong means of enforcing compliance. Instead, compliance is achieved through reciprocity and reputational sanctioning.
6) Sustainability of an infrastructure is a complex issue covering several of the concepts described above (Voss et al., 2007b). At its core is, however, the certainty and permanency of the funding arrangement. In the history of infrastructure development we often see public investment at the start that is over time replaced by private funding sources (Bany Mohammed & Altmann, 2010). ICT-based support services to science are generally – at least in Europe and North-America – set up and funded by means of short-term public grants (typically not exceeding 3 years) issued by national research councils, science foundations, ministries, and international organizations such as the European Commission, plus some cofunding from the organizations in receipt of the funding (Barjak et al., 2010). Though second and even third funding rounds are not uncommon, projects need to reach beyond these short-term grants and find other funding schemes to establish themselves on a more permanent basis. It has been argued that oftentimes funding will need to come from institutional sources and projects need to be aware of this early in their lifetime to ensure smooth transition when grants run out (Mackie, 2007). Alternatively, market-based funding models can be designed and established (Bany Mohammed & Altmann, 2010).
Table 1 summarises the various aspects of the transition from project-based, potential infrastructures, small-scale support systems in a project environment, to sustainable large-scale infrastructure in a production environment.
Table 1. Two types of support system
| ||Support system in the project environment||Infrastructure|
|Size and scope||Few providers, few users, local scope of service||Distributed providers, many users, non-local (in spatial, thematic, or other respects)|
|Embeddedness in user communities||Not widely embedded, mainly pilot users and early adopters with a particular interest||Embedded, qualification to use the infrastructure is part of the socialisation into the community|
|Purpose and responsibility||Academic organizations focussing on technical development and scientific discovery||Nonacademic organizations focussing on service provision|
|Mechanisms of coordination||Solidarity, trust||Routines, procedures and orders|
|Formality of governance||Informal governance||Formal governance|
|Sustainability of funding||Short-term, grant-based, eventually renewable (upon application)||Long-term, renewable grants, user fees or budgetary contributions|