In May, we attended OpenMaker’s policy event at the European Parliament, where makers met with policymakers to discuss the future of industry within Europe. The event took place during European Makers Week, a 28 country wide celebration of the “Maker Movement”- a quickly growing group of people, like us at FarmUrban, who create unique products and technologies. Growth of the maker movement is desirable for both for the economy and for society as a whole. Makers have formed many successful start up businesses, and bring 26 billion euro to the world economy each year. This novel approach to business has also led to the development of many enterprises which aim to solve issues within society: from the environment to healthcare. “Maker Culture” thrives on openness, and is facilitated by shared spaces such as “fablabs” and open-source idea sharing, offering easy and equal access to tools and knowledge.

Makers can clearly bring a lot to society and the economy but do so using different methods than traditional business models. Makers develop new technology and break down social barriers, however since many are in the start-up stage, use experimental materials and technologies, and sometimes are not for profit, issues such as a lack of available resources, a lack of funding and regulatory barriers can arise. Removing these obstacles is important for growth of this promising movement. One of ways this is being done is by offering governmental and EU support, creating new policies which suit the unique needs of makers. When policymakers listen to how makers operate, where they face issues and why they thrive, both groups can work together to pave the way for future generations of makers. This was the purpose of the policy event, where we heard success stories from four projects, and engaged in a discourse between makers and policymakers.

The policy event offered us the opportunity to meet and hear from other makers. We watched a presentation from Co.Bo.Pro, a company which produces prosthetics made from corrugated cardboard, for use in emergency situations or as temporary solutions for people who have a limbs or part of a limb in an accident. We also heard from BIOM, who have created a renewable, biodegradable plastic, ShoeBird, who are creating 3D printed shoes, and from Aquapioneers, an aquaponics company located in Spain. All of these startups address an unmet need in society, from safe, cheap and environmentally friendly access to prosthetics, to a solution to the plastic pollution crisis. The values, creativity and unique approach of the four projects make them inspirational insights into how the Maker movement works across Europe.

Following on from the presentations, the makers, policymakers, manufacturers and other guests at the event were invited to discuss how they would like the EU to help the maker movement. This debate allowed many ideas to be shared, and highlighted both what makers found to be useful and also how they felt restricted. After the event, the hosts OpenMaker created a policy note, with recommendations for policymakers based on this discussion. These recommendations include giving support for fablabs, strengthening partnerships between private companies and makers and also teaching technological and critical thinking skills and creativity within schools.

As makers and manufacturers work at the cutting edge of science, use new technology and design innovative products, they can identify potential issues which may never occur to policymakers. Issues such as “regulatory roadblocks” where current regulatory frameworks are not up to date with current technology, can slow the progress of new industries. For example, one problem highlighted by Aquapioneers was how the legal definition of “organic” does not yet apply to aquaponic systems. Makers face many small but limiting obstacles like this, so it is important that while science and technology rapidly progresses, policies can be adapted at a similar pace. One of the proposed ways to do this is the introduction of a “Makers Policy Sandbox”, which is an open channel of communication between makers and policymakers; a space where makers can provide policy recommendations and flag any potential problems they encounter.

One of the take home messages of the event was the importance of including makers and manufacturers in political decision making. The fact that makers and manufacturers are being given a role in shaping policy is not only encouraging to hear, but is vital for the continued success of the maker movement.

This post was written for Farm Urban by Lara Higham

OpenMaker’s policy event at the European Parliament