Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort: How to Do the Do-acracy.

Dec 7, 2020 | Community initiatives, The 10 Principles

We continue our journey through the 10 Principles and beyond! This week, two closely related principles take the stage in our conversations with Kiwiburners: Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort. 

Ever since the first happening on a sandy, California beach in 1986, the global Burn movement has embarked upon a long and self-reflective journey – a transcendent journey. Both the individual and the collective have derived and thrived with the gradual and essential development of a sense of Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort.

In this blog, we will take a closer look at Civic Responsibility (Principle #7) and Communal Effort (#6) and how these oh-so-soul-filling Principles play out at the Burn and, in the broader sense, of our understanding of communities.

As with any good journey, it is always worth a look back at where we started from. So before jumping ahead, take a jump back with this post from Larry Harvey, (co-founder and Chief Philosophic Officer of Burning Man) to get a sense of the wild-West-that-was and how Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort rose from the dust kicked up during the inception of Black Rock City.

Credit: open source

Burning Man defines Civic Responsibility as valuing civil society. According to the Principle, community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavour to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state, and federal laws.

Communal Effort is described as how our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. As a community, we strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

Now that we have outlined the official definitions which have been set out by Burning Man, let’s take a moment to get to know our fearless and inspiring interviewees…

Wendy Allison

“These are my favourites of the Ten Principles and the ones that I think set Kiwiburn apart – as long as we keep recognising that it’s us that makes things happen and getting in there to do what needs done as a community, we’ll be ok.” – Wendy Allison

I went to my first Burn in 2005 – it was the American Kiwiburn and I went for two years before realising that, if I’m going to spend a pile of money to go somewhere, I didn’t want to always go to the same place. At about the same time, the three-year-old Kiwiburn event had reached a crossroads. It needed a new site and a bunch of community support to make sure it had a future.

My friend and I were asked to design the first Temple for Kiwiburn 2007 and, somehow, I ended up doing all the risk management for the event. That was my first experience of Civic Responsibility at Kiwiburn – doing what it took to make the Burn happen when we thought it might not. Since then, I’ve been to something like twelve Kiwiburns, Afrikaburn, and Burning Seed. I did a couple of stints as Chair of the ExCom and, since 2015, have brought a service camp to the Paddock to help people be safer in their Burn.


“Ehara taku toa I te toa takitahi, ekari taku toa he toa takitini e / My success is not mine alone, but that of the collective.” – Nathan

I’m a Wellington-based dreamer and schemer, currently working in Conservation/Outdoor Recreation. I love the opportunities that the outdoors can provide for people to try new ways of thinking, relating, and learning – as well as providing a space to fail and to be challenged. I see Kiwiburn as a place with similar potential and I love participating in the passion, ingenuity, love, and genuine community spirit that is present there.

I’ve been attending Kiwiburn since 2016. 2021 will be the first one I will have missed. I’ve volunteered at each event since 2017 and have been part of the fantastic Sensory Dispensary Theme Camp dream-stream-team since our creation in 2018. I’ve also attended Southern Smoulder and love facilitating and participating in outdoor recreation with old friends and new within the Kiwiburn community. 

Photo Credit: Shelley Watson

JaneyBaby (Jane Lawrence)

My understanding of Civic Responsibility is about creating and holding a safe space for people to enjoy themselves while exploring their edges. – JaneyBaby

My daughter, Rahn, introduced me to Kiwiburn in 2018. I was delighted! Kiwiburn was reminiscent of the Nambasa (NZ) festivals I attended in my twenties. At Nambasa, we brought everything we needed for the 3 to 4-day festival, as that was the way things were done back-in-the-day. Further to this, I grew up in the Manawatu and have fond memories of picnicking at Vinegar Hill as a child.

I have been welcomed into the Mint Country Club (MCC) community and introduced as JaneyBaby (one of my daughter’s endearing names for me). I really value decommodification and simplifying life to lessen my footprint. I feel many Burners are likewise seeking ways to live more gently, while expressing their own uniqueness.

