The roles that makerspaces played in their communities fell into four broad themes: acting as social spaces; supporting wellbeing; serving the needs of the communities they are located in; and reaching out to excluded groups. While not exhaustive, these roles presented themselves in almost all of the spaces, manifested in a variety of ways.
Makerspaces are rarely just where fabrication could be carried out. Rather, they are hubs of community, where people come together to work together, learn from each other, or simply socialize. Some of the spaces we visited, such as the Men’s Shed, had dedicated communal areas, while others emphasized the value of socializing with others over the machinery itself. Many of the spaces included kitchen facilities and most included at least facilities to make hot drinks—facilities were seen as being just as integral to the space’s mission as any digital fabrication equipment.
The smallest of the spaces that we visited, located in a single small office at the top of a tenement building, was most adamant about this point. Identifying themselves as a hackerspace, they were primarily engaged in computer hardware and software. With none of the large pieces of equipment seen in a typical makerspace, the provision of shared equipment was not their main priority, but being in the space had additional value:
“Most of our members could afford to reproduce the facilities without any issue […] It’s mostly the access to other people that drives them in. You don’t really want to be sat in your house all weekend by yourself soldering. Figure 2. Westhill Men’s Shed offers workshop facilities similar to a makerspace, but also prioritizes its social spaces. But if you come here other people might come through and you speak to them and you feel like you’re socializing.”
This had the effect of turning otherwise solitary activities such as coding into communal activities that could be shared with others. However, this was echoed even by spaces with larger pieces of equipment. In these spaces, the equipment—particularly 3D printers with widespread appeal—were seen as a ‘hook’ that drew in visitors, who would subsequently stay for the community:
Time to build your Tribe!
I have built a solid Tribe of inspiring friends in my life. They challenge me to be the best version of myself and support me through the great and the not-so-great. I am equally grateful to be in a city like New York, where motivated people from all over the world are drawn by its magnetic energy.
It took some time to find these like-minded people at first. I started meeting more of them when I began actively attending conferences and events for things I cared about.
All in all, from growing up in French Canadian, Japanese, and Indian communities to being part of competitive sports teams, to the Cornell community, entrepreneurship groups, and the Burning Man community, I think I figured out, for myself, in my own way, how to grow my own thriving community.
Here are a few guiding excerpts from my book Do Cool Sh*t that will help keep your Tribe growing and thriving.
Express happiness when you see your people.
There is no need to be too cool. When you see your friends and family, feel free to emphatically wag your tail. It will always be well received. Show your excitement. You will never regret showing too much love and they will love receiving it.
Let everyone share stories and participate.
At the end of the day, everyone wants to be heard. Allow everyone to feel that way. We host storytelling nights because it brings our community together and because makes the love and support get deeper and stronger. It also gives everyone a chance to tell stories.
Give credit as often as you can.
Just as people want to be heard, people want to be recognized. Recognize your peers when they do cool sh*t. They will want to keep doing it.
Instill confidence–it’s free.
I love genuinely complimenting my people and making them feel confident. It’s free; it makes them feel good, more comfortable, and safe.
As soon as people feel confident, their authentic selves shine through and that’s when real, genuine bonding happens. As soon as you’re just you, without any front or pretense, it will give permission for everyone around you to be exactly who they are. This will help foster an environment for everyone to just be himself or herself.
Challenge your people to push themselves.
Compliments are great, but also make sure that your people are doing the best they can to be their best selves. If you think you can help, say something and help them–but do it nicely and patiently.
Always be thinking about who you know who could help your community. Make connections where both parties stand to benefit and you will be associated with any good that comes from the relationship in perpetuity.
Don’t expect to get anything from it. Just know that you are spreading goodwill for your tribe, and again, the universe is always watching.
These are a few of the guidelines that really helped me keep and grow my Tribe. They seem obvious, but they are meant to be gentle reminders.
What core values can you create for your circle of friends? Let them be known. Organize a fun night with your friends and come up with a few that make the most sense to you and your group. Then do your best to live by them!