When Hackerspace Directors Burn Out

A friend of mine once suggested that there should be a support group for burned-out former hackerspace directors. We could have our own Village of the Damned at summer camps, where we’d sit moodily in the gathering twilight sipping our bourbon and Club Mate and decrying whatever misfortunes came to our space to leave such visible mental scars, or gazing hollow-eyed into the laser-tinged haze and moving gently to the pulse of the chiptune music. “See that’s Jenny over there, she don’t say much“. Hackerspace noir, where the only entry criterion is being crazy enough to stand for election to your space’s board.

You can tell [Dr. Seuss] is thinking about his next volume: <em>How The Grinch Stole Whoville Hackspace</em>. Al Ravenna, World Telegram [Public domain].
You can tell [Dr. Seuss] is thinking about his next volume: How The Grinch Stole Whoville Hackspace. Al Ravenna, World Telegram [Public domain].
There must be spaces somewhere that live in such perfect harmony, in which a happy membership support a board for whom everything falls into place. Maybe the makerspace in [Dr. Seuss]’s Whoville would have that kind of atmosphere, but the reality of life is that every group is made up of both Grinch and Who. Keeping a diverse group of people harmonious is a huge challenge, but that’s what hackerspaces are really about — the people make the space.

There are several defined periods in the gestation of a hackerspace, and at least from where I’m sitting they relate to its member count. Some spaces pass through them all as they grow, while others are lucky enough to reach an equilibrium and spare themselves some of the drama.

If you recognise yourselves in some of the following then you have my commiserations, while if your space hasn’t got there yet or has managed to dodge some of the bullets then consider yourselves lucky.

In The Beginning, You Are a Tight Group of Friends

When a space or indeed any other community group first starts, it often does so through the hard work of a close band of friends. Ten or so people can achieve miracles, and many a small hackerspace has reached its first incarnation in this manner. If you are a member of a space at this level it is likely that you are strongly committed to its successful establishment, and you and your friends achieve much in reaching that aim. You establish your founding principles, which in many traditional hackerspaces include a very flat management tree in which transparency and openness are the key, with decisions reached by consensus because you are but a small group of friends who share a common aim.

As your space grows into the tens of members the initial spirit and camaraderie survive. Being a member of a space at this stage is fantastic, because with twenty or thirty members everyone knows each other and the group is small enough to work out any differences. Many smaller spaces never grow beyond this scale, and retain some of the best experiences in our sphere as a result. If you have one of these spaces in your area, join it. (But not too many of you, because of course if that happens the space will outgrow this happy state.)

I have no idea whether Electrolab as shown through [Mitch Altman]'s lens is the kind of harmonious space I wish I could be a member of, but seeing their members happily collaborating on a project fair brings a tear to my eye it does. [CC BY-SA 2.0]
I have no idea whether Electrolab as shown through [Mitch Altman]’s lens is the kind of harmonious space I wish I could be a member of, but seeing their members happily collaborating on a project fair brings a tear to my eye it does. [CC BY-SA 2.0].
At some point, usually around the fifty member mark, something changes. The original highly motivated group becomes diluted, and as the numbers increase a point is reached at which not everyone knows each other. It’s not that fifty people are not a number that you can know personally, simply that with the membership of a space all having their own timetables it is inevitable that after a while there will be people who will not be in on the same evenings as you.

Evolving Into An Organization

Your community starts to become broader, and somehow the space loses momentum, as the enthusiasm of the tight-knit group of early members is diluted. The ratio of active contributors to passive members plummets, while at the same time the number of loud voices who contribute little climbs inexorably.

If the space is lucky enough to have a good location with a ready demand for its services, it is inevitable that it will attract a steady stream of new members. Among them will be a number of motivated people who will put in the work required to make things happen, and eventually as the space moves into a three-figure number of members they replenish the hard core of net contributors until it moves into a second wind and becomes self-sustaining again. The doldrums have passed, and the future looks great. Well done if you are a member of a space in this position.

