Collaboration Equals Innovation: Reflections on the White House Nation of Makers Meeting

Recently, HiveBio Community Lab was invited by Andrew Coy, White House Senior Policy Advisor on Making, to join almost 200 other Makerspaces from across the country at the White House for the Nation of Makers meeting. Though the time to prepare was short, HiveBio was able to run a successful GoFundMe campaign to raise the funds for the travel. As I boarded the plane to Washington D.C., I had butterflies in my stomach. While I was excited and honored that HiveBio was asked to join this amazing event, I have to say I didn’t know quite what to expect when I got there.

The actual time in DC was a whirlwind of activity. The Nation of Makers meeting fell on a Wednesday, so most of the Makerspace founders were only able to stay in DC for a short time. Fly in the day before, attend the NoM meeting, fly out the next day. Of course, it was a gathering of natural born organizers, so a NoM Facebook group was created immediately with a flurry of invitations: dinner the night before, dinner the day of, breakfast the day after. I arrived in DC late in the afternoon and rushed to attend the dinner that night, excited to meet my fellow Makerspace founders from all over the U.S.

Now, I’ll have to admit, part of me was wondering what would happen when we all got together. Makerspace founders are used to be being leaders. We have strong personalities, big ideas, and the drive to make them happen. Would a group of leaders compete with one another, or work comfortably as peers? This question was answered immediately upon arriving to the dinner. Everyone was excited, eager to meet one another, eager to start working together. I was overwhelmed by the intense sense of comradery in that space. During the dinner, 60 plus Makerspace founders shared stories and gave advice to one another. Many founders were handing out free swag, stickers and keychains and t-shirts. We laughed about how our bike helmets and computers would be completely covered in logos of fellow Makerspaces. Every single person there was eager to share tips and support one another. This is the heart of Makerspaces: inherently collaborative culture.

The Nation of Makers meeting extended this feeling of collaboration, not only between Makerspaces, but between us and the US government as well. Each presentation by White House officials (See our previous post on the NoM meeting for a list of some speakers) was centered on the idea of collaboration between Makerspaces and the White House. There was much talk of one of the main concepts of Maker culture: collaboration creates innovation. Working together, we can come up with insights and ideas that may never be discovered working alone, or while competing against one another.

This concept was best displayed at the afternoon breakout sessions. Each hour there were 4 sessions offered with topics such as Connecting with Nation Laboratories, Making the World a Better Place through Citizen Science and Open Innovation, Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems,and Equity by Design for Intentional Inclusion. Each session was made up of a group of Makerspace founders and government officials working together to discuss these topics, identify hurdles, and innovate possible solutions. Between the breakout sessions the White House walls were full of smiling Makers. This kind of collaborative innovation was exactly what we foster in our Makerspaces, and to see it happening at this scale, and at the White House, was amazing.

After the Nation of Makers meeting was over, we strove to keep this collaboration going. The majority of the Makerspace founders gathered at a local pub and spent the evening eating, drinking, and making plans for the future. Together, we discussed ways to formalize NoM communications so that we could all stay in touch. Plans for future regional conferences were made. People agreed to form committees to handle responsibilities for making certain things happen. I’ve never exchanged so many business cards in my life.

Since the Nation of Makers meeting, this collaboration and innovation has continued. The Facebook group is a constant hive of activity, Slack channels were created to carry this task or that task, regional email lists are buzzing with communication. Every day I wake up to notifications from fellow Makerspace founders from all over the country and am completely blown away by how seamlessly we are all working together to create this national movement and help it thrive. New Makerspaces are being added to the groups every day and we continue to communicate with Andrew Coy to help this movement grow.

While I was in DC I was able to spend some time with the founders of two California DIYbio Makerspaces, Eric Harness (BioCurious) and Patrick D’haeseleer (Counter Culture Labs). Their DIYbio Makerspaces are an amazing model for collaboration. Being located very close to one another, they share resources, have common members, and are even members of one another’s organizations. Working together, they are able to provide their local community an abundance of access to DIYbio.

After I got back from the White House, several people asked me what my biggest take-away was from the event. I can say without any doubt: collaboration is one of the most important gifts that the Maker movement has to offer. Here are hundreds of founders of similar organizations, many cities having more than one, and instead of competing we are working together. Corporate culture teaches people to “crush the competition” and espouses a culture of scarcity. Corporate culture encourages companies to use their resources to drive similar businesses out of a given area so that consumers can be dominated by one company. Maker culture teaches us the opposite. Maker culture encourages communities to grow and share and work together to create something greater than the sum of it’s parts. If we collaborate and innovate together, we can create a culture of abundance.

Visit Nation of Makers to learn more, and join the revolution!

A multitude of Makerspace Founders!

A multitude of Makerspace Founders!

Nation of Makers meeting media coverage:

Makerspace Organizers Convene at the White House (Make Magazine)

Building a Nation of Makers (The Huffington Post)

Organizing a Nation of Makers Is Hard But Worth It (Make Magazine)

Maker Organizers Meeting (Collab)

Familab Goes to the White House (Familab)

5 Key Lessons I Learned at the Makerspace Organizers Meeting (Annette Wong)

Reflections on White House Nation of Makers Event (NYC Resistor)

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