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Project: Learn about your community

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Project: Learn about your community

Learning about the community is one of the most important steps to take at the beginning of the process of forming a space. You should learn as much as you can about your community so that you can find all of the partners you will need to make your space successful and sustainable, while ensuring that it meets the community's needs effectively.

One of the most important reasons to do this is to make sure that you don't duplicate efforts. You want to make sure that your space will fill the gaps in the community and not replace or compete with organizations that already exist.

Meet with leaders of similar spaces in your city and beyond
Role who does itEverybody
Description

As early on as possible, seek out spaces that are similar to yours to learn from their experiences, build partnerships, and make sure that you're not duplicating efforts. When you meet with these people, find out what they are most interested in. See how you can work together. Ask lots of questions about their experience with starting and running the space, what worked, what didn’t, and what difficulties they faced.  Also share with them what you have learned from talking to other community partners and similar spaces. 

Meeting with local groups similar to yours will be helpful to you in learning:

  • Local laws that apply to running your type of space

    • What regulations to be aware of as your space establishes itself and gets its legal status as well as what it took to get that status; e.g. certificates, insurance, facility and property codes, etc.

  • What communities have been helpful to them for publicity and connections.

  • What the lay of the land is so that you may better develop your strategy and figure out what opportunities and pitfalls exist for your space.

Local spaces have the potential to be your greater partners and friends, part of your extended community, but don't be surprised if they initial regard you with wariness or aren't quick to share information. If they are working in the same area, they may regard you as a competitior for funds that are hard to acquire in the first place! To address this concern, be clear that you are meeting with them to make sure you aren't duplicating services and that you can have a mutually beneficial relationship. Focus first on what you may be able to do for them, and only second on what they can help you learn. They are more likely to give you the knowledge you need to succeed if they are confident that your new space will help rather than hurt their own efforts.

If there aren't any spaces locally that are similar, you won't need to worry much about duplication, but seek out regional and national counterparts to learn about their experiences and get ideas for models you might want to emulate or adapt. These folks are less likely to feel threatened by your intention to start a new space since you won't be competing for members or funds. Even if there are local groups similar to yours in the nearby area, it's a great idea to cultivate these relationships farther away!

If your new space is a hackerspace, look up other spaces at hackerspaces.org. This community likes to help one another and will usually welcome your questions with open arms!

Estimated Time1 week
Level of EffortEasy!  
Meet with leaders of makerspaces and hackerspaces in your city 
Role who does itEverybody
Description

If your space is a makerspace or a hackerspace, this task is already covered in the task "meet with leaders of similar spaces in your city and beyond."  However, if your space is of another variety, it's worth connecting with these folks locally for a few reasons.

  1. They have a lot of relevant experience even though what they do might be slightly different. Still ask them about what has worked for them, what hasn't, their best advice, and so on. In some cases the parallels will be obvious. In other cases it might seem like their experience isn't relevant, but listen deeply and you might find inspiration in unexpected places!
  2. They might be a natural partner for your space and you'll want to know what they have to offer. There are bound to be times when your members are interested in doing a project for which it would make sense to refer them to a makerspace.
  3. They're all about making things and being resourceful! They have access to a wealth of human and physical resources for making things happen without a lot of money. Chances are that will come in handy at some point along the way.

[Diana's note: I broke this out since we're keeping the terminology pretty general. I need some help making sure I'm doing a good job of articulating the benefits of talking to these spaces if you aren't one yourself.]

Estimated Time1 week or less
Level of EffortEasy - These groups are usually quite happy to tell you about themselves and answer questions.
Meet with leaders of co-working spaces and business incubators in your city
Role who does itAnyone who has a business attitude.
Description

When you talk to these people, share with them what you have learned from talking to their counterparts. Find out what they are most interested in. See how you can work together.  

As co-working spaces tend to be more on the business side of making, it is a great way to make business connections and generate business interest in your hackerspace.  It is a good idea to establish such a relationship since makerspaces tend to be more maker-oriented and co-working spaces tend to be more business-oriented.  These two aspects often complement each other and hackerspaces/co-working spaces often refer people to each other depending on their needs.  Having this interaction helps the overall maker community and helps you establish yourself in the community.
Estimated TimeASAP - They are among the first you want to meet.
Level of EffortLow - You sometimes have to approach them with a business mindset and communicate with them in that context.  Come with a basic business case in mind.
 
Ask arts and media leaders what they need
Role who does itPR Outreach / Artist
Description

Make a list of every local organization that focuses on the arts and media. This can include organizations that specialize in design, graphics, architecture as well as art galleries, artists clubs and other arts organizations.

Find out who leads these organizations and ask them what kinds of things they need the most. For example, arts organizations may tell you that there are many places to perform a play, but there are too few places in which to rehearse. Artist clubs might tell you they have no place to meet. Artists might tell you they need a space to exhibit their work. 

Kinds of arts leaders to look for include:

  • artist clubs
  • leaders of performing groups (theatres)
  • prominent local artists
  • gallery owners
  • any 'artist resource networks' (for example, http://marnonline.org)
  • Leaders of local design, architecture firms
  • Local video or media producers
  • Local arts teachers
Estimated Time1 month
Level of EffortEasy: interviews, research
Ask commercial leaders what they need
Role who does itFounding Team, PR
Description

Look for the small businesses and big businesses in your community. The people who lead these businesses might have specific needs that your space can address. Asking them what they need is a great way to introduce them to the concept of your space and help them consider how they might engage. Often times these commercial leaders have challenges such as developing new products, or keeping their employees engaged, with which a space can help.

