Understanding the Landscape – getting to know your area, its hacking and making scene
Hack/Makerspaces are growing in number year-on-year. The temptation is to take a “cookie-cutter” approach to replication, and build from the top down where design is concerned – the very opposite of the approach taken by grass-root groups. Instead, we recommend you encourage diversity so that library-hack-makerspaces celebrate a community’s local design and manufacturing heritage, harness their unique identity, and better serve individual needs and interests – what is sometimes referred to as building upon the fine grain.
Understanding your landscape will allow you to develop a space with rather than for your community, and afford your library-hack-makerspace greater resilience as well as help you to develop an extended network of support – this, in turn, will reduce the burden placed upon central resources over time. People will respect, use and help maintain facilities and equipment if you nurture a genuine sense of ownership amongst them when trying to establish a peer-to-peer or give-get style platform for knowledge exchange.
Key Issues to Consider
- What is the local area like?
- What type of hacking/making activities are most appropriate / of most interest to your local community?
- Are there organizations already operating within your area that the library-hack-maker space could build upon?
Our heritage is all around us in buildings, institutions and most importantly our communities, and should be used to guide and inspire the development of your library-hack-maker space to ensure it retains a local ethos, identity and vitality.
The process outlined below will help you to decide what types of events your local community is interested in developing with you and, crucially, will help you find the people who are able and willing to get involved.
1: Set up a Facebook Group
Start by setting up a dedicated Facebook Group. Facebook groups let you share things with people that care about a particular topic. You can control who joins the group and also create an online directory of local makers using this method. Instructions about how to set up a Facebook Group are available here. In the “About” section of your Facebook Group, you should aim to be clear about the purpose of the group and the type of people you want to join. For example, “Whether you’re an artist, graphic designer, poet, tailor, milliner, musician, film-maker, cook, thespian or any other creative living in or around Colchester, this page is for you! This Facebook page, is a bulletin board for Makers, for you to post links to the things you’re involved in, things you’ve seen that you like, or events that you are planning to go to…”
2: Survey Your Local Community
Plan your survey. Think carefully about the information you will be collecting and your reasons for approaching the community before tailoring your message to suit your purpose. Try to find a format that suits most people; online tools that you might want to use include: Survey Monkey and Kwik Surveys. You should approach a number of organisations to help promote your survey – local businesses, colleges and places where people congregate. You could also form a team of volunteers to survey passers-by.
Topics you might want to cover could include:
- About You
- Contact Details (inc. social media)
- Areas of Interest – for example, arts, crafts, making, digital, technology.
- Current Creative Activities / Endeavours
- Local Group Membership / Affiliations
- Knowledge, Know-How, Skills – informal, formal, current, aspirational
- Interest in Involvement – space and activity development, animation, curation, learning, sharing, self-publishing, joint venturing, performing, etc.
- Access Requirements
- Your Ideas: Think Big!
3: Desktop Research
Desktop research can contribute greatly to the process of setting up a library-hack-makerspace. It enables you to build a picture of the manufacturing heritage of your local community, in relation to which you might want to develop your USP, as well as to start to identify existing groups and organisations that may become partners.
Some ideas for areas to research include:
- Researching the history of manufacturing, agriculture and crafts, etc. in your area;
- Collecting cuttings from local newspapers or details of the history of your village, town or city (try town and county archives and local libraries);
- Collecting old photographs which show how the landscape or area looked in the past;
- Undertaking a general or themed oral history project, by writing or recording reminiscences of local people on tape.
Contacting local history groups and societies can also be very helpful. Often, they have the information you need already or can, at least, sign-post you to interesting people/ resources that can save considerable time and effort.
- A directory of registered local history groups can be found here;
- HistoryPin is a Heritage Lottery Funded project that may contain helpful links to local news and groups. It can be found here
There are a number of voice recording apps that you could use if you have a smartphone or similar device. All of these voice-recording apps are simple to use. Alternatively, if you like, you can use a Dictaphone. A call out for information about the history of manufacturing might also be a good first post on the new Facebook Group.
4: Community Engagement Events and Open Days
Run free Open Days and ask your local community what they imagine the space could be used for. It is important to clarify collective aims and objectives (what you all hope to achieve) from the outset, so that you have a shared vision. It is not necessary for all of your community engagement events to happen on-site to begin with. Take some photographs and create a mini-presentation about the space/vision on a laptop, then go into the spaces where your target audience(s) already gather, such as university and college bars, local clubs and associations and known enthusiasts. It is important to time your events to suit your audience.
- Remember – you will need to be proactive in identifying local makers and hackers – create a paper form that people can add themselves to during the event;
- Be clear from the outset about any Volunteer Opportunities that may be available – to help you launch your space, create some defined roles to which people can immediately sign up. For example, bloggers, Twitter users, Facebookers, history enthusiasts, partnership recruiters, workshop leaders, workshop assistants, ‘leafleteers’ and an Events Manager; and
- To increase awareness of your project, ask people ‘how’ when you survey them.
You should create a dedicated mailing list and ensure that you’re able to contact the people that attend your events who seem most engaged. Create a paper mailing list for the event that people can sign when providing you with their contact details. Online Mailing List Managers such as Mailchimp, which can create mass emails shots, are also very useful. But, remember to be very careful how you use, store and share people’s details, to ensure you comply with the Data Protection Act (DPA).