Process Patterns

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The grant process

  1. identify funding sources
  2. identify motives behind funding (could be policy (govt funding) or philantropy): funders are looking for outcomes
  3. identify strings attached carefully (see below, point 12)
  4. prepare daft proposal and make your case: your not asking for money, you're proposing a way to achieve the funders' goals
  5. if appropriate: discuss preliminarily with funders
  6. if deemed useful: get letters of support
  7. hand in proposal and pray (if you think that helps)
  8. win the bid and set up your project organisation
  9. set up some more project management and reporting structures
  10. solve (better: avoid) micro political problems
  11. start your Fab Lab operation
  12. from day one: experiment with ways how to sustain your operation economically (note: if funders don't allow that, you will need to find a way aroun it: either cheat or don't even start to deal with them)
  13. use your period of subsidized existence wisely so you know how to pay your rents and wages when that period is over

The bottom-up process

This process has beautifully been described by Harmen Zijp and colleagues at FabLab Amersfoort, The Netherlands: The Grassroots FabLab Instructable, or how to set up a FabLab in 7 days with 4 people and about €5000:

  1. Gather a bunch of friends and decide to start a FabLab, put together about €5000 and order machines, find a space to set up your lab, set up a simple website, and announce the opening day.
  2. Choose a 'business model', equip your space with a workbench, table, chairs and internet, wait for the lasercutter to be delivered, and add pictures of your space to your website.
  3. Decide how to run the lab, install the machines and practice, add pictures of the machines to your website, and update your network.
  4. Decide how your fabbers will connect to the community and document their work, create a table with machine settings, start to build the Mantis and update website and network with text and images.
  5. Decide on a nice demonstration project to introduce your fabbers to the machines, assemble the Mantis, write a quick starter manual for your lab and update website and network.
  6. Put up the FabLab Charter at the entrance, buy drinks and snacks for the opening, and do any last minute preparations.
  7. Enjoy the opening of your lab.

The "agile" process

This is a variation on the grant process or the bottom-up process. At its core it involves looking for opportunities to realize elements of a Fab Lab tapping into emerging business opportunities or smallish pockets of funding. I call it agile because it follows the model of agile software development: in a nutshell this consists in maintaining the big vision of what to eventually achieve and at the same time realizing parts of that great vision quickly and in a way they are sustainable for themselves. This could e.g. be to start with a laser cutter business and add elements of the Fab Lab philosophy to it, such as free access, sharing, cooperation, etc.

Over time the agile process can produce a "full" Fab Lab

The Clan process

This is another variation on the grant process: Instead of an organization that is new to the Fab Lab idea, an existing Fab Lab takes the burden of finding the moneys (e.g. as an outreach or development project) and then develops a Fab Lab.

The "mother" lab then takes on a key role not only in funding the new lab, but also in setting up operations, typically establishing cooperation and exchange projects and similar initiatives.