Hackerspace incorporation patterns

Walter | Posted 2011.09.26 at 4:50 pm | Perma

As a mere participant of Revelation Space, a hackerspace (or makerspace, if you will) in The Hague, who also happens to practice law (but not corporate law), I found this article on hackerspaces.org interesting. Interesting but incomplete. Incomplete because it doesn’t really explore perfectly reasonable combinations of the patterns described. Also incomplete, because it reeks of a reinventing the wheel, but poorly. Read more…

PROJECT: HackerHostel.com

Agent5 | Posted 2011.09.02 at 4:24 pm | Perma

 

www.TheBrainTank.net

Traveling to other Hackerspaces = GOOD
Spending a lot of money on Hotel fees = BAD

Introducing a project brought to you by the The Brain Tank, DC401, and Hackers like you, called “HackerHostel.com”.

*NOTE: This is an excellent opportunity to use your new Hackerspace Passport.

The Goal:
Negate one of the larger expenses associated with travel, namely HOTEL FEES, in order to further promote idea cross-pollination through visitor, ambassador, and Hacker In Residency programs for Hackerspaces.

How?:
A website that will allow users to view Hackerspaces with available sleeping quarters and to submit visitor proposals to participating Hackerspaces for review. Tell us about yourself and what you wish to teach during your stay at your Hackerspace of choice.
The website will help Hackerspaces manage their proposals, discuss Best Practices, as well as help raise money for spaces to spruce up their sleeping quarters if necessary.
Also, each Hackerspace would have some kind of profile detailing the space available, the kinds of classes they might be looking for, what tools facilities would be available to the HIR.

Why?:
What better way to spend a short vacation than to learn something and teach others something new?
We can further innovation and the exchange of ideas over the course of a few days by removing those pesky physical borders.

Where?:
Whatever you consider a comfortable place to stay for a brief period of time in your Hackerspace. Could be a hammock, place to put a sleeping bag, a couch, or actual bunk bed. If you’ve got a space to crash, you’ve got a Hacker Hostel. The amount of time you allow a Hacker in Residence to stay is entirely up to you.

We’ve begun setting up The Brain Tank in Providence RI as a testing ground already. We should be able to comfortably sleep 2 HIR’s (Hacker in Residence) on proper bunk beds. A volunteer will be living and innovating 24/7 at The Brain Tank helping us work out the bugs and blogging about their experience. It’s a really convenient and safe area to live in.

http://www.walkscore.com/score/350-kinsley-ave-providence-ri

http://hackerspaces.org/wiki/The_Brain_Tank

Things we have:
-The website domain name www.HackerHostel.com was graciously donated to us. Thank you very much, we couldn’t have done this without your generosity.
*If anyone at all wants to be part of this website build please contact me ag3nt5@dc401.org , we could really use the help.
-Kayak (The Brain Tank is right next to a river through the city)
-E-bike (great for short distances)
-Servers and Terminals
-Tools & Scrap Electronics (lots of em)
-Coffee maker/microwave/oven/popcornmachine
-Hidden urban garden (great for relaxing or grilling outside)
-Tshirts (being designed as we speak. shirt slogan = “Sleep. Hack. Repeat.”)

Rough sketch Hacker Hostel shirt. Artist= Megan Billings

 

Things we may need:
-Website (A very simple booking website would be necessary to make this work. I’ve never built one before and could def use a hand if anyone want’s to chip in.)
-Shower (wouldn’t cost more than $150 total to buy & install at The Brain Tank. Once we figure out the cheapest way to build a shower we’ll release the cost and build info to all)
-Kickstarter (we can generate funding and offer cash to other Hackerspaces to improve their sleeping quarters. This will also fund the website maintenance.)

WHAT ELSE?
What do you think should be added? Changed? etc…

 

TL;DR

Note: This project is soooo simple to put together and would have a significant benefit to Hacker Culture. Right now all I think it really needs is a VIDEO, a WEBSITE, and a properly formed statement/description. We’d be helping to break down the barriers associated with the inconvenience and expense of travel. Making it easier for great minds and talents to move around freely teaching each other what they know.

