A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a summit of makerspace organizers at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In one of the breakout sessions, other makerspace managers raised questions about safety credentialing, access control, and building a common value set across the members. Most of the issues boiled down to one core question: how do you ensure a good member experience while maintaining growth?

At Open Works, we have been wrestling with this question, coupled with the pressure of opening a large makerspace on a tight deadline. We want to provide a clean customer experience that is as frictionless as possible — a smooth online registration process and seamless automatic billing. At the same time, we want to carefully inject a little bit of purposeful friction into the process in order to set member expectations and understand the needs of our users. This process will undergo more refinement over time, but so far we have onboarded 17 new members and will open up general sales at our grand opening on September 24th.

Our tech staff built this beautiful cabinet for our bot farm using a mix of old-school woodshop and advanced CNC techniques. Photo by Will Holman

Our tech staff built this beautiful cabinet for our bot farm using a mix of old-school woodshop and advanced CNC techniques. Photo by Will Holman.

Complete Membership Application

Our ERP system is almost fully implemented. It is an open-source resource-management program that we have had customized to plug into the back end of our WordPress site. Once it rolls out completely, prospective members will be able to fill out an online form on our registration page and enter their credit card information. This will automatically generate a welcome email, a user account, and an invoice for the first month’s membership. It will also invite them to contact our membership manager to schedule an in-person meeting.

We’ve got lasers! Digital Operations Manager Harrison Tyler (approx. 6’ tall) for scale. Photo by Will Holman

We’ve got lasers! Digital Operations Manager Harrison Tyler (approx. 6’ tall) for scale. Photo by Will Holman.

Schedule Membership Meeting

In order to lessen the pressure on staff time, we have scheduled a few standing member orientation periods during the week. These are in the evenings and on Saturday morning so folks with full-time jobs can make it. At the appointed time, members meet one another with a brief icebreaker, take a tour of the shops, and listen to a short presentation on values and expectations from our membership manager. After that, we open the floor to questions.

Open Desk Fin Shelf unit for our offices. Photo by Will Holman

Open Desk Fin Shelf unit for our offices. Photo by Will Holman.

Sign member contracts

At the end of the meeting, we have everyone sign the member contracts and safety waiver. While we worked hard to keep the legal-ese to a minimum, there are a number of technicalities that folks sometimes need help with. Our membership manager hangs out during this period to answer any further questions. Contracts and waivers are filed both as a hard copy and a scanned PDF for future reference.

Directional signage in place. Photo by Will Holman

Directional signage in place. Photo by Will Holman.

Select micro-studio

If a user is going to be a resident member — taking one of the micro-studios — then they get to pick out their studio from whatever hasn’t been reserved already. We have a huge map of spaces on a poster board, plus folks can walk around and see what they look like in person. Each studio has plywood half-walls, a storage locker, wi-fi access, and a power drop.

Unloading tons of plywood for furniture fabrication. Photo by Will Holman

Unloading tons of plywood for furniture fabrication. Photo by Will Holman.

Key and member handbook

On the way out the door, new members are handed their key fob and member handbook. The fobs can be programmed to only open the doors that their membership entitles them to access. Our membership handbook is modeled on an excellent example from the Dallas Makerspace I was able to check out at the White House summit. While all of these policies will also live online, it’s nice to have a hard copy for reference. Alongside the handbook and fob, we also slip a little swag in — a pencil, notebook, and patch!

Dallas Makerspace member handbook opening page. Photo by Will Holman; content by Dallas Makerspace [www.dallasmakerspace.org]

Dallas Makerspace member handbook opening page. Photo by Will Holman; content by Dallas Makerspace

Shop Safety Classes

The last step in the member onboarding process is to get signed up for safety classes. We are spinning those up after our grand opening in the four workshop areas (out of 8) that require them: wood, metal, digital fabrication, and textiles. Our membership cards have slots for the shops that members have qualified on, and will be punched out once they take their required class.

Safety credentialing is a complex issue that makerspaces have handled in a lot of different ways. Artisan’s Asylum, in Somerville, Massachusetts, uses a test system — buddy up with an experienced member and take a sign-off test on the individual tool in question. Tech Shop, a national chain, requires a Safety and Basic Usage class on almost every machine. Most of their equipment has an interlock that requires unlocking with a fob before they can be used. This also helps track machine-hours for maintenance. We are trying to strike a balance between those two extremes that satisfies our insurers, our legal obligations to provide a safe experience, and our members’ eagerness to get in the shops and get making!

Flame cabinets for volatile chemicals, finishes, and solvents, right next to our eye wash station. Safety first! Photo by Will Holman

Flame cabinets for volatile chemicals, finishes, and solvents, right next to our eye wash station. Safety first! Photo by Will Holman.

Make!

While that sounds like a lot of steps, many of them can happen in the span of just one day. After they are complete, members can get into the shops and start building their projects — safely, smoothly, and spectacularly!

Our next post is going to be a bit off-schedule due to our grand opening celebrations. Look for a recap of those events in early October.

Pallet racking for member and in-house storage. Photo by Will Holman

Pallet racking for member and in-house storage. Photo by Will Holman.

Construction Update

Since the last post, we have:

1. Taken delivery of our last major tools, the laser cutters.

2. Had the directional signage and micro-studio addresses installed.

3. Continued building our Open Desk furniture for workshops and offices.

4. Set up our storage areas with pallet racking.