This piece is not however about that hackerspace in Whoville where everything goes well, instead we are more interested here in those spaces that falter along the way. What forms the battle scars of our burned-out directors from the Village of the Damned, and what can other members learn from their experiences? In exploring this particular avenue we aren’t even looking at the problems of a hackspace as such, instead since we are looking at the dynamics of a community. A lot of the lessons can just as easily be drawn from almost any club, society, or group.

Are You Building Stuff, or Building a Perfect Government?

One way in which you might classify members of any given group could be in terms of their motivation in being a part of it. Are they interested primarily in the purpose of the group, or in the way it is run? So in a hackerspace, are they focused on learning things and building stuff, or is it the ethos of the movement or the space’s management structure on which they focus?

This is an important classification to make because it encapsulates the purpose of a hackerspace. The hackerspace should exist to provide its members with facilities. Where a group starts to get into trouble is when focus is turned to making the group a perfect example of whatever political power structure floats their boat. If the membership becomes more interested in maintaining or tinkering with the structure of the organisation rather than providing its core function then it is inevitable that cohesion within it will fall down.

Power to the people! Wait, aren't we all the people? Che Guevara picture from Jgaray, after Alberto Korda [Public domain].
Power to the people! Wait, aren’t we all the people?
 Jgaray, after Alberto Korda [Public domain].
When the structure and ethos of the organisation becomes more important to a section of its members than its core service it often puts that section at odds with the board of directors. This can feel like a group of rebels who see themselves as the Popular Liberation Front against the Evil Tyranny of the board or committee or whoever is running the show.

In hackerspaces these groups inevitably coalesce around an ideal of an entirely consensus-driven hackspace collective, against which the board is portrayed as distant and dictatorial. The reality is that with growth, the consensus model is not longer feasible and the board are simply trying to get some work done.

This type of strife threatens the stability of the organization. As volunteers thrust into a stressful situation, the directors may begin to lighten their work load — the business of keeping the space functioning. It is easy to sound sane and reasonable when you are in opposition and have little work to do, but very difficult to get to grips with the job in hand when you achieve a position of power. The would-be [Che Guevara] is revealed as having more of the [Wolfie Smith] about them.

What Happens If No One Leads?

A hackerspace that has gone sour in this way will have an embattled and burned-out directorship under constant attack from a membership faction who believe themselves to be holding their executives to account. Sometimes this behavior crosses the line into outright harassment, and other times it just serves to wear down the energy of what is a volunteer board of directors. The organization may pull through and survive to fight another day with the arrival of those motivated new members mentioned earlier, but it may equally cave in as the embattled board gives up and the freedom fighters prove to be more adept at rabble-rousing than dealing with arcane questions of tool insurance. If this has happened to you then I know your pain, and rather than feeling bitter it is of more value to look at how such things might be avoided.

The consensus model can be a relatively successful one in a small-to-medium sized space, but it is noticeable that larger spaces have invariably set their early ideals aside and adopted a more top-down structure. If you are happy sitting through a six-hour meeting in which your resident pedant and idealogue slogs out the minutiae of an inconsequential point relating to your ethical doormat policy then perhaps your space could stay true to its early ideals, but for most members that rapidly gets old. For the most successful large spaces, well thought-out bylaws specify how decisions are made in a fair an equitable way that includes input for members without getting bogged down in endless bureaucracy.

Managing Hackerspace Leadership

So your organisational structure has become more top-down, you have a board of directors, and you’re ready to run your space. How do you ensure that your board is effective in its work? You’ve ensured that your director’s terms are staggered, you have just the right number of them, and you hope that your directors are proven contributors to the space. You can get down to meeting, right? You can deputise everything, hand out tasks which can then be project managed.

Don't tell me you've never been tempted during a hackerspace board meeting. BrokenSphere [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Don’t tell me you’ve never been tempted during a hackerspace board meeting. BrokenSphere [CC BY-SA 3.0]
One of the most unproductive things I have ever taken part in as a member of a hackerspace was over-frequent and regular board meetings. My and the other directors’ week became one of working towards things for the meetings rather than getting things done, so of course the board’s efficiency dropped like a stone while we were pursuing that course. You might be asking why we couldn’t manage to do such a straightforward thing, and you’d be perfectly correct to do so.

