Creating an inclusive and welcoming Maker Space

Introduction, purpose of this manual

This manual was created with the purpose of offering resources and tips on how a Maker Space and its community can become more inclusive, diverse and welcoming to those, who might feel under-represented and less visible in the Maker Movement and its community. 

Please help us to make this a living document and share your feedback, experiences and recommendations via the comment function.

Main author of the manual: Cin Pietschmann,
with the support of the Critical Making Team

  1. What is inclusion and what does it mean in a Maker Space?
  2. Basic rules on how to create an inclusive Maker Space
  3. Space and barriers
  4. Events & scheduling
  5. Reaching out to under-represented groups
  6. Creating a community & making people feel welcome
  7. Examples & recommended practices
  8. Checklist

What is inclusion and what does it mean in a Maker Space?

When we talk about inclusion it refers to the conscious act of including people or groups in day to day life, as well as providing access to resources and opportunities to those, who might not have access to these in their day to day life. Why is this also important for Making and why do we need  to talk about inclusive Making? On one hand, people might be excluded from Making or a Maker Space, because there are literal barriers hindering them from entering a space or taking part in the process of Making. This might be due to people having physical disabilities and a Maker Space might not be wheelchair-accessible or they can’t use certain tools.On the other hand there are also barriers, which are not as physical: someone might not have the financial resources to buy tools and materials they would need for a Making project. 

If we want to make a Maker Space more inclusive, we have to think about what currently makes the space less inclusive and welcoming. Creating a welcoming atmosphere is just as important as breaking down different kinds of barriers. If we want to invite new groups of people into a space and community, we must also consider what makes people stay and want to become part of the community. To achieve this the very first step is to be welcoming, helping newcomers, and make people feel comfortable within a new space and community. 


Basic rules on how to create an inclusive Maker Space

There are in general some ground rules to start off from and which should always apply.

  • Be outspoken against any form of discrimination
    If you want to welcome newcomers to the community and especially those from marginalized populations, it is your responsibility to create a safe environment for them and make them feel safe. Be loud and clear about both your own stance and the Maker Space’s stance on discrimination and be ready to take action if they are challenged.
  • Publish  a Code of Conduct (CoC) in your Maker Space
    A Code of Conduct consists of rules, which outline norms, responsibilities and appropriate behavior alongside what to avoid in a specific group or space. Such a Code of Conduct can also be understood as a social agreement. A CoC should take a stance against all forms of discrimination and what will be the consequences if rules are broken. A proper CoC should not only address inappropriate behavior, but also actively name and promote appropriate behavior and what the space and community strive to be like. You can find many examples online, like here (https://makers.tech/code-of-conduct/) and here (https://www.mzbaltazarslaboratory.org/code-of-conduct/). There is also variation of a CoC called Know your rights! that focuses on each person’s own rights within a community.
  • Co-create your CoC
    Invite a diverse group of people to collectively work on or give feedback on your CoC. Expect to change some things in the future as we are all growing and evolving not only as people but as a community that never stops learning.
  • Establish an awareness team
    Have an awareness team (or person) that functions not only as reinforcement of the CoC, but also as a first contact for feedback or for someone who needs help. 

In the following part, we want to offer more in-depth tips on inclusivity in a Maker Space. Feel free to pick up what is most important to your space right now or where it might need improvement. 


Space and barriers

As mentioned earlier, an inclusive Maker Space has different facettes to it. Creating community guidelines and holding people accountable is one thing, but making a space accessible is also an important part of inclusion. Many people in society have mobility issues, which might mean they use a wheelchair or they have generally great difficulty climbing stairs. If you want to make your space more inclusive take a look around and imagine how people with mobility issues could access and move around in your space. Can everybody enter the space? Is there enough space for a wheelchair user to move freely? Does your space have comfortable places to rest? Can everybody access all tools available? Are toilets  wheel-chair accessible in the Maker Space? Are your toilets binary-gendered only or do you also offer options for non-binary individuals and other genders?

Realistically, a Maker Space that isn’t completely accessible can’t just move to another, more accessible space – but you can always check how you can make the space you are using right now more accessible. Making your space more accessible is also a great project for makers! We also recommend adding any information on accessibility to your website. 

If you find yourself in a not very accessible space and there is little you can change, but you really would like to: think about what parts of the Maker Space could go on tour to a more accessible space or partner with them. Might there be a kind of event or initiative you could support?

Barriers might also arise from mobility issues outside of the Maker Space: if the space isn’t located in a city and or a location that is easily accessible by public transport, it might be hard for some people to visit the space at all as the effort and/or costs arising from visiting the space – especially for a first time! – might just be too much. In that case you can yet again think about teaming up with other spaces/initiatives to offer events in a more accessible space outside of the Maker Space. If it’s possible you can also investigate if other makers and members own a car or other means of transportation, which could help bring people to the Maker Space.


Events & scheduling

You might observe that only a very specific group of people takes part in your Maker Space events. This doesn’t mean that the event is only interesting to them. The scheduling might not work out for lots of other people interested in joining. 

This might be due to people having to take care of children and other family members or observe religious rituals on specific weeknights or holidays, so they might not be able to join events later in the evening. If it’s possible, change dates around and see how different days and times might work out for different people! 

If you want to reach a specific group of people consider throwing an event just for them – but always take into account their needs and expectations!