Yes, there’s quite a bit to figure out. Each Hackerspace is different and TRUST is a huge part of the success of this project. Having guests stay at your place is a very personal thing. But if complete strangers on CouchSurfing.com can do it, I think the Hackerspace Community will have even better success as we are in fact a strong Community.
If you have any ideas, questions, or would like to help in any way, please contact me and we’ll get the ball rolling.

-Dave Johnson

ag3nt5@dc401.org

TheBrainTank@gmail.com

1-401-267-TANK (8265)

Race for the Future! Design it, build it, race it!

Jordan | Posted 2010.12.22 at 10:58 pm | Perma

Race to the Future

Attention all hackers and hackerspace members! Do you like creating with atoms instead of bits? Would you like to win fame and fortune? The Alternate Power Initiative wants YOU to design and build an alternative energy vehicle! Their second annual “Race for the Future” will be held in August, 2011 in Whiting, Indiana.

This race challenges you to:

Build a vehicle that can travel five miles powered by an alternate power source and race it through the streets of Whiting Indiana.

Here’s a subset of the rules:

  • Vehicle may not be powered solar energy or fuel cells
  • Vehicle may not be powered by a device based on existing conventional automotive or truck technology. Piston engines, rotary engines or turbines powered by detonated combustion gasses are not allowed. Piston engines, rotary engines or turbines powered by other sources will be allowed. These gasses would include but not be limited to those created by using gasoline, diesel, natural gas, propane methane or alcohol as fuel.
  • Vehicle must be self propelled (no pedal power)
  • Vehicle may not be powered by battery or capacitor stored electricity, (brake lights and turn signals may be powered by electricity).
  • Vehicle may be charged, (fueled or energized) before 5 mile trial but may not be charged, (fueled or energized) during run.

For full details, visit their website at http://alternatepowerinitiative.com!

Here are the rules and the entry form.

Better hurry! There are only 20 entries, and hackerspace Pumping Station: One has already claimed two of them! Who will be next?

If you sign up, please post in the comments!


Hack for Humanity! RHoK #2

Jordan | Posted 2010.11.22 at 9:59 pm | Perma

Yes, we know software developers are not necessarily hackers, and visa versa. Yes, we know they’re appropriating a word that’s been knocked about for the last forever, one that most of us stand up for and love. But, this event merits your attention because of the limited overlap between devs and hackers – they don’t think like we do, and that puts their potential good works in danger. We’re hoping you’ll attend this event, even for a bit, to help these do-gooders remember security risks and to push them in more interesting and elegant directions.

Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is all about using technology to make the world a better place by building a community of innovation. RHoK brings software engineers together with disaster risk management experts to identify critical global challenges, and develop software to respond to them. A RHoK Hackathon event brings together the best and the brightest hackers from around the world, who volunteer their time to solve real-world problems.

When and Where for the Hackathon?
The second global #RHoK hackathon event takes place around the world on December 4- 5, 2010. There are multiple organizations in multiple cities hosting the event, so please check here to register and find out where to go! The event starts at 9:00am GMT on December 4th and ends December 5th at 8:00pm GMT.

Who Else is Hacking for Humanity?
Aarhus, Nairobi, Sao Paulo, Chicago, Bangalore, New York, Lusaka, Berlin, Toronto, Bogota, Atlanta, Jakarta, Birmingham and Open Data camps will be connected over the weekend through live video streaming channels, chat servers, Skype, Twitter, blogs, photo and video sharing as we collaborate across time zones, international borders and languages to “hack for humanity”  – developing software solutions that will save lives and alleviate suffering.

We Need You
This event all comes down to you – we need your participation and support: sign up, and become part of something truly globally awesome!

Categories : fun  hackerspace  hacking  organization  people

Announcing The OpenDoor Hackathon!

Jordan | Posted 2010.11.22 at 9:12 pm | Perma

The OpenDoor Hackathon is a hackathon to benefit the members of hacker/maker/artist/co-working spaces by creating a standardized, Open Source access and membership management system that can be used by everyone. At the end of the hackathon, the systems (or subsystems) created by each space will be voted upon, and the best system (or combination of systems) will be chosen. Implementing the system afterward is, of course, optional.

