Lab report. Experiment: Maker Meetup #1

Objective and Introduction

Organizing Makerland is a challenging job. Of course, we love challenges and we love doing Makerland. But doing a workshops for 300 people is much different from doing a regular conference for 500 people… especially if you want to do it a different way: give people a freedom to learn what they want, whenever they want and for as long as they want. We must say, we weren’t 100% sure it’s all possible. We couldn’t be ourselves if we didn’t test that before Makerland. That’s why we’ve decided to run a little experiment and invite 60 people to join us for one Saturday in Warsaw to organize a mini Makerland for them: Maker Meetup #1. Read on to see how that turned out!

Theory

 In theory we know how to organize amazing asynchronous workshops, add some inspiring talks and a hackathon day. In practise, we know how to organize awesome conferences and great hackathons. It’s time to test out asynchronous workshops theory!

Theory: Asynchronous workshops are awesome.
There are various workshop stations on different topics lead by experiences makers. Every station can be occupied by up to 15 people who work alone or in small (2-3 person) groups. Attendees can join and leave the station anytime they want. They don’t have to synchronize with others in order to start or finish a workshop. If some of the workshops are too easy for attendees, they can ask for additional tasks and extend the topic to challenge themselves. If the topic is exciting and interesting for them, they can even spend the whole day on one station or just go around and try every possible technology. Workshops are designed to give everyone a hands-on approach on just the right level of advance. Attendees shouldn’t feel like at school. They should feel like in the Disneyland (just without all the lines!).

Risks and Dangers

We had a lot of questions and we saw a lot of risks. We’ve identified our main risks and dangers:

  • Will people know how it works?
  • What if everyone wants to join the same station and the rest of them is just empty?
  • What to do if someone really badly wants to go to this workshop and there are no spots left at the moment?
  • Will people have time to try every workshop station?
  • Will people even want to try every workshop station?
  • Are there going to be long lines to every station?
  • Will people start bloody fights over free slots at the stations?;)

Experimental Methods

If we really wanted to be sure that all this is possible and the risks and dangers are just Ola’s bad dreams, we needed to do a Makerland. But doing a Makerland is a lot of hard work, that’s why we found a 5x smaller test group as our awesome lab rats :)

We’ve decided to organize a Makerland rehearsal event called Maker Meetup. 60 people from Warsaw, Krakow and Belgium (!) joined us for a Saturday (Nov 16th) full of workshops. We had 6 workshop stations, each one designed for 6-15 people:

  • Arduino Yun workshop
  • Soldering workshop: build your own arduino platform
  • Lego Mindstorms
  • Bluetooth Low Energy iBeacons
  • 3D Modeling
  • 3D Printing

Wide range of topics, great breakfast, yummy lunch, 7 hours of workshops and a lot of fun. Wanna see how it turned out?

Results

Conclusions

Long story short, it was AWESOME! We’ve did a lot of things well and most importantly, found out about a couple of things that still need more work. 

The most important result for us: everyone was happy and excited to work with hardware! 

But, we need to keep this report professional, so here are the “real” conclusions :) After deep analysis of attendees feedback, we come to the following results:

  • Overall feeling among attendees after Maker Meetup is great. Everyone is excited to try more and can’t wait for Makerland tickets sale.
  • Overall feeling among organizers after Maker Meetup is even better. We didn’t expect such good results, it was more of a trial-and-error process, but our previous experiences were very handy.
  • Most important thing: we proved that asynchronous workshops theory works in practice. It was awesome to see how well people work with this and how natural this way of working feels. No pressure of keeping up with the group, no fixed schedule. Take your time, learn and enjoy. EVERYONE loved that.
  • Most of the risks we identified didn’t really existed. That’s a huge relief.
  • The atmosphere of people helping each other, having fun and trying new stuff was AMAZING. We definitely want more of that.
  • We were surprised how well people work together to optimize workshop stations, lending equipment and hardware to each other.
  • We’ve expected that beginning will be the most difficult - people running to find a free slot on the station, people confused and without a clue what to do next. What we saw instead was a perfectly self-organized group that quietly took free seats and the stations and started working in just 3 minutes. We were amazed how well this works!
  • Everyone had time to try the workshops they wanted to try. That’s a plus, too.

There are some things we feel we can do better: 

  • Better station management: we need someone to cleanup the station and hardware after each attendee. This person should also explain what this workshop is about to people who are looking for their next station and are “on the fence”.
  • It’d be nice to also have a clear information if there is an available spot on each station. Sometimes it was confusing.
  • Workshop hosts should be easy to identify - t-shirts or very visible badges would be great. 
  • We need to unify the tutorials and test it on some beginners before Makerland.
  • We think it’d be cool if someone could sign up for a station if there is no free slot at the moment. There were people who really cared about a particular workshop and had to be in a hunt mode to find a free seat. SMS or Push notification to your phone 10 minutes before the slot is available would be awesome. 

That’s it. These are the things that we will be working on for the next few months!

After Maker Meetup (aka rehearsal Makerland), we’re more than sure that Makerland will be a legendary event. You shouldn’t miss it, so make sure to catch your 2 for 1 Voucher before they sold out! 

image

PS. Huge thanks to Mike Swift and Chris Williams for inspiration and convincing us to do asynchronous workshops :)