FastLane Book
Charles Babbage Institute

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FastLane: Managing Science in the

Internet World

CBI director Tom Misa and associate director Jeff Yost have published a book-length study of the National Science Foundation’s FastLane, the agency’s core grants-management computing system.  FastLane: Managing Science in the Internet World appears from the Johns Hopkins University Press in 2016.  It is based on a unique dataset of 400 in-person interviews and an additional 400 online interview responses, providing far and away the most detailed and varied treatment of computer users in existence.  “No one studies computing with an ‘N’ larger than 100,” stated one senior NSF manager, describing the state-of-the-art prior to this research being conducted. 

The book examines the history of NSF from its founding in 1950 through the conception, design, and implementation of the FastLane computing system in 1990 and continuing to the near-present when various options for continuing FastLane’s critical functions are being explored.  It FastLaneexplores the emergence of peer-review practices at NSF and the flow of information (from researchers, reviewers, panels, NSF program officers and managers, to ultimately reporting on project results).  It is also distinctive among the existing historical works on NSF, which are limited to topics before 1990.  We last reported on the FastLane research project in the Spring 2011 CBI Newsletter, where we profiled the online interview platform that aimed to expand the population of possible interviewees.  At that time, we’d conducted about half of the total interviews, both in-person and on-line.

CBI has created a permanent online archive of the 643 interviews that are cleared for public access.  You can see an overview here with a pointer to the permanent DOI link.  Researchers can download the entirety of the public dataset in two large ZIP files.  It is stored in a new platform called Data Repository for U of M (or DRUM).  We have also added 15 interviews with key NSF staff members to the main CBI oral history database.

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