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

Gui Cavalcanti gui at artisansasylum.com
Tue Jun 4 20:25:27 CEST 2013

Nice work! The Asylum had/has a similar program - we had 'craft areas' 
and 'craft area leads' that were appointed to manage their individual 
spaces. One person would be in charge of machining, another welding, 
another woodworking, and so on. Usually we were able to get people with 
professional experience in their area to step up to the plate. This also 
helped start new spaces - our jewelry area, silkscreening area, and 
glass area were all started by enthusiastic members who wanted to be 
craft area leads and had expertise in new types of craft.

We ran into trouble when these people started burning out, especially in 
our Big Three (machining, woodworking, and welding). We have fairly 
large craft spaces with a significant number of tools, and it might be 
the case that the lead would fix the same bandsaw in 3 different ways on 
3 consecutive days. At some point, the craft area leads weren't getting 
to use the spaces they were taking care of, were getting upset about it 
and we needed to create a different system. We now have a staff 
facilities manager that works with craft area leads for some spaces, and 
takes care of some areas that don't have such volunteers on his own. 
We're hoping to hit a point where we once again have volunteers in 
charge of each space, aided by the facilities manager so that it isn't 
as burdensome.


On 6/4/2013 2:15 PM, Alan Fay wrote:
> 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 
> <mailto: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?
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Gui Cavalcanti, President
Artisan's Asylum, Inc.
Cell: (857) 389-7669

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