Andy Flint

I think we as a community need to do more – a lot more. Every single one of us needs to take this seriously. Act proactively and consciously. – Andy Flint

I have been attending Kiwiburn for ten years. I have been a site manager for eight of those and I also serve on the Conduct Committee. My two main passions at Kiwiburn (apart from the people) are making light art and photographing fire.

Lynell Munns

To put it bluntly, don’t be a d*#@!.  – Lynell Munns

Born in the Waikato but brought up in the Hawkes Bay, I became involved in the spinning scene when I was studying Zoology at Massey (Palmerston North). Now I work in customer service/tech support for accountants and small businesses. My first Burn was Enlightenment in 2013. Kiwiburn 2021 will be my eighth burn over nine years (RIP 2k19).


“Our actions are the transformation we are seeking, especially in service to one another”. – Doxie

I went to my first Burn, Nutopia (Haliburton, Ontario, Canada) in 2006. It was sunny and hot, then it rained, then it snowed, we froze and, then… I saw a moose. I was hooked. I also went to Burning Man in 2006 and have participated every year since (except 2020, of course). I have been to Lakes of Fire each year (except one) and helped spark the embers of this Regional. I have attended Midburn in Israel, Afrikaburn, as well as an assortment of smaller Burns and numerous community events over the last fourteen years.

I am a Regional Rep for Burning Man for Michigan and the city of Detroit. I started Burners Without Borders (BWB) in Detroit and helped run our community non-profit as well as work for Burning Man as the Open Fire Manager for FAST (Fire Art Safety Team). I guess one could say I have drunk a lot of Playa and snorted a lot of the Kool-Aid!

I have only been to Kiwiburn once (in 2020). I am so thankful for the experience and memories of New Zealand. They have helped me get through this pandemic in ‘Merica and for that, I say to you all: Nama o te mauruuru (I hope I used that correctly!) 

Effigy Perimeter Burn Crew 2020

Photo Credit: Doxie

What does Civic Responsibility mean to you?

My understanding of Civic Responsibility is about creating and holding a safe space for people to enjoy themselves while exploring their edges. – JaneyBaby

Civic Responsibility is about bringing your awesome self and ideas, couched in such a way that does not harm others or yourself. This includes both physical harm and mental / emotional harm. I’ve seen people see the term “Radical Self-Expression” get all excited about it and end up being reckless, wildly disruptive, or inadvertently causing harm to others and themselves. We are ultimately responsible for our own actions whether you intended harm or not. – Andy Flint

Civic Responsibility means embodying the values of the society you want to live in. Not necessarily the accepted norms of the society you currently participate in. While we obviously need to abide by the laws/regulations of Aotearoa, Civic Responsibility also encompasses a sense of possibility and aspiration. – Nathan

Civic Responsibility is learning how to pitch in and help even if it’s not your ‘job’ because, actually on some level, it is. There is so much that goes on to make society or even an event happen and if we all shoulder the responsibility our engagement makes it better for everyone. – Doxie

Photo Credit: Andy Flint

It’s about actively being part of the community, recognising that the community only happens because we all get in there and make it happen, and committing our own efforts to making Kiwiburn a place we can all enjoy. – Wendy Allison

I would love it if we could grow away from the concept of ‘other’ as different and instead think of ‘another,’ which is more of the same, plus some. We are more alike than different, and we are all in this together. – Doxie

We have a beautiful community that is clearly capable of transforming a Paddock into a thriving, temporary society. For many of us, this sense of possibility possibilism exists off the Paddock too. This means trying to use any leadership opportunities or conversations that touch on this area to advocate for societal change and for our community to constructively share this beauty as widely as possible. – Nathan

With Burns, Civic Responsibility is built on people bringing the thing they want to see. Every Burn is just a giant mishmash of everyone’s vision and an embodiment of the commitment they’ve made to participate constructively in the community for the enjoyment of everyone who goes. – Wendy Allison

Photo Credit: Alice Peperell

There are always a smaller number of people carrying a heavier load, we can do better. I care about the safety and growth of our culture and want everyone to understand that together is how we protect our community and extend the movement further into the world and future. -Doxie

We are all in it for the length of the festival. Let’s all get along and make it the best festival for everyone, not just yourself. Think of your neighbour before cranking the sounds at 6 am. Don’t pee on the floor of the portaloo. Pick up your moop. To put it bluntly, don’t be a d*#@!.  – Lynell Munns

Can you provide an example of Civic Responsibility which you have either engaged in personally, as a group, or witnessed?

