[hackerspaces] RANT!: SO VERY frustrated with lack of local activity :( Warning: some negative energy present - sorry

B F bakmthiscl at gmail.com
Sat Nov 26 15:58:24 CET 2011

Well, potlucks are tough on people who (1) live far away, or (2) don't
cook, or (3) hold to some special or unusual diet that others probably
would not care for, or (4) work late and don't have time to prepare a
dish, or (5) don't have a lot of money to spend on store-bought
entrees for six.

I suggest instead, "potluck snacks," with chips, dips, cookies, and
that sort of thing suggested.  It takes the stress off and leaves it
open for the person who really wants to spend the time and effort and
money preparing "buffalo wings like grampa used to make"...

Now as to the core issue -- "Frustrated" has a real problem.  I don't
know anything worse than an organizational problem of this sort.   I
agree with those who said, in effect, "be there".  If nobody holds
down the fort, there soon will be no fort.

But I don't have an answer.  I do have some ideas of my own that may
be relevant, however.

First of all, at any meeting, you must have a rule about "air time".
The talkers cannot be allowed to dominate all of the meeting time.
Nothing turns off folks "slower on the draw" with their comments than
somebody who always jumps into the silence first with their brainless
(or not) comments.  A strict chairman is needed to squelch discussion
that is one-sided, nothing but ranting, irrelevant to the point, or
just runs over this one person's allowable airtime.  However
undemocratic it may seem to cut off a person, it's more undemocratic
NOT to allow everybody to talk.

To this end, meetings should be conducted according to Wolfe's Rules of Order:

You can probably find these books used for cheap, as they two editions
are 30 and 20 years old, respectively.  Most of this book you can
skim, but the rules in the appendix are relevant.  One part NOT to
skim is how to conduct meetings -- it's highly relevant to any

Now, as to motivating people -- I don't know how to do it in a
makerspace, specifically, but I'm a founding member of a crafts group
and wrote the bylaws for it (which, unfortunately, are rather
inapplicable to a makerspace).  These bylaws essentially set up a club
within a club.   The board of directors is the "inside" club that
controls the money, makes all decisions, runs most, if not all, the
activities, etc.

The general membership is the outside club.  These people pay (rather
low) dues, get a newsletter, can show up at any meeting, and can
participate in our many workshops (for an additional fee).  They are
called upon to make small donations at meetings for a Chinese auction
to raise money, and to buy tickets for the auction, and usually do so,
but are under no real obligation to.

Some of the members NEVER show up to any events, but apparently are
content to receive the newsletter four times a year.  Some of these
even pay MORE money to be "business members" which entitles them to a
listing in our quarterly newsletter, and maybe one or two other minor

Now, in any "normal" volunteer organization, this organizational
pattern would represent a clique controlling the club.  There are
three main differences here.  The more important of these is that,
while the directors are elected annually by the membership, the
directors can elect new directors between elections.  Indeed, most
directors get their start on the board in this manner.

The effect of this is that when someone new shows up and starts
getting active, he's brought a-board (sorry about that) almost
immediately.  New members, as we all know, are often the most

A "normal" volunteer organization would prevent the new person from
getting active in the way he wanted, and probably twist his arm into
accepting one of the dreaded chairmanships.*  Maybe  a year or two
later the old newcomer would be elected to the post of correspondence
secretary (who does what exactly?) or third vice president.  By this
time, any enthusiasm he had is long gone.

In our case, we've had some of our most active directors arise from
those brought in by the board.  One of these opens his shop EVERY
week.  (This would be equivalent to hosting a makerspace yourself once
a week.)  Another, a professional bladesmith, has only been a director
for about three years and has given at least two demos and held at
least four workshops -- the latter being fund-raisers for the group.

