AFTERBURN REPORT 2008
Playa Info had another strong team in 2008, with a "deep bench" of more than 130 on- and off-playa volunteers — a more than 18% increase from 2007, with more shifts filled than ever before. The numbers provided better coverage for answering questions from the growing population of Black Rock City, and servicing the vastly greater usage of the Directory computer terminals.
The pre-playa meetings with our core volunteer group were critical both for proactively enhancing our offered services and informational materials, and for giving us time to design new flowing fabric décor and low-wattage ambient nighttime lighting.
Our new site at the Center Camp Portal allowed great visibility for participants seeking us out, while putting us in closer proximity to Community Services and Emergency Services camps, providing for better access to those teams for our various interactions. Our mostly red-attired shade structure still seems to be the cool cyber cafe in the midst of the hot days. Many people just enjoyed hanging out and interacting with all the latest info!
We had some terrific volunteers working on fun projects, and suggesting ways to further improve and expand our services. These included: three additional kiosks that each support five Directory terminals, two sturdy yet flat-foldable wood Oracle desks replacing heavy metal ones, a large (4' by 8') entrance sign advertising Playa Info services and our new location, volunteer laminate design, pocket maps of BRC, and camp decorations. The large map of Black Rock City was "officially" updated by the Placers, and was easily referenced at the shade structure's front-left entry. Oracles (our information jockeys) and participants interacted with much artistic merriment through props, games, singing and even contests! The Playa Info Ambassadors, our on-foot-with-wagon staff, spread much-appreciated information amongst the participants while incorporating Burning Man values in their messages.
This year Burning Man was invited by the Reno/Tahoe International Airport (RTIA) to have an information presence at the arrivals terminal. Playa Info worked with the Burning Man Communications Department to spearhead this new opportunity to inform incoming participants. Local Reno residents who volunteered at the desk were extremely helpful, marking up a map of Reno with the location of the shops, etc. This official booth was thoroughly appreciated by participants for information gathering, making rideshares happen, and exchanging extra Burning Man tickets.
We also expanded our support of Regionals by offering an Info Desk/Directory/Found Item toolkit for organizers planning information services at their events. Also, Playa Info volunteers ran the Info Desks at other special events, including the Burnal Equinox, Flambé Lounge/Precompression, and San Francisco Decompression.
Our meetings began in February and culminated in early October with a review meeting, decompression and BBQ. While we had a great year, we noted areas that we could improve to offer even better info-related service in the 2009. Successes included:
- Attitude: making it fun and easing communication for participants and volunteers, including singing, info-related contests for those waiting, and employing some accessories such as the spinning "wheel of fortune" to help answer questions
- Planning coordination with DPW that significantly eased camp setup and takedown
- Coordinating with Emergency/Health Services for emergency message transfer and Nevada State Health Department permit distribution
- Obtaining from Greeters extra What Where When guides and BRC maps for participants
- Coordinating with Gate for regularly delivering participants' lost airline luggage
- Significantly larger shade structure, allowing much greater space for Directory computer stations
- Doubling the number of available Directory computer stations available 24/7 in Center Camp, virtually eliminating long lines of waiting users
- Fast-tracked process for reuniting participants with their lost items by directing them straight to staff located with found items
- White Board listing of the "top ten" questions — and answers to them
- Playa Info staff actively approaching participants in front of the camp and directing them to the proper info service
- Walk-around volunteers assisting participants in locating and using open Directory terminals
- Experienced Volunteer Coordinator to help manage ever-growing numbers of volunteers
- Additional assistant managers along with leads who took responsibility for the day and shift management of Playa Info
- Updated Playa Info training manual
- An updated Info Desk Guide created for volunteers at Regional events
- Comfortable environment for people to hang out or wait to meet someone
- American Dream themed Playa Info laminates with "Ask Me - I Can Help" printed on the flipside to clearly identify Playa Info staff
- Volunteer training based on a service model — and on having fun
For improvement, we plan to work on the following projects for 2009:
- Cross-fertilizing with other internal Burning Man groups through communication and planning coordination
- Increasing advertising Playa Info services through multiple channels to reach the many BRC denizens who surprisingly do not know about Playa Info
- Continue communications about drop-off locations for unwanted bikes in the towns outside the event
- Recruiting more Playa Info volunteers — we always need more volunteers for info services on Burn Day and particularly for tear down on Sunday and Monday thereafter
- Expanding the Playa Info Ambassador role to work with other Burning Man groups, such as the Rangers and Earth Guardians, to communicate important information to participants
- Continue expanding consultation and volunteerism for Info Desks at off-playa events
- Adding features to the Directory, such as a search engine, and possibly placing terminals at the 3:00 and 9:00 plazas
- Evolution-themed Playa Info laminates
- Pocket BRC maps with space on which to write notes
- Updating the training manual
- Continued cross-training of Directory and Oracle volunteers
Manager, Playa Info