Every successful collaboration takes a balanced team to succeed and community makerspaces are no different. Like a well oiled race car pit team, miss one of the personas on your team, and the wheels might fall off. Below is a first pass at how to describe these roles that members play. This analysis is not to say that missing a piece means failure, but it is meant to better understand the roles that each member may play in a community. After visiting non-profit, for profit, and corporate spaces we believe that this model is a good starting point for a discussion to empower each archetype and elevate the community as a whole.
Here are 3 ways to use this list :
2. Plan for Success. Are you planning to start a makerspace? Is your makerspace struggling to scale or even to keep the doors open? Make sure your team is balanced and all of the personas are covered.
3. Define yourself. What role(s) do you play in your makerspace? Are you over- extended? Are you playing the role you enjoy the most?
Without the ability to carry out your persona with passion and joy, you will burn out and neither you nor your space will be better for it.
This may not be a definitive list of Community Makerspace Personas- did we miss any? Comment and let us know if this resonates with you or if there are roles we missed.
Located in Jeffersonville, IN in the heart of an area newly designated as an arts district and in the middle of rejuvenation we found Maker13. Maker13 is a for-profit makerspace where members join to make products for their own use, for their business use or to sell as a business. The embroidery machine is a big hit, getting solid usage and their laser cutters are almost always busy. Users range from a local real estate agent who makes special closing gifts at the space to folks whose goods are for sale on Etsy and other websites.
Tool/equipment usage is all taught through project based classes and completing a class gives members the ability to use the equipment for their own personal projects.
The space is also very active in the community ( see the photo of a giant light bright board under construction for an upcoming community event) and have a solid but growing membership who sometimes just meet for maker chat over coffee and a snack.
We are happy to have this group in our Indiana Maker family and look forward to continuing to see great things happening here.
We got the chance to make our first visit to a full production Rapid Prototyping and Micro Manufacturing Center the other day, when we stopped by First Build in Lousiville, KY.
I had to chuckle when our guide started out the tour saying " I have never been to a makerspace, people tell me I am spoiled".
A collaboration between GE and University of Louisville, but open to the public- First Build provides local makers ( or distant ones traveling through) access to all the tools you know how to use. Upon logging in, creating an account and signing the waver, you are a "member" and are granted access to their Maker area. This includes basic power tools, 3D printers, soldering/electronics, board reflow ovens, graphic design/CAD capable computers and laser cutters. The more powerful tools are in the Craftsman area, which is accessible only when you have passed competence assessment on the tool you want to use. There are 4 pieces of large equipment in the Craftsman area that no one other than staff are allowed to use ( impact of downtime is too large for their production needs). You can, however put in orders for those pieces of equipment and pay reasonable costs for machine time. It is important to note that First Build does not provide any training, so if you want to use some equipment here, you need to hit up youtube or other training sources before making use of the facility.
The GE staff who are located here have a goal to design at least 12 new product designs/product upgrades each year. If you are an appliance geek, you can design along with them- they have collaborative online designing capabilities. If your designs are used, you will share in royalties as well. Everything here is open and shared with contributors, a true breathe of fresh air in approach from a large corporation. The Opal ( for the good ice) is an example of a GE product birthed here.
University of Louisville students frequently use the space for class projects, and GE staff mentor engineering students for their capstone project. It is a win/win- with the students having access to production level equipment to learn from and GE sourcing great potential new employees from the students who pass through.
Since First Build is fully owned subsidiary of GE, they implement full 5S practices in the space and have daily 8:15 staff stand up meetings to discuss the priority of short batch production orders that have come through from GE and other special orders. A typical short production order ranges from 100-1500 parts. The electronics components they have for sale are all the standard GE parts, allowing them to go from prototyping to production easily.
We loved their signage, especially how they put links to manuals or instructional videos in the Maker room on or near all the equipment.
Like everyone else, we can tell them they are spoiled, but are glad this resource is reasonably close and available for others to share.
A special shout out and word of thanks to the good folks at Make Nashville who gave us a tour while we were in town for other business.
Things we loved/learned from while we were there. They made great use of Amazon wishlists by having a wishlist for each area that listed consumables and frequently needed supplies. Then that list was posted in the area. This allowed people to easily make donations of stuff, or to buy their own supplies and know they would be compatible.
We are officially requesting a copy of their new member orientation, as the gentleman who started our tour had been a member less than a month, but knew to make sure we signed in, had liability wavers and gave a great walk through. How many of us could count on brand new members to "get it right"?
Although they have only been in this space for about a year and a half, it looked and felt like they had been there much longer. Folks we talked with agreed that spaces go through changes in their lifecycle, and noted that they had just recently reworked their space and moved many areas around, accommodating growing equipment capacity and changing member interests.
