Future Makespaces Talk: The Dark Matter of Makerspaces

Last week Adrian gave a talk at the Future Makespaces 2nd Symposium organised by the Royal College of Art. His talk was about the less obvious parts of running a makerspace, and here are the slides and his notes (which should be pretty much what he said, but…)

The Dark Matter of Makerspaces

Hello, I’m Adrian McEwen, one of the co-founders of DoES Liverpool. It’s (sort of) a makerspace (and more) in Liverpool.

We’ve been running for over four years now, and I wanted to share some of the non-obvious aspects of that.

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context

When we started DoES Liverpool we thought about what it was trying to achieve and how it would fit into the rest of the city.

An important part of what we set out to do was to grow and encourage the tech and maker community in the city, and help it prosper through more tech and maker businesses. It was one part software-is-eating-the-world, with another part the workers owning the means of production – initially as software engineers, but increasingly with digital fabrication tools, and a dash of being the change we want to see in the world.

Not Just a Makerspace

So we were never just a makerspace.

Non-Makers Wanted Too!

The co-working and office space is just as important as the workshop.

Successful businesses require all sorts of skills, and the more diverse our community, the better the things that will come out of it.

We have artists, engineers, coders, designers, but also copywriters, translators, consultants and charity workers. Freelancers, startups, and remote workers from big corporations.

An Event Space

And we also provide a space for the community to meet.

We knew how hard it was to find space to hold meetups, to get together to share knowledge and just hang out with like-minded people. So part of the space is available for the community to book for free.

We Don

I think one of the important aspects is that DoES is run by a bunch of people who don’t really want to run a space. We just want to use the facilities it offers, for our businesses or interests.

As a result, our aim is to minimise the amount of effort required to run it, and one of the ways we do that is by engaging with the “dark matter” surrounding DoES Liverpool.

What is Dark Matter?

Wouter Vanstiphout came up with the term, and it was popularised by Dan Hill in his pamphlet “Dark Matter and Trojan Horses”.

It is all the stuff that affects the organisation but that you can’t see or touch. If the matter is the building and the tools, the objects produced and the businesses founded, then the dark matter is the culture of the community, the rules, regulations and policy – and not just in the space, those surrounding the space from the council or the Government.

1st Day Free With Cake

It could be the way we use cake as currency (it doesn’t have to be homemade, although they’re always the best received), to start things off on a convivial and sharing note.

Our 1st Piece of Equipment

Or the way we make sure we have good coffee (and buy it from a local independent coffee shop to support them)

Which meant that the coffee machine was the first bit of kit we bought.

Don

It’s the way we bring concepts from software into the physical world. Automating the repeated tasks like the weekly newsletter or marking who has been in on which days…

Surfacing Tasks

…or repurposing code issue tracking to let people know what needs doing around the space.

Just as important is what we don’t do.

DoES Doesn

Despite its name, DoES doesn’t do anything.

The only things that happen are those that the members are committed enough to make happen. And we try not to expand into things that the community could make a living from – we exist to support it, not absorb it.

No Training Courses

So we don’t run training courses. That would require trainers, and marketing, and…

It’s much better that members of the community provide that – they can build it as part of their business and then pay for the facilities at DoES to deliver them.

New Ways of Working

It also lets members of the community experiment with new ways of arranging their work.

For example, a number of the members have young children, and so they’re going to toddler-proof the meeting room so they can run “baby and toddler work day” to let them more easily balance parenthood and freelancing.

Connect Everything to the Internet

And it lets DoES’ specialisms evolve organically. Because I’ve been working with the Internet of Things for years now, there’s a tendency within DoES to connect anything and everything to the Internet, to see if it’s useful.

We joke that if something is left stationary in DoES for too long, it’ll end up connected to the Internet. The doors, the laser-cutters and – naturally – the aforementioned coffee machine.

Funding

One of the big things we don’t do is funding. Especially for day-to-day running costs.

We’re funded by the community, for the community, and have been since day one.

The Wrong Filters

Funding begets Outputs, and Outputs beget Criteria. Before you know it you’ll have to exclude most of the people you’d like to help, because they don’t look like the picture you painted in order to get your funding.

