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Top findings from the open dataset of UK makerspaces

We've published the open dataset of UK makerspaces. What have we found and how can it be used?

Over the last few months, we’ve created an open dataset of UK makerspaces. Our goal from the beginning has been to build something useful and useable for makerspaces, researchers, and anyone with a general curiosity. Along the way, we’ve gathered identifiable data on makerspaces’ locations, space, tools and materials, membership and users, amenities and services, external relationships, legal structure and founders, as well as aspirations and challenges. There’s also some anonymised data on makerspace turnover, income, expenditure and business rates.

While this data helps give a detailed snapshot of UK makerspaces, we appreciate there’s a lot to wade through. Anyone can use or analyse the dataset, but not everyone has the time, appetite, or capacity to do so. With this in mind, we wanted to share some top-line findings and opportunities for making use of the dataset. This information is explored in our open dataset user’s guide, which also proposes two approaches of comparing makerspaces in the UK. We’ve also worked with Lulu Pinney to create a set of infographics based on the dataset, which you’ll find below. 

What we found in the open dataset

The number of UK makerspaces has grown considerably in the last decade. While we found 97 makerspaces across the the country, only nine of these existed in 2010. They have also spread far and wide: nearly every city has at least one makerspace, while every UK region has at least two.

There’s a wide variety of tools on offer across UK makerspaces, including digital and manual tools. Digital fabrication tools were the most commonly reported type of tool, followed by general hand tools, electronics, and woodwork tools. Half of spaces also had computing tools.

The dataset also highlighted the variety of purposes makerspaces serve. Along with making, people most often visit makerspaces to socialise and learn. As such, most makerspaces offer additional services and support. Over half of spaces provide tool inductions, formal courses, and informal help to users. Some even run school programmes, affiliated programmes (like CoderDojo or Raspberry Jams), and qualification opportunities.   

Makerspaces are well connected with their local communities as well as other makerspaces. Most know their neighbours, and attend or run off site events. Over two thirds also connect with other makerspaces through online communities or direct collaboration. 

Approximately three quarters of makerspaces have some form of membership, although over half welcome the public during set hours. Members are predominantly male, however, with less than one in five makerspaces having over 50 per cent female members.

Nearly half of makerspaces were founded by informal groups, although a considerable minority were established by existing businesses and organisations. Despite these informal beginnings, most makerspaces have adopted a formal legal structure. Only one fifth of makerspaces are informal collaborations or unincorporated, while over half are registered as some kind of company. 

Income sources are also diverse, and can include corporate income, grants or public funds, membership, training and courses, space or desk hire, shops and cafes, donations, and sponsorship. Meanwhile, over one third of makerspaces don’t have memberhip fees.

Opportunities for the dataset

Creating the dataset is only half of the job. A bigger question remains: how can it be used to inform and benefit makerspaces and the public more generally?

The dataset could easily be used to develop or inform public tools and resources, like a searchable map of makerspaces. We also hope makerspaces and makers will find it helpful for drawing comparisons, identifying gaps and opportunities, and establishing connections with others. 

We also hope the dataset will inform new knowledge and research. While our analysis provides headline findings, there’s still an opportunity to interrogate the data further. We’re also aware that this is only one piece in a growing body of makerspace research. For instance, Adrian Smith and co. at Grassroots Innovations, the Bit by Bit project, the Institute of Making, Pip Shea, and the RCA Future Makespaces are doing complementary research in the UK, while Massimo Menichinelli, Raphael Suire, Peter Troxler, Susana NascimentoTomas Diez and others are producing useful work in other contexts. Finding ways to connect the dataset with other insights could do a lot to advance our collective knowledge of makerspaces, and help address some of the more complex questions surrounding their distinctiveness, function and impact.

Building the dataset has certainly highlighted more questions for ourselves. How do these spaces affect learning and education, civic engagement, entrepreneurship, manufacturing and design, and technological innovation?  What kinds of communities, knowledge, and content are emerging from them? What makes them distinct from other common spaces (like libraries), or sites of productions (like craft studios)? How can they influence more sustainable forms of consumption and production, or civic engagement? These are just some of the question we hope to consider in future.

Use, analyse and get in touch!

The dataset is now available to view and download along with the accompanying user's guide. We hope you find it not only interesting, but also useful and easy to use. 

We’d also love to hear if you use the dataset, and any feedback or comments more generally. Please get in touch by commenting below, tweeting at @andrewsleigh, @Freerange_Inc, @KathleenStokes or @Nesta_UK, or emailing [email protected].  

Author

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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Hannah Stewart

Hannah is a researcher on the makerspaces research project, making an open data set of UK makerspaces, for use by academics, policy and the makerspace communities themselves.