The Maker Movement in South Africa

This is an assignment done for a research module of my Strategic Communication degree at Vega:

Introduction and Background

This report contains the main findings of formative research done into the way the maker movement in South Africa uses and interacts with brands.

The maker movement is a community that combines technology with DIY and innovation. Whether on their own, with others in a shared makerspace, or in their professional careers, makers are “creative, resourceful and curious, developing projects that demonstrate how they can interact with the world around them” (Maker Media, 2017).

Section one of the report contains a brief description of the context of the research, while section two explains the research method used to collect and analyse data. Section three explores limitations of this research, section four contains an in-depth discussion of the research findings, and section five contains the recommendations for brands looking to market to the maker movement in South Africa.

Research Method

The Big6 model was an appropriate method for this research as it provided a way of identifying the best sources to solve the research objectives. The Big6 is a problem-solving model that integrates well with communication work (Visocky O’Grady, 2006, p. 70), the steps of which will be explained below.

Research Design

A mixed-method approach using qualitative and quantitative research methods was used as this helped to contextualize the primary and secondary data gathered.

Task Definition

The objectives of this research were to use primary and secondary research methods to find out the following info about the maker movement in a South African context:

  • What is the subculture’s core purpose? What motivates, unifies, and drives the members?
  • What are the shared and distinguishing elements of the subculture’s identity?
  • Which brands do members identify as being part of their subculture? Where and how do they access these brands? How have the brands successfully ‘infiltrated’ the subculture? How do these brands actively market to the members of the subculture?
  • Which other specific brands do you believe could successfully target this group?

Information Seeking Strategies

Determining all possible sources of information on the maker movement:

  1. Primary interviews with members of the movement for qualitative data
  2. Observational research of the movement’s communities in action at meetups, hackathons and other events
  3. Secondary literature review done via desktop research to establish the movement’s shared purpose
  4. Trend forecasting for future predications of the movement’s growth
  5. Focus groups with members of the maker movement to determine what brands would be useful to them or welcomed by the community
  6. Surveys made up of multiple choice questions and options for further input, done with a wide sample group of the subculture to gauge general opinions and understandings of the subcultures and how they use brands
  7. Photo ethnography to establish the shared rituals and elements of the subculture
  8. Competitor analysis and literature review to establish what brands are actively marketing to or have successfully infiltrated the subculture
  9. Building of personas to help understand what new brands could market to the maker movement

Selecting the best sources for this project:

Sources 2, 3, 6, and 8 from the above list were chosen for implementation on this study.

Location and access

Locating sources:

  1. Primary observational research was done at the following events:
    1. KATO Technology’s #TechTalkCPT on Wednesday 8 March 2017
    2. Girl Geek Dinner’s March dinner on Monday 13 March 2017
  2. 21 people did a primary survey using SurveyMonkey, filled out at the above events and by members of the maker community online.
  3. Secondary literature review and competitor analysis were done using books and journals accessed through EbscoHost, and other online articles.

Use of information

A Twitter feed was set up for the purposes of engaging with the community and information sources, which can be viewed at twitter.com/Makerproject_CT. The feed is also attached as Appendix B.

Synthesis

The relevant information collected will be discussed in section four and five.

Evaluation

This method had strengths in its simplicity and quick implementation, however it also had some limitations, which are listed in section three.

Research Limitations

Understanding the limitations of a research study is important for contextualizing the information collected by it, and framing the findings that come out of the data.

The limitations that affected this research are:

  • The quantitative survey used was not targeted to one place in South Africa (like Cape Town, for example), but open to the country as a whole, thereby not taking city-specific subculture differences into account.
  • The sample size for the primary survey could have been larger. 21 people completed the survey — using the formula of 1/√N (Niles, 2006) where N=number of respondents, there will be a 21% margin of error. Given the clear trends that emerged from the survey (Appendix A), even a full 21% difference in the answers will not drastically change the results. A bigger sample size would, however, decrease the margin for error.
  • Observational research was limited to two similar events. This was due to what was already happening in Cape Town at the time the research was being conducted, but in future, events should vary more in nature.

