In regards to Fab Lab success, in my experience the main obstacle is the human resource. Without teachers you can't reach the communities you hope to engage with. Next is timidness/followthrough by participants (you can market but it doesn't ensure engagement). There are social and cultural barriers or lack of education on the matter, that make digital fabrication seem unreal to someone who doesn't understand it. You can get partners who can connect with these participants, but without the these partners you can't connect and without willingness of the participants a Fab Lab can't afford to keep teachers on staff full time. This leads to part-time and sporadic course offerings based on trial and error on course times/days/# of participants/hrs/sessions.
Volunteers can be consistent for certain activities, student volunteers (internships, extracurricular activities) are great but take a while to establish with universities and schools for insurance and paperwork reasons. Being an NGO helps when working with the government and for project based funding, but it takes at least 6 months from applying to receiving the funds (if you are selected).
Something that could help improve the likelihood of success for a Fab Lab would be seed funding to pay the first 6 months of operation of a 3-5-person staff (Lab Director, Fab Manager, Marketing, Accounting, Web/database). This would be to quickly establish a comfortable and professional environment with the public (preferably a 1 month pre-operation period with as many of the staff as possible to identify clients and potential members). For example in our case we have only been able to receive project-specific funding/grants so we have never been able to hire a full-time staff. We have had to generate income to pay our expenses and upgrades through classes and doing projects for people who don't have time to build projects but have an idea and need it made. After 3 years of slowly chugging along and establishing ourselves we are now at a point where we are confident enough to invest in a full-time staff to increase our occupancy of classes and memberships and sustain those salaries.
The informality of creativity makes it hard to duplicate. If there is no need for a tool it will sit in the same place for over a year even if someone knows how to use it. Just like when applying for funds, the donor would rather the request come from the community and not someone on behalf of the community. The question I have is how are we identifying the people who are capable of learning the content and going back to their communities to replicate it at their local level.
Just some thoughts on the matter and I look forward to hearing more,
Matthew Hotsko Director / Founder Fab Lab EcoStudio www.ecostudio.ngo