Hi, my name’s Em O’Sullivan and I’m doing a PhD on diversity and inclusivity issues in makerspaces. I’m specifically researching the inclusion of women and non-binary people in makerspaces, but this workshop looks at the inclusion of many different groups of people including, and as well as, women. My history with makerspaces is that I’m a former trustee of Build Brighton, the Brighton hackspace. I’ve been a member there since 2011 and was a trustee for about 3 years. I became interested in why makerspaces reflect an issue seen in technology environments more broadly of not being very diverse in terms of the type of people that use them, and wanted to look into ways that we can change that.
Technology plays a huge role in our everyday lives. We rely on technology to do our jobs, to keep in touch with friends, and to run our homes (things like washing machines and ovens are technologies, too). It’s therefore essential that all people: Understand technology, know how to operate tools and computers, know what technologies can and can’t do, and know what the risks involved with specific technologies are. Feel comfortable with technology, feel a sense of ownership over technology, feel like they can learn about technology as it evolves and changes, and can make the most of the technology in their daily lives. People currently lack opportunities to learn about and use technologies, and makerspaces have the potential to provide that opportunity. Makerspaces also have several benefits over other environments where people learn about technology (such as at school, at university, through vocational training, and through online learning): They have flexible opening hours so people can visit them when it suits them They provide hands-on learning opportunities People can learn from others face-to-face Access typically costs much less than formal education or training courses. People can learn at their own pace. There are also a lot of tangible benefits that people can get from makerspaces. I’ve seen makerspace users: Use the skills they developed in makerspaces to get a new job Start a business selling a product they created using makerspace tools Upcycle objects that would have otherwise gone to landfill Make bespoke items they need, such as replacement parts for dishwashers or kitchen cabinets, that would cost a lot of money to get custom made Have their technical knowledge validated by sharing it with others. My personal experience as a longterm makerspace member is that they are empowering environments for learning about technology, and that sense of empowerment comes from both the access to tools that makerspaces provide and the access to a community that provides knowledge and encouragement to just try things out and to have fun doing new things.
When I’m talking about inclusion I mean both: Physical inclusion - people being able to physically get to and move around in the makerspace. Cultural inclusion - the makerspace being a friendly and welcoming environment for lots of different kinds of people.
I’ll start this workshop by giving a brief presentation of some examples of inclusive practices from my research with makerspaces in Europe and the USA. The rest of the session will then be a group discussion / round table where you can discuss successes or challenges that you’ve experienced around inclusive engagement in your own makerspace.
I will be collating the advice gathered during this workshop into a zine that can be sent out to makerspaces. I am recording this workshop to make it easier to transcribe the discussion afterwards. If you want the recording to be paused or for your comments to be left out of the transcription, please say so. I’ve also started a Google Group focused on gender issues in makerspaces called “gen-tech-make”, please join the group if you are interested in receiving updates.
Different types of people might have trouble joining makerspaces: People with disabilities and older people may be affected by physical access issues Parents and caregivers may be unable to access makerspaces where children aren&apos;t welcome, and this particularly affects women who continue to be responsible for the majority of childcare Women and BAME people may be more likely to be put off from entering environments where there are few people who look like them. They may also experience harassment from other members in the form of explicit nastiness (such as sexist or racist comments, sexual harassment, etc), or through more insidious actions. People with low incomes can struggle to pay membership fees and other hidden costs involved in accessing makerspaces such as charges for tool inductions and public transport costs. Makerspaces can be intimidating environments for anyone to enter because of the levels of knowledge that makerspace members possess. This can be exacerbated if the makerspace isn&apos;t fit for purpose and requires people to have existing knowledge to fix tools before they can use them. This also particularly affects women and BAME people who don&apos;t typically have as much technical experience.
People often think about whether their building is step-free when they are assessing physical accessibility, but you also need to consider things like: Are the doorways wide enough for people in wheelchairs to fit through them, and is there enough space between furniture for them to move around? Are tools fixed at an appropriate height? Are items stored out of reach? Do heavy items have to be moved around manually? Is the area so messy and cluttered that people can&apos;t get to the things they need? This photo is from Machines Room, who installed accessible toilets in their makerspace because the existing toilets in their unit weren’t accessible for people who use wheelchairs.
Messy spaces aren&apos;t welcoming to people. This photo is from Metalab: everyday a klaxon goes off and everybody stands up and tidies up the makerspace. They put rubbish away, stock up the fridge, and sometimes do bigger chores like cleaning the floor. Everyone pitches in and the job is done in 10 minutes, then everyone gets back to work. As well as making your space a nicer place to spend time in, tidying up also: Keeps junk out of the way of tools, thereby improving physical accessibility Prevents spaces becoming a dumping ground for electronic waste and half-finished project Reminds people about broken tools that need to be fixed when the space is checked over for rubbish Helps to spot whether supplies like electronic components or PPE such as dust masks have run out and need to be restocked (lack of proper health and safety equipment can also prevent people from accessing makerspaces).
Some other ways to make your makerspace a nicer place to spend time in is to: Paint some murals. This photo is from Noisebridge and features Nikola Tesla & Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton led the team who programmed the software for the original Apollo space program Get some books. Not just programming books, but books that people can sit down and read while their 3D prints are finishing Most importantly, have projects on display to give new people ideas for what they can make and projects they can get started with.