My favourite example is a discussion at the Sensory Dispensary I participated in about values and some of the big questions about our slice of community. We had a Communal document and several virtual meetings so everyone could contribute and be heard. Some of the questions boiled down to: Who belongs? How do we ensure that everyone is valued and can participate? How do we sustain our community? Where are we going? What are our values? Through these beautiful discussions and subsequent actions, I feel we raised our sense of purpose and belonging. As a result, we are now a more cohesive and constructive community-within-a-community. – Nathan

I have volunteered for reviewing, collating, and making available straight-forward health and safety documents which outline practical ways for Burners to effectively identify and manage hazards that may cause harm. I assist in supporting other volunteers to communicate and implement safe behaviours. – JaneyBaby

Acts of Civic Responsibly come in different sizes, shapes, and forms. From a camp ensuring their space is safe and prepared for all visitors to the people looking out for each other and ensuring that they are safe on the Paddock. My campmate and I have forged a number of very strong bonds over the years from assisting people around us in need. These “strangers” became close friends. – Andy Flint

My personal approach to Civic Responsibility is helping from behind the scenes to build the architecture that others get to embellish while serving those in our communities that need the most help due to iniquity, poverty, and economic hardship. One way I do this is through Burners Without Border Detroit where we create supply filled backpacks for folks living on the streets. We do not have the skills to help them off the streets, but we can offer compassion and supplies to make it a bit easier. – Doxie

This will be my fourth-year volunteering. I always thought that volunteering was for the cool kids and that I didn’t fit in. Then the call went out for the first round of Black Sheep Rangers and, I thought, why not? It was the best decision ever. I have met the coolest people, got the best hugs, and had some serious damn fun being a ranger. Since then, I have jumped into a couple other onsite roles and, this year, I’m giving Gate a whirl. – Lynell Munns

Photo Credit: Navigator

Is there any current area of Civic Responsibility which you feel has been un-met by the efforts of the Kiwiburn community to date?

The ExCom team demonstrate Civic Responsibility in so many ways. They all are collaborating and doing their very best to consider as many possible ways to support each other, the Burner community and the wider community (including the local community), so that everyone’s needs are considered and respected. – JaneyBaby

‘Civic’ for me is being a citizen of a community. ‘Responsibility’ is a duty to that community and for me it extends from where I live locally, to regionally, to nationwide and internationally. We have over 200 Regional Contacts on the planet serving 17 countries on 5 continents, just imagine how many Burners there are – we are everywhere! We are a movement that can tend to and change the world for the better and I believe we are doing this. That said, I also believe we could stand taller. If each of us just lived out the Principle of Civic Responsibility a bit more in our community, doing anything we are passionate about to help someone else, the world will feel the impact…and we really need it right now! – Doxie

Kiwiburn is a community from Aotearoa that parties in Aotearoa. As a community we have a responsibility to honour Te Tiriti and more effort should be made by all participants, leaders, and the community at large to decolonise and embrace the Principles of Te Tiriti. We have Reo in our community name and, at present, I feel like efforts to earn that name are not being embraced by the community. Tikanga can anchor our community, give us new Principles to discuss and aspire to embody. We can create a more just, responsible, unique community and event. – Nathan

Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Gaillet

I think the area of keeping participants safe on the Paddock needs more work. There are a few groups of people doing great work like Event Management, Consent Guardians, Rangers, and Conduct Committee to name a few. I think we as a community need to do more – a lot more. Every single one of us needs to take this seriously. Act proactively and consciously. – Andy Flint

Current areas of Civic Responsibility which I feel have been un-met by the efforts of the Kiwiburn community to date? People not showing up for shifts – grrrrr! I have seen it every year. Someone is a no show, which means others have to pull double or even triple shifts. If you say you’re gonna be there, then do everything you can to either be there or find a cover! Lynell Munns

Temple Perimeter Burn Crew 2020

Photo Credit: Doxie

What does Communal Effort mean to you?

