Dorothy Jones-Davis Moves to KID Museum
By Dale Dougherty
November 22, 2022
0:00 / 32:31
Dorothy Jones-Davis Moves to KID Museum
Dale

Welcome to Make Cast.

I'm Dale Dougherty. I'm joined by Dorothy Jones-Davis of Nation of Makers, who is about to go somewhere new. We're gonna find out about that now. It's a time to talk a little bit about Nation of Makers-- what now is history and where it is today, and maybe where it'll go in the future.

Welcome Dorothy. Good to see you and talk to you.

Dorothy

Good to see you as well.

Dale

Why don't you give me the announcement...

Dorothy

So the exciting announcement. Drum roll, please. Nation of Makers has been around for six years now and I've been the executive director since the very beginning. And at this point in my career I decided to step down as executive director of Nation of Makers and serve in more of an advisory capacity. And that's in part because I've taken a position in the maker community at a makerspace or maker organization called Kid Museum. And Kid Museum is in Bethesda, Maryland in Montgomery County, Maryland.

And it's a space that is pretty dear to my heart. It's sort of our family maker space. My daughter actually has gone there since she was really little and a lot of her maker experiences were in that space. And so it just was really exciting to apply for and get a position at Kid Museum.

I'll be the chief impact officer there. Looking at how to scale up their impact and how to convey the incredible impact they've had over the 10 years that they've been around. And so it just feels like coming home and feels like a little bit of full circle. So just a different way.

Dale

That's great. Okay. We'll come back to the Kid Museum. Let's go back --where did Nation of Makers come from?

Dorothy

Oh, so this is a good question. Yeah. So the history of Nation of Makers is one that's really exciting. So during the Obama administration, and I will take a moment to say that we are not affiliated with any political party.

But during the Obama administration there were a collection of activities that the administration was engaged in around making, making as it relates to education, workforce, economic development, you name it. There was a lot of excitement in federal agencies and at the federal level and President Obama in an announcement that he made in one of his addresses to the public, actually referred to the United States as being a nation of makers and creators. And it was something that he was really proud of for our nation and very proud of that history. And so when the administration ended, there was a really unique opportunity to continue that momentum really.

To think about how you could galvanize all of that excitement, all of the work that was being done at the federal level, all of the grassroots work that was being done in maker spaces all around our country, and honestly all around the world, and how you could turn that into an actual brick and mortar organization.

So there was a group of folks and myself included, that were convened to create a nonprofit that would at its heart and core really propel forward the maker movement, that would support all of the entities that were engaged in making and build on the legacy that the Obama administration had, had set up more formally within the American government while also building on the great legacy that folks like yourself had set up in the grassroots community. So building on Maker Faire and all of the other things that have been great about our movement.

Dale

What did you think you were getting into when you you started?

Dorothy

It's so funny. I don't know.. And just a quick sidebar, those some people know a little bit about me and others may not. I'm a scientist by training. I'm a neuroscientist. I was doing science work. I went to NSF and did some work around the maker movement. And that's how I got engaged in this conversation during the Obama administration.

But then I went back and actually did a stint in neuroscience. When I took this job, I was thinking, okay, this is gonna be a different, a turn, a little deviation for me. And I was excited. I thought, okay, this is an opportunity to really push forward all this incredible momentum.

I think one thing that I did think I was getting into and I have gotten into is that this movement can be used to do so many things. That making as an activity is certainly fun. But fun is only the beginning of it, right? That there's so many things and you've told so many stories of so many makers that have done incredible things that have had an impact.

So I, I just thought, okay, I'll just lead this organization and see where it goes. I don't know that I had a particular agenda. Except, let's ride this ride and see how incredible our community can be. And I do think that was accomplished. I definitely got to witness just how incredible everybody has been, and how incredible this movement is. And I feel super honored to have been at the helm of helping to steward that.

Yeah. That's great. One of

Dale

the things I remember anyway especially coming out of the Obama administration was a way to talk to some of the agencies and some of the Washington government structures about making. One of the early ideas was if we could get a intern into some of these organizations, someone who spoke making, we could influence some of that.

From the maker point of view, it was trying to get a seat at the table somewhat in the discussions in DC for not such really policy as much as just how do you do things, what is government trying to accomplish and where do we fit in? And, I remember some of your early groups had FEMA and others represented in.

