As I wrote recently, Burning Man is Festival 2.0. It is a user-generated community, built on the respect and responsibility of its citizens, a place where people are participants, not consumers.
The event and indeed the entire culture is based on ten principles, one of which is “leaving no trace”. This practice of leaving no trace creates a radically different consciousness than you see at other festivals. There is little-to-no trash anywhere on the ground as the community takes responsibility not only for our own trash but for each-others, picking up any pieces of MOOP (Material Out Of Place) we see. Camps build evaporation ponds to deal with their gray water and ship out all their own food scraps and recycling. Successfully leaving no trace requires more than the right consciousness, it requires intent, in the form of pre-planning, and responsibility in the form of follow-through.
This responsibility is most apparent at the camp level. The Black Rock Organization recently published the MOOP Map of Burning Man 2010, seen above. I am pleased to report that our camp, More Carrot, was given a green grade, the best possible, indicating low to no impact trace. Not that this was exceptional: as you can see the vast majority of the city is green, with only scattered patches of orange (moderate impact trace) and red (high impact trace). This is what a community looks like: people taking responsibility for themselves and taking care for each other and their environment. It’s one of the things that inspires me to participate in Burning Man.
Looking back over the past four MOOP maps it is clear that things are getting progressively better, with fewer and fewer camps leaving any noticable trace. As you can see this improvement was especially dramatic from the 2006 to 2007 event (click to see full size):
What changed between 2006 to 2007? The MOOP Map was published for the first time .
There’s a really important lesson in this: accountability resting on transparency made the difference. Despite all the power of the Burning Man culture an unacceptable amount of MOOP remained. Then, suddenly, this culture was reinforced with publically-available information detailing how the different camps and neighourhoods of the city were performing against the Leave No Trace goal. And immediately this public accountability produced a huge leap forward in the trash situation as camps worked harder than ever to avoid an orange or red grade.
Transparency reinforced existing community norms both by making deviance from this norm visible and thus additionally unacceptable and signaling to those doing the right thing that their efforts were appreciated. It felt good to see our camp covered in Green when the map was released. It feels good to be part of something that inspires and aggregates individual contributions towards a community goal in this way.
The question is how can we create this level of personal responsibility and community consciousness in all our communities? What sort of transparency is required to support this?