Recent scholarly openings

In addition to our data collection via this website, the latest methodological pilot has been the Story Sharing Cubes. We just love to use a variety of methods and have a variety of organisational research topics emerging that apply interviews and also ethnography, in addition to Stories Forum that applies digital ethnography.

The story of Story Sharing Cubes

This sub-theme pilot of Burning Stories was funded by the Borderland community (Nordic Burning Man) through a Dreams grant portal where every event participant can participate in funding projects and propose projects.

The rationale with this method is to increase our understanding of the rapidly expanding culture and explore new ways of cross-disciplinary scientific working methods. Previous studies have relied on quantitative methods and the use of more conventional data collection methods. Others have been focused on specific aspects of the Burning Man culture, such as performance (Clupper 2007), rituals (Bowditch 2010), personal experiences (Magister, 2019), artworks and activities (Doherty 2004), and organization and leadership (Chen 2009). One of the existing studies, demonstrated that nearly 20% of the respondents “absolutely” had and almost 75% had at least “somewhat” transformative experience (Yudkin 2016). This data indicates the potentially transformative experiences that people go through at Burning Man. However, due to its predominantly quantitative approach, it tells us little about the complex nature and the scales of these transformations.

By adopting a novel approach, we aim to explore:

  • How the participants experience transformation during events and in what ways these experiences vary within different demographic groups?

We seek to capture the felt ‘transformation’ in situ, by using the co-created artistic Story Sharing Cubes (see pictures below) where the cubes rotate freely at events for story sharing. The novel multi-method approach allows us to understand the current state of transformational space. The results might hinder how the global participatory culture community is merging with the surrounding cultures.

The co-lead is anthropologist Terje Toomistu, her work on Soviet Hippies has been excellent grounding to this geeky adventure and tech design of the cubes was done by artist-carpeter Kalle Oja and techie Peter Tapio. There is currently a master thesis research on the design of the cubes by Hilda Ruijs from Aalto University. Meet the cubes team here.

We also seek to understand how this might work or might not work in a larger setting. Utilizing lessons learned, the cubes, can be used in collecting data in, for example, educational events in challenging settings where data collection might be challenging or time-wise even impossible.

Piloting the cubes

We found out that Borderland was a perfect place to experiment with a new type of data collection. The event is 3,200 participant strong and located in a rather small area, which makes it an ideal venue for testing approaches before getting deep into studying bigger events. With two team members, we distributed 10 wooden cubes, picture below, to circulation during the event. This starting Monday, ended Saturday with a drop off point. The approach was purely explorative, to see what is out there. These cubes were small (max 12x12cm) and held a recording device in them so anyone who comes across the cube, could share a story.

After the successful expertiment in Borderland 07/2019 the cubes traveled to Burning Man. There were a lot of lessons learnt, mainly on the user interphase, battery life and the design of the cubes. All in all, we got some data, but in limited numbers as quite a few of the devices got stolen in Black Rock City. Not cool but happens in a city of 70,000 citizens. The usable data will be shared soon back to the community via this website and the forum so stay tuned for that. We will also continue developing this approach so you might see some cubes around also 2020!

Organisational studies

On the organisational exploration front, applying more traditional semi-structed interview and surveys, we have a variety of emerging topics such as:

Submitted for a review

Psychological safety in temporary organisations
by Salmivaara, V., Martela, F & Heikkilä, J-P

We explore how psychological safety––team’s shared experience that it is safe to take inter- personal risks––is possible in temporary self-managing organisations that exist only for a limited time. The findings present teamwork practices used by a highly versatile and self-organised group that constructed a demanding art installation for the Burning Man festival. The team experienced extremely strong psychological safety that spurred commitment and compassion, because it defined the project’s concept jointly through co-creation, gave the participants complete freedom to choose their roles, and greatly challenged people as a group.

Keywords: Psychological safety, temporary organisation, swift trust, Burning Man


The community, the central organization, and the principles - Tracing the struggle to define the culture of Burning Man by Martela, F & Heikkilä J-P

Enter Dragon, Come Home: How Psychological Safety Turns Disconnection into Connection in the Force Field of Burning Man by Lahti, E.

Burning Man is a branded organisation - but is that bad after all?
by Koivisto, E. & Heikkilä J-P


Pic 1 Story Sharing Cube at Borderland 2019, pic by Hilda Ruijs


Pic 2. Cubes before Burning Man 2019


Pic 3. Cubes after Burning Man 2019