[hackerspaces] How to create a steady-state makerspace/hackerspace business model

Alan Fay emptyset at freesideatlanta.org
Tue Jun 4 20:15:18 CEST 2013

One of the things Freeside does is promote ownership of an area (we call
them zones and the people who run them zone captains, or space commanders)
in order to motivate volunteers.  For some individuals, being able to
arrange, modify, or improve an area is a rewarding experience.  As a direct
result of creating the zone concept, a metal shop, CNC area, woodshop, HAM
radio station, biolab, media lab, 3DP area, and electronics zone appeared.
 They don't all have consistent zone captains, but they each serve as a
good rally point for our member interests.

That is primarily what motivates me - unless you're extremely lucky (and it
is luck - talent, intelligence, or political skills don't matter) working
in a typical American corporate setting means you don't have autonomy over
the products of your work or the conditions of your work.  A hackerspace,
on the other hand, is a blank canvas to draw out the collective sum
expression of member interests with very few restrictions.  At least at
Freeside, we try to encourage space modification and we resoundingly say,
"Yes!" whenever a member wants to alter the surroundings.  It's only
"guided" in the sense of having a concept of zones - ultimately all the
decisions about the space come from the membership.

This fact of life in the US got me interested in hackerspaces.  Why would I
put my creativity, talent, and hard work for some other person's company
that ultimately doesn't reward the effort?  In a hackerspace, it's not
monetary compensation, but at least your work is valued by
others, tangibly valuable to you immediately, and you have something you
can be proud of making (and showing off).

One thing is the culture of your space.  Freeside switched from "Don't be a
dick" to "Be excellent to each other" a while ago, and it has definitely
helped improve things.  This is NOT an easy thing to scale.  We're
currently in a massive build out of our wiki to include instructions,
training videos, permissions/restrictions, and troubleshooting on each of
our various machines and other equipment, accessible via QR code sticker
right on the machine.  We'll see how this goes for the next few months, but
even just by discussing it on our lists, we've already elevated the set
expectations of what the minimum level of maintenance is.

We do rely heavily on our 15-25% most active volunteers.  I think this is
true of all hackerspaces, and perhaps all volunteer organizations.  We're
hoping that this structure at least carries us through Dunbar's number of
members (150).  Or perhaps the total number of membership stabilizes based
on our market and we get this permanent subset of volunteers that can
manage to run everything well.  Or perhaps the culture continues to grow in
the positive direction and everything just sorts itself out.  Freeside has
been working on many fronts and looking to see what works and what doesn't.

I would say start with your culture; good leadership, and good management.

Alan Fay
Director/Treasurer, Freeside Atlanta

On Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 1:35 PM, Al Billings <albill at openbuddha.com> wrote:

>  What do you do when your volunteers burn out and the machines are not all
> working right because it is no one's job to maintain them? Wait for new
> members who want to grease and align machines?
> --
> Al Billings
> http://www.openbuddha.com
> http://makehacklearn.org
> On Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 10:32 AM, webmind wrote:
> Is it really worth it to be 'so big' if it requires paid staff and no
> longer is free-to-access? wouldn't it be better to have multiple smaller
> spaces?
> _______________________________________________
> Discuss mailing list
> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss
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