Maakplaats 021

Lifelong learning in Amsterdam Makerspaces

The 21st century is strongly influenced by the information-based economy and challenges us with new types of (digital) communication as well as new ways of collecting and understanding information. This involves a new set of ‘21st-century skills’ we, especially the young, need to develop in order to succeed in this economy. To hold information-age jobs, now and in the future, we need to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, communicate clear in many media types, learn ever-changing technologies, and deal with a flood of information. The rapid changes in our world require us to be flexible, to take the initiative and lead when necessary, and to produce something new and useful. This is when Makerspaces come in.

Examples of the 21st skills are Creative Thinking, Media Literacy, Technology Literacy Initiative and Leadership. But these essential skills are hardly (actively) taught at schools. A Makerspace can be the place to bring together a diversity of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm to solve problems on the spot. It’s a collaborative workspace inside a library, school or separate public facility providing technology, manufacturing equipment and educational opportunities to the public. They also foster entrepreneurship and utilise as incubators and accelerators for business start-ups. Makerspaces give access to these new skills and provide hands-on learning, critical thinking skills and even boost self-confidence.

The maker movement is a global revolution of new ways of production. It includes everything from technologies like 3D printing to new participative, open internet-based technologies. Some of the skills learned in a Makerspace pertain to electronics, 3D printing, 3D modelling, coding, robotics, and laser cutting. It is no longer necessary to wait for a factory or big company to produce what you want – you can make it yourself. Besides, the maker movement is a way of thinking and a stance towards learning, and a community that is collaborative, participative, critical without being judgmental, and inclusive. Instead of being the objects of change, we can be the agents of change. This enhances a feeling of relevance and ownership. ‘Making’ puts power in our hands. Makerspaces empower those who seek to make and be the change.

©Waag Society FabSchool

To participate in a global economy we need 21st century skills.

The Amsterdam Public Library (OBA), Waag Society, Hogeschool van Amsterdam and Pakhuis de Zwijger joined forces to develop Maakplaats 021: a series of Makerspaces in Amsterdam. The first location will open in December 2016 next to OBA Waterlandplein in Amsterdam-Noord. All kinds of Amsterdammers – children, students, entrepreneurs, locals, policy advisors, etc. – are invited to listen, learn and share their ideas about current issues and to take responsibility and ownership in finding solutions. The ecosystem of the 26 locations of OBA leads to a great opportunity to establish several Makerspaces throughout the whole city of Amsterdam.

‘Libraries have been and are still popular public places attracting a cross-section of local neighbourhoods. It’s one of the few very accessible and non-commercial urban spaces where everyone is welcome to study and share ideas.’ – Martin Berendse, Chief Executive OBA

Since 1919, OBA has been an important public site supporting the personal development of all Amsterdammers. During the 20th century, this was mainly facilitated by lending books and providing study-rooms. Nowadays, OBA is constantly looking for new approaches to create easy access to knowledge and information as books aren’t our primary sources anymore.

‘Makerspaces perfectly fit in contemporary and future manners of acquiring and using knowledge. Adding them to our OBA locations will be an important asset to our mission: to encourage all Amsterdammers to lifelong learning.’ – Martin Berendse, Chief Executive OBA

Waag Society – the Amsterdam institute for art, science, and technology – will help to equip the OBA Makerspaces with machines, knowledge and will introduce their Smart Citizen Kit programme, a bottom-up environmental sensing community and platform. It aims to enable citizens to become active in shaping the development of their city by capturing, sharing and making sense of data in a local environment. Joining Maakplaats 021 is a great opportunity for Waag Society as well.

‘Waag Society is always active in a social context. For more than 20 years, we have been working on the progress of social innovation through a unique mix of art, science, and technology with a prominent role for citizens. With this collaboration, we get the chance to offer our programmes at physical locations throughout Amsterdam and spread around the maker movement.’ – Marleen Stikker, founder Waag Society

©Waag Society FabSchool

Empowering those who seek to make and be the change, yet how can we reduce digital illiteracy? What is the best way to design a new playground for kids? How can we all collaborate to keep our public spaces clean and enjoyable? How to improve our air quality? Just some of the many minor and major issues that are at stake throughout our city.