Dorothy

Yeah. And and we still do that work. I think the thing that's actually been really exciting is we have had an opportunity to, at least in some agencies, sit a little bit at the table and convey what we do. One of the partnerships that we have has been with the US Department of Energy, and I believe now gosh, that's been about three years that we've been engaged with them. And that came out of some of that early work of just telling the story of what makers are capable of. I think a lot of people were, the word maker for a lot of the federal folks and even some other folks, they weren't really sure. What is this? What can it be used for? Is this really something that pertains to our federal agency mission? One of the things that I'm proud of is that we've been able to tie that to agency missions in a way that they have been able to see. There still are a lot of Federal initiatives around making, most notably I think NASA does a lot of work. Department of Education does a little bit of work, especially in its CTE and like I said, Department of Energy, they have been very strong. Of course, NSF still funds a large portfolio of maker projects, and the Department of Defense also does a fair amount. Much of it classified, I think, but it still is making. So I do think that's something that we can be proud of.

Dale

It's a similar problem, just as it's very hard sometimes to put your arms around the maker movement and say, here's what everybody's doing. Right? You don't know. It's hard to put your arms around the government and say here's what's happening there and how, and then how those two connect is an interesting challenge as well.

Dorothy

A hundred percent. In the early days I was able to sit on the Interagency Working Group while I was working at the National Science Foundation. And the different agencies don't necessarily know what they're each doing too. So there is a piece of how do we communicate with one another this incredible impact and are we doing a good job? There was a little interagency sort of advocacy going on as well of saying no, this is what we're doing and this is how it complements.

As we've gotten the word out, I think one of the things that's also tricky is that making has become a fiber of some of the agencies. In such that they don't always call it making either. And it's also hard to collect things that you can't name or that are not necessarily named with the term that you're looking for.

There are lots of agencies I forgot to mention, IMLS also funds a huge amount of library making happening, that's being funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services as well.

Dale

What kinds of changes would you point to over those six years that you've seen both in the Maker community?

Obviously coming off the Obama administration, there was some wind in our sails a little bit because they recognized us and valued makers and making and then, and you might say we were in the doldrums for a while of trying to figure out how to do it without level of support.

Dorothy

Yeah. I definitely think the bully pulpit that we had is a little deflated. I think we have supporters within the federal government which I think that is something that we can definitely point to. And we don't have to explain as much like when I have conversations with people, I don't, in the federal government, I don't have to explain what making is nearly as much as I did at the beginning.

Dale

So that's a big change.

Dorothy

That's a big change. That's a success, right? I count that as a success. But with that, I also think that, we don't have as much coming from the super top. The Oval Office isn't yelling about making as much as before. And even some things that are making like added manufacturing, they're not being tied to the movement or the maker at large. And that is a little frustrating because I think in the past that it has been more closely linked.

But in terms of, things that we've done, I think that there just is a greater awareness of the movement. I do think that there is a level of appreciation, and I think some of that actually came out of Covid. You and I did a lot of coverage of what happened over Covid, in terms of the maker response.

I think people are aware of what makers could do during such a crisis. What I will say is, and you haven't actually asked the question, but I'm sure it's looking forward, I think there also is a piece of where are we needed next. And part of thinking about where I'm landing next, education is really in a real dire straight right now. And I think that the maker movement is certainly not the only solution, but it is a very powerful solution to helping to fill in the gaps.

Dale

A forward looking solution. There are certainly solutions that may go three steps backward.

Dorothy

Yes. For sure. So I think the fact that, we've done so much in education allows us to also be at the table in a way that, perhaps maybe even 10 years ago, we might not have been able to be there yet.

Dale

The maker movement in education is a grassroots thing, right? And it's individual teachers, sometimes parents, sometimes students taking it on and spreading it, and it doesn't spread evenly necessarily. It's under-resourced in my mind often.

And something I'd like to come back to a little bit is it doesn't necessarily reach some of the underserved communities that we'd like it to reach. But that grassroots community does keep it going, even without some of those supports in place. But maybe we'll get back to that in a minute. Cause that kind of leads to your KID Museum work, which is terrific.

