Warsaw Hackerspace Moving Experiences

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Warsaw Hackerspace moving in 2015[edit]

Warsaw Hackerspace (link) is the biggest 'Space in Poland, consisting of about 80 people (30 of whom were active members) at the time of moving in 2015. It is run by a Board consisting of 3-4 people, elected by the majority of members. At the time it wasn't using the consensus mechanism. The main source of income were membership fees, ~$15 for students and ~$30 for regular members a month.

After about 3 years of leasing a basement from a local research agency the building was acquired by the University of Warsaw, which decided to renovate it and create archives / storerooms in the areas used by the hackers. We were given several months to find a new place and move. The task was tricky: our old location was less than 100 meters from a subway station, next to several restaurants and with quite a low rent. Few other places offered such a good mix.

I (alxd) was the 'Space member for over 2 years and a newly-appointed Board member. I quit my programming job in order to dedicate myself to the space-hunting fulltime. Here are my findings:

Lessons Learned[edit]

1. Every community consists of multiple sub-groups, each with its own interests, usage priorities and patterns. They will want different things from the 'Space and may be quite hard to balance. Some people will require 24/7 access, for others the power infrastructure may be much more important. It's important to list these groups and their expectations making sure that no one is omitted from plans.

2. The moving can cause unintended power/balance changes between these groups and shifts in local politics. Suddenly the event runners may have less to offer during the Space hunt and renovations, and will be just pressuring other groups to "get it done". The electricians and civil engineers who normally do little will be able to go all-in with the renovation plans, but their enthusiasm may get in the way of others.

3. A lot of decisions will need to be made fast, requiring some kind of fast-acting committee. It will have a lot of power and be prone to decisions not necessarily representing every group. The committee should be given a set of agreed-upon values from the community and make sure every their step is as transparent as possible.

4. The new space should be open to everyone as quickly as possible, with as little limitations as possible. Access infrastructure (keycards, internet access) should be prioritized. If the Space can't be ready in 100%, there should be at least several tables where people could meet and discuss what's next. It's better to have a "base of operations" keeping the community together than base just on IRC / Slack.

5. Try to have as little public downtime as possible. The people who come to the Space only once a month or less frequently may be really confused / put off by the moving. It would be best to make some kind of moving party and keep events continuous. Maybe invite some graffiti artists to make murals?

6. Respective groups will want to have different parts of infra running first. After getting the keycards, toilet and the internet working the rest should be prioritized in order allowing maximum participation in the space. You don't want to keep any group unable to do anything in the Space for too long. Setting up a heavy workshop with walls and ventilation may take several months, which will be enjoyed by the electricians / civil engineers, but may render other members unable to run classes in all the chaos.

7. The moving party can give you some funds, but you may need to be careful with the "Targeted Donations". Some people may want to pay only for the new laser cutter, a projector or something else. If you take the money and "overwrite" the funds' destination, they will feel cheated and the relationship may turn toxic. Be sure to tell them "Okay, but we're planning to buy it only in X weeks". Remember: only the money already on the account counts as donated. Promises don't pay for anything.

8. Renovation will be messy. Keep at least one part of the Space available for meetings / work at all times.

9. If you don't want to order people around, make a clear checklist of what needs to be done and ask people to "claim" the points. Ask them to give you progress each day / week. The next step should be clear to everyone.

10. Make clear announcements of the plans allowing people to participate and not feel excluded. You never know when someone who's not a frequent can help you. Also some members - for example without some IRC channels or Slack access - may unintentionally lose sight of the updates.

11. Some members will want to use the opportunity to upgrade the infrastructure. Don't allow them to make it their project. The infrastructure is out there for everybody and should always have a fallback, especially when upgrading.

12. If the keycards don't work yet, make sure to have a plan of how to distribute the keys to the space. Avoid the case of "I can't get in and run my class" at all costs. It turns a lot of people away.

13. Make clear plan of how to get it to the new place. Use maps, StreetView, photos, maybe even some 360 photo path. Let people take a virtual walk from BART to the entrance of the new Space.

14. Have the above distributed to the friends of the 'Space. Omnicommons, SudoRoom, some blogs, everybody who might have heard about Noisebridge or have been there but doesn't read the mailing lists. Avoid the situation of "I have been there once but they vanished".