We’ve found that the most reliable lick-your-finger-stick-it-in-the-air test for where Burning Man is headed is to listen to the conversations at our annual post-event Staff Retreat, and to look at the output of its intensely self-reflective process.

If you’ve read our previous year’s Afterburn Future Vision reports, you’ll recall that after we’ve eradicated the last of the playa dust from our various nooks and crannies, the Burning Man Board, Senior Staff and select extended staffers take some time out to analyze the previous year’s event, the state of Burning Man, and where we’re headed.

As Burning Man is, if nothing else, a deeply participatory event, we certainly aren’t haughty enough to think we could accomplish this in a vacuum. Participant input is gleaned through our Feedback Loop email address, and this, together with the detailed analytical EMBER reports each staff member writes post-event, becomes the basis from which we determine the Retreat’s agenda.

A key part of this retreat process is our breakout sessions. Prior to the Retreat, Burning Man staffers nominate topics of interest, and these are subsequently winnowed down to a manageable number to be discussed in these thorough brainstorming sessions. Retreat participants choose the breakout session topic in which they would like (or feel particularly qualified) to participate. This year’s most popular topic – by an order of magnitude – was titled “Beyond the Orange Trash Fence”, wherein we discussed the propagation of Burning Man’s culture beyond the event itself and into the “real” world.

Clearly the future of Burning Man lies outside the orange trash fence. Where the soul of event once was anchored firmly to the playa, we’ve found it nearly impossible to fix and hold it there – like modern culture itself, this organic process has inexorably found its way into the farthest corners of the world in the most inspiring ways. It is our intent to foster this natural process as much as we can.

The Burning Man Project has committed to invest more time, money and resources into the dissemination of and support for Burning Man culture around the world, year-round. This is currently manifested in the enthusiastic civic-oriented volunteer activities of the Burners Without Borders crew, the art-fostering mission of the Black Rock Arts Foundation, and in our burgeoning Regionals Network. Each of these brings with it a wealth of potential opportunities for initiatives and activities that foster gifting, radical expression, radical inclusion, communal effort, civic responsibility, participation, immediacy of experience, decommodification, and leave no trace principles – around the world.

The intriguing part is that we don’t know what the next opportunity is going to be, or from whence it will come. We anticipate that enterprising Burners will come to us with a vision, a dream, a goal, or a ripe opportunity begging to happen (there’s simply no better group of people better qualified to invent, innovate and craft creative solutions to problems we may not even know exist yet). It is our intention to support these people in manifesting their dreams, and thus our own.

Fittingly, this support will come in the form of community networks. We have seen the development of a vast network of community resources that are able to come together, exceeding the potential of any single individual and magnifying it beyond all expectations. This is a potent resource we wish to leverage to its fullest extent, and our far-flung Regional Network is a rich source for connected, savvy, passionate individuals. We have dedicated a full-time staffer to this effort who regularly visits our network members, and coordinates an annual Regional Network Summit at our San Francisco Headquarters.

This support will also come in the form of guidance, experience and advice. The Black Rock Arts Foundation administrators, Burners Without Borders coordinators, and our Regionals Network managers work with the directive to create “How To” manuals for the successful activities they undertake – cookbooks for organizational and creative success that can be used as a model for others hoping to find traction for their own ideas. This will include information about everything from how to run a successful participatory event to creating a community-based art installation in your local park, to setting up an LLC or non profit to take on a larger initiative.

In some cases, support will be financial, providing tactical funding for strategically valuable and viable projects. The Burning Man Project has a history of doing just this through our Art Grant program for on-playa work, and through the grant programs of the Black Rock Arts Foundation for off-playa, community based artworks. It’s our intent to continue this process in a fiscally sound manner, looking for the best investment for our cultural dollar.

As for the event itself, it will continue to grow, evolve, and forever challenge and surprise us. It will always act as a critical touchstone – a sort of Mecca for the faithful, where they may replenish their emotional coffers and take their newborn inspiration with them back to their communities, where they may just find some intriguing new seeds to plant.

This, as the Burners Without Borders crew likes to say, is how we roll.