It means cooperating with your community to create something that everyone can be proud of. This includes what we do on the Paddock, and off. It’s infrastructure, art projects, meet-ups, services… everything really! It means consulting, having constructive conversations, sharing what you know, and asking for support. – Nathan

Communal Effort is an expression, an action. This Principle can (and does) create change by simply doing something. Walking the Talk. Being the change you want to see. Participating to pull your weight. Motivation to make change is one of the things I admire most about this community. So many of us identify an issue, we act, we make change, and often bring along our friends to help. We support and help one another. It can inspire people when they see someone doing ‘good’ and it can provide others with the permission they believe they need to get engaged (even though they really don’t need ‘permission’ some of us ‘grant’ it anyways to encourage folks…) Our actions are the transformation we are seeking, especially in service to one another. – Doxie

For me, Communal Effort is a lot about collaboration, generous sharing of resources, and random acts of kindness. It’s about finding ways to support others to live their best life. – JaneyBaby

Civic Responsibility feeds brilliantly into Communal Effort because we’re doing this as much for the benefit of others as we are for ourselves. From the smallest bit of art that someone hid away to make just a few people’s day when they stumble on it, to the huge efforts that go into theme camps, large scale art, the effigies, and the organisation of the event itself – everyone has a role to play and we’re all doing it so we can all enjoy it. It doesn’t get more communal than that. – Wendy Allison

Communal Effort is seeing groups of people, often strangers to start with, coming together to make something beautiful, engaging, and something that brings joy to others. Something that unites and welcomes all binaries, non-binaries, and cultures. – Andy Flint

We are all in this together, nothing is going to get done if people don’t stand up and get it done. It’s so much easier if we all just pitch in. – Lynell Munns

Photo Credit: James Deane

Can you provide an example of Communal Effort which you have either engaged in personally, as a group or witnessed?

The sheer work that is put in by MPW and the Effigy and Temple Crews! Holy crap. I am in awe! That is the biggest and most obvious symbol of communal effort I can think of. Then there are the smaller things like lending someone a hammer to get their tent set up, helping someone who is struggling at the river, putting sunblock on someone’s back for them (that s*#@ is hard, yo!) – Lynell Munns

Twice, at Kiwiburn, I participated in and watched a group of painted bodies – literally painted (not metaphorically) – come together and bring so much joy and fun to the Paddock. From painters to canvases to musicians and wranglers. This event really stands out for me because so many beings came together with love and joy to make this happen. From the cool cats who dreamt it up to every single person who added to the magic – some of my most cherished memories from Kiwiburn. – Andy Flint

In my own life, I have implemented many of the 10 Principles, which is why Kiwiburn is so relatable to me personally. I have provided a safe and loving home for my daughter’s cousins (who lost their mother in a tragic accident when they were young). I also assisted my daughter to purchase her own home, to give her a haven from which to contribute to her communities by way of her creative endeavours and wellbeing services. – JaneyBaby

Photo Credit: Peter Jennings

I see the most communal effort during the pre-event build. Many camps need help with their build, whether it’s getting enough hands to erect a big structure, borrowing tools, gifting out spare food, asking for advice, or even just unpacking a vehicle in the sun. I have loved camping near Solar Sails and Pillowtopia over the last few years, as together our camps communally help out with tools, muscle, laughs, moral support, and, sometimes, fun prank wars. When challenges/problems occur, we have a much more robust safety net, and have the confidence to take on bigger projects as a result. – Nathan