Why are we doing this?
I know, the word “standardized” sends chills down my spine too, but I assure you that this is a good thing! Deciding upon a common system would enable the following things:

  • The ability to share membership between spaces
  • Crowd-sourced security enhancements and feature additions
  • Easier membership management
  • A warm fuzzy feeling of being connected with other spaces

What we’re envisioning (and what many of you already have) is a sort of Reciprocikey or Space Passport system. We believe that the only way to create such an awesome system is to work together on it!

More Focus for your brain meats:

Prize of an Ice Tube Clock from Adafruit for the space who best implements the standardization of interface specification between custom softwares and access control. Each space will review submissions at x time on Sunday and rank the systems they would most like to use (you cannot vote for your own). The runner up will receive a Minty Boost pack.
You can also vote on best hardware system, most elegant code, best independent member management software – the top three of each will receive Minty Boost packs, also via Adafruit.

Systems needed:

  • Software for access control (reads from memory stored users and network user databases)
    • Create a functional specification for how authentication can be done securely.
  • Software that manages membership rights (grants rights/features to users based on conditions specified by managers
    • Standardize an interface specification for how custom software can talk to the access control software interface.
      • example: 3rd party space has a member visiting, presents auth token.
      • example: someone wants to create a custom trusted UI (web, phone, etc.) for talking to the auth daemon
  • Web, phone, etc UI for membership management and access control software
    • Involve user interface management.  See what tools people are using today to manage membership and build hooks in the software to manage access control, or build your own.
  • Hardware for reading identity (RFID reader, USB stick, etc.)
    • Build plug-ins to support common hardware (don’t get stuck on any given vendor).

When is the OpenDoor Hackathon?
The OpenDoor Hackathon will begin on Saturday, December 11th at 2pm PST, ending 24 hours later at 2pm PST on Sunday, December 12th.

How do I sign up?
You can register your space’s team at the Eventbrite here!

Join the conversation at http://groups.google.com/group/opendoorhack-a-thon!

Make A Good Hack at PlumberCon 10!

astera | Posted 2010.06.22 at 2:00 pm | Perma

PlumberCon 9PlumberCon 9

Yeah, it’s that time of the year again – Vienna has been turning from the sinister city covered in grey light and fog to the blooming summer oasis it’s designed to be, and people overflow with glee (or so do we, at least)! Time to be looking forward to PlumberCon 10, probably one of the snugliest and neighborliest hacker conferences ever heard of.

So what exactly should you be looking forward to, you might ask?
In fact, it’s hard to tell. In one paragraph of lifeless and almost anti-emotional text, that is. What could be mentioned, for instance, is that there’s not only gonna be a ton of interesting talks by speakers from all around the globe (which I’m really really excited about btw), but also multiple hands-on workshops and trainings. Presenters you’ll meet at PlumberCon 10 include neighbors like Mitch Altman, Jimmie P. Rodgers, Jeff Gough, Barry van Kampen, Kugg, Allessio Pennasilico, or Mike Kemp. Topics range from Information Warfare to fun with microcontrollers.
Basically, one could call it a schnuffeliges meeting of a very large family… I happen to call it a hacker con (but that’s just me ;) )

Now, as of the bare basics I haven’t mentioned yet:
PlumberCon 10 will be held at WerkzeugH in Vienna, Austria from Friday, July 09th – Sunday, July 11th in the year of the hacker 2010. You can still register for the 3rd round of early bird tickets at the registration site until the end of the month, and I’d advise every hackerspace member to use the promo code ‘neighborliness flows’ to get a reduction on the ticket price – that, already as it is, will not lead us to profit but only cover a part of our expenses ^.^
Don’t forget to sign up for trainings beforehand wherever you find this requirement mentioned.

In any way, if you’re in town, make sure not to miss the epoque kick-off party on Friday night, where Phonoelit aka Mumpi and joernchen will provide us with their superior tunez that shall guide us safely through the night!

Make a good hack,
/astera

PlumberCon 9PlumberCon 9

Open Research Network for Hackerspaces

Openfly | Posted 2010.05.17 at 7:15 pm | Perma
Click image to enlarge.