Egbert Fransen, director of Pakhuis de Zwijger, has been connecting stakeholders and organising events on these urgent and complex urban challenges of today for ten years.

‘We have been rather successful attracting highly educated people of Amsterdam’s city centre. But the issues we address concern a much wider audience. To be able to reach and involve them, we need to be entrenched deeply in the city. Because everybody has the potential to be a City Maker.’ – Egbert Fransen, director of Pakhuis de Zwijger

He strongly believes in the city-making process: shifting ownership from top-down to bottom-up initiatives in the public domain.

‘Change comes from within the neighbourhoods’, he says. ‘When we actively bring together the parties concerned right there where issues are at stake, transformation and hopefully improvements will follow.’ – Egbert Fransen, director Pakhuis de Zwijger

This means being right there where change is especially needed: disadvantaged Amsterdam areas like Noord, Nieuw-West, and Zuidoost struggle with a high level of unemployment, relatively poor health, illiteracy and other issues. Local Makerspaces are ideal to initiate and facilitate this process, especially as it is not taken for granted residents of neighbourhoods like Noord, Nieuw-West and Zuidoost visit sites like Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam’s city centre.

‘We often addresses these issues urging for solutions. Though, mainly in our own building, which is accessible to everyone, but where we hardly meet the average resident from – let’s say – Noord. And it is exactly those people who have the necessary knowledge about and experience with affairs like increasing debts, safety and security problems and poor public spaces. There are great things happening in Noord, but there are also major challenges.’ – Egbert Fransen, director Pakhuis de Zwijger

This motivated to start Amsterdam’s first Maakplaats 021at Waterlandplein. According to him, it is extremely important to be close to everyone who seeks to accelerates one’s personal development with these new skills.

‘We shouldn’t operate just in the city centre as this limits many (young) people to participate. These Makerspaces will be nearby your home and accessible to stimulate everyone to join. When we all come together and collaborate, share and learn from each other, better and more sustainable solutions are more likely.’ – Egbert Fransen, director Pakhuis de Zwijger

It becomes obvious that everybody can be City Maker and make a change. Rob Andeweg, project manager Applied Sciences of HvA totally agrees on this. As a partner of Maakplaats 021, he will bring his students to the Makerspaces and create community-based assignments and challenges together with locals and other stakeholders.

‘I believe when we collaborate locally – not just learning from books and in lecture rooms – and be part of a neighbourhood network, impact will be bigger and more lasting. Moreover, working and studying in a community-oriented way, experiencing the local context, will help students to cultivate a sense of appreciation and usefulness.’ – Rob Andeweg, project manager Applied Sciences HvA

It fits the idea of 21st century skills on multiple levels. For instance, technology students can design playgrounds together with local kids, policy makers, and other interested parties. Or law students, who can help locals with legal services and initiate debt settlement proceedings. Subsequently, they can develop easy to understand digital legal programmes that locals can use independently. Healthcare students can learn about health issues by communicating with locals directly and thinking about solutions together.

‘HvA aims that our students will graduate with relevant skills they didn’t just learn from the books, but from local experience too’ – Rob Andeweg, project manager Applied Sciences HvA

The Makerspaces will make those essential 21st century skills accessible to all parties. The Makerspace in Amsterdam-Noord welcomes its first makers, more locations will follow in the near future. As a bottom-up initiative where experiment will prevail, there’s no concrete plan yet for programming. Courses and activities will develop according to ideas and needs coming from participants.

‘Teachers of nearby schools already showed their interest. They experience 21st century skills like coding and programming being essential, but most schools are not equipped for this.’ – Martin Berendse, Chief Executive OBA

Maakplaats 021 can be the key to facilitating this learning by doing, and prepare us all for future developments.

This publication was written by Maartje Rooker and originally appeared in New Amsterdam Magazine #10. You can access the original publication here.

Involved city makers
Egbert Fransen
Director Pakhuis de Zwijger
comments on this article
There are comments on this article
in Amsterdam
comments on this article