Synthesize Phase. The synthesize phase is looking at the research to identify connections and differences in the data, and using this to formulate coherent understanding of the topic. In this phase the theory and problem statement became more defined. This was achieved through data visualization/ diagramming, participatory mapping, and extracting themes in the research.
In the context of the post-Covid-19 era, growing geopolitical conflicts, and an aging global demographic, the decoupling of global economies is driving significant changes in supply chains, manufacturing, and consumption of goods. Given that the United States predominantly functions as a service economy, exploring affordable, quick, and strategic methods for "in-sourcing" or "on-shoring" manufacturing becomes increasingly vital. Local design-to-manufacturing capabilities not only drive innovation but also hold the potential for sustainable making practices, among various other benefits.
Empowering more makers, hackers, and tinkerers, coupled with expanding access to makerspace networks, could play a pivotal role in fortifying a more ethical and sustainable manufacturing ecosystem.
Makerspace communities, stemming from a fundamental drive to create value, have the potential to redefine the landscape of accessible maker education, local-scale production, entrepreneurship, and innovation. By offering accessible project-based STEAM/STEM learning opportunities for everybody, these institutions can reshape the educational models of the future while fostering meaningful community connections through social cohesion and value creation.
Despite their transformative potential, makerspaces currently face challenges and lack of evidence they are fulfilling their promise. They often lack fundamental user research/data collection methods, universal standards (safety, operations, etc), and structural management frameworks to be recognized as serious business models and secure sustainable funding. To address this, there is a need to develop rigorous metrics for comprehensive data collection, incorporating both qualitative and quantitative measures.
Implementing frameworks and co-design methods, such as workshops or toolkits, can facilitate alignment among makerspace leadership, members, and local communities on a shared vision and mission that serves all stakeholders within these ecosystems.
The importance of consciously embedding equity, accessibility, and inclusivity in makerspaces cannot be overstated. These elements are crucial for fostering the growth of the maker movement.
While makerspaces contribute to value creation, education, entrepreneurship, and small-scale manufacturing to varying extents, they lack standardized business models. The organic development of these spaces, driven by unique community needs and interests, makes a one-size-fits-all model impractical. While grassroots connections are integral, this decentralized approach complicates the collection of success metrics essential for securing sustainable funding, including government policies and grants. This dynamic also hinders the consistent alignment and scaling of a makerspace's intended potentials with the actual outcomes.
This co-created problem map visualizes the various barriers to makerspace development. The red lines indicate the interconnectedness of many of these issues.
In addition to issues with scalability, accessibility, and operational standards, identifying the right metrics to gauge progress stands as a common barrier to collecting data and analyzing success for makerspaces.
Makerspace Operational Landscape
Often developed in urban areas, drawing members from a specific geographic radius, with a big enough middle-class to support the membership and for-profit business model. Some spaces are formed by a group of people interested in DIY hardware tinkering or wood-working projects, and some are funded by billionaires or corporations. All makerspaces require upfront investment in facilities, tools, equipment, and staff training.
Makerspaces exist on a spectrum of grassroots to institutionally funded operations and are formed as local to global initiatives.
At the hyper-local, grassroots level, makerspaces emerge organically with an ad-hoc development approach. This category encompasses repair cafes and tool libraries that cater to community makers, offering tools for rent. Individuals practicing at-home making might establish small studios or woodshops in their garages. Additionally, artist collectives contribute to this naturally evolving makerspace landscape.
Positioned in the middle ground, both non-profit and for-profit makerspaces form the most diverse segment on the spectrum, providing an extensive array of equipment and programming. This sector encompasses Hackerspaces catering to software and hardware hackers/tinkerers and library makerspaces, which have become integral extensions of learning within library communities (makersinthelibrary.org).
Within the global initiatives and institutionally funded sector, Fab labs specialize in advanced manufacturing capabilities. A recent addition to this landscape is the Makerhoods model, presenting a vertical live-work concept designed to attract lower-income makers. This innovative approach provides spaces for individuals to live, create, and sell their goods. Additionally, the FabCity initiative, explored in more detail in the 'Future of Makerspaces' section, strives to establish a worldwide network of local makerspaces promoting circular methods of production and consumption.
Makerspaces are frequently established in repurposed industrial facilities such as old warehouses, auto-shops, or schools (like the Bok Building in Philadelphia, PA). These locations typically offer the essential square footage, existing ventilation, and wiring needed to operate various makerspace equipment, often providing additional space for small studios available for rent.
Why does this matter?
These facilities are commonly situated in overlooked neighborhoods adjacent to urban industrial zones, historically marked by disinvestment and redlining. These neighborhoods lack reinvestment in existing community assets, often leading to the unfortunate cycle of gentrification-induced displacement.
There is a need and opportunity for asset-based and community-based participatory research/design in the development phases of makerspaces.
How might makerspaces better integrate with and reinvest in the existing community?
Some makerspaces offer one, several, or more of the following tools an equipment:
- Studio space
- Computer lab
- Industrial sewing / patternmaking tools
- Digital embroidery / quilting
- Advanced/ Additive manufacturing
- 3D Printing
- Metal shop
- Laser cutting and CNC machine
- Paint booth and ventilation hood
- Storage space
- Kitchen eqipment
Makerspaces are staffed in 4 different ways:
- Co-op model.
- Volunteer-run organization.
- Full-time or part-time paid staff.
- Individual, at-home maker (i.e. a garage makerspace or sewing studio)
Makerspaces are run as both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Revenue models are typically multi-faceted to cover the costs of operations, and may include a combination of:
- private label production
- venture capital investment
- special programs, classes
- event space rental
- studio space rental
Developing a makerspace revenue model involves considering three critical factors, as revealed through discussions with experts and independent research.
1. The entity and administrative model significantly influence revenue makeup. Non-profit makerspaces commonly rely on grants, sponsorships, and venture investment, while for-profit counterparts may face limitations in grants and scholarships.
2. Revenue models vary based on the makerspace's focus on community or industry. Community-centric spaces thrive on building a strong membership base for affordable rates, while industry-serving counterparts set higher prices geared towards businesses.
3. Revenue models are tailored to specific operating costs, ensuring sustainable income streams. However, despite diverse funding opportunities, makerspaces encounter challenges in establishing lasting revenue streams, as illustrated by case studies like The Third Ward in Brooklyn and the recent TechShop closures.
Makerspace users encompass 'members,' 'director/administration/staff,' and 'founders/developers.' Additionally, non-members, often visitors or local community members, may enter the space to explore or meet with active members and small businesses renting studio space.
Active members can be defined as:
Marginalized User Groups
Most often, makerspace cultures and stereotypes associated with making/manufacturing contribute to problems with DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion).
Women, LGBTQIA+, POC/Minorities, and People with Disabilities tend to be among the members that are most commonly stereotyped, harassed, marginalized, and siloed in makerspaces.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Nation of Makers, nearly two thirds of makerspace engagement is male members and leaders, with 28% being female, and less than 1% identifying as non-binary or other (Nationofmakers.us, 2016).
Due to the diverse nature of makerspaces, implementing frameworks and co-design methods, such as workshops or toolkits, can facilitate alignment among makerspace leadership, members, and local communities on a shared vision and mission that serves all stakeholders within these ecosystems. The importance of consciously embedding equity, accessibility, and inclusivity in makerspaces cannot be overstated. These elements are crucial for fostering the growth of the maker movement.
In the next phase, I utilize various design research and speculative futures design methods to conceptualize and develop a product/tool that aims to cultivate makerspace potential and address community needs.