Make and Share!

Fab Lab Berlin, where I spent three months in 2015 before starting Fab Lab Masterton
“When you bring people into a space in an interdisciplinary way, cross-pollination takes place… almost like a rubber band around you, and for you to have an understanding of the world you have to allow this to stretch out to surround other people.
“The campus holds some incredibly dynamic people, and interdisciplinarity does not come easy to all.”
Dr Deanna McDonagh & Joyce Thomas, University of Illinois

Interdisciplinarity: combining two or more practices, fields of study or communities

A snapshot in time of the growing global network of Fab Labs

Fab Lab Masterton was formed with the creation of local, national and global interdisciplinary links as part of its kaupapa (purpose). As an open access makerspace, all walks of life bump together in Fab Lab’s physical space, and online in Fab Lab’s digital space.

Despite this intent, when we initially divided Fab Lab Masterton’s “target market” into three (schools, citizens and businesses), we devoted portions of space and time to each group more or less in isolation: Our first two terms were devoted to classes/professional development for schools, our 3rd term to innovating with local businesses, our 4th to workshops for citizens.

There was no way around this! Due to our small, mainly volunteer staff, we have had to focus our expertise and energy on one project at a time for quality of delivery. This isn’t to say nothing has overlapped, but working in this self-imposed framework there’s been precious little opportunity to facilitate cross-pollination between the three groups.

Interdisciplinary practice is another option for generating the cross-pollination we want. In the context of Fab Lab, rather than strategising for cross-pollination of our “target markets” (which feels like breaking very big, entrenched habits), we can break it down to bite-sized steps: We have developed relationships with many local, siloed communities of practice (CoPs) — we can focus first on connecting interdisciplinary practice within these CoPs, then help these CoP silos to connect with each other.

When UCOL Wairarapa reached out to Fab Lab to relocate to their campus to stimulate on-campus activity, curiosity and future-thinking, we saw an opportunity to form better interdisciplinary links at a sustainable scale.

Here, I’ll focus on the already emerging connections within the UCOL CoP (the blue arm of the diagram below). Following this, I’ll touch on emerging connections between UCOL and other CoPs in the local community.

Fab Lab Masterton’s relationships with local communities of practice

Emerging connections within UCOL

UCOL’s campus manager Maria McKenzie has already facilitated one all-staff gathering at Fab Lab to give them the opportunity to ask questions and air concerns about having Fab Lab on campus. Before the gathering there was skepticism. Since the gathering, staff have expressed positivity and a desire to incorporate Fab Lab capability into their courses. Already, staff from several disciplines have dropped in with students.

Very recently, we have begun to devise a series of professional development workshops for all UCOL staff to attend together. Through digital fabrication projects we aim to foster a collaborative culture among disparate study areas. We’ve applied for a local grant to deliver this.

Building better connections between UCOL and the local community

Fab Lab has collaborated with the campus School of Construction to develop a “Wikihouse” community project. Separate to course work, but involving UCOL people outside course time, we’ve proposed to develop digitally enabled construction skills across an opt-in team of like-minded members of the community. To inspire curiosity, what we produce (CNC-milled plywood Wikihouses) will be showcased in community urban spaces or school spaces across Wairarapa.

Click here to see this Space Craft (Christchurch) Wikihouse being built!

Success will be the connectivity between Fab Lab, UCOL’s School of Construction, local construction professionals, and participants from other disciplines (eg artists, accountants, beneficiaries)—a high level of cross-community engagement. The incorporation of digital fabrication into UCOL’s construction courses is the ultimate measurable outcome of this Wikihouse project.