The answer lies in the nature of hackerspaces. The directors are not professional directors but everyday members who are trying to make their space better. They are giving up their limited time for free and like amateurs at any job, they sometimes make mistakes. And if the directors are volunteers then the members are doubly so, they haven’t made the same time commitment to running the space and neither should they be expected to unless they want to. Any idea that the board can simply deputise everything to members thus starts to fall apart when those members are found to have lives outside the hackerspace and thus little extra time in which to be given work.

In a company where there is funding to pay employees to do the board’s bidding this is a very successful model, but not in a voluntary organisation. The body of work falls upon the directors, the small number of members prepared to put in the time, and inevitably a member or two who volunteers for the work but doesn’t deliver. Because the directors are busy preparing for meetings most of the time they don’t have the time for everything though, so things start to slip and the members become upset That’s when you start your slide towards burn-out and a date with a bourbon and Club Mate in that village I was talking about.

Find the Right Balance for Your Hackerspace

As a member of more than one space and friend to members of many others I’ve watched the progress of more than one burned-out board. It’s not inevitable for this to happen by any means, but since hackerspaces can sometimes be prone to unfeasible levels of drama then it remains a distinct possibility. Given my outlook then, what would I wish for from my perfect hackerspace? Probably a smaller space, with decent local amenities, in a place that can draw members over a wide area. The more diverse the membership in age, gender, and background, the more experiences come together to make a better whole.

There’s one thing though, when I find my perfect space, would I stand to be a director again? After reading this I doubt my fellow members would vote for me anyway, but maybe not. Someone must do it for the good of the space, will you answer the call?

78 thoughts on “When Hackerspace Directors Burn Out

  1. “A friend of mine once suggested that there should be a support group for burned-out former hackerspace directors.”
    ” We could have our own Village of the Damned”

    That’s a great idea!

    Of course, this is going to require some organization. We need a location. Who is going to clean it? What if someone gets hurt. We had better look into insurance. Which drinks will we have? We had better form a committee to chose them. Or should we just have a vote? I hope everyone gets along ok. Maybe we need a set of rules. How are we going to pay for all of this? Let’s at least not get stuck paying taxes. This should be a non profit. Lets get started on that 401c3. This is going to take a while. We should come up with a core leadership group to make these things happen. We can meet at 6 every Tuesday.

    Who’s with me?!?

  2. “These young folks have no idea what it takes to run a hackspace.”
    “Why back in the day, we had find an unused bear cave to hack in, or else our 3D printers would get their clay soaked in the rain!”

  3. Starting and running a makerspace was the worst organizational experience in my life. After 2 years of growing it to 50+ members and a maker event that doubled revenue, those directors not only took all the credit for my work- but actually deleted me from the organization’s history. And that’s not even addressing when they’re bad-mouthing to those who still remember my name. At the end, I’m glad I moved away. I got almost no time to make, and I certainly don’t have any friends from those lost years.

  4. I’m guessing, that as a hackerspace grows in members, each new member wants to bring “one more thing” under the roof, whether it is a lathe, a sewing machine, rubber stamps, horizontal mill. Each new “thing” stretches the capacity of the space to serve everyone. Yes, I agree with “tool insurance” (whatever that really means).
    The two hackerspaces I’ve been in, one of big problems is finding enough storage space for member’s projects (and security of what’s in those spaces). They both made it plain, that they are not to be a dumping off spot, and one charges monthly rent for each space dedicated to member’s projects.
    What about those who run a business based on using the equipment in the hackerspace? They may tie up a particular machine or set of machines every day for the same amount of time. Who tells them that they cannot monopolize (or monetize) the equipment?

    I suppose there are numerous “boilerplates” on the web, the by-laws codified by various hackerspaces (or their lawyers)
    which can be used by those hackerspaces that are growing beyond the 10 to 20 member stage.
    I think HaD should have web pages with such “boilerplates” available for people to peruse, adopt, and modify for their particular desires/needs. Really!

