Makerspace organizing experiences

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A place to put thoughts about how to run a makerspace from people with experience.



Q: We use the Shop Lead model and have volunteers leading each shop. We have had some difficulty with the level of commitment.

A: I think what you call "Shop Lead" we call "Area Champions". Our Area Champions are in charge of an area of the space (wood shop, 3D printing, laser cutters, welding, etc.) and they have the power to make rules for those areas, ban people, and they get a budget to maintain their area. Occasionally people get sick of dealing with others and step down as Area Champions, but overall it's worked very well.

A: In my opinion, relying on volunteers for this type of mission critical support is a strategy doomed to frustration if not failure.

The first hacker / Makerspace that I was involved with here in Kansas City suffered the results of grandiose expectations of the roles that would be played by volunteers.

There was one summer where an entire new board had been elected and the education director took it upon themselves to single-handedly design the curriculum for all of our summer classes.

The time for getting those classes on the calendar came and went, and then they announced they had gotten a new job, and wouldn't have time to create any curriculum or any summer classes.

They failed to find a replacement or delegate any of the responsibilities, and the organization was forced to do without over a third of the revenue that we expected to generate during that time.

Relying on the work ethic and professionalism of volunteers is a heck of a gamble.

That alone is the primary reason why our Makerspace was organized as a for-profit entity, and has paid staff for all mission-critical roles.

Even our volunteer mentors and teachers are paid for their time, and paid well enough to ensure reliable and professional commitment.

That has been our strategy for the past 6 years, and so far it seems to be a successful one.

A: We use a Facility Manager who's job is to coordinate the other volunteers on specific tasks like maintenance, security, repairs, and improvements. They keep a list of who is willing to volunteer, and the kinds of things they can help do. This helps keep the expectations less "grandiose" and prevents overloading a particular volunteer. It also means the team is very flexible and members join and leave the team as they see fit. If something cannot be fixed because there is a lack of available volunteers or money to pay outside help, there is a single person to handle the issues, and give a consistent explanation (which is also an opportunity to recruit more volunteers!)