Noisebridge is one of the longest established makerspaces in the US, having been founded in 2007. It’s based in the Mission District of San Francisco, next to a grocer’s shop. We went to visit, and were given the tour by Mike, a regular there: “Noisebridge is governed by one rule: ‘Be excellent to one another’.
What that means is, in every interaction with people within the space, try to be respectful, even if interactions aren’t going the way that you want. If they’re really going poorly, you can walk away. If they’re really, really going poorly, you can ask them to leave. Likewise, if someone asks you to leave, you’re expected to just leave, and deal with the situation later.
“There’s an anti-harassment policy – don’t harass people for any reason. If people are busy, if they’ve got their headphones on, staring down at their thing, leave them alone. Don’t hit on people.
“In terms of how the space is run and who does what, everyone’s a volunteer, so you have as much authority as everyone else. It’s true for the majority of the things in the space. There’s no cleaner here, so clean up your stuff after you. There’s no one explicitly to buy things like toilet paper. If we’re out, you should go buy some.
“That’s the negative side of things. On the other hand, nobody being in charge means plenty of positive things.
"There’s a computer over here attached to a modular synth. If you want to install some synth modules, clearly you can – you don’t need to ask anybody for consensus to do that, because you’re positively enhancing this area.
"However, if you wanted to do something like delete the operating system, put Windows on it or whatever, that’s something that needs agreement. (It should be obvious not to do that, but it did happen one time.)
We use the term ‘little-c consensus’. That’s an example of little-c consensus. You don’t need everyone’s consensus; you just need the people in the area.
“Noisebridge is divided into several areas. There’s the library, with an OCR-enabled scanner. There’s a lounge area, with an arcade cabinet for those all-important relaxation sessions.
“The walls of the main room are lined with project shelves – these hold people’s personal projects. The rule is that if they’ve been there for more than 30 days, they’ll be removed, but in practice, we have a cleaning day once or twice a year when things get moved.
“There’s an electronics area, with oscilloscopes, bench power supplies, multimeters, solder, and a huge wall of components linked to a database.
"There’s a database of little things like coin cell batteries, capacitors, resistors, that kind of thing. It’s generally correct, and it shows where a thing will be if we have one. Nobody really updates it though. I really like electronics, but I’m just not going to do that.
“In the wood room, there’s a CNC machine with a load of wood here to use. A powder coater, an oven to bake the powder-coated stuff. Personal projects are not supposed to be in the wood room – sometimes if someone’s left a sticker on it saying ‘do not hack’, and someone’s come along and cut it up, they’ll complain. It doesn’t matter – if a personal project gets left in the wood room, they’re fair game. If you want to keep things safe, we’ve got lockers. You can claim a locker if there’s no lock on it, and there’s nothing in the locker. Both of these conditions have to be true. Otherwise, throw a lock on it, and it’s yours (wire counts as a lock).
“There’s also a music area – we’ve got Ableton installed on a computer there, and we hold regular music events.
“In terms of governance, there’s a concept of membership, but it’s not like other places’ memberships, where you pay money and that’s it: you have to apply for it and be accepted, so you have to know most of the people there, so they know you’re cool enough to be in – it’s a very social thing.
"But you don’t need membership to get access to the space – the only thing you need membership for is to participate in the governance of the space. That’s where the big-c consensus comes in. Everyone can pitch a thing for consensus, but when it comes down to forming a consensus (which is the state at which no one hates it – it’s not that everyone agrees, it’s more like no one is saying no), only the members can block a big-c decision. That would include something like moving premises.
“Most importantly, if you see something that’s broken, feel free to try to fix it. Noisebridge is a do-ocracy”.
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