How do makerspaces manage their operations

We were trying to setup a makerspace ourself and we found it really difficult with the amount of stuff that needs to be done. There are 2 main things that a makerspace needs to do 1) Build a culture and an experience 2) Manage operations. (There might be more, but this is what we learned)

Both are important, but building a culture and an experience is what defines the personality of a makerspace. Managing operations is the part that needs to be done in order to keep the makerspace and the community from falling apart. We struggled with these 2 things before we shut shop. 

Space is one aspect of culture and experience. (Image credits-

What we realized is that 1) Building a culture and an experience is the fun part. It is the unique part. This is the part that differentiates one makerspace from another. This is the part that makes you want to go hang out at a makerspace. Part 2) Managing operations is a lot of work, it is more or less common between makerspaces and most importantly it can be automated, freeing up time for the awesome folks at the makerspace to build more interesting experiences. 

These are the items that we realized that a typical makerspace management role includes:

1. Multiple membership plan details
2. Membership payment collection and follow up
3. Member access permissions/tool usage permission
4. Tool certification for members
5. Member demography and contact information
6. Member emergency contact information
7. Equipment / space rental management/waiting list
8. Managing members in a discussion

We are building a service for membership management for makerspaces. Our objective is simplify running a makerspace operations so that  more amazing makerspaces will pop up around the world. We ran a quick survey with some makerspaces - link to survey

Here are some response from the survey. We will be publishing a detailed info graphic soon. This was the most important question that we asked in the questionnaire - "What tools are you using for membership management now? How do you know which member has what level of membership, what level of permissions?" Here are responses from some makerspaces.  

South London Makerspace We have a custom system that we built.
shackspace We use several Excel Sheets for membership collection. There is only a very limited permission system which is kept on paper. Usually, when someone takes over the responsibilities of treasurer, they want to change to another tool which itsselfs usually not that well suited for our purpose.
HSBNE Xero, Xero API hooked into RFID door system
South London Makerspace We use our own membership database and subscription system written in node.js, and using GoCardless for payment processing.

All other matters are handled in an ad-hoc manner. We are not yet large enough to require dedicated management software.
i3Detroit We use SeltzerCRM, which was written in-house. It tracks people, keys, membership plans, and payments. It doesn't currently integrate with Google Groups for adding/removing people from the discussion groups, that's done manually. It doesn't currently integrate with OpenAccessControl for door key updates, that's done manually. It doesn't currently track tool permissions or usage, that's done on the honor system. It doesn't currently allow members to sign themselves up, data entry is done manually.
57North Hacklab LDAP + homebrew PHP/MySQL solution
We only have one level of membership
Permissions are managed as LDAP groups
toronto tool library & Makerspace paypal, RFID access, Basic excel sheets. not very effective. Im interested in this kind of thing.
We have just started to use "sumac". membership based database management program.

- we have lasersaur laser cutter
- CNC router
- makerbot 3d printers

1. all three need 2-3 hour (2 days) training and a physical certification made. We have waivers for any permanent use or member use. Payed jobs to anyone who doesn't want the membership.
Phoenix Asylum Members pay with check or cash monthly, which is tracked on a google spreadsheet. When rent fees are changed annually additional spreadsheets are used to calculate the new rates based on actual increases.

Equipment is not managed in any structured way right now. Large use of the space that would dominate the common area is managed on a Google Calendar.
Hackerspace Maringá We use a wordpress plugin to do the job, but we control the members and budgets in a google docs spreadsheet.

We are still collecting data. So if you are an admin of a makerspace, we request you to put in your thoughts on this survey -

If you know admins of makerspaces, share this article with them. 

3 responses
Hi Alex, Good luck with the building of "membership management for makerspaces", and thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. "(1) Build a culture and an experience (2) Manage operations". Though (1) is important as pointed out, they can take up too much time and energy when one gets obsessed with them. I feel they are outcomes of "participation", and is subjective. An individual has to participate in the making, either solo, in the presence of other makers or as part of a team/collaborative-effort. The culture that will get built and individual/group experiences are outcomes. Yes, (1) is the fun part, but in the initial stages of installation/setup (2) is what needs our attention the most. 'Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art'. ------from page 62, Chapter 3, 'Consuming Culture', Contemporary Art-A very short introduction, Julian Stallabrass. Replace 'in business' with 'at operations' :)
Hi Jose, Thanks a lot for your perspective. Totally makes sense. Yes participation is tricky. It needs to have the critical mass of the right participants for you to atleast work on building a culture and experience. But having said that I think it is possible to nurture "participation" although its always preferable to have a lot of right "participation".
Hello, I'm curious as to your progress on this front? I've had similar notions myself but think the product would need to appeal to makerspaces, hackerspaces, schools, art organizations, libraries and other institutions to be effectively marketed.