Hackerspace Architect: Trustees
What is the work of a trustee in a hackerspace organisation? You can find out how the Nottingham Hackspace defines this work here:
The above is a good description of the expectation of what a trustee does in terms of how often they engage and what they engage in.
I believe the real work needed in a hackerspace is leadership, direction and emotional labour. I think the work of a trustee is often conflated, if not in the description above, but in peoples minds as an organiser of infrastructure. At most, the job of a trustee is to empower those who might work on infrastructure.
What do I mean by leadership? In its broadest term, leadership provides an example to an organisation of how that organisation moves through the world. It means making a decision, even a wrong one and taking responsibility for it, saying, I decided this based on my best judgement in the moment. I made this decision and I stand by my reasons for doing so and I take responsibility for it.
What do I mean by direction? A hackerspace might feel like it has it’s own direction or no need of direction, but as any entity moves forward through time (in this we have no choice) there are changes and decisions that need to be made, there are forks in every road and a decision to go left or to go right must be made. It is the job of a leader to take responsibility for the direction an organisation takes. An organisation that does not move forward through time and does not adjust to changes, dies. It is not an organisation at all. Even an organisation that claims to have no leaders or need direction, is still influenced by something even if that influence is pure apathy and indecision.
Finally the most important. Emotional labour. This is giving of yourself to care about the people and the work of running the space. This is having a difficult but sympathetic conversation. This is looking at your own actions and being open to feedback, this is being forgiving and trusting when you want to be angry and vengeful. This is empathising with the people who would come to you as their elected responsible person, as their leader and as someone ready to step up and make a decision and stand by their motivation. This is taking time to influence people on an individual basis. This looking people in the eye, this is exposing yourself to criticism and taking that criticism this is pushing your head above the parapet to have it shot off. It’s blowing the whistle and then going over the top first. Or the courage not to blow the whistle, save everyone and face the firing squad for your decision (to over use a WWI metaphor).
I heard an expression recently, “Don’t tell the others, find the others.” To me this sums up the emotional labour a trustee can bring to a hackerspace. Simply talking into the void with group emails, impersonal signage and general calls to action influences almost no-one. When just anyone can do the work, just anyone will. The emotional labour of leading a hackerspace (even one with a flat hierarchy) is to step up and say, this is me, these are the decisions I made and I take responsibility for them.
Today’s thumbnail is the 1st floor at Maltby’s Creative Mill in Ilkeston.