Last summer at Hacking at Random ( 2009 ), Eric Michaud spoke to me about his plans to develop “Warzone”. Warzone is an international cyber range project, targeted at hackerspaces. Well, as it happens I knew that the CCC had been doing some mesh VPN networking for a fairly long time. In fact, well before I joined NYC Resistor I had been attempting to link my apartment into the very same mesh VPN along with the folks at the HHH. I ran down Mcfly from CCC Hamburg and got us all talking. Next thing we know we’ve got this awesome idea to link up hackerspaces via a mesh vpn network. That was last summer. Today we have fifty endpoints, and some actually functional code for this. Largely thanks to support from all over including Guss from tinc, who pushed a whole release of tinc just for us.

Today NYC Resistor is linked fully to the network. Noisebridge, Nullspace, and Pumping Station One have joined using the Fonera 2.0n images we’ve built. Other spaces are using homebrew setups built from source or debian packages. The warzone VPN is being put together right now so that we can host an international CTF competition using the new network. DNS is becoming available, and many spaces are setting up to do some really cool stuff.

We’re far from our goal of linking every hackerspace. So if your hackerspace or lab is interested in getting involved, we want you! Get in touch with us.

You can read more about all of this here:


Hackerspaces & Money: The Board

Nick Farr | Posted 2009.10.20 at 10:00 am | Perma

Note: This is the second specific installment of a five part series on Hackerspace organization called “Hackerspaces and Money: Five Approaches“.

One point I glossed over is why I believe that money and organizational forms are so intertwined when it comes to hackerspaces.  This series could have been called, “Hackerspaces and Organizational Forms: Five Approaches.”  Admittedly, I’m not talking much about money, how to find it, raise it or spend it.  I haven’t talked much about fundraising, accounting or project management, though I plan to in the future.  In my observation, what happens in Hackerspaces doesn’t need to be managed or carefully organized.  Once Hackers gather in a space, they’ll begin creating and collaborating in ways that are remarkably similar regardless of culture, language or organizational form.  Projects and programs that happen in one space can easily happen in other spaces, only marginally constrained by the organizational form in practice.

I believe the “magic” that happens in Hackerspaces is universal, as are the two necessary evils:  Money and how to manage it.  Being physical spaces, Hackerspaces have real costs and real opportunities for meeting those costs.  Being collaborative spaces, the procedure for paying the bills involves some kind of relationship among the collaborators–that relationship is what we’re looking at when we discuss organizational forms.  Failing to understand this relationship among the collaborators makes any discussion of funding very difficult.   At the same time, carefully understanding these relationships as they’ve happened elsewhere gives future Hackerspaces the best chance of finding the right form for their own effort.

These forms are also heavily tied to the core source of income for each space.  The Anarchy form, for example, implies that the rents for a space are essentially appropriated.  The Angel form implies that they’re donated.  The Owner form implies that they’re taken care of by a single participant, who generally subsidizes them.  Both the Board and Membership forms implies that these costs are paid collectively by the participants, most often through membership dues.  Hackerspaces, regardless of form, can solicit donations from the public, host classes for a fee, throw rent parties, sell shirts online, or Club-Mate in the space.  However, each of those activities is handled differently depending on the form.

The Board Form

The Artifactory, Kwartzlab, Collexion, and Revelation Space are all different examples of the “Board” form.  While each space heavily relies on its membership, each space has an involved subset of members that makes decisions.  In a way, the “Board Form” is the least well-defined of the five forms and most prone to combination with other forms.  Founder Todd Wiley describes Collexion as a hybrid of the Angel and Board forms:

Our board consists of people from our local chamber of commerce, universities, and higher ups at the local big-name tech companies (Lexmark & HP).  This helps give us the legitimacy we need to raise funds.  The board likes that they are fostering innovation, and see it is an economic development boost, because Lexington loves brains more than zombies do.  The board is glad to help us organize things, find money, and host events, but most ideas come from the membership, where there isn’t a set hierarchy…By relying on outside sources we’re going to make membership as accessible as possible ($5 / month for students).  The less barriers there are to experimenting the better…I think it will be successful, and free up hackers to hack, and those that are interested enough can take the reins and try to find monies.

