Collecting makerspace data: why are we doing it, and why should you help us?
We’re now well into our project to build a data set mapping all of the UK’s makerspaces. We’ve spent a long time considering our survey questions and reaching out to people at all the makerspaces we can find. And we know we’re asking those people to spend a considerable amount of their time contributing to this common good.
So inevitably, we’ve thought about how we see this data being used, and in particular, what use is it to the spaces themselves. In this blog, I’d like to suggest some of the use cases we see for the data set, and what is its value for the makerspace, hackspace, fablab and open workshop community – why are we doing this, and why should you help us?
If you’re not familiar with the project, it’s worth looking back at our earlier blogs, and also taking a look at the survey form. And if you run a makerspace and we haven’t been in touch with you yet, it’s likely because we don’t know you exist. In which case, please do fill out the form for your space.
Our primary users are makerspaces themselves. There is rapid innovation in this space, which to those innovating, often feels like deep uncertainty, confusion or anxiety over whether things will work out. And we know that many makerspaces exist on very fragile revenue models, or at the mercy of external forces. So having some insight into what other spaces are doing, and how well it works for them, can be invaluable. It can inspire new ideas, or be a source of models that can be replicated elsewhere.
Who do we serve?
We’ve found that a defining feature of any makerspace is the community (or communities) it serves. Some spaces thrive because their location draws a very particular crowd, with identifiable needs. Some are embedded within institutions that give them a pre-defined role to serve that community. Some have more difficulty identifying who they can, or want to serve, and for them, it can be very useful to see how others answer this question. It can impact on the tools they buy, the layout of the space, pricing structures, or just the branding and tone of voice they use.
Machines Room Makerspace at LimeWharf in East London uses their space to host events and exhibitions for the local maker community. Photo by British Council.
What should we buy?
With constrained resources (time, space and money) it’s often tricky to figure out how to stock a space. Is there room for a ShopBot? Do we need a second laser cutter? Would a kitchen be better for our users? In these conversations, it can be useful to see what other people have. So our data points on tools, materials and facilities can give a valuable snapshot of how everyone else decides to answer these questions.
How can we grow our community?
Many makerspace founders are deeply committed to the wider community of spaces, not just their own. They might be looking to open spaces in new locations, or they might want to support others creating a makerspace in their locality. For these people, broad, well-structured data can be a valuable resource to identify problems, opportunities, and good practices.
How do I start a makerspace?
Those facing the most questions, and the greatest uncertainty, are the people thinking of starting their own makerspaces. We’ve come across many nascent hackspaces, proposed Fablabs and emerging community initiatives that could benefit greatly from seeing how more established spaces have made it work. In this sense, our data can function rather like a set of design patterns for makerspaces.
Is this makerspace right for me?
While the primary source of information about a space should be owned and managed by that space, we can certainly see value for a potential makerspace user in the broad coverage that our data set will provide. Breadth gives context that can help potential users understand what makes one particular space special.
For this end-user, perhaps more than any other, the way we publish the data will be critical. But that’s a subject for another blog post.
What’s going on with all these makerspaces?
Finally – and this will come as no surprise to anyone who runs a makerspace, and has had to field requests for information from people like us – there are many people from many fields, near and far, who are intrigued by this multiplying activity. Policy makers, local and national government, development agencies, academic researchers, journalists, innovation charities, companies that service makers, regulatory bodies, investors, community organisations – all of these people want to understand what is happening.
While we can’t promise that our data set will answer all the questions, and stem the tide of enquiries, we do believe that it will provide a useful reference, and make all of us better informed.
Ultimately, we want this exercise to be useful for a variety of people and groups. So we’d love to know of any other groups it might benefit, or ways it could be used. And specifically, if you would like to use this data yourself, and have a particular need, let us know, and we will look to see if we can optimise the data we collect, or the way it’s presented, to maximise its value.