lunedì 31 agosto 2015

Sustainable FabLab

I often asked myself about identity and sustainability of FabLabs as incubators, among other things, of digital fabrication projects.
For those who are not in this field, it is difficoult to define at first what a FabLab is. Actually, its inventors at MIT wanted to define well what a Fablab is and what it does. Nevertheless they formalized all in a document available on the Web in many languages: “The Fab Charter".
First of all we should remember that a FabLab is different from a makerspace or a hackerspace, while the term TechShop is actually the trademark of a California chain of  coworking space, and thus it represents a real company.
The FabLab, and all other spaces, cannot get away with the harsh laws of economics and finance that eventually decree the sustainability or not of each initiative.
Going back to the FabLab, in most cases they are established thanks to initiatives of the universities, public authorities and foundations that are keen to promote the objectives of these spaces and they often represent the main source of funding (and livelihood).
These promoters surely play a key role but it is a popular opinion, with which I agree, that the long-term objective of a FabLab has to be the sustainability through a full economic and financial autonomy. This sustainability can be achieved, however, only in one way: relying on sustainable business models!
Actually, when we talk about FabLab, there is too little discussion about business models. We often speak only of individual initiatives, that are intended to generate revenue for the sustenance of the FabLab, ignoring the analysis of all the components to support a true value proposition. No wonder then that some of these organizations lack a strategic vision and the necessary planning of the activities that should follow.
Anyone who wants to approach a FabLab, not as an end user but as a collaborator and a potential resource for the FabLab itself, should ask some questions:
1. What are the vision, the mission of the FabLab? Do they embrace the goals described in “The Fab Charter"? Otherwise we no longer talk of a FabLab but of something else...
2. What is the governance of the FabLab, which is the set of rules (agreements, regulations, etc.) governing the management and supervision of the FabLab? Transparency is important!
3. Finally, what business models do they intend to implement? Is there a clear strategy and a plan of how carrying out the various activities? And with what resources?

To be continued...

Mario Nicotera Co-Founder JellyLab                        

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