Analyze Phase. The analyze phase is the refining of questions in relation to the topic and the application of research methods. This includes conducting historical analysis, observational study, and interviewing to expand the research scope through information collection and comparison with early findings.

Historical Context of U.S. Makerspaces

You can explore this historical research in more detail in these pages.

A portion of the research was dedicated to reviewing the history of and the events leading up to the proliferation of makerspaces. To understand the roots of the makerspace movement, it's essential to contextualize the history of modern manufacturing, spanning from the First and Second Industrial Revolution to the contemporary 'Third Industrial Revolution' and subsequent 'Maker Movement' (Anderson, 2012).

Before the first industrial revolution (pre-1800s), making and manufacturing predominantly occurred in homes, known as the 'cottage industry'. These makers had direct access to suppliers and would sell goods directly to customers, retaining all of the profit.

Then came the first and second industrial revolutions, during which time manufacturing innovation surged with inventions like the steam engine and production line, transforming lives and enabling rapid innovation. While manufacturing capabilities advanced, working conditions and wages declined. Workers no longer pocketed the entire sum of their input. The Second Industrial Revolution, as described by Chris Anderson, elevated humanity's value from physical strength to intellectual prowess.

Post-World War II, the 'Information Age' emerged, shifting the U.S. economy from manufacturing to services in the 1970s. Rust belt cities faced challenges as manufacturing jobs were off-shored for cost efficiency. While recent policy efforts aim to 're-shore' manufacturing, obstacles like finding trained technical workers persist.

I compiled snapshots of industrial events and technological innovation offering a high-level historical overview to contextualize the emergence of the makerspace movement. 

Makerspace Ecosystems: Mini-Case Studies of Local and Global Change-makers 

While this thesis mainly explored U.S.-based makerspaces; it was important for me to understand the phenomena, or landscape of makerspace models globally. This captures a more holistic view of the diversity of makerspace types and integration for the benefit of local communities.

The below sample text from the thesis paper highlight three makerspaces/maker communities outside of the United States, the review centers Sri Lanka, Accra, Ghana, and Shenzen, China

Mini-Case Study 1:
Makerspaces Empowering Communities in Sri Lanka in Response to Climate Disasters

In the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami that struck Sri Lanka, causing ecological upheaval, DreamSpace Academy, led by Aravinth Panch, responded innovatively. The community observed unusual occurrences in the marine ecosystem, such as a surge in eel appearances, caused by the Tsunami. To study the ecological changes to the ocean system, they needed an underwater glider which would cost over 200,000 Euros if purchased from a European manufacturer.

Harnessing the power of open innovation, DreamSpace Academy aimed to empower their communities and address environmental concerns. The makerspace team opted for a cost-effective solution. They researched open-source technology, utilizing 3D printing and assembly to create their underwater glider. This case exemplifies how makerspaces serve as vital hubs, offering communities affordable solutions and fostering localized knowledge in response to environmental challenges (Dreamspace.Academy, 2023).
Mini-Case Study 2:
Shenzhen, China – Special Economic Zone and the Open-Source Hardware Community

Established as one of China's first Special Economic Zones in 1979, Shenzhen underwent a remarkable transformation from a fishing community to a sprawling industrial and financial hub, now boasting a population exceeding 12 million. Despite its now high population, Shenzhen is a garden city. It was the first Chinese city to be awarded the Nations in Bloom title in 2000. Recognized as the world's hardware capital, Shenzhen is renowned for its role in assembling a significant portion of global consumer appliances. Embracing the ethos of the Maker Movement, the city is a vibrant ecosystem of makerspaces and innovation hubs, giving rise to the Maker Faire—a global celebration of invention and creativity, gathering tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, food artisans, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors.

Shenzhen's unique hyper-localized networked system, facilitates fast and cost-effective manufacturing, with open-source innovation fostering collaboration and rapid prototyping. The communal innovation ecosystem supports skills development from a young age, with individuals progressing from apprenticeships to establishing their own market stalls, creating a grassroots service economy with government backing. (Wired UK, 2016)

Mini-Case Study 3:
Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana – AMP Makerspace Initiative and Grassroots Maker Ecosystems

Situated in Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana, the AMP Makerspace Initiative challenges the narratives surrounding what is known globally as the largest e-waste scrapyard. Acknowledged locally as a hub for recycling and manufacturing, residents sort all types of materials including e-waste– taking aluminum from electronics, and melting it down to create building ornaments, barrels, and stove tops used by locals for cooking and selling food. People innovate with scrap parts to create their own welding machines to weld materials and empower local fabrication. The community exhibits a generational transfer of skills, where apprentices learn from masters, ensuring the continuity of this maker ecosystem.

The Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP), spearheaded by DK Osseo-Asare, is a collaborative effort aiming to reshape the future of the region. AMP operates as an experimental STEAM-powered innovation engine, combining the practical expertise of grassroots makers with the technical knowledge of students and young professionals. At the core of the initiative is the AMP "Spacecraft," a hybrid physical and digital making space with open-source building plans for a modular, prefab structure. AMP's approach includes customizable, transportable toolkits based on the preferences of local makers and a trading app for scrap dealers, offering incentives for environmentally friendly practices.

Contrary to the dystopian lens often applied to Agbogbloshie, Osseo-Asare emphasizes its transformation into a successful production ecosystem, positioning it as more than an ordinary dumpsite but a vast open-air factory where waste and scrap materials find new life through innovative making practices and grass-roots makerspaces. (Osseo- Asare, 2019)


Map of interview participants.

I engaged in interviews with a diverse group of 15 individuals, all with varying affiliations within academic and non-profit makerspaces. Notable interviewees ranged from students in higher educational makerspaces to established designers working from home studios, members of artist collectives, non-profit makerspace staff and leadership, fabrication technicians, thought leaders, and experts in urban manufacturing and innovation.

Interview and interactions tracking.

Out of the 15 interviews, I thoroughly analyzed 4, coding for themes and extracting key quotes. Conducted in a semi-structured manner, the interviews shared a common line of questioning, aiming to understand individuals' experiences working in makerspaces, barriers and challenges to makerspace development, and inclusive community engagement.

The initial focus of the interviews centered on interdisciplinary collaboration, STEAM education, and hands-on project-based learning, gradually expanding to delve into makerspace operations, community dynamics, and cultural aspects within these spaces. 

Each interview served as a guiding light, steering this exploratory research. The diverse perspectives provided a sampled view of stakeholders' experiences within makerspaces. 

Interview Coding

To distill insights, I employed In vivo coding using coding software and affinity mapping through a digital whiteboarding tool. Preliminary coding led to further analysis using 'Descriptive' / 'Concept' coding (Saldana, 2021). 

The overarching themes that emerged from these coding exercises revolved around challenges and opportunities in three main areas:

  • "Representation Matters", Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Matters

  • Operations and Mission (Mis)Alignment

  • Socio-Economic/Cultural Barriers to Entry (encompassing educational systems, skills, degree requirements, and perceptions of jobs in technical, manufacturing, and trades sectors

Naturalistic & Participatory Observational Study in a Non- Profit Makerspace 

Concurrently with interviews, I planned a two-day empirical research observation at a non-profit makerspacein Maryland. This participatory and naturalistic observational study centered on community dynamics, cultural nuances, accessibility, operations, and programming. Balancing the roles of a detached observer and an active participant, I explored the facility, immersing myself in the main lobby's dynamics during the naturalistic observation phase.

To study instructional content and behaviors, I applied predefined study criteria crafted from an autoethnography and observational study focusing on women, particularly women of color, in makerspace environments. 

The criteria targeted 'learning formats,' 'community analysis,' 'agency and empowerment,' and 'gendered roles' in making.

The findings of this study were documented in photo-journal format, with observations and insights notated along with photos. You can view the findings here.

The criteria for research during the participatory observations were further broken down into sub-criteria as listed below:

Learning formats
structured learning 
trial and error, hands-on learning
access to online forums/videos for continued education 
peer mentoring 
collaborative approaches 

Community analysis 
physical attributes, layout and integration
socio-cultural behavior, feelings of displacement or marginalization
operations and programs offered

Agency and empowerment
confidence in learning tools, materials use, and terminology 
building failure resiliency 

Gendered roles
nature of conversations, activities and values associated with making 
gendered language or labeling of people, tools, or commentary 

Collaborative Diagramming & Auto-Ethnography: The Potentials for a Hyper-Local Manufacturing Process

The below diagrams were developed based on expert insights paired with my lived experience working in the Apparel and Home Goods industries. These illustrate the difference between the design-to-manufacture process as an off-shore vs. a local production event based on conversations with other designers.

The first diagram depicts this iterative and cyclical process as chaotic and risky, especially for small-scale designers and manufacturers. While off-shored manufacturing is often associated with lower production costs, it can be costly in other ways that are not often discussed.

Offshore manufacture risks: 
  • Control over product development 
  • Itellectual property theft 
  • R&D, rapid innovation loss 
  • Knowledge of making, technical skill loss 
  • Environmental impacts 
  • Logistical cost, risk of shipment loss or damages 
  • Ethical/safe employment, fair wages 
  • Supply chain collapse

Off-shore manufacturing poses various challenges in terms of supply chain and product management. The complexity of this model can lead to issues with quality control, loss of innovation due to IP protections, costly logistics, and a breakdown of regulatory and ethical compliance.

