Update: Unfortunately I had to write a part 2 😞. You can view it here. You should read it after this post.
I write this with great sadness in my heart, as I used to care deeply about HSBNE Inc. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. As of today, I am officially resigning from volunteering at HSBNE and launching my own makerspace. I have included an FAQ at the end with how this will affect HSBNE.
Myself, and several other members that I shared this post with, feel that HSBNE is no longer a welcoming place, and is now dysfunctional. I am of the opinion that the group has passed the point of being able to turn things around, and will continue on a downward trajectory without a drastic correction.
For context, I have been a HSBNE member for over 5 years now. I developed our membership portal, billing, and access system software, have served on the executive and infrastructure committees, have fixed and maintained machines, and have volunteered for thousands of hours. My aim with this post is to publicly bring these systemic issues to light, in order to raise awareness. The public part is important, because several attempts by different people to resolve these issues internally have failed. I’d like to give HSBNE one last chance to improve, but to be honest, I don’t feel confident that this will ever happen.
With this disappointing realisation, I didn’t want to lose what was once an amazing community, an amazing place to make, and a truly unique group of people. I have been working hard over the last few months and am pleased to announce that I have formed Brisbane Makerspace. Brisbane Makerspace (BMS) is a community makerspace centred around digital fabrication, electronics, and arts & crafts. We have 3D printers, a laser cutter, and tonnes of other tools/machines. Brisbane Makerspace is a Pty Ltd company run by me, with assistance from a handful of current/ex HSBNE members. Our focus is on providing a high quality work space free from the systemic problems of HSBNE; professionally maintained and documented tools; running regular classes; and running inductions on demand with on site staff
There are five main reasons I feel HSBNE is no longer a welcoming place. This list is not exhaustive, and is my own personal opinion. Feel free to disagree, but this is how I (and several others) feel.
EDIT: The executive have now breached their own policy they implemented and removed mine and another infrastructure volunteer’s admin access to our membership portal (which I spent 3 years developing) without notifying us. This is extremely rude considering I have offered to help with any problems that pop up after I leave and recently had a long phone conversation with the treasurer to answer some questions/issues he had. Another example of this executive doing what they want and acting inapropriately.
#1 Sexual Harassment
There are allegations of historical sexual harassment involving a current member of the executive committee, and others.
After conducting my own investigation, I am confident that at least some of these allegations can be substantiated. From what I could find out, the allegations involved physically touching other people or invading the personal space without their consent and involved multiple incidents over a period of time. Out of respect for the victims, I will not go into further detail.
I was shocked at Mike Ando’s claims that complaints of this nature would not be dealt with, and initially disagreed that this would happen. However, the executive didn’t release a statement after Mike posted his claims, banned him for filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, and didn’t notify members of the ban (which is standard practice). They also ignored a member who asked for a statement (although since raising this they got one). They claim this is because they were overworked and time poor. Regardless of the reasoning, the end result is the same – someone with serious allegations/complaints was silenced and hidden from public view.
I also think it’s extremely inappropriate to ban Mike for 3 months simply for filing a complaint. If he was threatening to file vague “legal” complaints with little reason to suspect he’d follow through, or the human rights commissions determined it was frivolous, it would be different. By banning him, the current executive committee have decided that his complaint to the Human Rights Commission was invalid.
After investigating, it seems that previous executive committees have mostly done a good job at dealing with incidents at the time it was reported to them. However, some of the ones I’ve been made aware of were dealt with in private and kept fairly hidden. This has allowed other inappropriate behaviour to continue and some who were involved are still active in the community without people knowing about their past.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say HSBNE “has a reputation for providing safe harbour to sexual predators“, but I agree with his point that “no action will be taken by the HSBNE executives to protect victims of these (sexual harassment) crimes“. Simply banning someone for a short while, or issuing them with an infraction does little to convince people that they won’t be harassed if they come back. HSBNE needs to take a bold stance on this and issue a public statement acknowledging past wrongdoing, and actively work towards policy and other solutions to make sure inappropriate behaviour never happens again.