Make Nashville, we do need to define an interstate partnership project....
I want to go back to that comment that David Norris at Cyberia Makerspace made. Even though it spun us down a different road, there was something important about it.
What he was referring to in the discussion about members was this:
There tends to be some combination of things that members of a makerspace come looking for.
Some members join and never make a thing. Perhaps they have their own fully stocked workshop at home where they tinker, or maybe they just don't have time or energy in their life to build right now ( a sad state, but we know it happens to the best of us at times). Why would someone like this pay to join a makerspace? They are either just looking for community or a combination of knowledge and community. These kinds of members tend to ebb and flow. Maybe they join to bounce ideas off of like minded people while they complete a large build at home. Maybe their way too busy life overwhelms even their ability to hang out with the cool kids. Whatever the reason, these members come, stay for a while and then sometimes drift away again...
Some of the people at a makerspace only sign up for classes and never become members ( unless you have a policy preventing this). There is nothing wrong with this. These are the knowledge seekers. Depending on how many classes you offer, and how much time and money they have, some of these folks may spend more time at the space than a regular member ;-0
Then there are the tool training/test em out folks. They come for a combination of classes and tools, but the classes they are looking for are not content or process-- they are tied to learning how to use tools. They might be learning and testing before they buy at home. They might be learning and prepping themselves for a new job opportunity. There are more than a handful of reasons these folks show up at a makerspace, but once the learning and testing is done they tend to disappear, unless you can actively grab their interest. Sometimes these folks come for a combination of community and tools-- they know enough to not have to take classes, but want to tap into the collective knowledge of the space in order to make decisions about a model or brand. This is a bit of an in person google search. Sometimes these folks only pop up at open hours , but never become members. If you are a non profit with a public mission, these types of users should be in your business plan.
A related class of makerspace denizens are the job shoppers. These are the folks who join, use a set of tools for a specific project and then disappear again. Unless they have a series of projects, they rarely convert to a more permanent user. Since this is part of the mission of a makerspace, this type of user should not be a surprise. The trick is to tie into a constant stream of them, so as one finishes a project, a different one is getting ready to start.
Why is this an important topic? Because at the end of the day, every makerspace has to generate a certain income stream. If you are not monetizing these opportunities, you will be missing a certain segment of potential income. There is a caution to this and a thing to take to heart--
At the very center of this venn diagram are the people who come for it all, the ones who are passionate about the knowledge and the tools and the community. These are people who become your core group of members. These are the ones who empty the trash without being asked. These are the members who don't just have skin in the game, they donate blood to the cause.
If you price all of these drivers too high without giving some break to the combination, you will make it hard for these critical core to grow and sustain. Work instead on growing your other member and customer types into this center core by talking and listening to the things that bring them in, and challenge the space to meet their needs as well.
At the Third Quarter Makerspace Makers Meetup (M3) this summer, there was a great round of discussion on attracting and maintaining members. David Norris, from Cyberia Makerspace in Indianapolis commented that they see members drawn for some combination of three reasons - classes, tools and/or community. Nods quickly rippled through the room.
On the drive home, we were sure that he was actually on to something deeper, and there has been a lot of discussion inside the Indiana Makers staff on this topic.
Within the broader maker community, there has been a lot of discussion about what qualifies as a makerspace and what does not. Most often, the discussion flows to examples and anecdotes of things we think are NOT makerspaces. We have gotten good at defining the negative space around the makerspace concept, but not so good at clearly defining what a makerspace IS.
David's comment spurred us to posit a potential inclusive definition of a makerspace. Indiana Makers welcomes thought, feedback and refinement from the rest of the maker community. This model will also be a discussion at the Fourth Quarter M3 on October 7, with the hope of coming to a consensus within the Indiana Maker community. This has also been reflected up to NOM for their comments and thoughts. If you have an interest in makerspaces, we hope to see your thoughts and comments in the discussion below.
Definition of a Makerspace:
A Makerspace is defined by the existence of the three core pillars:
Makery, Community and Knowledge.
Makery is the physical space where the makerspace exists and all of the tools and equipment inside of it. The space does not have to be permanent, but should have some defined boundaries at the time it exists. The space should have open access within a defined group. This group may be( but is not limited to) a class, a school, a company, a member community or the general public. Within the group, there should not be restrictions by role that limit the open accessibility. For example, a makery in a company that limits access only to R&D staff is an R&D lab, not a makerspace. However, a makery in a company that is open to all company members ( or all full time members) , regardless of job class fulfills this pillar. In addition, the makery is not bounded by time- it might be a permanent structure, it might exist only during the school year, or it might exist only for a few hours one evening.
