Improving Volunteer Scheduling for the Edmonton Folk Festival

Topics: Shift work, The Gates, Edmonton Folk Music Festival Pages: 36 (7649 words) Published: May 8, 2011
Vol. 34, No. 5, September–October 2004, pp. 367–376 issn 0092-2102 eissn 1526-551X 04 3405 0367


doi 10.1287/inte.1040.0097 © 2004 INFORMS

Improving Volunteer Scheduling for the Edmonton Folk Festival Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2G5, School of Business, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2R6,

Lynn Gordon Erhan Erkut

The annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival is run almost entirely by its 1,800 volunteers. While people are usually enticed into volunteering for the folk fest by perks, such as free access to the entertainment, gourmet meals, and T-shirts, their willingness to return year after year depends on an intangible degree of satisfaction. In spring 2003, a crew coordinator sought to automate the scheduling process for his crew of about 35 volunteers to save time and to accommodate volunteers’ preferences when possible. We developed a spreadsheet-based decisionsupport tool that generated shift times, scheduled volunteers according to various constraints and preferences, and produced master and individual schedules. Key words: programming: linear; organizational studies: personnel. History: This paper was refereed.


he Edmonton Folk Festival is a four-day outdoor event that has been held annually since 1980 ( In 2002, 15,000 people attended the afternoon workshops and the evening main-stage performances featuring local artists and internationally renowned musicians. With only a handful of paid staff, the event’s success and longevity are attributable to its volunteers. In 2002, 1,800 volunteers worked on 35 crews (for example, gate, kitchen, and security) contributing over 50,000 volunteer hours. In return for their hours of service, the festival gives volunteers free admission, T-shirts, and meals. Edmonton, known as “the City of Festivals,” hosts over a dozen festivals and major sporting events during the summer. In a city with a population of 670,000, competition for volunteers is fierce. Attracting new recruits and maintaining its veteran volunteers from year to year is essential to the operation of the folk fest. Crew coordinators schedule the volunteers, attend organizational meetings, and supervise their crews. We focus only on gate-crew scheduling of 30 to 40 volunteers. In previous years, the two volunteer coordinators of the gate crew used a trial-and-error, paper-and-pencil procedure to develop a set of shifts for gate operation over the four-day event and assigned volunteers to these shifts according to constraints, such as maximum hours per volunteer. Shifts had specified start and end times and were of varying lengths. Coordinators used overlapping shifts to deal with surges in attendance during peak hours. 367

The final schedule given to volunteers listed the set of shifts over the four days and the volunteers assigned to each shift. Drawing up the schedule was time consuming and frustrating. Minor changes often led to major revisions and numerous drafts. Even when the coordinators finished a final draft of their schedules, they were always uncertain whether they had accounted for all the constraints. Their only means of checking was to painstakingly go through the schedules manually to ensure that they had scheduled all the volunteers for the right number of hours and that no volunteers’ shifts conflicted. The two gatecrew coordinators estimated that the hours required for scheduling equaled the hours required for all their other responsibilities. To reduce the time they spent on this annual chore, one of the coordinators sought our assistance in automating the scheduling process. The festival had no funds for buying scheduling software; even if it had, the typical software programs would be unlikely to address the many constraints and volunteer preferences. In April 2003, the coordinator asked the University of Alberta School of...
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