What Makes a Makerspace?

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.    Pillarsvg

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.

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