    1. “I’m guessing, that as a hackerspace grows in members, each new member wants to bring “one more thing” under the roof..”
      “one more thing” could also be a non-physical idea, such as community outreach, “Save the baby whales”, or yes, as you mentioned; “literal” politics,

      1. https://wiki.hackerspaces.org/Documentation#Bylaws_and_Regulations Should be a start to see what others have done. For those living in the USA this https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/applying-for-tax-exempt-status will lead you to suggested document language that would aid in the IRS granting tax exempt Status. Of course anyone would have to research their own States requirements. Any potential donors and space members with deeper pocket would prefer you organization be incorporated, and maintain liability insurance, something that benefits all members. Any boiler plate to the later would be relative to location. At any rate the will be 10 organizing members to donate $40, or 20 organizing members donating $40 at least to get things started You will need tax exempt status to have a chance of gaining funds from foundations that distribute money to non-profits that are in some nature educational, or recreational.

    2. Great ideas. I think it would be pretty easy to download a simple document from Hackaday (as you suggested) that could be custom tailored to any hackerspace’s requirements to handle all of the situations you mentioned. I think the “using the space’s machinery and resources for a private for profit company would be nipped in the bud as per the agreement everyone signed. I could see that one situation getting out of control really fast. Unfortunately, any time you have a group of people, you are going to need some rules otherwise, you end up with a mob, ha ha.

    3. We addressed it in two ways:

      1) The founding principal of our space (the Prime Directive if you will) is “Be Excellent to each other”, aka “Don’t be an asshat.” That includes sucking up a space or too for too long. If you need to do a production run of whatever, find a time when it isn’t likely to be used, and play well with others to share.
      That has worked surprisingly well for 6 years now.

      2) We filed for, and received, grant monies to start a Rapid Prototyping Center for entrepreneurs and small businesses. It’s a few thousand sq ft of space which are intended to do prototypes and small production runs. The machinery is better than in the makerspace, you bring all your own tooling, and pay a fee per hour to use it. It’s already got it’s first few customers and seems to be doing well.

    4. That repository already exists in hackerspaces.org
      You can find thousands of bylaw examples either hosted directly or in links to the hackerspaces. Since requirements for articles of incorporation vary by region and depend on if you even want/need to be a corporation as a hackerspace it’s a bit useless to get too generic.

    5. Storage space allotment should take a page from the mini-storage industry. Rent lockers by the cubic foot, you’re only allowed access to your stuff if you’re current on your bills, and if you fall 3 months behind your stuff goes on the communal parts scrapyard heap.

  5. It is a very hard thing to do: turn a passion, into a pseudo-career while being at the whim of 10-50 people’s monthly contribution. After touring a couple I decided that, for me, I’d be better off buying my own tools and forgoing any projects or hobbies that I couldn’t afford the tools for. It is unfortunate that there isn’t some sort of magic bullet for tool and skill sharing

    1. $35/mo dues for instant access to a large work space and expensive tools, or save $35/mo to buy your own tools and convert or rent a shop of your own.
      IMO if you’re going to a hackerspace just for the tools you’re doing it wrong. Go there for the community of varied interests and expertise. Lots of places rent tools and there are probably still a few places trying their hand in the market like TechShop used to.

      1. $35??? I have two options that are within sane driving distance: one is $75 with hobby grade 3D printers, old tired knee mill and other machining tools, and a decent laser, the other is $200 and seems to cater to higher end wood working.

        The cheap one’s ‘community’ is one that seems to be infested SJW anti-cis-white-male types that don’t even do any making and the expensive one was so uppity I thought they were going to kick me out for farting near their fancy furniture.

        1. Well you decision got a lot easier at those rates. Regardless of the community at the hacker spaces unless you’re in some Metropolis with crazy rent prices it’d be cheaper to save for a couple months and build your own workshop in a spare room or rented space.

