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Mapping the UK digital maker ecosystem

From the tech-savvy teacher to the multinational corporation, all sorts of individuals, organisations and communities are supporting digital making in the UK. An ecosystem is there, developing right before our eyes. Still, there is so much to learn about this nascent space. Where does digital making happen, who facilitates it, and how do these individual experiences come together into learner pathways and a wider ecosystem?

At our building a making and learning ecosystem event on October 21st, Apps for Good CEO Iris Lapinksi shared a slide organising the UK digital making organisations according to age group, focus of activity, and location. This fantastic slide got me thinking: how can we map the UK digital maker ecosystem?

Nesta has published living maps, compendia and catalogues of innovation in a variety of sectors. Considering the people and institutions supporting young digital makers across the UK, I think there are (at least) five ways we could usefully map what’s taking place:

1. Digital Making by: location
Pretty standard for mapping, but it’s always helpful to know where you can physically locate digital making organisations and groups. Already, the Maker Map has begun crowdsourcing a global map of making organisations and spaces while the UK Hackspace Foundation offers an extensive list of its members. While a useful start, we can do much more to capture where digital making is taking place in the UK.

2. Digital Making by: type of making
Digital making covers a range of activities which require distinct types of equipment, expertise and support. An inventory of the different activities and resources locally on offer can help digital makers connect their interests with what’s available. For instance, can you learn basic robotics and mess around with 3D printing in the same makerspace?

3. Digital making by: age group
When working with children and young people, it’s important for parents, carers and teaches alike to know what age group an individual or organisation is equipped to support. Certainly, age doesn’t predetermine a child’s digital making skills or ability, but things like content and volunteer training need to be tailored. Tots and teenagers may use many of the same digital making tools (be it Arduino or Mozilla Webmaker), but it’s unlikely they will want (or respond to) the same kinds of projects or encouragement.

4. Digital making by: type of organisation
Who’s leading digital making in your community: local groups, charities, start-ups, international companies, or some other combination? Diversity is important. By mapping the different types of entities driving forward digital making, we can expose gaps and opportunities for collaboration across different communities, institutions and sectors –thereby fostering a more diverse (and hopefully sustainable) digital making ecosystem.

5. Digital making by: networks
Ecosystems develop when different communities and constituents interact. To truly understand how digital making is evolving, we need to make sense of the relationships and networks underpinning the digital making activities and resources on offer. Who’s funding whom? Who has collaborated or partnered on projects? Who’s lending who kit? Most importantly, how do different digital making activities relate to and build off one another? By clarifying how different supporters and experiences interrelate, we can ensure that digital making doesn’t just turn into an archipelago of isolated players or token experiences.

In the coming year, we want to try mapping local digital maker ecosystems using these approaches. Are there other methods we could include, or avoid? If you have any ideas or would like to get involved, please get in touch or leave a comment.

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Digital Makers

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Kathleen Stokes

Kathleen Stokes

Kathleen Stokes

Senior Researcher, Social Innovation

Kathleen was a Senior Researcher leading on Nesta’s policy and research work in digital education and the collaborative economy. At Nesta, Kathleen researched and written various pub...

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