The art of enabling open making processes

In 2011, my Patching Zone colleagues Kristina Anderson and Audrey Samson invited me to assist them with in their workshop The Art of Hacking at NIMK the Dutch Institute for Media Art. High school kids from all over Amsterdam were coming to show us what amazing vibrobot designs they have up their sleeves. Kristina and Audrey took the concept of vibrating robots and prompted the highschool kids to really play around with lots of materials and a glue gun to give their little bots character in their looks, sounds and the way they move. Read more on Kristina’s blog TinyThing about that concept. During Museumn8 we ran the workshop for eager grown-ups.

A thing or two on facilitation

My role was to explain the how-to of the technical part of the circuit to the kids: how the battery is connected to the motor and why it works like that. Why you need an eccentric weight on the motor shaft to create a vibrating motion. How to avoid shorts, and how to be clever about putting it all together so it doesn’t fall apart, by making a stable basic body by forming a batterypack, and by mounting the motor on it as a head using electrical tape. This construction of battery-pack-as-body and motor-as-head, using electrical tape and a paperclip, I’d used before in my own Vibrobert vibrating robot.

But the nice thing about the workshop was that the focus was actually a lot more on ‘making it your own’ and really facilitating personal expression doing that. I was asked to interview the kids on video to get an idea of their thinking about the process and it was really great to hear how the process of building had allowed them to get an understanding of the basic concepts. And the fun that was involved in really making it their ‘own’ thing.


Looking back on this workshop I really appreciate such efforts of maker facilitators like Audrey and Kristina that understand the value of openness in maker education. It’s all too easy to make something and then say to people: hey I made this you can make it too! And then to call that making, or worse: creativity. A truly valuable making process is one in which you are encouraged to unleash creativity through synergising information that you gather yourself in the process. As a teacher or workshop facilitator it can be hard to avoid preloading information and letting go of control in the process. To let the participants take over. But the art of facilitation sits in being able to pull that all together in the moment, while thinking on your feet. The trick is to let go of that urge to establish an all too rigid framework with guaranteed outcomes. The outcomes will be there, but you can’t predict exactly what they will be. Which – to me – makes it ever more interesting.

amsterdam, Digital Art Lab, high school