        2. Wev. Those prices quite something.
          I’m glad to be part of the two ham clubs. 25eur/year (OH2K KRK) and 15eur/year(OH2TI PRK).
          Both have very decent electronics labs with stereo microscopes, VNA’s, scopes and so on.
          And rudimentary tools for metal working (drill-presses and files mostly, good enough for making antennas and holes in chassis.) Both have also nice and helpful atmosphere, which is why I’m a member of both.

          I’m looking at how the Aalto universitys electrical engineers guild run “Elepaja” evolves.
          I might join that one too. Especially if they manage to refurb that milling machine they have.

          As for director stuff, at KRK I’m on the board (treasurer this year, last year responsible of the electronics lab) and we just rotated in a new dude to the directors seat so that other people get experience and the previous one gets some rest.

          1. Seems like it’s easier to get your hands on communal space in Europe. Overhead’s so high anywhere with clean industrial space in the US 50$ is frequently the monthly floor on membership just for rent.

          2. @inhibit – Yes, here in the US the price for building rental is ridiculous. In my own city businesses are going under and unoccupied buildings are everywhere you look. With an abundance of available space one might expect the prices to drop but they do not.

            I think the problem is that businesses get to count those empty spaces as losses on their taxes. Our government is literally paying landlords to keep their buildings empty! You don’t just have to pay the landlord for the use of a building. You have to pay them above and beyond what they would otherwise receive in tax breaks and with enough of a margin to make building maintenance and dealing with a tenant worth their while.

      1. That’s something I’m more interested in, the social aspects. I visited our local Makerspace on their “Open Night” and unfortunately it was freezing cold and only a couple of other people were there. Admittedly they were very friendly, but I’m still undecided whether I’d make enough use of the space, hence I’ve not committed to join (yet).

    1. Well, not every one is suited for kibbutz/commune life. As I recall (from 3 decades ago) that only about 11% of the Israeli population lives in kibbutz, I’m guessing a similar figure for Mennonites.

  6. I had a crack at it once, put me off Hacking for quite some time, now I go it along, build up my own lab with what I want how I want and what I need. So after a hard day at the office I have my cave, doing my little things is peace and quiet. I tell myself this is how it was a century ago, a gentleman’s pursuit.

  7. >>”Where a group starts to get into trouble is when focus is turned to making the group a perfect example of whatever political power structure floats their boat. If the membership becomes more interested in maintaining or tinkering with the structure of the organisation rather than providing its core function then it is inevitable that cohesion within it will fall down.”

    This is probably the single biggest pitfall everyone should strive to avoid.
    Though I would say it’s not the tinkering that gets in the way but when you grow too fast or the membership shifts away from the current organizational structure, either because they don’t fully understand how the corporation is structured or because they think a competing structure would work better. Once you start down that road it only ends in drama between the original member base and the newer members.

    A secondary issue to that is when the original core group don’t accept that the hackerspace isn’t a personal project but a community one. Once you open your doors to the public and start taking on members it’s no longer your baby, everyone has had a hand in building it and has helped fund it. If you can’t stand to see your baby change away from the path you started it on you shouldn’t start a hackerspace.

  8. While I have never been involved in an according to Hoyle Hackerspace, there are parallels here to pretty much any technical club I have encountered, and I might even venture to propose to clubs in general. I have encountered this so frequently in pretty much the same form every time that I now have a phrase that I rattle off. The short version is this:

    “Don’t start a club about X if what you want to do is X.”

    E.g., “Don’t start an amateur radio club if you want to do amateur radio.” What you will find in short order is that you are doing LESS of whatever it is that the club is focused on, because you will be spending more of your time running a club about that topic so that others can work on that topic. I’ve been involved as a founder or executive of enough such clubs and have seen this play out that I take it as just part of the way the universe works. Don’t get me wrong, the people who start and/or administer these groups are saints and we all need to give them our support – and do out parts by putting in our time in the management/executive positions – but don’t fool yourself into thinking that taking on a leadership role will give you the privilege of more/better access to club resources in any meaningful sense. Usually when I spout off my little adage I get curious/cynical looks, which makes me restate it in its full form:

    “Don’t start a club about X if what you want to do is X; start a club about X because you want to help or encourage others to do X.”

