Makerspace Organizers Convene at The White House

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Makerspace Organizers Convene at The White House

Makerspace organizers receive inquiries about our makerspaces on a regular basis, but not from the White House!

A few weeks ago, makerspaces around the U.S. started receiving an email from Andrew Coy, Senior Advisor for Making from the Office of Science and Technology Policy. After some dialog (and a number of people needing to be convinced that the emails were legitimate), the point of contact for each makerspace received an invitation to a gathering of makerspace organizers as part of the Nation of Makers program. A few of us joked at the event that makerspaces will have a new set of rules about answering White House emails in the future.

The Nation of Makers Initiative

Earlier this summer, the White House held a Nation of Makers meeting before the National Maker Faire in D.C. In that session, maker representatives from 46 states discussed topics such as inclusion and diversity in the maker community, possible government funding sources for makers, and the next steps for the Maker Movement. Dan Schneiderman posted an excellent summary of that meeting that is worth reading.

As a follow-up, this session, held on August 25th, convened more than 175 makerspace organizers from around the U.S. at the White House.

Nation of Makers - Makerspace Organizers
Julie Lenzer, Director, Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the U.S. Economic Development Administration connects with makerspace organizers.

I was fortunate to attend as the representative from MakerFX Makerspace @ DeltaMaker in Orlando, Florida. MakerFX is a new makerspace program that The Maker Effect Foundation started this year with the support of DeltaMaker, a local 3D printer manufacturer. I’m also the former treasurer (and a member) of FamiLAB, Orlando’s Hackerspace, and traveled to D.C. with Jamie Szafran, FamiLAB’s current treasurer (and Software Engineer for NASA).

We were very excited to pick up our nametags!

The day-long meeting consisted of short presentations from makerspace organizers and government officials in the morning, and then breakout sessions in the afternoon. I’ve included two great talks below, and all the talks are available online.

Kari Love from NYC Resistor

Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer

Breakout sessions included meetings with representatives from agencies such as NASA, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and more. Other sessions focused on the transfer of knowledge between makerspaces with topics such as Citizen Science and Open Innovation, the unexpected details that can cause headaches, hardware and software solutions for makerspaces, and more. The breakout sessions ended with a regional session for makerspace organizers to connect with others in their region and to start working on next steps. I’ve included a list of the breakout sessions with their descriptions at the end of this post.

Office of Science and Technology Policy sign
Not your average conference room…
Portal Gun
…with a PORTAL GUN! Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see if it was operational :(

As with any conference, the formal content was only part of the equation. I was able to connect with others from Central Florida…

Alex (Treasurer, Tampa Hackerspace), Jamie (Treasurer, FamiLAB), and I went through security together which gave us plenty of time to catch up!

…and to meet others in-person that I’ve only known through online channels.

Meeting Chad Elish
Finally meeting Chad Elish (President, Hack Pittsburgh and Maker Faire Pittsburgh organizer) in person after lots of online time working together on the code that powers the Maker Faire Orlando and Maker Faire Pittsburgh websites!


I heard nothing but gratitude from the makerspace organizers that attended the event. Everyone at the event is highly engaged in their local community, and has a full calendar, but we all made time to get to the White House for this discussion. We were grateful for the ability to interact with the government and each other in this session. I also heard a strong sentiment that “Andrew is one of us” — he spoke our language and structured an agenda that contained relevant topics, and addressed our very real challenges around funding, inclusion and diversity, interaction with government, and more. Personally, I needed another day with the makerspace organizers to assimilate all the information from the first day, and reorganize it together into some actionable next steps with coalitions formed to tackle the challenges. A second day for an “unconference” would have been perfect, and when this type of session happens again, I’ll work with others to make it happen.

Makers Gonna Make

We’ve all been part of groups that talk about doing things, but stop at the talking stage. This group is passionate, engaged, and started making things immediately. Facebook groups, Slack channels, websites, email distribution groups and more were being setup before we left D.C. In the 24 hours after the meeting, I was having trouble just keeping up with all the communication activity. Luckily, Andrew Coy had a plan and was ready to advise us on next steps. He proposed a strategic process by which we can work together to document our major challenges, and form coalitions to find possible solutions, test those solutions, and then iterate on the successes.

