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

nicolle superherogirl at gmail.com
Mon Oct 19 18:44:25 CEST 2009

you make a very good point about the creative direction of the 
hackerspace versus the management and legal direction.

i'm not on the board of directors of my hackerspace, but as my space's 
legal advisor i work closely with them.  the way our bylaws are drafted, 
there is very little authority actually given to the board of directors 
for much of anything: creative or managerial.  however, that may be 
reassessed or tweaked, since it seems rather impractical.  we still want 
the members to have as much say as possible in what goes on.  but, 
practically speaking, it ends up being the board of directors dealing a 
lot more with the managerial stuff, and the membership dealing more with 
the creative direction.  yes, we do have some members who are extremely 
interested in the managerial aspects of the space, but they usually come 
and voice their opinions at the directors meetings (which are weekly, 
before the membership meetings, and open to everyone), since that's 
where the meat of the discussions on such matters occurs.   the board of 
directors does very little, on the other hand, about the creative 
direction of the space...what projects get done, and how the 
infrastructure is built out to do that, never falls to a directorial 
vote.  if there's a critical mass among the members to start an area or 
a project, it just sort of happens.

i can't say we've completely solved this tension or found the best 
middle ground for it, though, and i really like this thread because it's 
letting me know how other hackerspaces are dealing with similar growing 
pains.  we're soon revising our bylaws, and i want to make sure that it 
doesn't take too much power out of the hands of the membership, but 
still reflects the board's heightened involvement in the managerial and 
legal issues--both because they are legally obligated to make sure it's 
well-run, and because it would be a bureaucratic nightmare to force all 
of the members, many of whom aren't all that interested in the 
day-to-day boredom of keeping a nonprofit running, to vote on every 
little day-to-day issue.


Seth Hardy wrote:
> one thing to consider that, as someone who was on the board of a 
> hackerspace, i found frustrating:
> it's all well and good to say "the board has no special powers, we 
> should be a one tier membership system." however, in certain cases (such 
> as when the hackerspace has incorporated and taken on legal 
> responsibilities under the corporation name), the board has additional 
> legal and financial responsibilities over the rest of the members. these 
> responsibilities include ways they are legally obligated to act, as well 
> as the liabilities if something goes wrong.
> the creative direction of the space should be advanced by the members, 
> but (for example) if someone's name is on the lease, they probably 
> should have additional authority or "special powers" (but only as much 
> as is necessary!) to enforce their additional responsibility and 
> minimize their additional liability.
> if you want to avoid thinking of it as "special status," keep the 
> management and legal obligations separate from creative direction. the 
> latter can still be run by the members and coexist with the possibility 
> of "this smaller group of people can kick you out if you light shit on 
> fire inside." if people act reasonably, the board will never have to act 
> with this kind of authority.
> On Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 06:17:56PM +0200, Koen Martens wrote:
>> On Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 05:48:48PM +0200, quemener.yves at free.fr wrote:
>>>> I think where we'll end up is a board model with heavy membership
>>>> consultation.  So about halfway between board and membership, I
>>>> guess. That's just my feeling, though.  Hard to tell.
>>> I have been pondering this a bit, if the hackerspace in Grenoble ever kicks off, what about the structure ? I think most problems comes from the perceived hierarchy between board members, regular paying members and occasional members. I wonder if a system would work where you would consider the "board" (namely the management of the space, the legalities, the inventory, etc...) as a project like all the others, where people are welcome to contribute or not. 
>>> I tend to value more the group of people and the set of projects and consider them independent of the physical space itself. If a space fails for any reason, the projects can survive through transplantation somewhere else. 
>>> Maybe this opinion comes from the fact that we don't have a permanent space yet here and that we are all somehow trapped inside a medium-sized city. But I wonder... There is this kind of hierarchical feeling that the managers of the physical space are the bosses of the group, I wonder if it is unavoidable. Sure they can veto some projects happening in their facilities (no amateur pyrotechnics here !) but there is no reason to give them any power to anything not related to the physical space management.
>>> What do you think about this approach ?
>> I see the whole board-thing as a necesarry evil, but want to avoid giving the board
>> members any special status whatsoever. It is exactly this hierarchical thing that may
>> lead to what I described earlier, where the board will have more and more work and
>> the membership becomes an apathic bunch. In my eyes, board members are just participants
>> who get to do some of the more boring stuff.
>> There's some questions about accountability that i'm sidestepping here though, who is
>> responsible if you all decided you _will_ have a pyrotechnics workshop in your space
>> and people get hurt?? You can have members sign a waiver, but what about neighbours? If
>> it comes to that, they will probably look at the board and sue the board, not the members..
>> Anyway, all this discussion about boards and organisation forms etc might lead you to
>> think that it is all about that. In fact, it is not. Once set up and organised, the board
>> is basically only responsible for collecting membership dues and collecting the rent. And
>> that's it. The rest is the fun part: projects, social events, etc..!
>> Gr,
>> Koen
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