    There is real value in this, and us technical folk more than most others could benefit from some polish on our social and public speaking skills (myself included!). Leading others and building up a club is a great way to do this and I encourage everyone to take a turn.

    There is a outer circle of hell dedicated to those clubs that degrade into endless meetings, tilting at the windmill of a perfect decision-making process that will provide every member with exactly what they want, that will leave no one feeling left out or disappointed, and that is efficient. I have news for you: democracy and governance is a messy proposition that humans have been banging away at for at least 5000 years. If the perfect system is found, I highly doubt that it will emerge out of a group of hobbyists wielding soldering irons ;) Clubs that miss this realization through off their active membership (those actually engaged in the focal task/hobby of the club) light a dying star ejecting its outer layer as they flee the endless arguing, old-boys’ networks and cliques. All that remains is a cold, insignificant dwarf of an organization composed of members who have nothing better to do (and social skills to match) than argue with each other. No one wants to join these clubs and get involved in the fights. If an area is lucky, the club actually dies, which allows a new club to take hold, but usually it limps on, salting the earth in the local community for such organizations.

    So, YES! Get involved! But get involved with your eyes open. Have a realistic idea of what you would like to achieve, make sure that there is real support that will allow you to achieve it, and then become the champion of those ideas. Have an exit plan, and make sure that part of that plan is how you will find a replacement for yourself to fill the void that you will leave. If you find yourself getting cynical as a leader, its a hint that you are burning out, so consider stepping down early or taking a hiatus before diving back in.

    1. “Governance” via a democracy is probably not possible for humans. The species is inherently evil, self-serving, and always a danger to other species and other members external to the ‘tribe’. The only effective human ‘governance’ experienced to date is the military. The military is highly focused on achieving goals, is meritocratic and always among the first large institutions to adopt equal opportunity measures, and harness tribal instincts. And the military does not give a shit about individual needs. So give us another 20k to 40k years, and humans might evolve into a species capable of running and enjoying a hacker space; but doubtful.

      Have a large shop that used to be my office and lab when consulting was primary income source. Niece and Nephew have always used as their private hacker space, and started bringing friends over – no more. Even honor students are criminals and sociopaths. The end was when the kids started pounding on my door at 0530 Sunday to demand access.

      No good deed has ever escaped severe and cruel punishments.

  9. From Soylent Green, but equally applicable to a hackerspace: “It’s made of people!” In the end, running a hackerspace is an HR problem.

    You want to keep the good/productive people active and happy, and warn and then prune the disruptive and negative individuals. This was the hardest lesson I had to learn, but in retrospect pushing some of the “bad” people out is as important as it is unpleasant to have to do. Thankfully we only had to do it a handful of times, but I am convinced that the space benefited each time.

    Rules are good for providing a framework for working through essential conflict, and for avoiding accidents. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that good rules, or good intentions, can save you from inessential conflict (“drama”), because it’s created by people.

  10. Hello my name is Patrick and I to am a Hackerspace Director burn out. After dealing with a board of directors who would bark orders but never chip in to enact plans I had enough. For a solid year after leaving the hackrrspace I had PTSD and flash backs about what I had to deal with. Eventually the PTSD started to go away but it still shows up every once in a while. Never again, never again.

      1. I don’t drink, but literally was driven to bringing a bottle of bourbon to the executive meeting to deal with the clique who self appointed themselves the entire directorship (sans President and legal responsibilities mandated by the bylaws) at the beginning. Only advice- skip the Club Mate. Better yet, skip the nominating meeting while everyone is still happy and looking around, hoping someone else will step up.

  11. You neglect Pournell’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy at your peril:

    Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

    First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

    Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

    The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.


  12. An US$ 50 monthly membership around here would also allow me to get my own equipment ( and possibly better too ) .

    But I agree with the others : a lot of the importance of a hackerspace is the other people, that know things you don´t know, or can have a fresh idea in something you are stuck .

