The NYC Resistor Model of Hackerspace Governance
This page has been created to help those starting a hackerspace. Our founders began with the Hackerspace Design Patterns document, and we have developed unique policies to meet our needs, as well.
This model of governance has allowed NYC Resistor to develop a tight-knit community of members who feel a dedication and responsibility towards the space and its members. The model has also allowed us to attract and maintain women in the organization leading to a 50/50 male/female membership.
This pattern arose due to the constraints of a small space in an urban environment where the typical apartment is too small to store projects. The need for onsite storage for members puts an upper bound on membership size.
However in our (admittedly biased) opinion, this pattern provides a healthy template for starting any hackerspace.
Pre-space culture building
Financial hurdle to begin
Finding a space
Creating the space
LLC operated as Not-for-loss
Taxes and liability
Flat model with no hierarchies
No more than two tiers of membership
What we look for in new members
- Social interaction skills
Fully fund with dues
Do not become dependent on outside people or organizations for your funding. These relationships always end up with strings attached. Don't treat your members like employees by obligating them to projects and activities that are wanted by sponsors but are not of interest to members. Make sure that your rent and recurring expenses are fully funded by membership dues, and that you have 3 months rent in reserve at all times. The result will be high dues, but our members consistently report feeling they get a good value out of the space for what they pay.
We require that members set up automatic payments for their dues. This takes a lot of pressure off the treasurer.
We supplement our income with vending machine and drink sales, T-shirt sales, an annual art show/interactive party for which we charge a cover, laser fees, class fees, and a donations box. All of this does not cover rent, but it does provide a nice buffer and allows us to purchase new tools and supplies when needed. In other words -- it's gravy, you cannot expect to fund your space with these types of sales.
Spreadsheet pledges for funding big purchases
Several members would like to have a large, expensive piece of equipment (like a laser cutter) in the space, but the space cannot afford it out of the budget.
Create a spreadsheet for members to pledge whatever they're willing to pay towards having the piece of equipment in the space. When the total pledge amount reaches the purchase price, call in the pledges and buy the equipment. We have funded two laser cutters and a shopbot (almost!) this way.
This requires that members are not expecting to be paid back. They are paying to have access to the equipment within the space, and should not pledge more than this is worth to them.
Get a lasercutter
Private space with open nights
We are generally closed to the public. Members have keys for 24-hour access, and they may bring guests but the member is responsible for the guest and should be present when the guest is there. This allows members to have a safe, comfortable environment conducive to getting work done on projects and for telecommuting. We open to the public for two nights per week: Monday nights (Laser Night) and Thursday nights (Craft Night), and we often host classes on the weekends.
Code of Conduct
NYC Resistor has a Code of Conduct. Please view it before visiting the space.
Since most of the time NYC Resistor can only be accessed by members with keys, we have two open nights per week. Craft Night was our first open night, and we added another night, Laser Night, to accomodate demand for use of our laser.
We like people! We like to meet and collaborate with other hackers and makers. Open nights provide an excellent venue for finding new members, since if someone shows up regularly to open nights, they will probably show up regularly to the space and be invested in it.
We feel the name is important. Calling it "Craft Night" implies that you don't have to be a technical wizard to show up. You can come and knit, sew, do nail art, or paper crafts. It's a great ice-breaker for those interested in tech, but easily intimidated or not sure where to start.
One member must commit to run each open night to provide consistency. That member is welcome to ask other members to cover for them when they cannot make it, and members are encouraged to step up.
Hours are posted to the website, and closing time happens when the last member leaves.
Everyone showing up for the first time gets a tour.
Sometimes when people show up without a project they don't quite know what to do with themselves and they feel awkward. There are a few ways to remedy this. Members try to bring large projects that require a lot of soldering or assembly to Craft Nights as we find that new people really enjoy getting involved. We also (ideally) try to have kits available. If we overhear someone saying they don't know how to solder or are curious about Arduinos, we teach and share our knowledge. We also have couches for just lounging and socializing.
We have an internal mailing list that is private to members. In addition to providing a platform for discussing meeting agendas and policies, it is a valuable resource for members. Ask a technical question and you'll get a string of well thought out answers. Members post job opportunities and let others know when they are looking for work. And importantly, we celebrate each others successes with congratulatory posts. The mailing list is the preferred channel for important announcements and topics because it is the one communication line that all members are subscribed to. Relevant requests from the outside world sent to our firstname.lastname@example.org email also get posted to this list for general consideration.
We have a private and a public irc channel.
We have a private group on Slack that is used mostly for chit chat and socializing throughout the day.
We have a webcam in the space. This is in part for security reasons, but in practice it is mostly used to see if anyone is in the space and if it looks like a fun time and maybe you should be there.
We only give the password for the webcam feed to members. This eliminates the privacy concern (see section ...(include reference) on membership and trust).
No sleeping or living in the space
It is ok to take naps, but if you bring your toothbrush and pillow, you are probably crossing the line. We consider our space a work space, not a living space. It is also not a crash space for out-of-town guests.
We keep a stock of assorted feminine hygiene products in the restroom that anyone is free to take from. We also have a trash can in the restroom.
Because sometimes things happen unexpectedly, and sometimes you forget your supplies. And the last thing you want to do when you're deep in a project is stop to run to the store.
It's a small thing, but it telegraphs "women are welcome here" in a big way.
Be cautious with media
Order out of Chaos
Seven Days Later
Hackerspaces acquire clutter. People bring in their own equipment for the group to use. Things get donated. Often these items end up unused and unremembered in some corner of the space. The hackerspace rapidly becomes a mess. Stuff has to go. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to tell who stuff belongs to, or if anyone is using it. Seven Days Later was created to solve two problems:
- To remove a fair amount of unused or unwanted equipment from the space on a regular schedule, and
- To do so without accidentally throwing out anything that belongs to someone or someone needs/wants for a project.
The intake for the Seven Days Later process is the "doomcart", a three-level blue wheeled cart we have at NYCR. If a member thinks something should go out of the space and they are not the owner/don't know who the owner is, it goes on the cart.
Once a week, the doommmaster takes digital pictures of all the things on the doomcart and posts them to the Seven Days Later tumblr. After that, mail goes out to the list with a link to the doomblog, along with notes on anything particularly significant we found on the cart.
You Have Seven Days
For the next seven days after an item is posted on the doomblog, any member can claim it. If a member steps forward as the owner of the item, they have first dibs. Any claimed item must be taken off the cart and placed in the member's personal space or taken home.
An argument can be made for keeping an item in the space. If this is the case, then a permanent location for that item has to be established and the item has to be placed there by the end of the seven day period. (Taking an item off the doomcart and, say, placing it on a table is not effective.)
At the end of the seven day period, the contents of the doomcart are disposed of by:
- Giving away items to the community at open nights
- Taking any electronic equipment to the Gowanus E-cycling warehouse run by the LES Ecology Center
- Listing valuable equipment on craigslist or ebay
- Throwing out whatever's left over