An open dataset for UK makerspaces
Are makerspaces the flagship workshops of a new industrial age? Will they overtake libraries as the new home of community learning? Makerspaces are increasingly being upheld as important sites and sources of innovation and public value – and excitement is high as everyone from governments to investors are looking to get involved. Amidst grand prospects, it’s worth asking whether the current landscape reflects these aspirations. How well do we understand makerspaces currently found across the UK?
But first, what exactly is a makerspace? Using the term broadly, we’re talking about public spaces with different tools and equipment where people can go to independently make something. While we need to appreciate the diversity of these spaces, it’s also important to think beyond formalised networks (like Fab Labs) and focus on spaces defined by a specific ethos (like Hackspaces).
A number of lists, maps and studies of UK makerspaces, Fab Labs and Hackspaces already exist. Still, many people are keen to learn more about UK makerspaces and their communities. We’ve yet to see a common baseline which matches breadth with depth. Building on existing resources and efforts, there’s an immense opportunity to delve deeper, gathering more granular information on makerspaces across the UK. For this reason, Nesta is planning to create an open dataset of UK makerspaces.
Our interest stems from a number of our programmes (past and present). Nesta has supported several makerspaces in recent years, including the UK’s first Fab Lab in Manchester, as well as Fab Lab Devon, Makerversity and Black Country Atelier through our Digital Makers fund. We have also explored how making with digital technologies can improve learning experiences and encourage digital social innovation. Shared spaces for creating and producing have also appeared as exemplary initiatives within the collaborative economy – particularly as they move us away from focusing on consumption towards more open ended, participatory opportunities to produce things collaboratively.
While the topic is familiar, this is a slightly different research project for Nesta – we’ve decided to take a more open and grounded approach instead of setting a definitive research question. In the first instance, we want to collect and share a rich dataset that looks across the UK.
We’re very pleased to be working with Andrew Sleigh and Hannah Stewart to create this open dataset. Both are longstanding members of the maker community with immense personal and professional knowledge of makerspaces. Together, we are committed to producing something that is both useful and rigorous. We are also keen to keep this process as open as possible. Along with blogging our progress, a beta version of the open dataset will be shared publicly for anyone to contribute to and review. Following this, we’ll publish a final version of the dataset on the Nesta website.
We hope this information will be useful not only to researchers (including ourselves), organisations working with and interested in makerspaces (such as the RSA, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, or the European Commission), but also to makerspaces and the wider maker community. After all, an open dataset can help us to map and analyse differences between spaces. Who makes use of them and why? What kind of organisational models to different groups use? How do they grapple with sustainability? For those with greater ambitions, this information could even be used to challenge hype and understand the value makerspaces offer their members, communities and the UK more generally.
If you are interested in learning more or would like to support this work, please get in touch or leave a message below.