Behind REFLOW’s productive ‘making’ approach
At the heart of the REFLOW pilot strategy is a productive ‘making’ approach that empowers citizens and engages policy makers and industry leaders. Where does this approach come from?
The REFLOW project aims to further develop circular and regenerative cities through the re-localisation of production and the re-configuration of material flows at different scales in cities. The project aims to include Fab Labs and makerspaces as catalysers of a systemic change in urban and peri-urban environments, which enable, visualize and regulate “four freedoms”: free movement of materials, people, (technological) knowledge, and commons, in order to reduce materials consumption, maximize multifunctional use of (public) spaces/building and envisage regenerative practices. New production and innovation spaces, such as Fab Labs, makerspaces, or innovations hubs are natural test-beds for local initiates to be incubated, nurtured, tested and scaled, allowing urban ecosystems to move towards green transition because they already operate as social experiments and portray examples of small-scale running economies.
A Makerspace is a collaborative workspace equipped for making, prototyping and digital fabrication. It is a space that offers space, learning, tooling and socializing around the practice of making, and also hacking and tinkering. A Fab Lab is a kind of makerspace that follows a charter and is governed by a foundation. It offers the same inventory at each of the 2000+ independently run spaces in the world to enable a user to be able to ‘make almost anything, anywhere.’ They are forms of digital fabrication spaces.
For almost two decades, digital fabrication spaces have appeared in almost every major city in the world. These new spaces started out of the hacker culture in places like MIT, or in the technology alternative movements in Europe. The free and open source principles of the hacker culture (especially in software) impregnated the fundamental ethics of new fabrication spaces.
The three type of spaces that have been widespread during the last decade: makerspaces (associated with the United States West Coast Culture, focused on broad ways of making beyond digital technologies), fab labs (associated with MIT, US East Coast, attached to a research roadmap led by the Center for Bits and Atoms, and focused on digital fabrication), and hackerspaces (usually focused on computers and software). The rapid growth of these spaces led to what is called ‘the maker movement’ which is opening up new forms of innovation stemming from individuals and communities around Fab Labs and Makerspaces.
Whilst every Digital Fabrication Space differs in legal nature, Fab Labs and Makerspaces have been supported institutionally by MIT, Fab Foundation, IAAC (in the case of Fab Labs) and Make Media (in the case of Makerspaces). Other forms of such spaces have spawned around the world and digital fabrication technologies are available in major universities, high schools, companies, and public buildings such as libraries or civic centers. These new fabrication spaces have made the use of industrial technology such as 3D printing or CNC cutting and machining accessible to people that have not previous technical training in the use of such machines. Each space is free to determine access governance and support based on their local situation. In the case of fab labs, this must be established in line with the Fab Lab Charter.
Together with the access to the spaces and machines, new forms of learning have been emerging from Fab Labs and Makerspaces. The rapid growth of the maker movement is opening new forms of innovation coming from individuals and communities around Fab Labs and Makerspaces. Europe hosts currently more than 50% of Fab Labs in the world (in total more than 1200), and together with it a network of Digital Social Innovators that are creating a vibrant ecosystem of citizen empowerment and digital social entrepreneurship across the continent. Thanks to projects and educational programs such as Distributed Design Market Platform, Fab Academy and REFLOW, Europe is broadening the collaboration between peers located in Fab Labs and Makerspaces with access to rapid prototyping machines and global networks of knowledge that allow the fast development of products and opens up the opportunity for new markets.