#2 Conflict and Toxic Personalities
HSBNE has a long history of infighting and conflict between members. At one point we even ran a “culture working group” which failed to enact any meaningful change. HSBNE has an “us vs them” culture between different cliques/cause groups, and toxic personalities and behaviour (including sexism and trivialising gender identities) regularly goes unchecked.
When I first joined HSBNE, we operated a “cause” system. Each “cause” (e.g. metal shop or electronics) had its own budget, membership, and rules. This created a toxic “us vs them” culture in which most causes operated with the mindset that for them to gain, another cause had to lose. Purchase proposals were often voted down by members of other causes, as one example. This has gotten better recently, but a lot of deeply rooted cultural problems stem from this legacy system, and it drove away a lot of members.
For at least as long as I have been a member, toxic personalities have been “contributing” to HSBNE. There is a membership vetting process which aims to stop this, but this process is ineffective and seldom used. I often class these toxic personalities as a “missing stair” and they cause a lot of conflict within the group. HSBNE takes months to remove these members (if at all), allowing their negative and toxic personalities to drain the whole group.
In addition, there are several members who have a history of making sexist remarks, or treating women poorly. I’ve also personally witnessed several long term members not only making fun of gender identities, but doing so in front of a non-binary member who later resigned.
#2b Toxic Personalities Have Driven Away Most Volunteers
Toxic personalities (in particular a member of the current executive committee) have driven away nearly every long term member who was an active volunteer in the group. This person in particular pushes past reasonable boundaries in trying to make people volunteer. They use up all of someone’s good will and willingness to volunteer, to further their own agenda of “improving” HSBNE in the way they want.
This sort of behaviour is extremely damaging to the mental health of those on the receiving end and leads to severe burn out. As a direct result of this behaviour, several long term volunteers (including myself) have now stopped contributing to HSBNE. Good leadership is different to manipulating and forcing people to work on stuff they don’t want to.
#3 Tool Accessibility, Documentation and Maintenance
HSBNE promises to people that once they sign up they can use all of our tools and machines. This is not true. Even if a member hangs around long enough to sign up, complete the site induction, then get inducted on the machines they want to use (which often takes weeks), a lot of our machines are not accessible, or just don’t work.
Take for example the laser cutter in digifab. (disclaimer: I was a laser supervisor until today). This machine is one of the worst offenders. Until very recently, it was vigorously gate kept by a select few “laser supervisors”, and less than 5 people were allowed to use it unsupervised. There is still no clear path for new members to move through in order to gain unsupervised access to the machine.
A lot of other machines just straight up don’t work properly or have little to no documentation. This makes it impossible for members to learn how to use it, read about how to safely operate it, or check on its current status/quirks of use. A lot of machines are also hidden behind complicated startup or operation procedures that again, aren’t documented.
HSBNE has been strongly focused on buying new tools/machinery instead of improving our current ones. Take for example the yag laser cutter and the new CNC router. These are amazing capable machines, but have taken months to set up, and have decimated HSBNE resources (both monetarily and volunteer time) This focus on new “toys” has led to HSBNE becoming a graveyard of poorly maintained and badly (if at all) documented tools and machines. It often takes weeks/months for machinery to be repaired because everyone is so focused on buying and playing with new stuff.
I have tried several times to coordinate and help the different areas get a label on every single machine, and to generate a list of all machines we have on site. I’ve never even been able to get this, absolutely bare minimum, level of documentation complete.
#4 Executive Accountability and Conduct
I acknowledge that being elected to the executive committee is a large commitment and a lot work; I have firsthand experience being the treasurer. However, the current executive have not been accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). They have failed to act upon several significant problems that have been bought to their attention and are ignoring issues raised to them by members.
On several occasions this year, myself and other members have directly raised concerns about toxic personalities, serious posts being held in our forum’s moderation queue (which were auto-deleted due to them being ignored), and Mike Ando’s blog postabout sexual harassment allegations. Myself and other members have not received a response to these issues which is quite frankly, unacceptable. I’ve stopped bothering to raise issues with the executive, as I don’t see a point any more.