    But also, a hackerspace cannot be a democracy, or nothing gets done. Same as a house/children upbringing. Something like “Mothers Law”.

  13. Meh every group I have been involved with just ultimately had no respect for private property. One just had people I didn’t enjoy. The fact that I was paying to have people take parts off my working projects and pilfer tools just wasn’t palatable. The other rub was location. Two were in a downtown location with no parking and the decks meant you had to drag whatever you were working on a few blocks in and out. Then there was the fact that it was an old building and hadn’t been updated electrically kinda like the Ghostbusters’ firehouse. The other one was a bit more private like in the warehouse district but had security issues like getting broken into every other week and members cars getting the toss as well. I felt bad for the guys running it but couldn’t put up with the crime and the eventual disappearance of my gear. This one as well had an overly developed sense of community in that there were no private workbenches, so after my AC switcher board got parted out, I left. The interpersonal drama was unimpressive at best. I was a board member at one group. There will always be takers and givers in any group and the point is to balance that so that no one feels taken advantage of. Then there were the events that no one paid their part for and even fewer showed up to represent. As you can see there was a bit of a pattern.
    Try to select a space that is easily accessible but a little private.
    Have private storage or preferably workbenches that aren’t rifled thru every day.

  14. To organize a space, you have to create an organization. In event if the space is supported by dues paying member, I don’t know the governance of the organization can be anything than democratic. That doesn’t mean the everyday minutia is to decided democratically. Only that the members elect who is to operate the organization, and decide issues that affects the organizations mission/operation at regular business. In my experiance even that can be too much raw democracy for many members to deal with. The comments have good suggestions that can make for better spaces, but as always the devil in the details that make it all happen. Our county’s economic director sponsors leadership shops, I have thought about trying them out. I’m hesitant, because I’m labor and am not shy in voicing my opinion when I see inequalities, and false dichotomies. In my experiance venues like that are from the perspective of the landowner/ merchants.Meeker individuals may find them useful, and might consider them before taking on a leadership role in spaces. I’m more introvert than extrovert, so I’m not using meek in a pejorative manner.

    1. “In event if the space is supported by dues paying member, I don’t know the governance of the organization can be anything than democratic.”
      Really? What about a swimming pool? You pay to get in and swim. Your payment pays for the pool. They don’t ask for your opinion though.

  15. Once you get more than two people, maybe more than one, you are going to have problems. Heck, even with just one person I have problems (no, wait, I didn’t say that). This kind of heartache is endemic to non-profits of all kinds, volunteers in non-profits, and so forth. This may well boil down to a study of human government and sociology. You would probably find valuable insights reading Plato’s Republic. Nothing truly new or surprising in learning that hackerspaces don’t break the pattern, but that doesn’t make it any less heart-breaking. Maybe the important lesson is to be realistic, expect people to be people, and plan accordingly. Don’t expect a hackerspace to be a utopia.

  16. My local makerspace hasn’t adopted a top-down model, even after growing pains. Endless conflict, persistent lack of regulatory compliance, lack of organizational decision-making capability. Donations get refused because of personal grudges. Not self sustaining, but the people blocking adopting a top-down model have so far donated the extra money to allow it to continue to muddle through.

    They’ve had a combined membership form and liability waiver for something like 7 years, but it isn’t valid because in this State bundled forms are hard to make valid, and one of the typical rules is that if both parts use the same font, then the waiver part isn’t valid. But they won’t fix it, or even admit that a non-profit corporation is expected to get legal advice when that sort of issue is brought up. So they’re paying for insurance that isn’t actually valid, and would be withdrawn if anybody tried to make a serious claim! Etc, etc

  17. About Electrolab: couple hundred members, three employees, 1500+sqm, no day one founding board-member still in the board (willingfully retired, and not too far out to support the newcomers), now thinking about buying its building.
    Still, it is quite an experience being a board-member – or any active member, as ideally you don’t have to be elected to invest time and energy in your space.