When I was at Kiwiburn last year we needed people to stand in the line on the perimeter for both the Effigy and the Temple burns. Watching members of the community give up part of their burn, to get trained and watch the crowd and not the burn, a time when they could be partying but instead choose to serve the community melted my black heart. Standing on a perimeter is not just about standing there, in fact it is not easy at all. Even while being rewarding, it is stressful. You need to have situational awareness, you need to repeatedly explain to people why you are asking them to step back, it can be cold at night and, then, very, very hot. What I saw at Kiwiburn was people who cared to share their time, protect the community and help make the event safer for everyone- that is pure Communal Effort (and that is just one example of how to do it). We gift in this community and Gifting can connect to this Principle of Communal Effort easily – giving your time is the best gift (especially when done with and for others). – Doxie

Is there any current area of Communal Effort which you feel has been un-met by the efforts of the Kiwiburn community to date?

This community is filled with leaders. We are all leaders in our own way and that is just one reason we are attracted to this culture. We each have something to share, teach, and learn. It only takes one person to do something, to inspire another, to get involved. Burners Without Borders Detroit is an example of a ‘Me to We’ project. I was just doing a thing, I asked for help, and now hundreds of people are contributing. Not only do we help people we do not even know but we also, inadvertently, built friendships and relationships along the way. Win-win. – Doxie

We need more volunteers, in all areas of the community. From ExCom right through to the MOOP sweep teams – bless you all! There are so many opportunities for our community to take on. The sustainable development of our community relies on these positions being filled. Not every role is right for every person and, of course, we all have busy lives. We can still do better. If anyone reading this is inspired to investigate taking on a role, try having a chat with someone who has done it. You will be blown away by the growth and benefits you will carry into all corners of your life. It is also a great way to make more friends on (and off) the Paddock. – Nathan

One area that people are starting to talk about more openly (especially when it comes to tangata whenua) is actively and inclusively encouraging cultures to be acknowledged, respected, have space, learn, and teach. I look forward to seeing how this evolves. – Andy Flint

As I work with ExCom, preparing for the 2010 Kiwiburn, I see examples of these volunteers actively seeking ways to support, cooperate, and collaborate with others in the Buner community to create the best time possible. – JaneyBaby

Photo Credit: Open Source

With regard to the Principle of Communal Effort, at AfrikaBurn, “One Burner One Shift” is based on the idea that, if everyone did at least one shift, it would help the whole of the event so ‘others’ are not burdened with having to do too much. In Lak’ech Ala K’in – Doxie

The filling of volunteer roles. I know from experience I’m not good at the year-round roles, I don’t feel as if I have the time to give, so I give what I can on site. I wish more people would step up – year-round if they can’t commit onsite and onsite if they can’t commit year-round. – Lynelle Munns

Our community needs to make more efforts to grapple with our identity and values. We can do so much, and many see Kiwiburn as a transformational space. How can we make steps toward honouring Te Tiriti in our lives on and off the Paddock? Somewhere to start could be to learn the name of the river. Learn the names and the histories of the people who whakapapa to the land the Paddock stands on. Discuss how the Principles interact with Māori concepts such as kaitiakitanga, whanaungatanga, manaakitanga. I think grounding our community in the unique histories, concepts, and values of Aotearoa is an opportunity going begging. I see the answers to many of these big cultural questions (Who are pākehā? What do we value? Who belongs in Aotearoa? What could a future in which Te Tiriti is honoured look like?) being bypassed, and a communal effort towards finding our own answers to this would benefit us all greatly. These are conversations reverberating around Aotearoa currently, and I think our community has the potential to seize the opportunity to demonstrate how a pākehā dominated space can work towards a more beautiful, unique, and fair Aotearoa. – Nathan


Wow. What an epic effort to contribute to the discussion of Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort! A very deep bow to all of the above cool cats for taking time out to share their personal experiences and insights with the community.Whether you are looking to participate for the first time at Kiwiburn or just differently, click here to peruse the open volunteer opportunities for Kiwiburn 2021.

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