Why Do Most Makerspaces Break Down at Between 50 to 150 Members?

Mark Randall Havens
4 min readMar 8, 2022
Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

A makerspace or any other community group is usually started by a small group of friends. That’s how a lot of makerspaces begin. Four to ten trusting friends determined on building a community makerspace can do some pretty amazing things. Makerspaces at this level are likely to have passionate members, and you and your friends are able to do a lot to make it happen. Founders set their founding principles, often including a flatly managed, do-cratic structure with openness and transparency as key values. Decisions are often made by consensus since everyone is strongly motivated to get along with one another to maintain their sense of belonging.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar says the “magic number” for maintaining relationships within any human group is 150. From studying non-human primates, Dunbar came to believe that there’s a relationship between brain size and group size. Using neuroimaging and observation of primate grooming time, this ratio was mapped out. According to Dunbar, the size of the neocortex, the part of the brain associated with cognition and language, correlates with the size of a cohesive social group. The complexity of a social system is constrained by this ratio.

As your makerspace membership increases to 150 people, it will become more difficult for each individual to maintain familiarity, trust, and goodwill with other members. A makerspace’s spirit and camaraderie may survive as it grows to about 50 members (which Robin Dunbar associated with a maximum number of easily maintainable friendships for humans), and in some well-structured makerspaces led by a charismatic leader who is able to ensure that everyone is working towards a unified goal, this number could even reach about 150 well-acquainted members.

I think being a member of a makerspace at this point in development is fantastic because a group of people with less than 150 members has the ability to know and maintain a healthy trust of one other. It’s small enough to work things out if there are any problems. However, lots of smaller makerspaces don’t even get to 50 members. As a result, makerspace communities that fall within this range will retain some of the best features. If you have a makerspace in your area that has a membership still within this range, I recommend that you join it…

Mark Randall Havens

Join his journey of healing and self-discovery through his work as director of COPARENT and leader of the Dallas Maker Community.