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Skill Exchange @ 3rd Ward

Case Study


In the fall of 2012, I completed a case study around the notion of skill bartering at the 3rd Ward coworking space in Brooklyn, NY. 3rd Ward was a multi-disciplinary working space and education center located in Brooklyn, NY. Housing wood, metal and jewelry shops right next to  photo & digital studios, 3rd Ward's membership includes freelancers and hobbiests with diverse and eclectic skill sets.

While I was working on my portfolio for design school, one of the more experienced  members, Jake Wright, helped me navigate the wood shop and gave me advice on my designs. Inspired by my experience with Jake and others in this creative community, I began thinking about a tool that could help share the immense amount of knowledge trapped inside members minds. In order to learn how might we take advantage of these untapped resources, I decided to explored what a skill exchange would look like at 3rd Ward.

First I started with the exchange relationship between two members sharing their skills. Why might members choose to participate in a bartering of skills when they could take a structured course or learn online? One-to-one instruction allows for a more flexible learning experience as the pace and direction are tailored to the student's needs. More interestingly, in the exchange relationship the student role is voluntarily subordinate wherein the student respects and trusts the teacher. Because both users are student and teacher, there is mutual respect and trust; combined with the shared interests they are teaching each other provides a strong basis for friendship. Respect+Trust+Shared Interests=Friendship

For a live prototype of the exchange, I made flyers advertising an exchange and provided a social setting for people to discuss the skills they wanted to learn and share. The facilities of the co-working space provided a convenient framework of skills to work with.

Though the event was not as successful as I would have hoped, the potential to exchange skills and the productive social experience still intrigued members who attended. The prototype showed a fundamental flaw in the one-to-one exchange model as the sample set of 22 was undersized for such specialized skill sets to align on-to-one. 

Far more valuable than exposing a flaw in the execution, this test also helped me learn more about the members who attended. Most were freelance creatives, people who need to learn and develop new skills for professional growth. Members seemed to be in awe of each other at times, the types of people who feed on the creative energy around them, who draw inspiration from their peers. It soon became clear the exchange was more than just learning and teaching a skill, it is about creating friendships, fostering collaboration and building a strong sense of community.

McMillan's framework helped me to better understand how the exchange could contribute to an individuals sense of community. Members exhibit influence and develop a sense of making a difference when teaching skills and their meet their own needs when learning a skill. The experiences of teaching and learning from peers at 3rd Ward also creates shared emotional connections from which relationships may build. My hope is that a deeper sense of community will also foster collaboration between members, with photographers documenting jeweler’s work, web designers creating furniture makers websites etc. Though these partnerships arose organically on a small scale, a platform to facilitate collaboration between members would also be another key part of the skill exchange. 

To solve the problem of the one-to-one exchange, I focused on fulfilling an individual’s need to acquire new skills and their relationship to the community instead of concentrating on dual relationships of teacher/student student/teacher in a 1-to-1 exchange. Following the local currency model of Ithaca Hours, 3rd Ward could create 3rd Ward Hours - for every hour you instruct another member, you earn a 3rd Ward Hour, and every Hour is redeemable for an hour lesson from any other member.

At the end of the case study I met with the director of 3rd Ward, Jason Goodman to discuss my findings.  I learned that a comprehensive online member directory was in the works with a profile for each member. We discussed how this would be the ideal platform to build an exchange upon and how 3rd Ward hours might work in the current system. We also discussed different methods to facilitate collaboration and collisionable hours for the members.  Unfortunately, neither the member directory nor the exchange were implemented as 3rd Ward sadly closed its doors less than a year later. 

Elements of an Individual's

Sense of Community


A feeling of belonging or of sharing a sense of personal relatedness

Shared Emotional Connections

A commitment and belief that members have shared and will share a history, time together and similar experiences


A sense of mattering, of making a difference to a group and of the group mattering to its members

Fulfillment of Needs

A feeling that members' needs will be met by the resources recieved through their membership in the group

McMillan, D. W., & Chavis George, D. M. (1986). Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 6-23.

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