But how has your six years changed you, as a person, you say you were like, you were a scientist, now you're running a nonprofit. You also, I have to say probably did as many zoom hours per day as I knew of anybody during Covid and it's the only way to keep up. All these different things that are going on and you had obligations and a small staff of often one to fulfill them.

Dorothy

So I think that actually is a great lead in to like, how it changed me. One thing I had an appreciation for, going into the job I had an appreciation for, all of these spaces and all of the amazing things they were doing.

I think what being the executive director of effectively a maker association, does, is it also shows you everyone's pain. The number of calls I got in crisis, and I know you get these calls too of people that are truly in crisis because they're doing everything and almost to the point, of their own detriment, right?

Those were equivalent in some cases, especially during covid, where, people were going out of business. People were really struggling with failing business models or losing funding and their own personal stories as. Not that I didn't possess compassion before, but I think it gave me a very unique lens into, what our spaces and organizations are facing.

And really a deepened level of compassion and understanding for what we need to do to help ourselves out of it. When I could speak to people on behalf of Nation of Makers, which is like such an honor, I had real stories that I could pull from that are saying, you cut funding here. Yes, it makes your bottom line, but here's how you're impacting a community and here's the number of people it might impact, and the number of people that that would impact, right? Because each, let's say maker session, it's not just the people participating in, let's say a workshop. It's all of the people that they would touch, right?

So you look at, for example, teacher professional development. Each teacher that you train may be responsible for five or 10 sections of something, in some cases. They may be teaching like, I don't know, hundreds of children. And so you know, you cutting something for professional development may lead to a hundred or more children not getting access to something that we know that has been actually proven scientifically to succeed.

So that's one thing that's changed me is I understood that going into the position, but I think that over the six years, I've really, really had deep conversations. And I think that's changed me as a person. What drives me. You talked to about the zoom hours and the late nights and, work as hard as, probably a lot of people. But certainly it is hard. And part of that comes from a passion for these incredible individuals all around the world who, just anything you ask them to do for their community, they're usually willing to do. And that is just incredible. So I think, I've gained that insight and my own passion has expanded, being a part of this incredible community.

I've also learned how to do things with less resources. So that's the positive side of not having as many staff members or resources sometimes to do things, is you figure out, you do take the maker approach, right?

You figure out how to hack your way out of it and figuring out how to make it work. And so I did a lot of that. I've always thought I'm a good partner, but I think when you don't have a lot of resources, you're also drawn to partnership because you can do more together.

And that's always been my philosophy, but I've actually had to live that, right? I've made some incredible partners and thought to expand in places that I never would've thought. So the funny story about the Department of Energy-- they approached Nation of Makers to partner with us. I said, no. I was like, this doesn't fit with what we're doing.

I don't really know. And they were persistent. They were like, no, your community's amazing. We would love to get them to apply to these, different challenges we're hosting and we think are great prototyping centers. And I was like, okay, I'm hearing what you're saying. Let's try it out. And like I said, it's been one of our more successful partnerships just doing that.

So I think I've expanded also the way I think about things and who I think of as partners, and I've really opened my own personal horizons to thinking about how we fit in. So that's been exciting.

Dale

A couple things you mentioned just to riff on a little bit.

We have our successes and our failures. We have our high points and our low points, and we have to own both of them. We had some high points with Obama, and those are somewhat in the past. But we also had those high points I think in the Plan C stuff that you and I worked on of really seeing what makers could do when they were desperately needed and almost the proof of this model of distributed manufacturing and prototyping that designs can go anywhere, but you need people with the skills and expertise to actually make them on the ground in your town, your city. Just the way the community worked during that period is a skill set on its own, apart from the tools, right?

It's just the fact that people worked together, they knew each other, they trusted each other, and some maker spaces had to kind rethink how they thought of themselves. Meaning like we're a place for everybody to come in and do their own work to we're a place that needs to focus on doing this task, because this need in our community, and I think they were really great lessons for the community to have to learn.

Dorothy

And it's changed how they operate. There's still spaces that work together that did not work together before. Or spaces that really have changed their whole model because they felt like they still wanna continue to do things in the community.

