When Open Source Design is Vital

Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices needed during the COVID-19 pandemic were widely reported in early 2020. In response, civic DIY volunteers explored how they could produce the required equipment. Members of communities such as hacker- and makerspaces employed their skills and tools to manufacture, for example, face shields and masks. This article by SHL member Annika Richterich discusses these civic innovation practices and their broader social implications by relating them to critical making theory. Methodologically, it is based on a digital ethnography approach, focusing on hacker and maker communities in the UK. Communities’ DIY initiatives display characteristics of critical making and ‘craftivism’, as they assessed and counteracted politicised healthcare supply shortages. It is argued that their manufacturing activities during the COVID pandemic relate to UK austerity politics’ effects on healthcare and government failure to ensure medical crisis supplies. Facilitated by open source design, communities’ innovation enabled healthcare emergency equipment. At the same time, their DIY manufacturing raises practical as well as ethical issues concerning, among other things, efficacy and safety of use. The article is available as open access at:

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By: Kate Malone
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Last updated: Tuesday, 13 October 2020

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