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Community Makerspaces: The Cast of Players

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.

The Cast: 

The Dreamer/Visionary –  Every space has a least one.  This is the person who sees a big vision. It might be the vision for a really big  project, the makerspace itself, the community at large or how to change the world.  The Dreamers inspire us to be our better selves, to reach for something more, to crawl out of the muck and find stars.

The Questioners – Every space needs at least one ( maybe two) for every dreamer. These are the people who can turn a dream into a plan.  They are also the people who ground some of the dreams- asking WHY? HOW? and WHO?  are critical for success and prioritization. If a makerspace tries to tackle too many things at once, too soon- failure is sure to follow.   Without a dreamer around, questioners will turn to everyone else in the space and question their actions, which can cause tension and friction.

The Builders –  These are your “get er done” team.  They love to take a plan and execute.  They love to tinker and create.  They are the ones you find at all hours in the space, tools busy.  Without a team of builders, spaces and projects never get off the paper. Without a plan, Builders still tinker– and some crazy, amazing things may emerge.   Without a dreamer around,  Barbie and Ken dolls may end up headless….

The Negotiators –  These are the deal makers.  It might be cutting a deal with an equipment vendor, negotiating with a land lord, or brokering peace between squabbling members.  They make it possible for the really big dreams to happen, seeming to make resources appear out of thin air..  although we have noticed that first born children sometimes go missing ;).

The Bards – Also known as the Sales team, these folks sing the praises of the space, the vision and cool projects.  They work with media, talk to complete strangers by preference and breathe social media.  These are the folks who spread the word, helping a makerspace to grow and funding to appear.  Just as importantly, they are also the story tellers, the ones who collect and hold the history and traditions of a space and help to build its culture and community.

The Stewards – Last, but in no ways least are the caretakers of the space.  Every space must have at least one, and if you can grow a few, it helps to keep them from burning out.  These are the folks who care and nurture the space itself.  You know them, they know where everything is and they pick up after the last crazy round of project making.  They make sure consumables are stocked, they take out the trash and make sure the website is correctly updated.  They are the quietly beating heart of the space itself, keeping everything running.

Here are 3 ways to use this list :

Three Boys Dressed as Nerds with Mind Reading Helmets

    1. 1. Have a little fun- can you name who at your makerspace fits each of these personas?How have you thanked these people lately?
    1. Burnout is always a risk in a volunteer organization. A little thanks goes a long way.
    1. Remember, these are personas, not people so sometimes people wear more than one hat.


woman in glasses looking up with light idea bulb


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.

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Member Drivers

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:

member_driversThere 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.






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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.