world maker faire logistics

I’ve been to 3 flagship Maker Faires, a flagship Faire is a huge Maker Faire generally with around 800 – 1000 “Makers” (that is exhibits). Currently there are two such Faires, one in New York, called the World Maker Faire and the original Maker Faire, Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo. I have had behind the scenes access and tours to both of these Faires, that has been a great privilege. But at this point I declare and disclaim that sadly I can barely scratch the surface of the intricacies of the logistics of a flagship faire and am definitely not in possession of nearly all the facts or any real hands-on experiences of doing them. What follows here is me trying my best to put across something of the flavour of what happens (at least on the day or so before) to put on a flagship Faire.

Humour in “the boneyard” an off limits area run by the heavy structure team. A scary but very cool place to hangout.

There are lots and lots of really large numbers of people and things to manage at a Flagship sized Faire. Last year the World Maker Faire hosted over 800 “Makers” which means 800 groups of exhibitors ranging from 1 person with a table needing one power socket, to parties of 12 or more on a large corporate stand with their own large tent or show vehicle. Then there are the sponsors who are looked after by a dedicated team. Also the “travellers” who are volunteers to help crew the event on the day but need managing too, anyone who’s ever managed volunteers knows this can be a difficult and sometimes thankless task. Additionally there is a permanent crew of about 250 including the editorial staff with their demands for WiFi and camera equipment, the maker shed team with their need for point of sale and of course the press manage.

Crew register Makers at a Maker Station, these tables are a point of contact between the Faire and Makers during set up.
Once set up is completed and the public are admitted, Maker Stations become information points by switching out the signage.

On top of that there are the food vendors who need to be set up and managed. Not to mention the big ticket paid for attractions, acts and speakers for the talks. Everyone needs to be fed and watered, have large amount of products or literature delivered be registered and processed onto the site and kept safe. There are a large number of temporary structures to construct from very small table and chair set-ups to massive football field sized pavilions, hundreds or portable toilets and about a mile of chain link fences. Extra generators for power are brought in and an additional cell phone mast is erected. There are police personnel, medics, museum staff and security men too. Oh… and I nearly forgot last year the World Maker Faire attracted 85K visitors.

Visitors queue on Sunday morning awaiting the opening of World Maker Faire.

Many volunteers are tasked with collecting data and signatures in order to issue a liability waiver wrist band. The Maker Faire in the USA issues these wristbands in order for visitors to take part in any activity on the site during the Faire, this includes soldering. This is not something that can be done in the UK, it is not possible to sign away your liability and waivers aren’t worth the paper they are written on in a UK court. In the UK you will must have sufficient public liability insurance as well as sensible systems of work and a risk assessment in place. To some extent it should be made clear that activities should be run with a parent or guardian ensuring the safety of anyone under 18.

All requests are run via a “chit” system.

It’s clear from speaking to a few of the organisers and managers that a lot of time has gone into refining and improving their processes. One that I heard the most about was reducing needless radio chatter. The Faire runs and monitors 16 channels, with the channels divided into different key teams or tasks. All radio chatter is written in a log. One of the key tools developed by Maker Faire to reduce chatter is the INFO HIT LIST. This pocket sized guide for the crew has facts and information in it aimed at reducing the number of needless radio enquiries.

85k people need a place to go sometimes.

Each zone of the Faire has it’s own manager, the zones are really bigger than a “normal” Maker Faire size so the managers have a very responsible and hands on job. They curate the content of their zones even playing swapsies with other zone manager to better manage the presentation of their zone to the public.

Make’s Caleb Kraft captured the essence of the zoning and curation story in this recent Makezine post.