5 Ways Cities Can Grow the Maker Movement

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These are the key recommendations to help your city grow the maker movement.

This is an excerpt from NLC’s report, The Maker Movement. The report was created in partnership with the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University.

The maker movement has great potential to alter the very fabric of business and manufacturing in cities across the country. The narratives in this report paint a picture of a selection of the lessons to be learned for those that wish to embrace the maker movement in their own cities.

Coordination between the government, the private sector and the community has shown to be effective. Likewise, investment in education and resource sharing will be important to the growth of the maker movement. As knowledge about this movement is lacking, continued research and development of best practices will be essential. These are the key recommendations to help your city as you move forward:

1. Share best practices

The first recommendation is straightforward: best practices should be shared. Just as makers freely share ideas and technology, building off each other’s developments to benefit from recombinant growth, policymakers should share policies that have worked.

2. Evaluate what works

Stemming naturally from this first recommendation is a second: policymakers and researchers should invest more in evaluations of what works to develop a body of evidence supporting best practices. These evaluations can take many forms, including surveys, case studies or statistical analyses. In order to properly study the maker movement, it will be helpful to more clearly define it and categorize its many different aspects, ideally using a widely accepted and standardized taxonomy. While the amorphous maker movement certainly defies easy categorization, standardizing the concepts and language surrounding the maker movement would reduce the coordination costs required to share policy information.

3. Measure the maker movement’s development

Another important step for policymakers is to identify and measure the maker movement’s development in their cities. While no single measurement is likely able to accurately capture the various components and incarnations of the maker movement in any given city, potentially useful and easy-to-gather measurements include the number of local online maker groups/events and their participants, the number and throughput of local technology incubators or accelerators, the number and size of venture capital firms, and the stock and flow of technology startups, as well as data from surveys of individuals involved in the maker movement, business people and educators.

4. Publish market analyses

Policymakers can also publish market analyses, which serve as a public good for entrepreneurial makers and businesses. Knowing on which sectors of the maker movement local businesses tend to focus can in turn help entrepreneurs focus their efforts. Identifying regional economic clusters can also help policymakers target their support to the most beneficial sectors, since developing and marketing local clusters has positive externalities through knowledge spillovers, shared access to specialized inputs and improved labor matching in thicker markets. Additionally, policymakers can support networking among entrepreneurial makers, businesses, venture capitalists and educators by convening events to facilitate information spillovers.

5. Financially support educational opportunities in science, math and technology

Policymakers should also actively pursue state and federal financial support for education in science, math and technology. Since investments in human capital are positive externalities – particularly because highly educated students often go on to relocate to other cities – local, state and federal governments are better able to internalize the externalities and thus have the incentives to invest optimally. Streamlining regulatory and administrative burdens can also significantly reduce the barriers to commercial entry for entrepreneurial makers looking to form a startup business.

About the Author: Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Senior Executive & Director, Center for City Solutions