Research Findings and Discussion

The Maker Movement’s core purpose – What motivates, unifies and drives the members

The Maker Movement Manifesto, a global document, lists nine characteristics as key to the core of the movement. They are: make, share, give, learn, tool up, play, participate, support, and change (Hatch, 2013, p. 1).

In 2013, the Maker Faire in Nigeria launched the African Maker Manifesto, which “is about a mindset shift to develop and share their talents as a community with the purpose of reinventing the continent as their own” (Blanchard, 2014).

Respondents to this research survey primarily selected three different ideas that guide the movement. They are:

  • Constructing new things to help move society forward (52.3%, n=11)
  • Putting the power back in the hands of every person to make what they need for themselves (52.3%, n=11)
  • Expressing artistic views through DIY culture (57.1%, n=12)

It can therefore by concluded that the main purpose of the maker movement in South Africa is developing talents, ideas, or products that serve a social purpose, decentralizing means of production to empower makers and society, and democratizing innovation. Self-expression, DIY culture, and inclusive knowledge sharing guide members of the movement. They are driven by the need to innovate and see new ideas come to life.

The shared and distinguishing elements of the maker movement’s identity

The maker movement is tough to define by visual elements as there is no required dress code or parameters on how to look and act for the subculture. Globally, it is a culture that eschews traditional brands in favour of self-made goods. That is in fact one of their cultural rituals: not placing importance in a brand name. There are, however, many shared beliefs and norms that can be found throughout the culture.

The predominant element is one of sharing. Makerspaces have seen a rise in popularity since 2006, popping up in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria, among other cities (Hackerspaces, 2014). They serve as community spaces where makers come together to share tools, ideas, and skills (Libraries Transform, 2017). Along with spaces and tools, the maker movement also shares resources in the form of open source data.

Figure 1. Quote from Virtual reality game maker, Gerard Slee at Tech Talk CPT, 8 March 2017. Source: https://twitter.com/Makerproject_CT/status/839525093231509507

The most common aspect of makers’ work in South Africa is an inclusion of technology into what they do. 80.9% of survey respondents referenced computer-based tools in answer to the question “What brands or products do you currently use as a maker?” Skills like computer programming and physical computing are common and often combined with other disciplines as an approach to problem solving and learning (Dearborn, 2016).

To be embraced by the maker movement, an idea or product also needs to be unique. The movement promotes a culture of empowerment and innovation (Martinez and Stager, 2014), which in this case, means tinkering with and improving on an existing product to make something new.

Figure 2. Quote from Girl Geek Dinner, 13 March 2017. Source: https://twitter.com/Makerproject_CT/status/841356798586179585

Finally, the movement has a strong focus on its output being more functional than eye-catching. To fulfill the unique element, makers’ work is usually done on a small scale (Van Ginkel, 2014).

Figure 3. Quote from TechTalk CPT, 8 March 2017. Source: https://twitter.com/Makerproject_CT/status/839529833357066240

The number of members of the movement who identified as ‘hobbyist tinkerers’ in the survey (80.9%, n=17) also supports the culture’s distinguishing ethos of working outside traditional market structures.

Therefore, the defining elements of being a part of the local maker movement are:

  • Community: a willingness to share knowledge, skills, data and other resources with your network, and to work with others
  • A multi-disciplinary approach to work and tools: combining older-style craft work like soldering with new technologies like physical computing and programming
  • Unique innovation and doing it yourself: making sure your work fulfills an important functional need in an innovative and new way, rather than being aesthetically perfect

Brands the members identity as being part of the movement

The maker movement looks to create new ways of working, and similarly is creating new ways of interacting with brands, as Figure 3 indicates below. Makers are looking for functionality, authenticity and small scale from the products they use (Van Ginkel, 2014), so they aren’t sticking to traditional brand consumption patterns (Owyang, 2013). Where consumers where once the final point in the production chain, makers are leading it.