There are still spaces that are doing things in their community and they weren't necessarily that engaged in their community before Covid. But then afterwards, the need set changes. There's an infinite number of problems in your community, right? And a space like a makerspace where you can come and solve them and really work together to solve them is really powerful. And I think people, when you have an example of that, such a real rich example, it becomes obvious. It's duh, why haven't we doing this before? So I think it's just, it's, yeah, it's beautiful.

Dale

And while we had some maker spaces close during Covid not unlike restaurants and other businesses others have emerged stronger. And I just saw, in the last couple weeks a couple Makerspace, I think Maker Works in Ann Arbor and Decatur Makers celebrating 10th anniversaries. Again getting through this and keeping going.

And I think there's something about that. I think the makers, I think all of us wanna maybe easy answers to being successful and it's turned out you don't have those resources, so just keep doing the work. And like you most of the spaces that are doing well have just kept at it, right?

Dorothy

Yeah. And I think it's also the ties to communities. I think that understanding your community, being willing to work with your community. We also see diversification of your actual portfolio of what you do. Not putting your eggs all in one basket. I think people that are actually willing to utilize the sort of maker mindset themselves and iterate on kind of models and, often, and I'm sure you get this call too, people ask, oh, what's the best model for a maker space? And, the best model is that there isn't a best model. It's that there are multitude of models. And the best thing you can do for yourself is make sure you're employing as many models as possible.

So if something fails, you have a backup plan and you have a backup plan to that and you just have a lot of diversity in what you're doing. Yeah. And I think the people that have chipped away and done that in a really meaningful way, those are the ones that I see that are super successful. Along with the folks that have really invested within their community..

Dale

I still wish we had a directory that we could know what the number of maker spaces is. I know you worked on it. We've worked on it.

Dorothy

I've been trying so hard.

Dale

There's hundreds it seems,.

I would bet though, some of the successes, this kind of gets us back to education, is to just look at the number of maker spaces in higher ed. Look at increasingly the number in K-12 schools not just advanced high school level, but down at, K-6. It doesn't mean they're all well used or that they're all have the proper leadership. Sometimes someone sets them up with great intention and then moves on to another school and that sits there and waits for someone else to love it. But anyway that's a lot of progress.

Dorothy

Yeah. Also the diversification of places that they're at, and so I think you just spoke to two, but there are maker spaces in hospitals and end of life centers and places that like, I couldn't even imagine, that's right. The number of developers that are wanting to plan for a maker space to be in a planned community. Housing authorities, all kinds of places. And they're a diversity of income brackets. Yeah. I think maker spaces are becoming the new community center. Or like a community center plus. And and I think that is like such a success.

Dale

No it is. The other side of that success is a kind of failure to get 'em into all the places. You have been such a proponent of equity and but we also knew it took some funding to get those things to happen. And it's really been hard. It has been I

Dorothy

think moving the needle in a meaningful way, I think, I've had tons of conversations with funders. I think one of the-- you could say pros of our American reality of the inequity that's going on is that there has been a lot more focus on equity in the last few years based on the very vivid inequity that we've seen on TV in terms of people being murdered and injustice.

And so because of that, we have some funding that now has been appropriated from these different, corporate funders towards trying to make a more equitable future. So we can actually have some of these conversations, but, still, it's not enough, right? Because like you just spoke to it, sometimes building a thing and expecting that somehow just by building the thing, you'll be able to sustain the thing, right?

Or even, use the thing in the appropriate way is a fallacy, right? So you have to have a really well-resourced plan. And I think, that's been a little harder because I think getting long term sustainable funding for any organization, especially right now as we're going into whatever's going on economically for our country it's just really hard.

And trying to create models that are sustainable, that maybe are not place-based, right? That they don't require you to be in a physical space. I think a lot of what Covid had done in education that's very exciting is, and this was driven a lot in large part, we talked to lots of libraries that were doing kits, activities, low cost solutions that took things that were around your house, allowed students to use the same concepts and to draw connections to curriculum that they have in school, but to do it in a meaningful way using making. Well, that doesn't address everything. And it is a bit still of a bandaid, right? Because it's still inequity, because down the street there's a school that probably has a gazillion, fancy gadgets and a teacher and all the resources they need to succeed.

At least it's moving in the right direction towards equity. And that is something also that I'm very proud of during my six years. There is a group, the BIPOC Makers Collective; I'm a part of that. It's a means of supporting and trying to push forward endeavors for BIPOC makers and also to support that community.