This series was inspired by Koen Martens, who also describes Revelation Space as a hybrid of the Membership and Board forms:

As you might remember, we from revspace (den haag) were in doubt about the structure to choose. In the end we settled for the ‘stichting’, basically number four, mixed with elements of a ‘vereniging’, number 5. The board is ultimately responsible, however we define ‘participants’ that have the right to install and deinstall the board, as well as advise the board.

In many cases, a Membership space will have a Board of Directors.  However, this doesn’t mean the space is taking on a Board Form, especially when a Board is required by corporate law.

The functional power that board has is the determining factor.  If the Board is essentially a paper tiger, with the membership in functional control of affairs, the space is probably best suited to the Membership form.  Punkin describes Kwartzlab as an example:

Legally, we’re Corporation Without Share Capital (Not-for-Profit), which matches “The Board”. We opted not to register as a Co-operative (which would more closely match “The Membership”), because the laws  governing Co-operatives are more restrictive, without offering us any useful benefits. But the Co-operative or “Membership” philosophy closely matches our vision for the space, so we borrow heavily from it in our bylaws, policies, and procedures…We are 100% member funded (with all members paying the same level of  dues), which was also very important to our initial membership. Any of the big decisions (like how much dues will be) are subject to a member vote, and all members-in-good-standing get an equal vote.

So, for lack of a better definition, if your space is primarily controlled by your members, it follows the Membership form.  If the members leave most of the decisions and money matters to a subset, it probably follows the Board form.  Landing firmly in one category or another is not necessarily that important, as long as the relationships of each are well understood.  Some Membership spaces may functionally slip back into a Board form, just like Board spaces often migrate into Membership spaces, or use the Board form as a bootstrapping step.

Bootstrapping

David Cake describes how the Artifactory is using the Board Form to bootstrap their way into a Membership Hackerspace:

Our brand new Perth space is a board elected by the membership, and so far while the board has been doing a lot of the work and taking the lead on a lot of the decisions, meetings with the entire members are making most of the major decisions. So I guess we fit into the membership category really, even though the board are making a lot of important decisions in the process of getting us up and running.

Raymond describes how Makers Local 256 used the Board form to bootstrap their effort:

Makers Local 256 is a non-profit 501c3 and would be considered “the membership” based, but I guess started out as “the board” based since the board is the original 10 members (changing soon given new bylaws and elections).

Makers Local 256 followed the critical mass pattern in establishing their hackerspace, with their original 10 members fulfilling the role of the 2+2 model.  Their unique dues model describes how a Board can help build membership in the early stages:

The original 10 pledged a monthly donation that they could afford and we found a space that fit within that budget. We decided that extending this to new membership was a good idea and so we don’t have to turn away someone who might offer a lot but might not have a lot of money.   A monthly pledge doesn’t have to be monetary but does fall under board discretion to ensure that said pledge benefits the space.

Martens has this to add:

Especially when bootstrapping, a board can bring the agility needed to get things off the ground. Especially in the first weeks/months a lot of decisions need to be made, while at the same time the membership is still getting used to each other and the whole idea. Having to discuss all these decisions with the membership at large (apart from the fact that we currently have no actual membership defined as we are still in the process of forming the legal entity) will slow down the process of setting up the space a lot.

Of course, we, as a board, are listening closely to what the potential membership wants, and actively seek the opinion of everyone involved in the space. In any volunteer-driven organization you will see different levels of commitment. In my experience, those that become part of the board have a high level of commitment, and don’t mind pulling in a few extra hours for the greater good.

Advantages

The notable advantages of a Board space are formal organization with less administrative overhead from the participants, as well a greater degree of formal control vested in fewer people.  In most cases where there isn’t a hybrid form with another style of organization, the advantages are remarkably similar to those of a Membershp organization.  Here, I’m looking at advantages of a Board form

  • Anarchy: Board spaces are (generally) official legal structures with explicit expectations and guidelines for operation and more stable bases of operation.
  • Angel: Most Angel arrangements take on some kind of Board form.  As in the case with Collexion, these Angels offer advice and consult with the organization through their board.  The advantages of having a board include greater independence.  In the hybrid form, the advantage of having a board generally involves a defined role for the Angels and the ability to swap or separate Angels if need be.
  • The Owner: Sometimes an Owner space will have a small, informal group of advisers.  However, the purpose of a Board is to have a group of people who make decisions as a group on behalf of the stakeholders.  In this case, the Board is somewhat accountable to its stakeholders whereas Owners may not be as accountable.  Board spaces generally offer greater freedom and flexibility and rarely exercise a kind of  “veto power” that Owners have by default.
  • Membership: Board run organizations tend to mediate disputes and prevent certain routine issues from getting to the Membership level.  Generally, this means more time for members to enjoy their space.

