[hackerspaces] What form of organization does your hackerspace use?

Koen Martens gmc at sonologic.nl
Mon Oct 19 11:36:54 CEST 2009

Hey Nick,

On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 05:08:58PM -0400, Nick Farr (hackerspaces.org) wrote:
> Well, this is the draft of the article on the "Board" form of spaces.
> I'm not exactly thrilled with it, so I hope you guys can provide some
> feedback to make the post better before it goes live on Tuesday:

These well-thought pieces of yours are really great to read and
contemplate! Keep em coming :) Not sure why you are not exactly thrilled
with it, you're hitting the proverbial nail right on the head (if there
is even such a thing as a proverbial nail in English language) with the
issues at hand here I think.

> in the future.  In my observation, what happens in Hackerspaces
> doesn't need to be managed or carefully organized.  Once Hackers
> gather in a space, they'll begin creating and collaborating in ways
> that are remarkably similar regardless of culture, language or
> organizational form.  Projects and programs that happen in one space
> can easily happen in other spaces, only marginally constrained by the
> organizational form in practice.

I think that is very much so. In my experience, almost all of the ideas
i've had along the lines of 'hey would be great if we would do such and
such in the space...' would turn out to have been had by other
hackerspaces as well. Our shared interests makes us come up with the
same cool projects independently of each other.

> This series was inspired by Koen Martins, who also describes
> Revelation Space as a hybrid of the Membership and Board forms:

My last name is Martens btw, not Martins :)

> Conclusion
> The Board form is good for Bootstrapping, and depending on the
> environment, a next best form to the Membership model.  Hackers are
> generally bad at paperwork and group dynamics, so having a Board to
> take care of the administrative overhead and mediate disputes can help
> ensure continuity and sustainability.  It also works well as a hybrid
> with other forms, or as a means for acting as a firewall between
> Angels, Owners and Members.

Especially when bootstrapping, a board can bring the agility needed to
get things off the ground. Especially in the first weeks/months a lot of
decisions need to be made, while at the same time the membership is
still getting used to each other and the whole idea. Having to discuss
all these decisions with the membership at large (apart from the fact
that we currently have no actual membership defined as we are still in
the process of forming the legal entity) will slow down the process of
setting up the space a lot. 

Of course, we, as a board, are listening closely to what the potential
membership wants, and actively seek the opinion of everyone involved in
the space. In any volunteer-driven organization you will see different
levels of commitment. In my experience, those that become part of the
board have a high level of commitment, and don't mind pulling in a few
extra hours for the greater good.

My ideal organisational form would be the membership, but as you quite
clearly explain in your latest installment, there are all kinds of 
practicalities that influence how that ideal is finally manifesting
itself in reality. I'm pragmatic enough to let go of the ideal just
enough to make things work in practice, while at the same time holding
on to the core value of the ideal: participation, a feeling of belonging
and ownership shared by all participants.

A final word about the level of commitment the board might show. This might
lead to a new anti-pattern: some members may fall into a consumer-like attitude.
Expect the board to do the heavy lifting, and merely consume what the spaces
makes available. The board members, by nature, will have a tendency to
pick up work that is left undone, because they have a strong drive to
'make it work'. That might lead to overworked board members, an apathic
membership, and failure of the space. That's a doom scenario, and
normally there will be someone to pull on the emergency break before
this happens. But still, something to be aware of I think.



K.F.J. Martens, Sonologic, http://www.sonologic.nl/
Networking, hosting, embedded systems, unix, artificial intelligence.
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