[hackerspaces] hackerspace demographics

Matt Joyce matt at nycresistor.com
Wed Jan 16 23:00:53 CET 2013

>> it's also not a bad thing for a community to focus on their core values

For clarity this is a bit of an open ended statement.  Core values at
NYC Resistor for instance is "Learning, Sharing, Making".

I think it's important that communities choose a set of core values,
whatever those are.  I find it helps when you want to evaluate new
things.  It gives you a good starting point for the question "Is this
something the space should do? or be a part of?"

By core values I don't necessarily mean, "We're all going to hack arm
MCUs at the space.  And no Gingers will be allowed!"  I mean more of
what is the mission.

> The demographics of a community tend to be self-reinforcing.  If the current
> group focuses on their core values, they are likely to recruit new members
> with the same values, and that often implies from the same demographic.

Ignoring the implication of drawing from an isolated demographic.
Let's address the first point alone.  I don't see a problem with a
group recruiting members based on their support of the spaces core
values.  There was a discussion on the list about a space that setup
next to a LBGT center.  And they had been informed that some folks had
avoided going to the space because of that.  They decided that, that
was great because those same people didn't adhere to one of their core
values.  I don't see a problem with that.

What does a person need to have to function well in this community?
That is the criteria that core values define.

For instance using NYC Resistor as an example.  If a kickass hacker
showed up at resistor and routinely isolated themselves and never
shared in any way at all, they'd be failing to support a core value of
the space.  In that regard, they would not be a very good member of
the space or the community.  I see no problem with wanting to make
sure your membership embraces a core set of ideals that define your
community.  It will avoid conflicts, and it will promote a path for
people to find their common enjoyment of the space.

As far as the demographic thing goes.  I see that as an entirely
separate issue.  Yes, if your first four members are from reddit
subgroup netsec, odds are you are going to have some trouble
broadening the groups demographic.  But, I think it's absolutely vital
for a new space / community to identify their own values before they
do an outreach to other demographics and other communities.  You need
to know before hand whether or not the folks you are going to reach
out to will jive well with your community.  And the core values are
the things you are concerned about.  The least common denominator if
you will.

Example back to NYCR.  From the get go the core values were built from
the values promoted by Maker culture, as opposed to say the infosec
hacker culture.  That meant that the values were important to many
demographics... but not all members of those communities or all
communities in the world at large.  Plenty of crafters, artists,
engineers, scientists, even the occasional lawyer and/or ginger would
satisfy the core values of the community.  But those that didn't never
really joined the community.

You cannot be all things to all people.  At some point you have to
have a common ground to function well together.  Knowing what that
common ground is, is essential to survival and growth.

> Furthermore, when entering a new community, most people feel like outsiders
> even if they match the existing demographic.  If they don't, they are likely
> to feel like that much more of an outsider, even if the group does nothing
> to discourage them.

Again core values != demographic constraints.  If an outsider is not
on board with the core values of the space, they should probably find
a community that share's THEIR values.  They will be happier there.

That being said, outreach is VITAL.  And to do outreach you need to
focus on finding what things outside your own comfort zone line up
with your core values.  The Maker culture really succeeded in this by
offering the public maker faire events.   They brought in people with
no exposure to them or their core values and let them experience it
first hand.  Mitch Altman's soldering booth at faire's past and many
hacker events is one of the best things ever... but especially at
maker faire because the demographic there really was the public at
large.  Some folks discovered their passion for the core values of the
Maker movement.  And they threw themselves into the mix.  Others were
already makers and they simply found a new home / haunt.

I don't disagree that outreach is vital.  But core to outreach is
knowing what values to expose people to.  And then coming up with ways
to do that.

> As an example from i3, we had a group of aerial
> acrobats using our space and everyone thought they were awesome, but they
> were continually worried about wearing out their welcome.

Aerial acrobats are cool.  NYCResistor example again.  Does aerial
acrobatics satisfy the core values of "Learn, Share, Make"?  My guess
is, some do.  Making costumes, sets, new mechanical designs for their
aerial infrastructure.  But, I think a great many members of that
community are more focused on the artistic display of their own
physical skills.  And that is not in line with the core values of

So while some members of that community would mesh well, many would not.

I see no problem with a space saying, "we love you guys, but you
aren't really in line with what we do.  we'll help as best we can to
find you a new home, but we're really not on the same page."

> I'm not saying that it's wrong for spaces to have focuses or values, but
> that we should strive to be on the open-minded about applying those focuses
> and values.  We shouldn't require members to prove that they fit into our
> ideal, we should welcome everyone who doesn't work against our values.

I disagree entirely.  And I'd point to the failed state that is
noisebridge as an example.  The fact is, you cannot be a home to
everyone.  Otherwise you'll wake up one morning to realize that your
hackerspace is no longer a home for the paying members, and is now a
soup kitchen.  An extreme example, but the point is, that if you go
out of your way to accept all people who do not accept your core
values, you'll end up with a space that has core values you don't
believe in.  And your space will no longer be a hackerspace.  It will
be something else entirely.

> A diverse membership doesn't happen by accident.  It requires being actively
> welcoming to new members, and *encouraging* them to bring new ideas and
> skills, rather than asking them to fit themselves into what already exists.

I agree to a point.  As I said before I think there is a least common
denominator that is necessary for reducing conflict in the community
and ensuring that membership thrives as a group.  Bonds are formed.  A
community is strong enough to protect each other and continue to
invest in their shared success.

> It also requires reaching outside your current circles and comfort zone to
> look for new members.

True.  But you don't want just any members.  You want members that
really believe in what you are trying to accomplish.


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