And we've been trying to do a lot of work really with our corporate funders to really think about what is intentionality, what does it look like working with the HBCU Making and Innovation Challenge, really trying to elevate the making that's happening in our historically black colleges and universities, working with tribal colleges. This is all intentional work. And I think that's part of it. It has to be intentional.

Dale

That is definitely something that Nation of Makers really, almost institutional networking that's happened, which has been really good. There's makers tended to work on the individual basis, as a person.

So let me ask you, is there another Dorothy in the wings for Nation of Makers?

Dorothy

I dunno. I like to think I'm irreplaceable. No good. I know as a person, I am a personality. I think I am a personality of sorts. But I don't know that there's necessarily another Dorothy per se.

I do Nation of Makers will find new leadership. I do think that this has been an opportunity for the organization to think about strategically what direction it wants to go in. I think you asked me something about earlier you were just asking me, how this has changed me and a little bit about the workload you alluded to.

I don't know that it's fair, and I'm not saying, I've very much enjoyed my time. It's not fair to place everything on one person. This is a movement, and a movement is a movement of people, not person.

It's a movement of entire group of people and for a movement to sustain-- honestly, yes, it has leadership, but that leadership shouldn't be just one person? It could be a group of people. There's lots of models for movement leadership, right? And I think as Nation of Makers really thinks about going forward as an association, there are some other models that myself and the board have really been talking about for leadership. That also will help to ensure our sustainability as an organization.

One of the things that the Maker community struggles with, and this is not just Nation of Makers, I think for the entire community, maker spaces, a lot of them are fully volunteer run. They're fully staffed by people that have full-time jobs and families and 50 other things going on and are trying their best to keep something going. And a lot of times it's one or two people. And even in the schools you were talking about how in not sustainable it is because often it's a teacher who's the one teacher in that school who like believes in maker learning.

And maybe even the principal doesn't believe in it. And that teacher, once they retire, and they should retire at some point, right? Or if they leave or whatever happens. That all goes away. And we need to think about models of sustainability. And that was something that got brought up in NOMCON a few years ago.

It is something that I think this moment allows us to revisit. So what is the sustainability plan for Nation of Makers? And that's something that the board is discussing. But we're actually and I'll put in a plug on Monday, we're having a community call at three o'clock Pacific time, six o'clock Eastern. And it's obviously to talk about my transition to answer questions, but it's also a foray into starting a conversation about, what do people see going forward in terms of the sustainability of Nation of Makers and what are some thoughts about how people could see leadership.

Dale

It's what are the institutions that are needed to support this? And does the community support those institutions, both as volunteers and as funders? That's a great question.

Dorothy

And I think the other thing, Dale, is like one thing that you said, and it's been six years and it's been even longer for the actual movement. And where we started, the world is in a different place. It's not even just we are in a different place.

Dale

No, exactly.

Dorothy

But individually, collectively. We're all in a different place.

Dale

As a culture.

Dorothy

As a culture, right? So is it possible, we really should take a stock of given this, is this the right way to proceed? Is what we're doing? Are these the right pillars? I still think the pillars that we have for Nation of Makers, community building, you know, resource sharing and advocacy are still very important and relevant.

But maybe the weighting of those changes. One thing we've been talking a lot about is, there's a lot of funding right now that is tied in different ways, if you read it from the federal government, appropriated funds that could tie to the maker movement.

Maybe we need to move more towards advocacy. And maybe the organization shifts that way and or maybe people feel like coming out of Covid, we need community more than ever, right? But thinking about those things and having that dialogue is something I'm excited for.

Dale

I had an opportunity to visit with you a couple weeks ago at the Kid Museum in Bethesda, and the work they're doing is really exciting. Not just at their facility, but out in the schools of Montgomery County. I know Cara Lesser (ED) is looking to expand that and that's certainly on your plate as a Chief Impact Officer. So talk a little bit about that.

Dorothy

Yeah, so kid Museum is a very fantastic place. As you just alluded to or talked about, there is a large sort of portfolio that they have mostly here locally in Montgomery County, although there is some professional development actually happening this weekend. Thanks to the generous funding by InfoSys Foundation USA and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation to be able to provide professional development to teachers that teach Latinx students in three different cities with large Latinx communities.