Figure 4: Makers do not access and use brands within the traditional consumer paradigm. Source: http://www.ni.com/pdf/company/en/Trend_Watch_Maker.pdf

Through the survey, members selected the following brands and products as important to their work as makers:

  • Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer
  • Arduino, open source computer hardware and software resources
  • Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding platform
  • Programming resources like CAD
  • Tools like 3D printers and micro robotics

It’s important to note that two respondents to the survey stated they actively try and avoid branded products in their work, with a third answer highlighting an aspiration to use repurposed tools or goods in the making process. This highlights one of the possible roadblocks of marketing to the maker movement, and shows that brands will need to add real value to be accepted by the subculture.

How members access these brands

More than two thirds of the members surveyed (71.4%, n=15) stated that they access brands and resources online, with 57.1% adding that they “just like playing around at home” in place of going out to make use or community resources.

The second most common way makers access brands and resources in South Africa is through events. These happen in the form of community meetups (47.6%, n=10), workshops and seminars (47.6%, n=10), and hackathons (33.3%, n=7).

Seven people (33.3%) also responded that they access brands through communal maker spaces. It is likely that since the use of makerspaces is less of an official event (i.e. something a maker might do several times a week/month), that any brands in these spaces would be less consciously observed and so further research should be done to unpack the current and future state of branding within maker spaces specifically.

How the brands successfully infiltrated the subculture

The brands identified by members have become part of the community not through traditional advertising means, but through fostering collaboration and experimentation. They are flexible and authentic. They gain traction by giving makers the tools they need to innovate and are, above all, useful to the movement.

As the history of the Raspberry Pi (Datacompute, 2014) and Arduino (Kushner, 2013) computers show, brands appeal to the maker movement when they are functional, flexible and open source. Brands are most successful at marketing to makers when they link up with the core purpose of the movement.

Since 71.4% of the makers asked said they access tools they need online, another key to successfully infiltrating the movement is making your brand available on the web. Some brands, like Kickstarter (Kickstarter, 2017), are purely web-based, while others, like Raspberry Pi (Raspberry Pi, 2017) are accessed offline, but also have an extensive online resource and training section.

How these brands actively market to the members of the subculture

There are two segments of brands that are part of the maker movement in South Africa. The first segment was products actively identified by the members (discussed in three subsections above), and the second is brands currently targeting the subculture through advertising in various forms.

  • Big companies sponsor community activity spaces, incubators and hackathon events: Old Mutual sponsors the 22seven space in Cape Town where KATO regularly hosts the #TechTalkCPT events, Barclays sponsors the Rise Innovation Hub in Woodstock which regularly hosts hackathons, and MTN has branded the Solutions Space that is part of UCT’s Graduate School of Business.
  • Cities and other governmental departments also use event and space sponsorships as brand-enhancing opportunities: the City of Cape Town sponsors Cape Town’s annual Mini Maker Faire event (Cape Town Maker Faire, 2016), the City of Johannesburg sponsors the Fak’ugesi innovation festival (Fak’ugesi Festival, 2016), and Gauteng province sponsors the Innovation Hub in Pretoria (Innovation Hub, 2017).
  • Lifestyle brands sponsor social events within the subculture: Chivas Regal whisky and Butlers Pizza are two brands that have entered into sponsorship deals with KATO and showed up regularly at their events.

Image 1: Chivas Regal brand presence at Tech Talk CPT on 8 March 2017. Source: author’s own image.

Recommendations and Identified Opportunities: other specific brands that could successfully target the movement

To find out where brands could successfully add value to the maker movement in South Africa, the survey asked “What other brands or ideas would you like to see available to makers in South Africa?” This helped find oppprtunities within the subculture, whereafter appropriate brands that could bring those opportunities to life would be identified.

