2008 was another eventful year in the Regional Network. While the growth of the Network wasn’t as explosive as it had been 2007, there was still plenty of growth, and the number of Regional Contacts has swelled to a whopping 161 people in 102 locations. Over 60 Regional Candidates were interviewed during this event cycle, and 31 new Regional Contacts were signed on. To keep up with demand, we added increased support from existing and new Burning Man staff to the Regionals Committee, the group that supports the ever-shifting and dynamic Regional Network.

One especially exciting development was the addition of 14 Regional Contacts in seven countries in Europe; international growth overall continues to blossom. In fact, the Regionals section of received a facelift to better visually reflect the Regional global presence. France, Ireland, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, Canada … Burners really are everywhere.

Other new technological developments in 2008 included the creation of an internal Regional Contacts database to replace a very complicated spreadsheet of names and information; this tool helps manage the ever changing and growing list of Regional Contacts and Candidates. At this writing, there are currently a large number of people in the queue awaiting assessment and interviews. There is no questioning the amount of energy and interest surrounding the Regional Network in the world at large, but Burning Man is careful to assess each new regional inquiry carefully to determine not only whether a candidate is suited to this leadership role, but indeed whether a new Regional Contact in their area is warranted and can be supported, or whether mentoring under another nearby Regional Contact or annexing an existing regional group is a more logical next step.

We’ve also continued our effort to share news and stories about the worldwide network through the Burning Blog. Filed under the category “Afield in the World,” these regional blog posts share individual stories, events, and projects from all around the Regional Network.

To keep up with an evolving network, 2007’s Regional Network Summit in San Francisco was reprised in February of 2008, this time re-envisioned as the Regional Network Leadership Summit, indicating (both in name and content) a shift in focus toward fostering and nurturing leadership qualities of each individual. Once again, this was an important weekend for the Regional Network, as it offered a unique face to face opportunity for RC’s to connect with each other and the Burning Man staff about the many challenges and tools required to be successful in the Regional Contact role. International representation from as far away as South Africa and Europe attended the Summit; we were pleased this time around to also include about 30 individually selected invitees from the next level of regional leadership beyond official Regional Contacts. Participants in the Summit, both official RC’s and non-, agreed that this added element of local leadership contributed to an even deeper level of interaction for all.

During our preparations for the Regional Leadership Summit, we performed a deep examination of the intake process for Regional Contacts, and implemented and announced some changes at the Summit. We created a mechanism for local Burners to submit confidential feedback about Regional Contact candidates in each intake cycle, and improved our internal mechanisms for reviewing and decision-making about the candidates. Furthermore, we formalized the Feedback process for existing Regional Contacts, enabling local participants to express concerns or submit complaints about their local RC with a centralized, more public-facing request for feedback.

The Regionals are actually just one part of what’s becoming known as the Burning Man “Outreach Network” – a catch-all phrase for many year-round efforts nurtured, entirely or in part, by Burning Man. One outstanding example of this Outreach is Burners Without Borders. Equal parts theme camp, meme, and NGO, BWB is the name given to a distributed network supporting collective civic engagement and volunteerism amongst Burners. BWB encourages Burners to get involved locally via various civic projects that benefit local communities where other systems have broken down. BWB projects are self-defined, and they spring up all around the world, often evolving through existing Regional groups. In one example, after a series of heavy rains and flooding, a group of local volunteers in Chicago worked with the local city government to help senior citizens (and others) with greener design strategies for rain catchments, to reduce the risk of flooding. For ideas on how to start a Burners Without Borders group in your city, check out their website.

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The four main nodes of our “Outreach Network” joined forces on the playa to connect with participants in the dust: Burners Without Borders, the Black Rock Arts Foundation, and Black Rock Solar all banded together along with the Regional Network Center to create a camp called “Everywhere Lane.” Located at 6:15 and Esplanade, a small-town America “country lane” theme camp invited participants to come by to meet with Regional Contacts in person, learn about the amazing efforts of BWB and BRS, or make a flag for the BRAF Scrap Eden project. Combining the efforts of all four groups made for “one-stop shopping” for information on Burning Man outreach efforts helped to spread the word about the various year-round activities in a more centralized and cohesive way.

But even with all the civic projects and community building in other areas, there was still plenty of time to celebrate another epic year of Regional events. Ranging from monthly “meet and greets” like Burning Café in Paris, to weekly happy hours in NYC to a first year new Burn in Florida there is never a shortage of interesting ways to meet and connect with Burners year-round all over the world.

2009 looms ahead, and with it, we’ve made a new commitment to the Regional Network and to ourselves. After so many years of growth, adding resource after resource to support the network with time, money, and people, we’ll be taking this opportunity to evolve the procedures and structures of the Regional Network itself to enable us to respond more quickly to the needs of each local group, to decentralize when possible, to empower and nurture existing leadership, and consider implementing more peer-based appointment and review systems. We’re very excited about the coming year.

As always, people who wish to meet and connect with other Burners in their hometown and to keep the spirit and fires burning the other 51 weeks of the year are encouraged to check out the Regionals section of the web site to find their nearest Regional Contact(s).

Submitted by,
Bex Workman