A lesson you can learn from web development to create a successful makerspace

With the MakerBus we’ve had the privilege of touring makerspaces in schools, libraries, and communities across North America. In chatting with people who have built makerspaces or are in the process of building a makerspace, we’ve noticed a natural trend – people want their makerspaces to be perfect.

This means from the moment they open their makerspace to the public, they expect that everything works exactly as intended. But as any maker can attest, things rarely work as intended on your first try.

This can lead to two problems. First, people tend to over-plan their makerspace, purchasing more equipment than they actually need or planning too many different types of activity. Second, people often fail to anticipate what their community actually needs. We visited one library makerspace in which the librarians had purchased a very expensive 3D printer, expecting their community to want to use it. As it turned out, they didn’t have very many community members interested in 3D printing and the printer mostly sat and collected dust.

So how can you avoid these problems? You can avoid these problems by borrowing an idea from web development – create a minimum viable product.

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What’s an MVP?

The idea of a minimum viable product is an idea that comes from the agile school of web development. An MVP is a “process that you repeat over and over again: Identify your riskiest assumption, find the smallest possible experiment to test that assumption, and use the results of the experiment to course correct.”

So how does this apply to planning a makerspace?

Let’s take the library and the used 3D printer as an example. Imagine you want to build a makerspace that focuses on 3D printing, but you’re unsure that your community is interested in that technology. Instead of immediately maxing out your budget on the best 3D printer you can buy, consider purchasing a great low-cost 3D printer and seeing if anyone in your community actually uses it. Then, if there is demand for classes on 3D printing, purchase more printers to meet demand.

By strategically investing in technology based on the demand, you create an agile makerspace that can meet the needs of your community. The only way to see if your assumptions about what your community wants, is to test your assumptions. You might think that everyone in your community is interested in learning how to sew, but you won’t actually know that until you offer sewing workshops.

MVP is a process

Creating an MVP isn’t something you do only once, it’s something you will continually build, test, and rebuild. No makerspace is ever finished – your community will be grow and change and your staff’s interest will grow and change.

This process is also a great way to test “risky” assumptions. What’s the wildest idea you have for a makerspace? What’s the safest way you can test it? Do you have visions of creating a mobile makerspace? Why don’t you try building a portable maker cart or a maker bike before investing in a vehicle. Do you want to offer summer camps? Why not try running an after school program to test curriculum.

It can be tempting to hit the ground running, but you’re less likely to trip and fall if try walking first.

 

Have you every planned a makerspace? Share your wisdom in the comments. We’d love to hear about your experiences. Also, follow us on social media (Facebook,  Twitter,  Instagram,  Youtube) for the latest maker movement news, tips, and tutorials – let us help you create fun-conventional learning opportunities!

-Ryan Hunt, MakerBus Co-Founder

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