For example, your space can offer local businesses a place to meet off-site and have a creative discussion, which is something they might find it difficult to do at their own offices.

Kinds of commercial leaders to look for:

  • Owners of local family-owned businesses
  • Leaders of local chamber of commerce or economic development group
  • Local leaders of national or multinational companies that are located in the area
  • Any group focused on entrepreneurship
  • Any business incubator
  • Any city- or state-run resources for businesses
  • Your city's economic development, tourism, or other agency
  • Your city's downtown or Main Street organization (these are typically groups that help organize the city's merchants, stores, and businesses in a geographical area)
Estimated Time1 month
Level of EffortModerate - it might be hard to get business leaders to meet with you
Ask community leaders what they need
Role who does itFounding team, Outreach / PR
Description

Community leaders are both visible and invisible. For example, you might think of your town's mayor as a community leader, but there are probably just as many "backstreet" mayors as there are official civic leaders. Talk to the people who run your city and find out what they need. Here are some of the people to look for:

  • Mayor
  • Alderperson or city councilperson
  • City Economic Development office leaders
  • City education leaders
  • Faith community leaders
  • Leaders of local clubs/organizations
    • Artists’ communities
    • Co-ops and intentional communities
    • Hobby & technical clubs
    • Neighborhood organizations
Estimated TimeDepending on how friendly you and they are, anywhere from a week to a month.  Frequency of contact and understanding of their mission and how it connects to yours is important in making the connection progress.
Level of EffortEngaging the local clubs and participating in their activities is optional, but it really helps to make the connection.  Therefore the level of effort can range from low-medium to high-medium depending on how much the interaction takes.  To keep the effort manageable, be sure to ‘stick to your knitting’.  Engage in those activities and goals that closely match or complement your own so that you and your intended partner can work together to a common goal.
Ask education leaders what they need
Role who does itFounding team, Outreach / PR
Description

Look for the opportunities in education.  Making is often an activity with great educational potential and educators are frequently looking for new ways to teach lessons to students.  Sometimes due to resource constraints, they need some outside assistance.

Education can range from K-12 to college and adult and professional education.  A good point here is to make your education material appropriate to your audience to be able to cover the broad spectrum of education.

Educational audiences include:

  • Local schools K-12
  • Colleges - Some student teams may need assistance on a project or an advisor.
  • Homeschoolers - Such communities often seek local resources to supplement their programs.
  • Job Training/Career Development Centers and/or Adult Education - Sometimes people are looking to build experience for their professional careers.  Being able to teach a class to give them the basics or engage them on a project so they can gain experience or practice their craft can be helpful.
Estimated Time1 Month
Level of EffortHigh to Moderate - There are educational standards to meet depending on what sector you are engaging and often times working with minors will require insurance and appropriate training.
Ask the local technology community what they need
Role who does itPR Outreach & Technologists
Description

Identify the players in your local technology community - this might include a local PHP users group, Linux group, hacker group, 3-D printing, Ham Radio, professional and technical societies, local industry and more. Find their meetup.com, facebook.com or web pages and get to know them and find out about their meetups.  

Ask these groups and individuals what they need from a space. Consider attending one or more of their meetups. 

Estimated Time2 weeks
Level of EffortLow to Moderate since most technology communities are familiar with the concept of a hackerspace and often are quite friendly and supportive of such. Local industry can be harder to reach.
Identify creative economy stewards
Role who does itFounding team, Outreach / PR
Description

Creative economy stewards are people and/or organizations that promote, advocate and cultivate the creative aspects of the local economy.  

Stewards provide resources for people working to develop project ideas through conception, development, launch and sustainment/growth. These resources may be provided in the form of environment, knowledge, advocacy, and/or material support. Not only do these stewards have the potential to provide much needed support to your space, but as your space develops, it may itself become a creative economy steward for your members and the larger community.

Estimated Time1 week to 1 month depending on the local creative economy ecosystem.
Level of EffortLow to moderate depending on how mature and populated the local creative economy is.
Identify local media
Role who does itPR Outreach
Description

Your local media broadcast an image of your organization to the public.  While you may not be ready to engage them in spreading the word yet, it will be helpful to know who the major players are and how you can get in touch when the time comes. Developing a relationship with key individuals and ensuring they know about your project will make it even easier.

Look up local newspapers, bloggers and media outlets that are relevant to your activities as they tell the news to people who have reasons to come to your space.

  • Technical, Art or Culture Newspapers
  • Special Interest News
  • Local News
  • Bloggers

Create a list of these media sources, including direct contact information where possible, and make it available to your entire founding group. When a momentous occasion arises suddenly, you'll know how to get in touch with media sources to provide coverage!

Estimated Time2 weeks
Level of EffortLow to Moderate since media are often looking for story material and are quite enthusiastic to engage and report on local happenings.
Survey potential members
Role who does itLed by PR Outreach & the Founding Group, but include everyone and their friends and acquaintances who have an interest in the hackerspace.
DescriptionAsk for desired price ranges, hours of operation, typical activities, good locations, methods of transport
Estimated Time2 weeks.
Level of EffortLow to moderate.  Doodle polls and online forms are helpful as well as e-mail surveys.  Sometimes it can be just a casual conversation.

 

Need help?

Knowledge

The notebook section provides a way for you to store and share information with your group members. With the book feature you can:

  • Add book pages and organize them hierarchically into different books.
  • Attach files to pages to share them with others.
  • Track changes that others have made and revert changes as necessary.
  • Archive books that are no longer of interest to the group. Archived books can be reactivated later if needed.