Planning & Decision Making

Reaching consensus, mental models, first projects, and use of technology.

Our process will require a balance of playfulness and seriousness, planning and spontaneity, group work and individual contributions. As you may notice, every time we learn something, it usually leads to several more questions. While we discuss our values as part of a long-term vision and project, our current planning is focused on the short term.

We’ve identified priorities for the next 12 months and have been learning about other projects we can look to for guidance and inspiration, as well as some first steps we hope to take on the property. We would like for our process to be transparent and inclusive and plan to leverage technologically progressive resources and open source tools whenever possible.

Short Term Planning

Our process will require a balance of playfulness and seriousness, planning and spontaneity, group work and individual contributions. As you may notice, every time we learn something, it usually leads to several more questions. While we discuss our values as part of a long-term vision and project, our current planning is focused on the short term. Many of our goals are things we hope to achieve in the next 12 months. We need to focus on gathering and sharing valuable information and developing the tools to support a long term planning dialogue. Once we have reached that point, and are equipped with the tools we need, then we can begin a conversation about what Fly Ranch will become.

A quick summary of what we’re hoping to accomplish within this 12-month timeline, roughly in this order:

  • Spend time on the land and in Gerlach and Empire, surveying the environment.
  • Establish security plan and protocols for the property to dissuade trespassing.
  • Begin small nature walks in partnership with Friends of Black Rock High Rock.
  • Develop ‘Town Hall Kit’ for community leader hosted conversations and feedback sessions.
  • Engage with the community online, on calls, in person, and in Black Rock City.
  • Write a series of posts detailing our planning and ask for feedback. Develop project management software, community engagement tools, and interactive maps.
  • Establish a Fly Ranch mission statement and concrete operational goals for 2018-2019.

Is there anything vital we should be doing in our first year that is not referenced here? Are we doing anything that will hinder or prevent a future version of Fly Ranch that you believe in from being realized? Do you or someone you know have the capacity to volunteer to help with one of the projects mentioned? Please drop us an email at flyranch@burningman.org.

Long Term Planning

While we’re far from knowing what the long term plan for Fly Ranch will be, we’ve begun to identify what kind of projects we can look to as mental models, for guidance and for inspiration. Outreach and relationships based on shared values is a part of Burning Man’s effort to help foster a network of sustainable creative communities:

We believe that the solution to material challenges begins with the articulation of shared values among and between our communities in order to change the prevailing mindset, expand the sense of what is possible, and lay the groundwork for material change.

Here are some of the ideas for mental models that we’ve heard regularly throughout the last year:

This list is not exhaustive. We are confident that while we’re inspired by many of these previous models, Fly Ranch will be something uniquely suited to the nature of Burning Man and the Black Rock Desert. We also have our own history to consider; in 2011 Burning Man Co-founder Will Roger and BRC designer Rod Garrett proposed a mixed use plan for Fly Ranch. More models and ideas will continue emerge throughout the coming years. The most concrete thing we know is this: Fly Ranch is an evolving, experiential site for experimental communities. 

Decision Making & Consensus

Larry Harvey has written that consensus and collaboration “only work if people share basic values and operate in a climate of trust that is rich in shared information.” In general, in areas where there is consensus, it is easy to move forward. But “consensus” doesn't necessarily mean that everyone agrees. It means people agree to disagree, and get behind implementing a course of action whether they agree or not. There’s a pretty good chance everyone agrees we should pick up any trash we find on Fly Ranch. So let’s go ahead and do that right away. Other, more complex issues call for further discussion and then a decision made about how to move forward. We’ll be genuinely effective if we share information openly, solicit feedback earnestly, respond and incorporate that feedback, and set expectations about who is doing what and how long projects will take. 

Given how the project will start small at first, we can avoid real or perceived failure by articulating what we know and setting a clear vision. As we go, we would like to be as forthright and transparent as we can about what we know, what we don’t know, and what challenges and opportunities we face. We want to operate as nimbly as possible and embrace the spirits of innovation and experimentation. Critical to this path will be to admit when mistakes are made along the way. We’re inspired by GiveWell’s practice of documenting mistakes and lessons learned. 

We would like to make as much of our process public as we can. We hope to get direct feedback by organizing town hall meetings, working with experts to incorporate voices not typically represented, and use old-school methods like conference calls and one-on-ones. From there we hope to be able to scale our digital tools to serve as effective community engagement and discussion platforms. In the future, we will be asking people who have signed up for “outreach and communications” to assist us with these processes.

Undoubtedly, there will be disagreements and careful scrutiny of any path we take. This is true for any issue in the Burning Man community; see burn.life, Burn After Reading, or burners.me for the wide range of community coverage we can expect. This is a natural part of being part of a community as passionate and diverse as our, and is part of the magic of Burning Man. There will be a lot of ideas, and it important to sincerely listen to those ideas and learn from the incredible range of expertise and knowledge that is being offered to the project. For the initial phases, our approach will likely not be to determine what the majority of people want and to do that, however. We're more likely to take all the input and then decide a direction that can include as many ideas us possible, but also takes into consideration the financial, legal, and operational reality of the situation. We can’t do everything, but we can find a way to do a lot of things.

As part of our visioning, we’d like to consider not just what we want to occur at Fly Ranch, but what we are interested in leaving people with and what they feel called to do, or become, once they leave. Just like Black Rock City, if the impact is only confined to the venue, then it’s really just a self serving party. Are the transformative experiences like those examined in the Black Rock City Census the kind of things we should hope for?

Use of Technology

In order to communicate and coordinate effectively, technology tools will be an important part the next phase of this project. We plan to leverage technologically progressive resources and, whenever possible, use inclusive and open-source tools.

For community engagement and idea sharing, we’re examining Discourse. Companies like Twitter, GitHub, and Change.org use Discourse. Interested folks can write proposals, mention users, tag, vote, and discuss. People could submit a project idea with scope, budget, and team. Others could join and support these ideas. We also like Discourse because:

  • It would be fast, easy, and cheap to set up (a week or two of development, $200/mo)
  • The best ideas would rise to the top, and we could understand preferences  
  • People can navigate based on top, latest, or specific categories
  • In comes with built-in translation capabilities for various languages 
  • People can include images, tag users, and use other familiar social features 

Burning Man’s technical team is building Burner Profiles into an OAuth toolkit. We hope to soon use Burner Profiles as a login across all Burning Man sites and on Fly Ranch projects, including Discourse. Below is the Twitter developer community page. Imagine threaded, ranked, categorized discussions like this, but about all the ideas and topics we’re discussing for Fly Ranch. 

We are also examining Typeform for sign-ups so we can add fields like “What would you like to do?”  We’re looking at programs like Loomio, Asana, OpenProject, or Trello for project management.

Using a project management tool openly and transparently will give the public insight into planning and and operation, and hopefully encourage people to get involved in the areas they are most interested in.

The world does not currently have a great tool or process for solving large-scale collective action problems (e.g., environment, space, political campaigns). Perhaps through the process of the large scale collaborative project that is Fly Ranch, we can use the lessons, theory, methods, and outcomes and tools that we discover along the way to help create a tool that can work for other projects. As always, the process here is just as valuable as the product.