HOPE X: Hackerspace Community Dynamics Meet-Up | MIT Center for Civic Media

HOPE X: Hackerspace Community Dynamics Meet-Up

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Facilitator: Naomi Most

The goal of this meet up is to take a step back, look at building communities, and talk about what doesn't work, and more importantly what does.

Do you hackerspace?

Most folks here have some experience starting and growing spaces. The rest are interested.

Are hackers normal people? Or are they really different?

We're just like anyone, e.g. baseball fans, who have a particular set of interests.

Hackers are people who question assumptions.

One participant say there's sometimes a "we're better, and we're exclusive" and they're not in favor of that. Much agreement from the group.

A person who wears hacker as a badge on their arm says "I have superpowers" but a person who wears it on their heart says "I have superpowers, you can too."

Hackerspaces in libraries help bridge the gap with people who wouldn't identify as hackers.

Historically, hackerspaces have come from a particular, largely white-male, subculture, and the values of that subculture are still part of the community, sometimes in conflict with outreach.

Artisan's Asylum never put emphasis on the term "hackerspace" in an attempt to be more open to values outside of the traditional subculture. It's been very effective in, for instance, reaching a good gender balance. The space is seen as a safe space, which makes it less necessary to have women-focused events. A great way to do this is to have women involved in running the space and events.

How can we encourage diversity in our communities?

Austin Hackerspace has "Soldering for Girls" and the goal of the woman who runs it is to hold it until it is no longer needed.

There's sometimes a perception that including more people cheapens the experience. Sometimes members don't want to bother with teaching people and assume everyone should know what they're doing. This causes internal conflict, and has been the downfall of some hackerspaces. By providing space that's open and accessible to everyone, Artisan's Asylum has become a huge resource and attracted people from all skill levels, including masters of their craft. Sometimes experts in one skill are beginners in another, and that opens up collaborations.

Hackerspaces fail when they lack:

  • Mission. You have to have an idea of what your focus is (but not an exclusive one)
  • A concept of mutual aid. People get too enmeshed in their particular thing. You have to be willing to support everyone in the space, even if they're into something else.
  • A lack of willingness to make reasonable accommodation. Taking either extreme will kill a space. Making no accommodation will fail, so will letting people do anything. You have to look at capacities. One great example is the debate about childcare. Some spaces will make no accommodation for kids. Others will work with parents to make them aware of dangers and limitations for kids in the space.

Noisebridge has been asking whether they're too inclusive. When you need to enforce community norms, there's a bifurcation between the people who are adamant, opposed, and indifferent. They need a mission statement.

"Points of unity" or "base assumptions" are great tools for this. These are short ideas like "step-up, step-back." Communities choose, beforehand, which principles will inform their decisions, and new members agree to those when they enter.

Sometimes spaces try to define their mission and policies exactly before they start. Perfect is the enemy of good here. Sometime less-defined ideas that clearly convey a spirit are better. Also, mission statements shouldn't be decided by endless board meetings. They should be decided by doing things and talking about them.

It's important whether a mission statement mentions inclusivity. Some spaces will dismiss attempts at inclusion immediately.

Most spaces have missions, etc. online. It's important to include authorship so that if people have questions they can contact the author.

Do-ocracy is important, but not having empowered leadership can be a red flag. You can end up with no one ever taking the trash out, etc.

Warning Signs

Use of space as personal storage. You can allow for some spaces to be used as studio space. There's a wait list, to create a cultural push for people to use it or lose it. Things that sit on shelving too long, you can email them. PS:1 has two tiers of membership: starving hackers get full access but not voting rights or dedicated storage. i3 Detroit also uses a parking permit system that is only used when it's needed. Anyone can issue a ticket if there's a problem, and the Larger spaces need special permission, a parking permit. If someone violates it, they get a parking ticket and the owner can get a parking permit. If there's no problem, it never gets in the way. Spaces can be managed by hosts/wardens with a dedicated budget.

There are different models: one where all space is shared, and one where each person has their own space. The differences are important.

People not showing up to meetings.

Members who are constantly disagreeing.

Too much debate over process and not enough doing: "someone should do this."
Possible solutions, link voting rights to participation.