More than two thirds of respondents (71.4%, n=15) said they would like to see stronger community cohension within the movement. The next opportunity is for increased access to better technology, which 12 respondents (57.1%) selected. Within the realm of increasing access, three respondents (14%) added that they would like to see more education opportunities, including practical classes in schools, increased upskilling and more opportunities for people who can’t currently afford to be a part of the maker movement.

Based on these two dominant themes, brands have the opportunity to provide guidance and cohesion for the community as it grows, and to act as facilitators to increase learning and accessibility for members.

The guidance role could be taken up by an established local brand that wants to highlight their innovative characteristics, like First National Bank (FNB). FNB runs an annual Innovation Awards competition (FNB, 2017), one of whose characteristics is scaleability, which is at odds with the maker movement’s ideals, although all other aspects of the awards link up well. One aspect of marketing to and supporting the maker community for FNB could be adding a ‘Grassroots Innovation’ category to these awards, where entrants do not need a scaleability aspect to their ideas to enter. This would benefit FNB because in the software world, independent makers could use open-source code and go after really small niches in the market that a commercial company like them may have found too small. Recent years have shown some small ideas to grow exponentially large, and so companies will benefit by working with creators of small things (Dougherty, 2012).

Additionally, there are currently many separate maker communities around the country (one recent event in Pretoria featured as many as nine different collectives), so on a more permanent basis than the annual awards, FNB could create an initiative like ‘The South African Maker Directory’, and provide a small amount of financial backing and event sponsorship to each maker collective for them to be a part of it, but still allow the groups to function independently to maintain their identity.

To increase access to technology and learning, Raspberry Pi, a brand used by South African makers already, could successfully launch their ‘Picademy’ training school (which currently runs in the US and UK) at a local level here. A good idea to fulfill the aspect of increasing access to those who can’t afford it would be to partner with an NGO that is already working in the Maker Movement, like Living Maths in Cape Town (Living Maths, 2017).

Any companies with a local technology manufacturing aspect are also in prime position to market to the maker movement (Marsland, 2016). Dstv, for example, who manufacture their decoders locally (Vermeulen, 2016) and are constantly striving to innovate new products, could start an initiative to open up part of their factory floor and invite makers to walk through the design and construction process of how decoders are currently made and then open an ‘innovation space’ for them afterwards – ‘can you design a smaller, smarter, better decoder than Dstv?’ would be a challenge many tinkerers would take up, and which would greatly benefit the company.

Conclusion

The main purpose of the maker movement in South Africa is developing talents, ideas, and products that serve a social purpose, decentralizing means of production to empower makers and society, and democratizing innovation.

The defining elements of being a part of the local maker movement are:

  • Community: a willingness to share knowledge, skills, data and other resources with your network, and to work with others
  • A multi-disciplinary approach to work and tools: combining older-style craft work with new technologies like physical computing and programming
  • Unique innovation and doing it yourself: making sure your work fulfills an important functional need in an innovative and new way

The maker movement looks to create new ways of working, and similarly is creating new ways of interacting with brands. Makers are looking for functionality, authenticity and small scale from the products they use (Van Ginkel, 2014), and they aren’t sticking to traditional brand consumption patterns (Owyang, 2013).

Members of the movement identified the following brands and products as important to their work:

  • Raspberry Pi
  • Arduino
  • Kickstarter
  • Programming resources like AutoCAD
  • Tools like 3D printers and robotics

More than two thirds of the members surveyed (71.4%, n=15) stated that they access brands and resources online. The second most common way is through events. These happen in the form of community meetups (47.6%, n=10), workshops and seminars (47.6%, n=10), and hackathons (33.3%, n=7).

The brands identified by members have become part of the community fostering collaboration and experimentation. These brands are flexible and authentic. They gain traction by giving makers the tools they need to innovate and they are, above all, useful to the movement.

Brands have the opportunity to provide guidance and cohesion for the community as it continues to grow, and also to act as facilitators to increase learning and accessibility for members.

References

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