Hackerspaces Grant Program
Hackerspaces are community-operated physical places, where people share their interest in tinkering with technology, meet and work on their projects, and learn from each other.
hackerspaces.org is an informal volunteer network of such spaces, maintaining community services - including a wiki for everyone who wants to share their hackerspace stories and questions, mailing lists, XMPP services, a blog and a feed aggregator, and many others. From around the world, hackers meet on the Freenode IRC channel #hackerspaces.
Hackers consider technology as a field to be invented, rather than an exclusive contribution of corporations by way of already designed products. Hackers, instead, repurpose technologies, modify them, invent new ones, away from the directed laboratories of profit-driven entities. In a hackerspace, the technologies emerge experimentally rather than according to a commercial plan.
Created in 2007, the informal network of hackerspaces today counts almost 2000 documented spaces (more exist that do not appear on the wiki), it doubled since last year (2014).
Because hackerspaces are volunteer organizations, and the hackerspaces network remains informal, hackerspaces' economics tend to be gift economies, facilitating the expression of the local community, but leaving to improvisation the resolution of situations requiring more coordinated action, especially when involving multiple spaces.
There's a tacit rule of community-building among hackerspaces, including an orientation towards the production of common knowledge, often by the way of free software and free hardware.
When Makerbots Industries, a 3D-printer manufacturer born out of the hackerspaces community, became a proprietary firm and began to sell products with legal restrictions on reproducibility, and therefore hacking, a scandal arose within the community. This situation isn't limited to hackerspaces: on Kickstarter, the Oculus Rift campaign was very successful, and most donors were expecting the company to produce hackable devices with free software. But instead, the company was soon sold out to a larger corporation, leaving thousands of prospective buyers with a feeling of betrayal.
Obviously the hacker community mostly failed so far to invest money where it can further its principles and sustain its growth, apart from the notable Chaos Computer Club, the large network of German hackerspaces. The Hackerspaces Grant Program aims to tip such activities strenghtening community support and development.
HackerSpaces: Inventive Communities
Technology is often understood as an expert process where specialists, stemming from scientific laboratories and large corporations, convene to design a machine or an object which complexity remains out of reach of the layman. This vision of technology as given from above encourages a passive reception of its products, a consumer vision where the user is clueless about how things work, and dependent on expert knowledge beyond their reach to repair, let alone adapt, modify, or even invent new technologies.
Technology is thus perceived as capital-intensive, commercially-driven innovation in the hands of experts who deliver generation after generation of improved designs, entangled with the idea of progress. As global corporations become the primary vector of funding for applied science, collaborating with universities, or operating their own private laboratories, the narrative of consumer technology turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This elite vision of marketed technology perspires in the meritocratic origin of hackerspaces. Hackers, endowed with an inquisitive mind, an inextinguishable thirst for knowledge, and a gift for devising clever solutions to an increasing diversity of problems, form a technical elite at the periphery of the typical scientific-corporate setting. The explosion of hackerspaces, makerspaces, fablabs, innovation centers, etc. over the last few years demonstrate two things: first, there's an innovative process outside of the commercial product life cycle, and second, a large part of the attention of investors focus on profitability by way of startups, reinforcing this idea of elitist technology.
Hackerspaces however, detach from this monolithic vision in several significant ways. First of all, hackerspaces are community-operated physical spaces, where people share their interest in tinkering with technology, meet and work on their projects, and learn from each other. These key aspects are crucial to understanding the difference between a hackerspace, and for example, a startup incubator. Hackerspaces are grounded into hackerdom, that promotes a different vision of technology.
For hackers, technology itself is not monolithic; from now on, we'll use the term in plural: technologies. The difference should hint about an alternate route taken towards understanding science, technique, and their application to the specific context in which hackers delve daily. Indeed, for hackers, technologies are not only something they consume, but that they question, explore beyond their original designs, breaking their intended boundaries, and eventually inventing new ones. Technologies are not consumer products but intents, experiments, actualized needs and dreams.
In this acception, hackerspaces are closer to science, especially in its inherent culture of sharing and improving on each other's results, and to the arts; hackers bridge the lab and the street, science and culture, and do it with homebrewed technologies. The satisfaction of the hacker is to see their abstract ideas turn into concrete efforts, and more importantly: actual results. But these results do not come from a business plan with cost-benefit calculations and the profit motive in the background. Instead, the pursuit of knowledge and the resolution of existing problems motivate hackers. Hackerspaces therefore, are deeply rooted into their social environments.
Although the movement of hackerspaces is recent, spawning from an elite community of engineers around the world, this vision of technologies has been going on for decades where necessity required people to adapt what they had to address pressing needs. Recycling in India, Africa, or Cuba show prowess of inventivity not only among engineers, but in the general population as well.
Beyond the basic assumption that technological invention is driven by customers wants and needs, it should be obvious that technologies are driving forces that shape society, influence its users, and more often than not, even its non-users. The lack of access to certain technologies, like Internet, mobile phones, medecine, or transportation, can have hidden consequences. When "everyone" is expected to use a smartphone, not using one can be a social handicap; relying on the presence of a mobile phone also influence people's behavior: you don't make appointments in advance anymore, but steer towards a meeting point. In the same way, a pervasive network of surveillance cameras, if it does not prevent petty theft or assault, imposes a panopticon effect that leads individuals to self-censor. Technologies, therefore, far from being neutral, shape an environment that didn't exist before them, to which humans adapt, often in impredictable ways.
Moreover, technologies, considered as products, ignore what lies beyond the value-chain: so-called externalities, such as environmental cost of resources necessary to build new items, and of course, their disposal.