In a more ideal state (depicted below), moving from phase to phase is manageable, iterative, and allows for rapid changes resulting in creativity and control over innovation. 

From defining the design, through prototyping, evaluation, and production, product managers and designers in close partnership with the manufacturers can work interdisciplinarily to achieve highly unique, well-designed, and well-constructed goods. Makerspaces and hyper-local manufacturing hubs or networks can fortify this design-to-manufacture nexus, while sustaining economic opportunity, generational knowledge, and technical expertise within the community. 

Benefits to small-scale, local manufacturing: 
  • Control over product development 
  • Intellectual property retention 
  • R&D, innovation opportunities 
  • Knowledge of making, technical skill retention 
  • Control and oversight of environmental impact
  • Ethical/safe employment, and fair wages 
  • Localized economic opportunity 
  • Hyper-local supply 

Autoethnography: A Case for Rapid Innovation Through Hyper-Local Manufacturing in New York City’s Garment District, read more here.

Speculative Collage: Process as Analysis and Synthesis

Adopting the research THROUGH design approach (Frayling, 1993), I utilized collage as a powerful tool for developing and probing conceptual ideas. In the realm of design research, where the ultimate goal is to derive recommendations or tools from research findings, collaging served as both a form of expression and a method for analysis. This technique allowed me to explore and synthesize ideas in a visually impactful way, proving to be particularly insightful in shaping the proposed final artifact.

To enhance the collage development process, I crafted a set of cards encompassing various categories such as materials, places, and stakeholders pertinent to makerspace development and operations. Using this card deck, I engaged in the rapid (re)arrangement of physical elements associated with makerspaces, generating a set of speculative questions. These questions, in turn, acted as catalysts for creative concepts, playing a pivotal role in guiding the formation of the collages and final artifact.

Speculative Questions
What if makerspaces were as common as gas stations or delis?

What if a makerspace was run by insects or by trees and plants?

What does a ( insert from below ) look like?
  • Maker-city 
  • Maker-mall 
  • Makerspace-ship 
  • Maker-multiverse 
  • Maker-briefcase 
  • Maker-swiss-army knife 
  • Makerspace as a transformer 
  • Makerspace in the year 2123 
  • Decentralized maker network 

Title: Show of Hands I, 2023 

Material: Make Magazine, the Best of Volume 2, 2015 

Made by: Author 

Cutting out every hand represented in instructional content throughout the entire 300+ page magazine, I separated the male-presenting hands and female-presenting hands to analyze the lack of diversity and inclusion in the content. Male-presenting hands were predominantly light-skinned and used in more wood-working and “builder-type” content. 

Title: Show of Hands II, 2023 

Material: Make Magazine, the Best of Volume 2, 2015 

Made by: Author 

Cutting out every hand represented in instructional content throughout the entire 300+ page magazine, I separated the male-presenting hands and female-presenting hands to analyze the lack of diversity and inclusion in the content. Female-presenting hands were often manicured and handling stereotypical crafty “feminine” projects, like making a pink light-up headband. 

Title: Spatial Collage 1: The Means of Making, 2023

Material: Digital Collage 

Made by: Author 

Photos captured by the researcher in makerspaces, including materials, tools, and activities. This collage is meant to represent the plethora of interactions and the diversity between spaces, also to represent the potentials of siloing and marginalization of members and makerspaces themselves. 

Title: Spatial Collage 2: Maker Mall, 2023 

Material: Digital Collage 

Made by: Author 

For this collage, I used two of the speculative prompts: “What if makerspaces were as common as gas stations or delis?” and “What does a maker-mall look like?” This model of a maker-mall represents an interconnected ecosystem of individual small-business makers within one facility. Customers can visit individual maker-shops to buy, build, or repair products. The maker-mall even includes a garden and restaurant that represents circular and regenerative potentials through growing, consuming, composting, and re-growing.

Research Reflection
The ‘Maker Mall’ collage was a turning point in the direction of the final proposal. Makerspaces each exist within their own operational ecosystem and they each have their own potential for positive impacts within their communities. Because it’s important for these spaces to remain diverse and there is no one size-fits-all business model, instilling smaller ‘seeds of thought’ rooted in equitable and sustainable practices at the grassroots level could have a greater impact on the whole ecosystem...

The next phase, Synthesis, is characterized by a deliberate effort to distill complex theoretical concepts and problem formulations into a clearer and more interconnected frameworks. The visual tools employed serve as aids in structuring and articulating the evolving synthesis of ideas and insights gained throughout the research process.

© Mary Kahle, 2024