  18. How about full freedom for anyone so long they don’t restrict others freedom (by breaking tools/obstruction)? Those parties interested in getting a particular tool join together to purchase it in exchange for being able to jump the que of non contributors who show up to use the lovely, shiny tool? Also, I prefer the idea of having local meetups in a church hall or whatever, where everyone can bring their technical problem(Me with my laptop asking why this circuit won’t simulate) and those with expertise giving pointers, and those who don’t mind letting others use their tools permitting supervised access with assistance as necessary(contributions to consumables in return)

    While I’m at it – no object ever committed a crime on its own, why are so many banned?

  19. Anybody else notice that a lot of the issues with running a hackerspace – working with almost all volunteers, growing beyond a small close knit group, getting sidetracked by somebody with a hobby-horse issue – appear to be very similar to common challenges faced by organized religious groups? And one of the strategies they’ve used a lot – trying to organize smaller groups within the organization that meet together regularly – looks like it would apply here too, and help provide a better sense of community by giving members the chance to relate to a smaller circle within the group. In a hackerspace, this might be something like, “OK, we’ll be starting a monthly woodworking (textiles, Arduino, 3D printing, etc) gathering that meets every _____.”

  20. When Vancouver Hackspace (VHS) figuratively burned to the ground under a horrible board and a few toxic members. https://blog.abluestar.com/alternatives-to-the-vancouver-hackspace

    The good, skilled people fractured into many small groups. There are now 20 Hackspace/Makerspaces in a city of 1 million people. Most of them have around ~10 people involved and its great! Of the ~5 spaces I have helped started in Vancouver we capped the membership at low double digits with long probation periods. Staying small, significantly reduces the amount of governess you need and makes much more tight knit communities.

    1. “Steve” is a former member who was banned and has reacted extremely poorly and vindictively in the years since. The VHS is doing pretty well, c’mon down on a Tuesday night and check us out! :)

      1. True or not, some tact is called for. May I suggest upping that qutient so as to not be mistaken for being similar, somehow, to whichever person you attempt to pidgeonhole… I hope a mod removes my crude post, with yours.

    2. Steve is a former member of the VHS who was banned and has been waging a sad campaign against us for years. The VHS is doing just great! We have a vibrant, helpful, open, friendly and large community (both online and in meatspace), a reasonably active board (I’m on it) and a healthy financial position, especially considering our low membership rates. Come check us out! https://vanhack.ca/ https://talk.vanhack.ca/ :)

      1. Low membership rates are for a reason. There are lots of alternatives and no one wants to be abused like they are at VHS. According to the local press, people at meetups and your own bank account status. VHS is doing horribly and will probably fail sooner then later.

  21. Set up a topologically hexagonal grid of spaces, limit each cell to one-seventh the limit for small community behavior (which for a limit of 50, oddly enough, is also 7), but also let members in one cell into the spaces of their immediate neighbors on alternate nights? Any one member only has to deal with a few people, but the interconnected lattice helps ideas diffuse to a wider group.

  22. Well, you guys seem to have a handle on most of it. I will tackle part of Evil Bok’s List of Problematics Issues to Solve, er, I mean Consider Ad Nauseum…
    BYOB. Spill-Proof Cups Required.
    Smokers, BYO Ashtry-Filtration System and blow most of it out the window via the tube in your stall using your personal mouthpiece.
    As w camping, “take out what you brought into the park.”
    Bring your own TP. (Mine costs too much to share.)
    Boys, be neat; lift the seat.
    Girls, be fair; put it down for your half of the deal.

  23. Unfortunately, being a hacker is not a sufficient qualification to ensure success starting or leading a hackerspace or makerspace community. Hackaday should seek advice from folks with some authority who achieved success doing it.

  24. Facebook can handle 5000 members in fact people whine they cant add more friends. In a sense, fb c/should have been limited to a tool for organizations to track and handle (paid) membership, photos & videos, profiles, etc, rather than a world bending social guinea pigpen that it became. Or maybe there is room for someone to invent some software to do just the above.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.