I especially appreciated this advisement in his follow-up notes: “To accomplish shared goals and build a support infrastructure, I believe you all must be explicitly strategic and intentionally inclusive.”

I plan to chronicle the ongoing interactions with the community of makerspace organizers as we progress through the strategic planning process suggested by Andrew Coy. In my next post, I’ll share the timeline and the specific steps of the strategic process.

Get Involved

In the spirit of being “intentionally inclusive”, if you are a makerspace organizer and you’d like to follow this process in realtime, you can connect with us on the new Makerspace Organizers Facebook group as a starting point to locate other resources that are being shared for makerspace organizers. There are also quite a few pictures from the event and the social gatherings that happened around the event.

Thanks to Carl Stevens of Milwaukee Makerspace for the group photo!

Breakout Session Agenda from the Makerspace Organizers meeting

Session 1

Intellectual Property
Learn how to better navigate the world of intellectual property by connecting with the U.S. Patent and Trade Mark Office (USPTO) and with other makerspaces interested in deepening their understanding of related opportunities. Facilitated by the USPTO Chief of Staff, Vikrum Aiyer.

Local & State Government
Come discuss ways in which your makerspace can become better positioned to work with your local or state governments. Connect with others who have found inroads and those who are currently exploring. Facilitated by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Senior Policy Advisor, Aden Van Noppen.

National Science Foundation funding
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is chartered to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense. It accomplished these missions through more than 12,000 new awards totaling approximately $7.5 billion of funding. Learn how to connect into opportunities both large and small and connect with other potential collaborators. Facilitated by NSF Program Director, Bob Russell, Program Officer, Ben Schrag, and Program Specialist Katie Schreyer.

Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce Today
Explore the connections, opportunities, and funding in the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that can help you contribute even more to tomorrow’s workforce by providing job training, employment, labor market information, and income maintenance services primarily in close partnership with state and local workforce development systems. Facilitated by DOL’s Employment and Training Administration Special Assistant, Gina Wells.

Innovation Research Funding and Technology Transfer for Small Businesses @ NASA
NASA is always working on cutting edge technology development, including laying the groundwork to put humans on Mars. To accomplish these feats, active engagement with small companies, innovators, entrepreneurs, and innovators is mission critical. Learn how the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs have and continue to engage with makers. Facilitated by NASA SBIR/STTR’s Program Executive, Jenn Gustetic and Program Manager, Gynelle Steele.

Session 2

Connect with the National Laboratories
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is the steward of 10 National Laboratories around the country. These spaces share a significant amount in common with makerspaces and if you haven’t connected with the ones in your community, you should. The thousands of employees who work in them are ideal potential members, patrons, community champions, and government allies for the work you do. Come learn more about how you could engage with these spaces in your communities. Geographies of particular interest include Ames (IA), Argonne (IL), Upton (NY), Batavia (IL), Berkeley (CA), Oak Ridge (TN), Richland (WA), Princeton (NJ), Stanford (CA), Newport News (VA), Los Alamos (NM), DuPage (IL), Albuquerque (NM), Idaho Falls (ID), and Golden (CO). Facilitated by White House OSTP Assistant Director for Clean Energy and Transportation, Austin Brown.

Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
Makers make the U.S. a more innovative economy. The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is committed to joining forces to do the same. Through the work of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, numerous efforts are underway to invest in grassroots innovation and to foster those systems focused on supporting individuals and companies turning new ideas and inventions into products and technologies that spur job growth and competitiveness while promoting economic development. Come learn how your organization can partner with EDA to support local maker activity and build economic prosperity by participating in our programs that invest in place-based initiatives which provide direct support to startups, inventors, and makers. Facilitated by EDA Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) Deputy Director, Craig Buerstatte and EDA OIE Senior Policy Advisor, Eric Smith.

Making Educational Opportunities More Like Making
The power of the informal learning so common in makerspaces has the potential to improve, disrupt, or even revolutionize the formal school day experience. Connect with others interested in making education more like making and with experts from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) to explore opportunities to engage in national opportunities as well as insights into working with your state and local education systems. Facilitated by ED’s IES SBIR Program Manager, Edward Metz, and OCTAE Education Program Specialist, Albert Palacios.