Disadvantages

The notable disadvantages over alternative forms are also similar to the Membership form:

  • Anarchy: Board spaces must periodically file paperwork, support the space through dues, stay on top of other legal requirements and fulfill their stated obligations.  This leaves less time for projects, hanging out, etc.
  • Angel: In the non-Angel form, Board members are often saddled with the heavy burden of coming up with the funds to run the space, and make tough calls on funding issues.
  • The Owner: Instead of having an owner to rely on for collecting and paying the rent, easily making special arrangements, mitigating disagreements among participants and having one “final say” on matters, Board members must come to agreement on certain issues or figure out ways to work around issues.
  • Membership: Ultimately, the Board is responsible for issues and decisions that otherwise might have been made by the membership.  While the Board can occasionally punt, even a routine decision may run afowl of the membership and lead to difficulties.

Another disadvantage cited by Martens is what he describes as an anti-pattern of complacency:

…some members may fall into a consumer-like attitude. Expect the board to do the heavy lifting, and merely consume what the spaces makes available. The board members, by nature, will have a tendency to pick up work that is left undone, because they have a strong drive to ‘make it work’. That might lead to overworked board members, an apathetic membership, and failure of the space. That’s a doom scenario, and normally there will be someone to pull on the emergency brake before this happens. But still, something to be aware of I think.

Conclusion

The Board form is good for Bootstrapping, and depending on the environment, a next best form to the Membership model.  Hackers are generally bad at paperwork and group dynamics, so having a Board to take care of the administrative overhead and mediate disputes can help ensure continuity and sustainability.  It also works well as a hybrid with other forms, or as a means for acting as a firewall between Angels, Owners and Members.  But beware of complacency!

As always, feel free to ask questions on the Hackerspaces Discuss list, or reach out to these spaces directly.

Categories : organization  people  theory

Abbenay Hacklab Shut Down, AK4 Evicted

Nick Farr | Posted 2009.10.08 at 6:35 pm | Perma

Bad news regarding Abbenay Hacklab, for whom we put out a call for support last week:

I am sorry to inform you that early this morning the cops raided the AK4 squat where the Abbenay hacklab was set up, and 16 people were arrested. The joys of Sweden…

So far, I do not know if Fredrik Winberg made any further contact with anyone involved, nor if the squatters have been released.

More news and updates on the aftermath over at the Hackerspaces Discuss list.

Categories : blog  hackers  hackerspace  organization
Tags :     

Hackerspaces & Money: The Membership Form

Nick Farr | Posted 2009.10.06 at 3:00 pm | Perma

Note: This is the first specific installment of a five part series on Hackerspace organization called “Hackerspaces and Money: Five Approaches“.

C-base. Noisebridge. C4. HacDC. They are officially recognized and organized as independent entities.   These spaces are funded, operated and controlled as directly as possible by their members.  They open their spaces up for events, classes and social gatherings, and eagerly invite new members to join.  These spaces are good examples of the Membership form of organization, the style of organization that most directly inspired the wave of spaces that began to form in late 2007, after Hackers on a Plane and that year’s Chaos Communications Camp.

While these spaces may make it look easy, bootstrapping a space under the Membership form of organization is often far more difficult than pursuing other forms of organization, especially when starting from scratch.  There are also other ongoing organizational challenges.  Ultimately, if something fails, members can only blame themselves.

Bootstrapping

Unlike Anarchy, Membership spaces require an official form of organization with explicit expectations, rights and responsibilities of members.  Unlike Angel spaces, Membership spaces require their members to contribute the bulk of what it takes to rent and operate the space.  Unlike Owner spaces, Members have an equal say in where to locate, how much to pay in rent and what projects to pursue with group funds.  While spaces run by a Board and spaces run by Members are largely similar, the degree of difference in control and responsibility can be substantial depending on the situation.