Reaching out to under-represented groups

If you come to the conclusion that your Maker Space attracts mostly the same group of people and missing under-represented groups you have already done a big step towards changing exactly that! But coming from realization to actually changing something is another big step that shouldn’t be underestimated. We already discussed reasons why people might not be able to be part of a Maker Space so easily and how to change that, but besides changing the physical space and adjusting what the Maker Space may offer you can also actively approach different groups of people and encourage them to join! You can reach out to under-represented groups by partnering up with local associations, schools and initiatives addressing certain groups, open up a conversation about what the Maker Space can offer and plan a joint event together! 

When reaching out to an under-represented group of people you are not yourself part of you also need to be sensible and aware of your own intentions: Don’t invite members of a marginalized community, because it will look good on photos or because you “have” to do it. Do it, because it’s fair and the right thing to do. Do it, because a more inclusive Maker Space will enrich the community and the maker movement overall. 


Creating a community & making people feel welcome

By opening up the space and inviting underrepresented groups to the maker community you are already dealing with the next step: You don’t want to just invite people, you want them to feel welcome and let them be part of a community. As such, you should be open to feedback and changing things up. If you invite new people into the maker community, don’t make them feel like “add-ons”, but full and valuable members of the community.

In the following sections we will give further insight into other things that make people feel more welcome and helps newcomers with their first steps in the maker community:

Languages

Not all people interested in joining your community/space may speak the country’s/local language. They might have difficulties communicating or getting hold of information about your community/space. It already changes a lot if you offer basic information in more than one language. 

You can also ask members in the community/space what languages they speak and if they would be willing to translate some information or offer to translate at events. 

Offering mentoring

Being new in an unfamiliar place or community can be intimidating. If you offer mentoring to newcomers they may feel more welcomed and also may find it easier to join a new community. 

It is recommended to establish long term members as mentors if they would like to mentor newcomers as they can show them around and explain how the community operates. It is also recommended to advertise mentoring openly, so people can easily know by looking at your website that they can seek out mentoring.

Mentoring can be offered at regular events, but if mentors are available you can also offer newcomer events with 1 to 1 mentoring. People might find it easier to attend a newcomer event first before they attend other events or join the community. 

Offering financial aid and resources

People may not have had the chance to become part of the Making community because  they can’t afford tools and materials to start out – or it just might simply be a bit costly to invest money into a new hobby right from the start or jump right into a monthly membership fee. If your space asks for a membership fee consider a free trial period for newcomers and a sliding pay scale based on a trust system. This means you offer different fee tiers people can choose from and you trust in people choosing a tier that reflects their financial means. A trust system is recommended because having to prove one’s own financial scarcity can be both difficult and shameful and might hold people back from taking up that offer.

As materials and tools can be expensive a Maker Space should offer a range of tools to use for everyone or encourage members to share some tools if possible. A collection of simple materials like plywood, soldering tin, filament for 3D printing and more for newcomers to use for free or for just a small price can be a great encouragement to get started with those first few projects! 

Offering easy first-time projects into Making for newcomers

Specific newcomer events are helpful for people new to making, as well as offering further guidance on what the first (or second, or third) making project could be. Seasoned makers might have already found their favorite theme, tools or working materials, but they also know that there are infinite possibilities in making! Newcomers might already have a specific project in mind or a specific idea of what they want to learn – but many of them don’t, especially the ones who might not have grown up with the encouragement to tinker or repair something or to try out playing with hardware. To help people start out with making a Maker Space should offer a handful of project ideas for beginners with a tutorial easy to follow. It’s even better if you can also offer the tools and materials needed for the project!! Small projects to begin with can also be offered at newcomer events (please refer to the previous section).


Here we have some examples of inclusive Maker Spaces for you:

The OpenHealth HACKacademy is an amazing example of how to turn making more inclusive.

More info: https://matchmymaker.de/open-health-hackademy/


Checklist

We created a summarizing checklist with all our tipps and examples to make a Maker Space more inclusive and welcoming. This also serves as a quick overview for when you want to make changes in your Maker Space or you might use it as a conversation starter in your maker community. A Maker Space might not be able to implement everything on this checklist due to their own limit of resources and that is okay. Have a look at what could be easily implemented and what might be long term goals you would like to achieve. 

Reaching out to newcomers

  • Consider consciously which groups are present in the Maker Space & which are not – what factors might contribute to that?
  • Reach out to newcomers through target group initiatives/organizations
  • Offer guidance to easy first time projects for newcomers
  • Organize newcomer workshops/events
  • Offer mentoring to newcomers

Make people feel welcome & create a community

  • Have a Code of Conduct for your Maker Space
  • Establish an awareness team, consisting of at least 2 people, people can turn to for help
  • Provide info in multiple languages and offer translations if needed
  • Be open & appreachiative to feedback of newcomers; be open to change things up & try out new things

Space, barriers & resources

  • Try to make your Maker Space as accessible as possible; consider how you can include people if there are physical barriers holding them back
  • Include info on how accessible the Maker Space is on your website
  • Offer free or sliding scale memberships if your Maker Space operates on membership fees
  • Offer newcomers free or low cost materials and access to tools

Organizing events & scheduling

  • Offer different kinds of events; make sure to have events that are catering towards newcomers
  • Take into account that different people have different schedules and responsibilities in life and try out and change up scheduling here & there
  • Offer translations at events if needed
  • Offer childcare at events or create child-friendly events, which let a family participate as a whole

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