Our Filter: Interestingness

We have a completely different filter: Is what you’re doing interesting?

Or Being Interested

Or if not, are you interested in what others are up to?

Business/Individual, Young/Old

And we don’t care if you’re a business or an individual, or how old or young you are.

What’s important is that you Do Epic Sh**.

Starting a business is just a tool to achieve certain outcomes. It could be as useful for you to open source your work and help it spread. Or use the workshop to 3d print yourself a new hand to make your life easier elsewhere.

Local Enterprise Partnership

That said, plenty of people are looking to build businesses around their ideas. You can build one of almost anything with our facilities, and probably 10s or maybe even 100s of something. Once you get beyond that, you tend to want to get someone else to help.

The DoES community is a great distributed knowledge base of suppliers to use and things to watch out for. One person will tell you who they used for PCB assembly, and another will let you know about the place that die-cuts boxes on the dock road. As more people do more projects, so the knowledge grows, but it would be good to speed that process up.

To try to do that, we’ve been doing some work with the Local Enterprise Partnership.

The LEP, and other institutions in the city like the Council, can be tricky to engage with. Especially when you’re harder to work with, like we are. So much of their set up is around funding bids and inward investment that when someone turns up who doesn’t want any of those things, they’re not sure what to do with us.

That’s if they recognise us at all. Because we don’t look like the stuff they’ve been told is “advanced manufacturing”, there’s a tendency to dismiss us as irrelevant. And some times there’s what I call a “mutual lack of respect”, where they think we should court them because they’re the council and important, and I think they should be courting us because we’re actually making a difference and getting on with it regardless of their involvement.

As time goes on, we’re getting harder to ignore, and some of the people working there do get it. One of those is Simon Reid at the LEP.

He’s in charge of the manufacturing sector at the LEP – that’s another problem, we don’t fit neatly into their sectors, as we’re equally manufacturing and digital-and-creative. His challenges for the sector are around skills shortages and keeping the local businesses abreast of emerging technology and possibilities.

So there’s a good match – he knows all the local supply chains and manufacturers, and we’re providing a way to enthuse more people about making and are experimenting with lots of the new technologies.

We’re planning an event to inform local manufacturers about the possibilities that the Internet of Things brings, and have started mapping out what capabilities are around the region. The Future Makespaces levels of study has helped out with that, as it’s provided a good way to frame things.

It’s early days, but hopefully it will be a fruitful relationship.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

There is more to running a makerspace than the tools you buy or the space that you put them in. If you get the culture right the rest will take care of itself.

And if we engage with the dark matter in the wider context, we have an opportunity to nudge our culture away from consumerism, away from the bankers, and towards a more productive future.

Thank You

Thank You

Digital Innovation, a talk at FACT

Last Wednesday I was one of four people asked to give a talk at FACT (the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) about Digital Innovation. Once the talks were over we then had an interesting discussion between the speakers and the audience about some of the issues raised (and more). I was too busy involved in the debate to take notes I’m afraid (and I can’t find any other reports on it online), but I can share my slides. The notes here won’t be exactly what I said, but were my thoughts when preparing the talk and so shouldn’t be too far from the mark…

[audio:http://doesliverpool.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/amcewen_intro.mp3|titles=Adrian McEwen intro music]

(and if you want to hear more, try the original tune it’s sampled from)

Imagivisionating the Future(tm)

Hello, I’ve blatantly stolen the idea of having intro music from a friend of mine, Russell Davies, but I think it’s good to start things with a bit of a flourish. I’ll come back to what the music was a bit later.

Who Am I?

I’m Adrian McEwen, I build interesting things with electronics and software and I co-founded something called DoES Liverpool. More on that later too.

Thanks to FACT for asking me along tonight…

Digital Innovation

I wasn’t sure what to talk about at first, but given the overall theme is “Digital Innovation” I figured I’d have a stab at defining what that might be.

Let’s break it down first…

Digital

That’s easy, it’s about computers and stuff. Pretty much everything I do involves computers or electronics or the Internet in some way or other…

Innovation

That’s the tricky one. Everyone seems to want more of it, as it’s some sort of magical elixir that will save money, make us more competitive, create new businesses and make us “think out of the box”. Which is strange, because people “doing innovation” look like this…

Innovation?