The second main difference is that this organization has no officers.
The entire board shoulders the responsibility of running the
organization.  If the "chairman" disappears to go skiing, instead of
chairing the meeting, another director takes the chair.  Of course, we
must have a treasurer and an editor by the nature of those posts, but
those can be changed at the whim of the board.  But the absence of
officers means that there are no entrenched persons to get in the way
of new ideas.*

The third main difference may be more or less important than the other
two, or may just be a corollary to the first:  There's no limit to the
size of the board.  In principal, ALL the membership could be on the
board.  This will never happen because most members aren't interested
enough.  But removing the limit removes a lot of artificial obstacles
that groups place in the face of volunteers.**

Now, how does this apply to makerspaces?  I'm not sure.  One thing is
that it presents a possible model for running the space -- a board of
active people who have the power.  This immediately precludes too many
"talkers" (not that our board can't get going sometimes -- the
chairman has to be ready to end discussions).  By moving away from a
strict democracy that includes every warm body that shows up, you get
an organization with some coherent, definable -- though mutable --

The essence of this idea is that the group does NOT have to listen to
and vote on the ideas of any so&so who walks through the door -- even
if he's a paying member.  But if that so&so sticks around,
contributes, and works toward existing goals, he can easily be elected
to the board where he can push his own agenda (but NOT run away with
the club).

My own makerspace is in its infancy -- a dictatorship of the
proletariat.  One guy does most of the work (and it was not fun work -
some unpleasant cleaning of the space, sorting of donated materials,
etc.), handles the on-line presence, collects all the money, handles
all (rather minor) acquisitions, etc.  Due to the nature of this
particular person, this system works.  The benign dictator CAN be the
best form of government.

We have no bylaws yet, but when we start down that road I plan to make
my opinions known (even more than I have already).  But what shape
this organization will take I can't yet predict.  If we come up with
some stellar organization plan, I'll get back to this group about it,
but I see that as at least a year away.

*Chairmen are inevitably without committees, of course, the idea being
that they should raise their own committees.  A highly gregarious
person can actually sometimes do this, but not many people fill that
bill.  As a result, most committees are committees of one.  Officers
are often unsuited to the job because they were shunted into it rather
than into the job they really want to do -- which is held by somebody
Worse, some of these folks -- especially long-standing officers --
turn into little dictators and won't let anything get past them they
don't initiate.  They become roadblocks or at least bottlenecks.  And
this is not to criticize them -- they usually have excellent reasons.
Furthermore, many members refuse to stand to elections against
long-standing officers.  This could be because they like the guy in
office, even if they think they could do better themselves.  Or it
could be because they're newbies and have no confidence in winning
such an election.**  Furthermore, such elections can breed resentments
and hostilities.
All of this renders the organization moribund.

**One of the worst obstacles to new, enthusiastic members is
competitive elections.  To whit:  a person volunteers his time and
effort to help a group and then gets DEFEATED in an election?  To
some, this can be public humiliation.  Even those who view it with
greater equanimity cannot enjoy the outcome.  What justice in that?
Instead, just let him help to the extent he wishes -- power within the
group will shake out as a function of activity.  (We're fifteen years
old, now, and I assure you this works.)  BTW, inactive directors are
dropped from the board after about a year.  We're not too strict about
this as an inactive director is essentially harmless.  But the quorum
is based upon the size of the board, so we don't want a lot of
directors who never show up at meetings.

One more thing -- and this is almost a complete change of subject -- I
have the magic key to getting people to volunteer to help.  Ask them.
In person.  One-on-one.  And NEVER in public.  If you walk up to a
lone person and explain the need and specifically ask him if he would
help, you are making the need personal and are not embarrassing him
into feeling he should help because of what people will think of him
if he doesn't.  By contrast, putting a call for help in a newsletter
or on the web merely informs people of the opportunity and doesn't
truly ASK them to help.  Likewise, calling on someone "from the
pulpit" to help is merely a public humiliation technique, and you'll
never get good volunteers that way.

Best of luck.

On Sat, Nov 26, 2011 at 6:40 AM, Arclight <arclight at gmail.com> wrote:
> We have good luck with potlucks. We even get a lot of the same people
> coming back!
> Arclight
> On Sat, Nov 26, 2011 at 12:20 AM, Ryan/baslisks <baslisks at gmail.com> wrote:
>> throw a pot luck, everyone loves a potluck, and when they are there,
>> surprise them with a soldering iron!

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