Community is a critical defining factor in a makerspace. A makery without community is a rental machine shop of sorts. Those spaces are important players in the manufacturing and business economy, but are not makerspaces. Although the community in a makerspace is actually the live, breathing people who relate to one another around and/or in the makery, we believe it can be measured. A makerspace that has a community will have two things- the capacity to support ad hoc social interactions and scheduled community events that are disruptive to making activities. Support for ad hoc interactions may be as simple two stools in a corner,or as complex as full living room type settings. These are the spaces where community members spontaneously gather- to share stories, to explain things, to tell jokes or to commiserate/celebrate failed experiments ( just as examples). We are specific in defining the scheduled community events as disruptive to making activities because these are the events that bring together members who do not know each other or have not met, as well as cementing the relationships between community members who already know each other. Examples of this type of event might be cookouts, show and tells, movie nights or gaming sessions.
Knowledge sharing allows a makerspace to transmit generational knowledge, teach members new things, and is a contributor to innovation and self discovery. Knowledge is often defined as either a defined body ( something you can go read ) or as something ephemeral ( casual knowledge passed on during ad hoc social interactions). Both of these are difficult to quantify and measure in a space. However, a space that is brimming in knowledge will have classes in which the members either teach or learn new things. These are classes that extend beyond equipment usage and training. A makery with only equipment training is more of a technical school or a skilled trades training ground. The classes that are found in a makerspace may be project based ( "Build a basket", or "Make a Chair"); may be process or theory based ( "How to file a patent" would be an example here); or may be content based ( learning a programming language or "Electronics 101"). It is important to note that skills and equipment training classes are important and will certainly be found in a makerspace, but are not a defining feature of a makerspace.
The pillars can also be visualized as a venn diagram, with the three areas overlapping to form a makerspace in the center. At this overlap, artifacts of some sort can be produced.
Although interesting things and organizations exist in the other parts of the venn diagram, we would argue that these are not makerspaces.
We look forward to thoughts and comments from the maker community as this definition is further refined.
Makevention, hosted by Bloominglabs, is one of Indiana's best regional maker fair events. Completely free for attendees, it brings together academic breakthroughs and engineering, startups, games, and learning experiences for the whole family.
If you have never been, reserve the time at the end of August next year to take the whole family.
If your space is considering hosting a maker show and tell event, we recommend that you visit or talk with the folks at Bloominglabs for tips and tricks on how to succeed.
The MakerHive is a Makerspace in Elkhart Indiana. They started life as Make: Goshen back in late 2009/early 2010 and have survived and thrived through name and location changes.
The space is overflowing with 3D printing experts and 3D printers.
Member have helped to run the Midwest RepRap fest for a number of years, and the founders of SeemeCNC are members as well.
On an open night, members gather together, working on small projects, talking about ideas and collaborating on projects.
Every corner of their space, which exists on the second floor of the founder's business is crammed with making capacity. But as in every successful makerspace we have visited so far, there is always room for some fun and a quirky personality.
Collaborations in the space happened fluidly, with knowledge sharing a high priority.
Members in the space also create and sell add ons and third party parts for SeeMeCNC 3D printers as an online business. Some of the proceeds of this are donated back to the Makerspace to help fund new ventures and activities.
Although their space is currently a little tight, they are excited to be partnering with the Ethos Science/STEM center and will soon have a new Maker home inside that facility. We look forward to visiting them again in the spring, once their move is complete.
On August 25, 2107 we attended the grand opening of the Purdue Polytech Makerspace/Incubator/Class facility in Anderson. It is a gorgeous space, with great potential. We look forward to watching them mature and create great value in their community. Welcome to the Indiana Makerspace family!
We had the pleasure of visiting the folks at Inventors Forge in St Louis recently.
They started the makerspace in this ex-retail space, with a growing group who is passionate about making. Size constraints of the space did not slow them down- with a cooperative landlord, they haul the table saw out into the parking lot when they need to use it here. They have well equipped workstations for electronics, laser cutting, 3D printing and woodburning that are obviously well used.
Social Spaces are an important feature in any makerspace and they have successfully incorporated a nice discussion/snack nook into this space.
There is evidence of their quirky sense of humor and some fun found in many little details in the space.
Storage is efficient, and closet space is well used at Inventors Forge. They also added some walls in the space and created a great classroom space that easily works for 12-16 people. They frequently do workshops and classes in this space both for members and the public.
They were blessed to receive a grant from the state of Missouri that allowed them to expand and add a second space inside the local business incubator. This grant funded equipment as well as rent in this new space. They have focused the new space on expanding large equipment, and are still in the process of bringing some equipment online.
While much of the equipment here is larger, they also have a great collection of hand power tools and have added sewing machines as well, and are hoping to expand membership interested in fabric related making.
Thanks again to the folks at Inventors Forge for taking time to show us around, talking about your successes and struggles and having a great vision to continue to grow the maker community.