Hackerspace Architect: One Node on a Network
In the blog post Dunbar’s Number the idea of smaller membership numbers for Hackerspaces was put forward. The idea being that groups larger than about 150 to 200 people loose some cohesion and become confusing and difficult to provision for and organise. Whilst the point wasn’t made in the post, the social dynamics of larger groups are often lost or damaged and hard cliques form, splintering the group up, usually into units no bigger than 150-200.
The implication of keeping the group smaller could mean a smaller operation, less able to provide a wide range of tooling. That could be okay if the space was one node on a network. That could be okay if that node was a specialist in one area it did really well.
Rather than thinking of your Hackerspace as a single point, isolated and self-sufficient, instead think of it as a node on the network. Start by thinking locally, what other organisations, workspaces, places, businesses, meet-ups and individuals have a relationship to your space?
Imagine a light airy co-working space, it has coffee available (and tea of course) large communal desk, smaller booths and lots of workbenches for light assembly in the next room. Round the edges are tools for quick and clean rapid prototyping. A smaller laser cutter, a 3D printer, hot wire cutter, vacuum former, vinyl cutter & heat press and large format printer. This space would be one node on a network. This node is primarily focused on meetings, co-working and assembly. It has a small classroom that is bookable by anyone on the network and enjoys a city centre location.
Now imagine a 2nd space, a little industrial unit equipped with partitioned CNC routers, millers and table sized laser cutters. The plasma cutter is capable of metal profiling and the welding area is well equipped and safe. Members have a small common room for socialising and keeping warm, it’s a little colder on the workshop floor.
These two organisations are different organisations. They have differing missions and objectives and even to some extent differing world views. However these organisations are aligned in a desire to democratise access to tooling and workspace, share knowledge and enhance the offering of innovative and creative activity in their city. There are many such places in the city, some are well known, some are yet to be discovered and some will form once they see the network they can get support from.
Map out these connections and consider which you could form a relationship between. In a city with 5 or 6 hackerspaces it would be possible for some of those spaces to take a deeper dive into a particular project area, perhaps one of the spaces has laser cutters of a larger size or greater quality and availability, another perhaps has a pottery kiln, wheel and lots of clay, yet another has a service pit to tinker with cars.
Many members will enjoy a deeper dive into specific areas of creative making and problem solving such as 3D printing, those members are very likely to align themselves with the space most orientated around 3D printing or the 3D printer obsessed person in one space might become a sort of ambassador to another space.
This might look something like the Bell System representing open workshops, small businesses (willing to help makers) and hackerspace, the nodes on the diagram not telephone exchanges but workspaces.
The key point about the nodes is that they are connected. Of course systems to allow these nodes to not only interact, but exchange access to their facilities would be complicated negotiations, however with time and a big enough network with clever enough and brave enough people in it a road-map or process could be envisioned that made this transaction easier.
A citywide network of this type would interface with wider networks, across a region, ultimately linking into national and international organisations with a similar outlook. These organisations might include the UK Hackspace Foundation, Chaos Computer Club, the VULCA and the FabLab FabFoundation.
What of larger spaces that already exist above 200 members? It has been shown that sub-groups work well, sometimes called teams. These teams could be taken further and form smaller companies with their own directors and the larger hackerspace itself becoming a network on its own, yet obviously still part of a larger city wide and worldwide network. This would to some extent free up the trustees and directors of a larger space, to concentrate on the cohesion of a little united nations of interest groups within the space. Obviously this forces the question of “which group would I choose”, I like to think of this a little bit like Star Trek and the different colour uniforms for the different branches on the starship. Some of the folks can choose to be general and there be a whole organisation for that. It’s a topic for another time.
Ultimately this is an advocacy for more, smaller spaces, looking outwards and not inwards, building systems together in a wider way and sharing a world view that is inclusive and inclusionary without trying to be all things to all people. It allows a deeper dive without excluding certain types of creative output. Not every organisation will feel that a network is the right fit for them, some people will always feel safer outside of the union. However I am certain that people work better when they are united towards a common goal with a shared vision.
Today’s thumbnail is 3x Ultimaker 2 Mini’s in the Makerspace at The Pump East Birmingham.