Case study: Dezentrale – a Maker initiative offering a variety of digital fabrication technologies

Dezentrale inner courtyard (Photo: Julia Krayer)

Based in Dortmund (Germany), Dezentrale is a Maker initiative, which, since July 2013, offers a variety of digital fabrication technologies (3D printers, a laser cutter, and electronic equipment), respective knowledge, space and the required equipment for mushroom growing. It is a project funded and run by the research institute Fraunhofer UMSICHT that has a strong focus on sustainable energy and resource use and the transfer of scientific results into companies, society and politics.

Dezentrale is open to the public on two afternoons a week, whereby the focus is on digital fabrication during the first afternoon and on mushroom growing during the second. In addition, Dezentrale offers a variety of workshops. These cover various themes ranging from introduction to 3D printing over crypto parties to mushroom growing. At the moment, Dezentrale is also involved in research projects that address how collaborative economies emerge from production processes, different possibilities for sustainable energy solutions within the citizens’ district, creation of personalized products and equipment for children suffering from rheumatic diseases.

Aiming for an increased participation of the public in research, Dezentrale is supporting the annual festival for more democratic science Innovative Citizen for the third time this year. Dezentrale’s goal to open up research and innovation processes for society via its different projects and is also co-organizing the citizen festival Innovative Citizen, an annual festival for more democratic science.

Thus, Dezentrale aims to open up innovation and research processes to the wider public. To reach this goal Dezentrale opens its doors to any interested citizen, for whom the usage of space and machines is free of charge. Dezentrale’s goal to open up research and innovation processes for society is further pursued by carrying out the fore-mentioned research projects in the Fab Lab facilities and co-organizing the citizen festival Innovative Citizen.

Besides the people using the facility, Dezentrale holds close ties to other organisations. Next to the obvious connection to Fraunhofer UMSICHT, the Fab Lab has contact with the Folkwang University of Arts in Essen, the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences and other networks of various research and practice partners spanning the thematic areas of health care and energy supply. Being located in Dortmund facilitates connections to organisations engaging at the local level. For example, Dezentrale cooperates with the municipality of Dortmund and especially the department for citizens located in the mayor’s office to increase awareness on scientific results of sustainable energy and resource use. Besides the municipal organisations, Dezentrale collaborates with local creative initiatives like ‘Die Urbanisten’, which is a collective of designers and spatial planners and one of the co-organizers of the ‘Innovative Citizen’ to increase the awareness.

Not all makers active at Dezentrale live in Dortmund. Some commute an hour or longer to use the technology and interact with the community. This might also have to do with the approach of Dezentrale, which regards its work as related to the prevailing ideas of sustainable development and a post-growth society. In that vein, the business models participants experiment with are more directed to a subsistence framework than one of profit maximization. The key question related to all businesses arising from the Fab Lab is: What are alternative business models that don’t scale by growth? In general, makers are encouraged to start their own enterprises to pursue their social and ecological ambitions also via commercial routes.

For more detailed information on Dezentrale, visit its website or check out our complete case studies’ report.


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