Which looks rather like they’re inside a big box, whereas these guys…

Innovation?

…are definitely outside of their box, and have re-imagined it as a shop. And tomorrow they’ll maybe rebuild it into a spaceship, and then incorporate a bedsheet to make it a lunar base…

I think “innovation” is one of those grown-up business words, that’s used by people because they don’t think they can get away with saying…

Playing

…or…

Experimenting

…or…

Trying Loads of Different Stuff

The problem is that in pretending we’re not doing any of those things, we suck all the permission to do any of those things out of ourselves, and end up trapped in a meeting room with a stack of post-it notes until we’ve “imagineered” our way out.

Another Way?

We’re tying to do things a bit differently at DoES Liverpool

First off, we’re a bit hard to explain…

We hold lots of events there but we’re not really a venue.
We have all sorts of people, with all sorts of skillsets, but we’re not an agency or an artists collective. You can’t “hire” DoES to make or do things for you.

I guess you can say we’re a community of diverse and interesting people (which we’d love you to join) who have a space where most (but not all) of the related activities take place.

We’re…

A Space to Play

DoES is full of people who are interested in trying out new things, and seeing where that takes them. We saw some laser-sintering of titanium at Liverpool University’s Engineering Department, and so John McKerrell thought he’d try it out with our laser-cutter and some sugar…

A Space for Experimenting

And some of the playing leads into experimenting. We were trying out some RFID technology, and installed it into the door at DoES so you get a welcome tune played when you arrive, and another when you leave. The music at the start of my talk is what gets played when I check into DoES. We’ve now extended the system so that it automatically logs the days that hot-deskers are here, so it makes running the space easier and lets us track stats of how it’s being used.

Somewhere to Cross-Pollinate Ideas

All sorts of people use DoES – artists, web developers, software engineers, designers… We’ve even got a translator and surveyor and someone who runs a modelling agency. Who knows what conversations and ideas will come about with those sorts of connections…

And there are plenty of groups that call DoES home – GeekUp, Liverpool Sewing Club, Breakerfaire (a computer security meeting), SpecFicLiv (a sci-fi/fantasy writing group), and one of the more regular events is…

A Space for Making

Maker Night (and Maker Day). Three times a month anyone can come along and learn more about 3D printing (that’s our 3D printer in the slide), laser-cutting, or electronics (things like Arduino). If you need a making fix more often than that, the workshop is available for anyone working from the space for the rest of the time

A Space for Prototyping

We have a number of people using the space to prototype their projects or ideas. I use it for some electronics/Arduino kits I’m developing, John McKerrell has been iterating through versions of his WhereDial location clock with the laser-cutter, and just today artist John O’Shea has been 3D printing scaffold for tissue culture as part of a bio-hacking project.

A Space for Business

Lots of members of the space run their own business, so there’s expertise to tap into, and someone to sympathise when you’re having a moan about clients not paying on time… Plus there’s Lean Liverpool, a monthly meeting to learn more about the Lean Startup methodology to running your business, and the Liverpool DoES Startups startup weekends (next one coming up in November)

A Space for Working

We’re happy to help you get some work done, whether it’s just hanging out at a desk with your laptop getting wifi and a cup of coffee, or using the workshop to laser-cut your latest project design.

You can get a desk to call your own and use of all the facilities; or have access to come in and use the workshop whenever you like; or just come and hot-desk (or hot-workshop) for a day. If any of that sounds tempting, bring some cake along and you can try us out for your first day for free.

Get Rich or Have Fun Trying

Is any of this going to increase the amount of Digital Innovation in Liverpool? I don’t know, it’s hard to scale or force – all you can do is try to engineer more serendipity into the environment.

At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, it’s more about encouraging more people to chase exciting and different projects, and to make a living in a more enjoyable way.

The challenge we’re setting is…

Can You Do Epic S**t, Liverpool?

[audio:http://doesliverpool.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/amcewen_goodbye.mp3|titles=Adrian McEwen goodbye music]