How can we support volunteers better and help more people get involved?

The Hackspace is a volunteer-run organisation. One of my main priorities on the board is to look at ways to help volunteers not to burn out and enjoy being in the hackspace. I am also looking at ways to get new members involved.

Currently we’re in a transition period because our membership has exploded, but many of the tasks are still being done by the same few people who are often overworked. Previously when the hackspace was small and everyone knew everyone, this wasn’t such a pressing issue because people could just chat to each other and we didn’t need robust systems so much; but now we have a much bigger membership and it’s important we can spread work around and give new members a sense of ownership of the space.

I’m making this thread to have an open discussion about the issues we face so if you have your own observations and perhaps experience from other organisations, please weigh in here.

This topic is for gathering information and ideas, not debating or going into detail on whether something would or would not work. Anything arising from this can be discussed in detail later.

If you have thoughts you’re not comfortable posting here, you may also email board@hacman.org.uk , message me on telegram Telegram: Contact @peterdroberts or DM me on here

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Great idea!

These are some of my thoughts. Some are more articulations of current states and some point towards solutions, I suppose. They’re in no particular order, but stem from me helping out and also onboarding others to become helper-outers.

  1. We should emphasise that the ‘line’ between being a member and a helper is razor thin, or even non-existent. Yes, the more complex tasks do have barriers, but basic jobs can be taken on by anyone. I think this is already clear, but perhaps it’s not?

  2. At the outset, volunteers should know that we are literally an amateur outfit. We are also almost a dictionary definition of an anarcho-communist collective (collective ownership, voluntary roles and responsibilities). Being aware of this will help them navigate the processes involved and understand why things operate the way they do.

  3. It is probably not clear to most members who is on the various workshop teams and how to contact them. In practice, these teams might have up to 10 members but only 3/4 are active enough to sustain dialogue with non-team-members.

  4. As a space, we have a very loose and chaotic structure, which is a direct consequence of the fact that nobody is paid to work here. Work is completed entirely on the terms of the person doing it, which means that working practices very hugely. Volunteers should be made aware of this, why this is, and be prepared to find their own path.

  5. A lot of information about how the space works is stored in people’s heads. Documenting this is probably futile because the information changes so often and writing it down is time-consuming in itself. We should emphasise that open, frequent communication and teamwork is a necessary part of volunteering in order to gather and share information. In these scenarios, Telegram is the best tool.

  6. Most volunteers begin by noticing that something is broken and being motivated to fix it because they want to use it. This is a good entry point, and serves to illustrate the thin line between ‘passive service user with a problem’ and ‘active service provider with a solution’.

  7. What members see is very important. If they see that a new tool has been installed in a workshop, they might assume that some magical angel came in and did it. If they see on Telegram how that tool was purchased, what needed to happen to get it operational, and who did all this, then the mechanisms behind the space start to make more sense.

More items will probably occur to me down the line.

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(to be clear my comments on this will be my position and don’t necessarily represent the board as a whole)

As a volunteer myself one thing I think would help would be a buddy system whereby older members can be matched up with newer members to help them navigate the hackspace, or if not one buddy just a group happy to be contacted with stupid questions by new members.

I think a key thing is increasing contact between members for a lot of the reasons Mike has said.

The open evening people are partly this, but that comes with a specific job, and I think there’s a place for a more informal group of people who can guide you ad hoc once you’ve joined.

Telling people what they can do is another job and very difficult without knowing their existing skillset. Having a more active method of integrating new members could help build the required relationships.

As Mike says it’s very much an informal group of amateurs which is fine, but I feel like things which acknowledge that and help people meet others are more likely to be successful on a practical level than introducing a ton more stuff for people to read.

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To piggyback off Mike’s points 3 and 4, I think it would be good to have more transparency around workshop teams. I know there are private groups on telegram for those teams but I couldn’t say who’s in them or how you’d join them if you wanted to be more involved.

There’s the teams section on the Members portal and the forum but I’m fairly sure there are some members missing from those lists. They also don’t match up with each other. It can feel like a bit of a wild goose chase trying to work out the teams or who to contact other than the usual suspects - which could be contributing to their burn out.

As well as providing up to date information/contact details of the teams either on the forum or members portal - I’d also like to update the notice board to have information about each team and their roles so people can see at a glance who to contact or perhaps how to join or volunteer with those teams.

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