Funding for Arts & Creativity (Lakita Edwards)
Making is often described as mash-up of tech and art, but too often the tech gets all of the attention. Explore ways to create and make public art with the support of programs and funding opportunities from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Connect with others who have received NEA funding and learn how to navigate the process and cycles yourself. Facilitated by NEA Arts Education Specialist, Lakita Edwards.

Making the World a Better Place through Citizen Science and Open Innovation
Connect with experts to learn how you can put your maker skills to work through open science and innovation projects. Tools building on the rapidly progressing Internet of Things and other advances allow the public now more than ever to participate in the scientific process by asking questions, making observations, conducting experiments, collecting data, and developing low-cost technologies and open-source code. Makers are a vital part of these efforts, helping to create the next generation of affordable, high-performance instruments that can be deployed by professional and citizen scientists alike to advance scientific knowledge and benefit society. Facilitated by White House OSTP Assistant Director for Open Innovation, Christofer Nelson and NASA SBIR/STTR’s Program Executive, Jenn Gustetic.

Session 3

Unexpected Details
There are a million unexpected details when running a makerspace, from insurance, to payroll, to zoning, to site selection, to all the things you are dealing with that are not making, but make making possible. Explore ways to share knowledge with others to help make it easier and less painful for everyone. Help crowdsource solutions for these common problems and save everyone a lot of headache.

Radical New Models
Do you feel like makerspaces could look a lot different then they currently do? Come and discuss your thoughts for what is possible. No predictions on what you all will come up with.

Hardware & Software
Picking what tools and resources for your space is sometimes more haphazard and opportunistic than deliberate. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, however, having a sense of how to best evaluate what hardware and software is right for you and your members is a critical part of what you as a makerspace organizer must do. Explore areas where shared knowledge and experiences in what works can help everyone find and use tools that are right for their space.

Members Training
Every space is different but all have to have some form and variety of member training on basic use of tools and safety procedures. If you have expertise to share or want to learn more about how others have solved for these needs, come and discuss ways to collaborate.

Impact Research
Connect with those who have expertise to share and interest in learning more about measuring the impact of a makerspace on an individual’s skills, a community’s health, our country’s economic growth, or whatever area you feel like should be researched further.

Session 4

Conflict Resolution
While it is unlikely you have sought out member conflicts, you probably have found yourself stuck in the middle of them. Explore ways to deescalate, mitigate, minimize, and resolve them when they do arise.

Making in Higher Education
University campuses are embracing making in significant ways, doing everything from creating community-facing makerspaces to courses focused on making to building other support structures. If you are involved in these or want to discuss ways to connect with higher education in your community, come and connect with similar minds.

Growing From One to Many
Not every space has ambitions to grow from one space, to more than one, to many spaces, but if you are or want to learn from those who have, this session is designed for you.

Marketing for Makerspaces
How do you get the word out about the fantastic things happening in your space? Share examples, ideas, failures, and suggestions. Build a resource of promising practices for everyone to learn from each other.

Equity by Design for Intentional Inclusion
Creativity is evenly dispersed in our country and in our population; opportunity is, however, not. For historical reasons, far too many individuals are not connected to opportunities. Come discuss ways to add intentionality to your inclusiveness, inviting the talent and brilliance of all to be a part of your community.

Session 5

Geographic Goal Setting

Connect with those in your region to establish goals for connectivity and collaborations:
Midwest / Mountain West
South / Southwest

Earlier this summer, the White House held a Nation of Makers meeting before the National Maker Faire in D.C. that brought together an unprecedented number of makerspace organizers together to discuss some of the common issues that makerspaces and hackerspaces face today.

This article is part of a series on the efforts that are now taking place as a direct result of that meeting. This is the first article, you can read the next article here.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Ian is a co-founder of The Maker Effect Foundation, a non-profit group organized to amplify the effects of makers within their communities. The Maker Effect Foundation's programs include Maker Faire Orlando, and MakerFX makerspace in Orlando. Ian is also a board member of Nation of Makers, and a member of FamiLAB, Orlando's Hackerspace.

View more articles by Ian Cole


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