And some of the work that's being done is very much training and making sure that educators are able to implement maker learning within their classroom. There's direct student work, so you know, we have educators on staff that are lovingly delivering maker education to elementary school students as well as high school students or coming up on a celebration soon of our Invent the Future Summit, part of our Invent the Future Challenge, which challenges middle schoolers to actually be able to answer the question how will you make a, a change in the world? What would you make to actually fix a problem in the world? And our kids are amazing.

And they're able to answer these questions in such incredibly creative ways. And then they go on to do incredible things. And all of the programs, or most of the programs at Kid Museum are very much intentionally designed to serve that underserved population that you spoke to earlier.

So we work with Title I schools, students from low socioeconomic status as as determined by farms rate. We really try to prioritize populations that would not have access to maker education otherwise and teachers that then serve those students. So we're really intentional about the work that's being done, centering equity so that we can make sure that we have more future inventors and innovators and people that are answering the questions that we need in society.

We also have an apprentice program for our high schoolers which is bringing back the old idea of apprenticeships where they come in and help our maker educators deliver the programming while learning about it themselves. And just incredible suite of programs, not to mention, some other activities that we have, like our Open Explorer. So our actual museum space is open to the public on Sundays, and we have programming that goes along with that as well. So we just have a lot of different programs that are being delivered. Lots of students coming in. Families coming in, lots of educators coming in , really with the hopes that we can transform education and really help to fill in those gaps that, not that were present before Covid, but certainly have been exacerbated by Covid.

Dale

It's a really kind of change of context for you.

Dorothy

Yeah.

Dale

You're really gonna see the programs that are in process and I think some of what you talked to me about was really what can we learn from these programs that we can apply elsewhere? The research behind them.

Dorothy

Yes. A large part of my position is really research and evaluation, so just asking the question exactly what you said, Dale, how do we measure our impact. What types of questions can we ask and exactly what you said, how can we apply those learnings to other pieces of the puzzle? I think we think of ourselves at Kid Museum as a test kitchen. And it's a wonderful space. We have, because we have so many students and educators, we can try some really innovative ways to deliver maker education and ask ourselves some really deep research questions and in the process, and then learn from that. And so we're hoping to expand that. So a lot of my scope of work is really to build that research and evaluation team to really try to and convey our impact even more than we're currently able to and to grow what we're doing.

It's been such a successful model. I think one thing you said when you came to visit was like, this is so fantastic because so many spaces like this, or that were doing something relatively related, went out of business during Covid and here you're growing. Yeah. We actually have grown our programs over Covid over that two years because the counties realize this is kind of part of the answer.

Growing that even further and using a research grounded, which speaks to my heart as a scientist, a research grounding to make those decisions.

Dale

But it's a really good context , to have buy-in from the top leadership at the schools, buy-in from funders, buy-in from the team that is behind Kid Museum.

And we haven't had that alignment always. It obviously could give you a bigger canvas to play on. I look forward to working with you in the future on that and hearing more about what's happening there. But congratulations to you on your new position and new opportunity and if I might say for, not necessarily speak on behalf of the Maker community, but we're glad we're not losing you.

We're just taking up another position in the ecosystem, and we wish Nation of Makers well in recruiting a new person and perhaps even, um, reinventing itself yeah for 2023 and beyond.

Dorothy

Yeah. And I look forward to having the whole community participate. I think that is a real important piece. And if you remember the days after, the Obama administration, there were lots of community calls, and I think along the way that is something that perhaps we lost a little bit, right? As people got fatigued with the zoom. And fatigued with the meeting. And in ways that we didn't like and just fatigued with Covid, we lost a little bit of that. I'm happy, and I'm hopeful that that we'll be able to gain that going forward. And, I still will be an advisor for Nation of Makers. I think my board has said, they're not letting me really go that far, so I'm sure people will see me.

And I am very grateful to, to have evolved my career in this amazing way where now I can have an impact on, as I said, a maker organization in my own community because I know how much that's needed. So it's very excited.

Dale

Great. Thank you Dorothy. It's great to talk to you today and wish you the best of luck moving forward.

Dorothy

Thank you, Dale. Take care.