Following this formula, the first step in bootstrapping is officially forming an organization.  Incorporating is usually the first place where the 2+2 model from the critical mass pattern comes into play.  The 2+2 group is usually the first to sign the paperwork and contribute the startup funds necessary to secure and rent a space.

Even while the 2+2 group has an implicit authority by virtue of being founders and visionaries, all they can do is set an example, work on the tasks at hand and inspire others to help.  Without a space, these membership groups recruit others by reaching out over e-mail, attending conferences, dropping by local events such as DorkBot and Maker Meetups, and hosting their own workshops in shared spaces.  More members means more dues and resources, but it also means more opinions and potential for disagreement.

In some areas, the 2+2 group will often contribute a substantial boostrapping funds to execute a lease, after which the usual rent and expenses are paid for by member dues.  In many ways, it’s easier to “sell” potential members on the value of a space once it’s actually leased.  Some hackerspace efforts began collecting dues long before a space was leased, making the process of executing a lease a shared effort from the beginning.  In any case, once a group is large enough to pay the expenses, it’s safe to call the bootstrapping process over.

Advantages

The notable advantages over alternative forms are largely ones of legal compliance, independence and true democratic control:

  • Anarchy: Membership spaces are official legal structures with explicit expectations and guidelines for operation and more stable bases of operation.
  • Angel: While Membership spaces can generally collect donations from outside the group, core expenses are paid for by members and function entirely independently.
  • The Owner: Members are not accountable to the concerns of an owner, the nature of their business, living situation or other concerns.  As a group, members are free to use the space as they see fit, negotiate changes as a group of peers and have discussions where everyone is on equal footing.  There is no “veto power” in a Membership group.
  • The Board: Members generally stay informed to all operations of the group and generally participate in any discussions that make a substantial change in the group.  Instead of changing decisions made by a board, or waiting for a board election to intervene, decisions are made as a group from the beginning.

Disadvantages

The notable disadvantages over alternative forms require more work from the members and more time spent on administrative matters and potentially distracting disagreements:

  • Anarchy: Membership spaces must periodically file paperwork, support the space through dues, stay on top of other legal requirements and fulfill their stated obligations as members.  This leaves less time for projects, hanging out, etc.
  • Angel: Members are generally constrained by the resources they can obtain themselves.  Instead of having the space and cool projects paid for, members must assess dues and raise money to pay for rent and expenses.
  • The Owner: Instead of having an owner to rely on for collecting and paying the rent, easily making special arrangements, mitigating disagreements among participants and having one “final say” on matters, members must come to agreement on certain issues or figure out ways to work around issues.
  • The Board: Instead of electing someone you like to make decisions for you, members must spend time on an ongoing basis meeting to discuss issues and working to solve problems collectively.

Other observations

Talk of a fully democratic membership organization may be a bit misleading.  In any group, leaders will generally emerge.  Those founders who start spaces naturally fill a leadership role by guiding their space from nothing to existence.  Sometimes, in the best interests of getting the space going, founders will gloss over underlying issues within the group that form from differences of opinion.  Failure to resolve these in time usually results in group fragmentation that can lead to a group’s demise.

If the founders or other leaders who emerge exercise too much power, or hold onto it for too long, they can alienate others in the group or possibly even default in practice to another form of organization.

Another problem with fully democratic organizations is that members can always vote with their feet!  Failing to attract new members or high membership turnover is also a big problem with membership spaces.  Unlike Owner or Board spaces, every member is inherently responsible for creating the conditions that attract and retain members who help support the space.

Conclusion

While I strongly believe this form of organization is the best and most closely aligned with what hackers look for in a space, it’s not without its problems.  Hackers are generally bad at paperwork and group dynamics, so sometimes an alternative form of organization is the best course of action to pursue.  Sometimes ceding a little bit of control for the sake of having a space or keeping it open is the best thing to do.

However, if you’re serious about building a dynamic, sustainable space, you should consider following this model!  It’s worked throughout the world and with the right energy, it can work for you too.

Categories : organization  people  theory