Interpersonal issues will sometimes come up between people in a community. Having a Code of Conduct (CoC) sets expectations for people when they join your makerspace and can also be referred to to deal with problems when they do occur. A CoC should cover both explicit nastiness (offensive comments, harassment, aggression, bullying, etc), and also micro aggressions: behaviours that make people uncomfortable but are harder to put your finger on, such as assuming somebody is not good at something because of the way they look, or, conversely, assuming that someone is good at something (e.g. &quot;you&apos;re a woman, you must know about textiles&quot;). A lot of makerspaces do have a CoC, but their members may not be aware of it. Informing members about the CoC when they join up, getting them to agree to it, and enforcing it when the Code is violated, are all as (and more) important as having a CoC in the first place. This photo is of the anti-harassment policy and CoC at Double Union: they framed it and put it on their kitchen wall so there&apos;s no excuse for people using their makerspace not knowing about it.
It can be tricky for makerspaces to have the capacity to organise events. If you do have the opportunity to organise events, go broad. Include things that you wouldn&apos;t necessarily expect to see in a makerspace. This photo is from the Institute of Making (IoM), which gives members inductions on their pottery wheel and recently held a slime making open day. The IoM has about a 50/50 gender split, and has a lot of people from the local community visiting during open days. Makerspaces can be places where people can share different kinds of knowledge and interests, but it can be hard to attract people outside of the digital technology crowd. One way to do that is to make sure that people know that you&apos;re interested in lots of different activities by reflecting that in the events you organise. Public events are also an opportunity to utilise tools you have but don&apos;t know how to use: you can invite people from the local community who work with that tool to come in for a workshop, and maybe they will also become interested in getting involved with the makerspace. Attracting diverse groups of people is a matter of building communities around the tools and interests you want to see in your makerspace.
My experience of the “pay-what-you-can” membership subscription model in volunteer-organised makerspaces has been that it can work well, and lowers the administrative overhead involved in agreeing to membership discounts on a case-by-case basis. There is a risk that this model can devalue the monetary benefit that people attach to makerspaces, so it may be worth setting a suggested membership amount to set new members’ expectations for how much they should aim to be paying. If you are a funded makerspace charging a flat rate for access then aim to offer discounted subscriptions to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford access. Having free workshops is an excellent way to get people from your local community involved in your makerspace. This photo is from The Factory, which organises free digital design workshops for local residents.
The Factory, shown on the previous slide, is based in an area of Bristol that used to have a strong manufacturing industry, so jobs have been lost there as manufacturing has become automated. Their makerspace has therefore been filling a need in the local area for people to learn new technical skills. This photo is from the Remakery, which focuses on upcycling objects that would otherwise be going to landfill and mainly houses small local businesses and social enterprises that work directly with the local community. If you can find out what challenges people in your local community are facing then you can provide things that are useful to them. Makerspaces are a valuable resource: as well as providing tools, we can provide space for people to put larger projects together. People who make use of that space may then choose to get more involved with the makerspace community.
Lastly, and most importantly, acknowledge if your makerspace is struggling to include diverse people. This isn&apos;t a matter of blaming makerspaces for not being inclusive, because this is a very widespread problem. Unfortunately, though, it&apos;s not a case of &quot;if you build it they will come&quot;: we need to think about why we have this problem, and what we can do to counter it.
These are some of the ongoing challenges makerspaces face around engagement activities: How can we afford to be inclusive? Raising membership fees excludes people who can no longer afford subscriptions. Fundraising requires a lot of volunteer labour. Sponsorship comes with its own issues: again, time is required to apply for grants; grants may have restrictions on how they are used; and they may only last a limited amount of time, after which you have to find different sources of funding. The two access models for makerspaces is generally: 1) 24 hour unsupervised access; 2) access during staffed office hours. 24 hour access enables people to access the makerspace when it suits them, but having staff members available can be great in helping new people to settle in and get started. Having an application and screening process for new members has worked well at some makerspaces for creating an inclusive community culture, but having a screening process for new members is exclusionary in itself.
Building Inclusive Makerspaces
Electromagnetic Field, Eastnor, England
2 September 2018
Why are inclusive makerspaces
● Technical literacy
● Lack of opportunities
● Real-world benefits
● Makerspaces are
We should be making our
makerspaces as inclusive as
● Who do we need to include in our makerspaces?
● Examples of inclusive practices
● Group discussion:
● What successes or challenges have you experienced in your
After the workshop...
● Advice will be collated and published as a zine
● This session is being recorded, please state if you do
not want your comments to be recorded!
● Join the Google Group :)
Who do we need to include?
● People with mobility issues
● Older people
● Parents and care-givers
● BAME (Black & Minority Ethnic) people / People of colour
● People with low incomes
● Technically inexperienced people
A few examples of inclusive
Think about physical access
Accessible toilet @ Machines Room, London
@ Metalab, Vienna
Make it colourful!
Nikola Tesla and Margaret Hamilton mural @ Noisebridge, San Francisco
Have a strong Code of Conduct
Framed anti-harassment policy and CoC @ Double Union, San Francisco
Organise diverse events
Pottery and slime making @ Institute of Making, London. Photos by IoM
Make it affordable
Free digital design workshop @ The Factory, Bristol
Work with your local community
Upcycling project @ Remakery, London
Acknowledge the problem!
● How can we afford to be inclusive?
● Higher membership fees?
● External funding or sponsorship?
● 24/7 access, or staffed opening hours?
● Open or closed membership?
Q. What successes or challenges have you
experienced in your own makerspace with
Q. What are your thoughts on makerspaces’
ongoing challenges around cost, staffing, and