As part of the President’s Nation of Makers initiative, there was an invited conference at the White House OSTP for makerspace organizers on August 24 (videos here, check out Megan Smith’s in particular). I joined over a dozen other makers from Georgia at the event which was an exceptional showing for our state given there were less than 200 attendees. No, I didn’t get to meet POTUS, but we were on the “inside” of the compound in the beautiful Eisenhower Building, right next to the West Wing!
The day included plenary talks from representatives of many government agencies (e.g. OSTP, NSF, NASA, SBA, USAID, NEA, etc.) and from many makerspace organizers. There were also breakout sessions where the makers identified challenges, shared knowledge, and began to think more broadly about how we can form a stronger community of practice. Several common themes emerged which included
- A strong message from the administration that the innovation, entrepreneurship, discovery, and education happening in makerspaces around the country is seen as very important to the future strength of the US. Many agencies and organizations are interested in engaging with the maker movement, but there isn’t a natural infrastructure to support it.
- Recognition that there is significant research and development happening in makerspaces including basic scientific research as well as applied research targeting local, national, and international problems. Makers are at the forefront in many different ways.
- Confirmation that most Makerspaces have similar challenges including communication (both internally and externally), organization (largely due to lack of a well documented, inclusive, robust, and developed community of practice), administration (typically handled by paid staff which is not common in most makerspaces), and financially sound business models.
It is clear that merely convening this group of nearly 200 makerspace organizers was a significant catalyst to a very action-oriented community and I really appreciate the work of our host, Andrew Coy, the White House Senior Advisor for Making for putting it all together.
After the meeting was over, I collected some further thoughts and ideas about the trip, and I’ve been seriously socializing one big idea of a STEM cooperative extension service. If you’ re interested in learning more, take a look at the rough two-page draft I wrote up and let me know what you think!