Economy of a Hackerspace
Hackerspaces usually have 3 main charges: rent, electricity, Internet access. Equipment is usually an investment, but can reach a month of rent or more, in the case of sophisticated equipment (e.g., CNC mill).
All these charges are usually covered mainly by membership fees. Other income sources include: renting out the space, offering workshops, running events, consultancy, user experience lab, etc. Traditionally, European and U.S. hackerspaces have been reluctant on taking money from the public and private sectors, although African ones tend to consider it normal, and accept corporate sponsorship and government support; additionally, running job boards make sense in such an environment where highly qualified and inventive technologists gather.
Nevertheless, there's no one-size-fits-all template for hackerspaces: each locality is different and offers more or less opportunities to prospective hackerspaces to establish their activities.
Why Focus on Hackerspaces?
- communal: they are community-operated;
- contextual: they are inscribed into their local community;
- highly inventive.
- provide small, high-risk, early stage grants to not-for-profit and social enterprises that contribute to social change.
- enable experimental, trial-and-error invention.
- invest in a sector usually discarded by investors as non-profitable, but that nevertheless contributes to the community.
The Umbrella is a transdisciplinary interface that bridges funders and donors with funding entities and grant recipients.
The traditional approach to funding projects fails to capture the complexity and contextuality of networked projects involving local community, technologies, and larger societal concerns like privacy, environment, sustainability, and resilience, or long term considerations, including technological sovereignty, management of the commons, social transformations induced by technologies, and historical perspectives.
In the face of such complexity, the usual approach is to restrict it to specific, actionable topics of interest: digital divide, privacy-enhancing technologies, etc., that do not address the complexity but exclude it from the scope. In the same way Aristotelian logic excludes contradiction by design, traditional grant making excludes reality by shaping it grossly, according to pre-established value-grids that seldom match the actual situations. With this arbitrary set of rules, grantees must practice mental contortions to fit in the box.
Our approach differs from traditional funding entities in the following ways:
- our focus is transdisciplinary: rather than reducing our activity to actionable topics that provide a measurable, but limited outcome with no integrated vision within the larger context of the project, we embrace complexity and focus on projects with a strong community component; the projects we're interested in enable people to invent and evaluate their own outcomes, bootstrap or consolidate community bonds, and provide lasting effects on the community;
- we bridge the gap between usually unrelated topics;
- we accompany the community in their endeavor;
- we insist on contextuality: each project develops within a specific community, and although we're contemplating reproducibility, our first measure of success lies with the actual results within the regional community at hand.
The Hackerspaces Grant Program aims at facilitating transnational hackerspaces community where money can make a difference.
Although hackerspaces tend to be autonomous, there are circumstances where it makes sense to grant an extra help, especially when moving people, bootstrapping spaces in difficult zones, or supporting projects involving several spaces.
The Hackerspaces Grant program aims at:
- bootstrapping new projects
- identifying potential groups bootstrapping new spaces
- supporting early stage hackerspaces
- bridging existing projects
- connecting people, spaces, and projects
- establishing bridges between technologists and activists
- supporting new and existing projects
- providing consultancy and support
- leveraging community support
- binding the community
- enhancing inter-spaces collaboration
- fostering solidarity and sustainability among the hackerspaces network
Purpose: bootstrapping projects, spaces, events.
The Hackerspaces Bootstrap Grant enables new hackerspaces to setup shop in their locality, or helping a hackerspace move to a new location. The grant can cover rent guarantee, a few months of rent, legal fees and counseling, buying machines, etc.
Purpose: supporting public events and collective projects.
The Hackerspaces Community Grant provides sponsoring to public events bridging the hackerspace with its regional community, such as open days, local conferences, etc.
Additionally, the Community grant can be used to enable collective projects involving 5 or more established hackerspaces.
Purpose: moving people around.
The Hackerspaces Hopper Grant enables individuals to move from a hackerspace to another, or to a related conference.
This travel and residencies grant covers flight from one hackerspace to another, and may cover travel expenses as well, such as transfer from and to the airport, and accommodation.
This grant supports the Hackers in Residence project that proposes to host a hacker at a hackerspace and facilitate exchanges.
The interested hacker should contact the hackerspace they want to visit, and have it apply for a grant on their behalf.
Purpose: covering unexpected, punctual needs.
The Hackerspaces Solidarity Grant comes from a specific community fund with the objective of covering for exceptional expenses, such as:
- helping with rent
- facing unexpected expenses
- empowering hackerspaces in difficult situations
The Hackerspaces Solidarity Fund is itself voluntary, and anyone can provide one-time or recurring contributions to keep it alive. Suggestions have been made to incorporate a voluntary donation of, e.g., 3€, into a hackerspace's monthly membership, so that hackerspaces can easily collect contributions through their members.
The Hackerspaces Grant Program is open to hackerspaces and individual members. Individuals can apply to the Hopper Grant via their target hackerspace, while hackerspaces can apply to the Bootstrap, Community, or Solidarity grants.
Who Can Apply?
- Hackerspaces registered on hackerspaces.org
- passionate about their projects
- using available and appropriate technologies
- interfacing with the local and regional communities
- sensible to cost from resources to disposal (zero externality)
- freedom-supporting (free software and free hardware)
- preferrably replicable
- transparent and willing to communicate
How to Apply?
Applications can be made online by visiting the web domain https://hackerspaces-grants.example
Specific instructions are provided for each grant to help process the demand.
When to Apply?
- Makerbot vs. Hackerspaces