[hackerspaces] New Member Vetting

Sam Ley sam.ley at gmail.com
Tue Sep 18 01:11:29 CEST 2012

The Phoenix Asylum has a basic policy that has worked for the last 4 years.
However, I'm always looking for a better way - I think our method works
fairly well, but I also think we've been lucky. Our membership has a lot of
specialty tools, easily exceeding $50k.

   1. Prospective members must talk to existing members and get a sponsor
   (this sponsor doesn't risk anything formally, but does take on the role of
   managing the rest of the process described, and risks social capital if
   they make bad recommendations).
   2. The sponsor explains how things work at the shop, and chats with the
   prospective about their needs and what they intend to do with their space.
   3. The sponsor posts this information to the members discussion list,
   and gives the membership at large a chance to meet the prospective member
   (usually at our monthly open-houses). Members ask questions via email or in
   4. Everyone must vote on the new member - we require consensus to
   approve, and at least 50% of the membership at large and 100% of the board
   has to actually cast a vote. Any negative vote vetos the process (unless
   the issue can be talked-out).
   5. After approval, we run a simple $7 Colorado background check, which
   either comes back clean, or the prospective has a chance to explain it. IE,
   no one would care about a marijuana possession charge from 2006, but
   "stabbed 6 members of a cooperative workshop" might attract attention. ;)
   Background check results stay within the board, for privacy reasons.
   6. They become a member, and pay their rent!

The process sounds a bit involved, and we've never actually voted out a
prospective OR found anything worrisome on a background check, but the
process creates a few important feelings within the space:

   - Everyone is responsible for talking with new members and explaining
   the shop, which inspires a sense of ownership - something our spaces are
   always struggling with.
   - People are put in the position of having to "rep" for
   their prospectives, which makes them ask thoughtful questions. You get
   social capital for bringing in cool people, so members are always on the
   - *Everyone* gets a chance to vote on new members - no one ever gets to
   say, "I always thought he was trouble!" Future problems get resolved easier
   because no one feels like they don't have a voice in the membership.
   - New members feel like a part of the team more quickly, because they
   know that (nearly) every member has heard about them, asked questions about
   them, and voted on them.
   - Background check may discourage undesirable people from even going
   into the process if they know that people are going to be looking into
   their past a little bit. We make it clear at the beginning that simply
   having something show up on the check is not necessarily a disqualifier,
   just something to discuss.

Phoenix Asylum
Boulder, CO

On Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 4:40 PM, Charlie X Wallace <
charlie at finitemonkeys.com> wrote:

>   ours has been
> turn up, you’re a non paying member
> turn up and give us $40 ,you’re now a supporting/paying member
> turn up for a couple of months and you’re liked and there is a free
> keyholder slot, pay up.
> been two years, so far so good. no background or id checks.
>  *From:* Ben Brown <ben at generik.ca>
> *Sent:* Monday, September 17, 2012 3:12 PM
> *To:* Hackerspaces General Discussion List<discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org>
> *Subject:* [hackerspaces] New Member Vetting
> We've got an interesting topic going on our own discuss list about
> strengthening membership vetting, spawning from a member's experience in
> another organization that's now considering police checks for applicants.
> Traditionally, we've had applicants show up to a few open nights before
> the board votes on their application. Members who have qualms about that
> applicant have 5 days to speak up before the application is considered.
> So far we've only rejected a single person (because they didn't attend
> enough open nights) but now thinking about it, most hackerspaces
> (including ours) entrust a significant amount of equipment to people who
> we've only had very limited contact. As we're quickly growing past our
> founding members, I'm wondering how other hackerspaces have adapted?
> A couple ideas being thrown around are police checks (which most members
> are against), and having a member sponsor a new applicant (who risks
> their own membership to support them).
> What process does your space use and is it working/failing horribly?
> Cheers,
> Ben
>  ------------------------------
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