Standard practice dictates the executive should post notifications of bans issued to a private section in our membership forum. This is in the interests of transparency and to ensure members are aware of people who should not be on site. Since early this year, there have been no publicly announced bans that I can find, and I know of at least one occurring in that time (possibly others). Edit: after raising this publicly the backlog was posted.
I was a HSBNE moderator, and leader of the infrastructure cause. In response to an individual leaking conversations from a private group chat, and the executive not taking action, I chose to remove them. In response, the executive unilaterally removed moderator privileges from all current moderators without consulting them or the membership. They also enacted a sweeping moderation policy that requires previous moderators to apply to regain their lost privileges and follow an overcomplicated policy. As far as I am aware, not a single person has been given their moderator privileges back.
#5 The Community is Dead
This one is hard to explain, and difficult to quantify. However, in the last few months the HSBNE community has completely died. There’s been a steep decline in engagement, and there’s no longer a “community feel”. Conversation is sparse and shallow, and we’ve lost the “buzz” on Tuesday open nights.
I don’t know why exactly, but I suspect a combination of the issues I identified above. This is a real shame, as this was by far the most valuable (and my favourite) part of HSBNE. Several members I’ve spoken to have agreed with me, and have noticed drastic changes.
Out of interest, I pulled the HSBNE membership forum engagement stats going all the way back to 2017 (back when I had just joined). Two of the key metrics I looked at have at least halved since then. The red line is a trend line generated by Google Sheets.
Recently I have not been enjoying my time at HSBNE, and have been asking myself why am I spending so much time doing something I don’t enjoy anymore? I used to love hanging out with the great community, helping people make amazing things, and volunteering to fix and improve things. However, HSBNE is no longer welcoming, and I can’t in good faith recommend it to people anymore without going through the long list of issues.
It saddens me to come to this realisation, but I feel that HSBNE is on an almost certain path to “implosion”. This is due to internal conflict, toxic personalities, historical sexual harassment allegations, poor tool accessibility/documentation, and a current executive committee seemingly determined to ignore issues raised with them and refuse to deal with problems. All of this has resulted in a community that has lost it’s spark, and has long term members leaving in droves.
I really hope HSBNE gets back on track, and if it ever does, I’ll gladly come back with my volunteer hat on. Until that happens though, I’m out.
Update: Unfortunately I had to write a part 2 😞. You can view it here.
Update: I’m not some lone, disgruntled member
What does this mean for HSBNE’s member portal (MemberMatters)?
Some time ago, I split this out into its own open source organisation on GitHub. Several other makerspaces are now using, or experimenting with it. Brisbane Makerspace also needs a member portal, so I will continue to actively develop and maintain it, there will just be less focus on HSBNE specific features. It will be up to HSBNE to upgrade and maintain their own instance.
What does this mean for HSBNE’s infrastructure?
I will no longer be maintaining or upgrading HSBNE infrastructure. This includes networking equipment, interlocks, door controllers, the zigbee system, and cloud/onsite servers. I feel these are mostly documented well enough on our wiki for someone else to take over, and will remain on discord to answer questions if necessary.
What about the new generation of access control hardware you’re working on?
HSBNE currently has a large fleet of sonoff based access control hardware. They also have a stockpile of parts to make many more. I’d suggest HSBNE continue to use these for the time being. I’m continuing to work on the new generation of access control hardware at my own pace, and will be using it for Brisbane Makerspace. Once the design and firmware are finalised in the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing it all under an open source license. Once everything is published, I’d encourage HSBNE to build some and trial them, slowly transitioning to them over time.
Are you terminating your membership?
No. I will remain a paid up and active member of HSBNE in order to stay in touch with people, and keep track of the goings on. I have decided to generally refrain from participating in discussions and voting items however, as I now have a conflict of interest.
I have other question(s), how do I contact you?
If it’s to do with the content of this blog post, or anything else to do with HSBNE, please message me on Discord. If you’re going to write a large message, or it’s about anything else, feel free to send me an email to hello at jaimyn.dev.