What would an evaluation conference look like if it was run by people who know and care about presenting information to support use? (hint - that should be us)

Patricia Rogers's picture 2nd March 2017 by Patricia Rogers

Evaluation conferences can make an important contribution to strengthening evaluation capacity.  Participants can learn about new methods and processes, engage in discussions about pros and cons of particular choices in evaluation, get feedback on their work and challenges, and connect with colleagues and potential partners for future projects. Evaluation conferences can also play a role in strengthening or creating evaluation associations and their linkages to important stakeholders, such as users of evaluation, providers of evaluation services, and trainers of evaluators.

There are a number of evaluation conferences with open calls for proposals and this week we want to encourage you to consider engaging with them in ways that will advance the theory and practice of evaluation. 

Evaluation conferences should demonstrate that they are planned by and for people who care about and are good at taking in and presenting information.  Traditional conference formats make poor use of the opportunities provided by bringing a number of people with common interests and diverse experience together.  Classically, almost all the time is taken up as people read a prepared paper or speak to a PowerPoint.  There is a chance for a limited number of questions and answers or comments at the end.  Usually the time is taken up by a few people who are quick to put up their hand.  Then just as the conversation is getting interesting, the session ends.

There have been efforts to try other formats that will do a better job.  For example, the AES conference and the EES conference have experimented with the notion of Open Space, where people use a time and room that have been set aside, identify an agenda and discuss the issues.  The AEA has been using a number of innovative formats for several years. 

This year the AEA conference, with its theme of From Learning to Action, has explicitly called for proposals with innovative formats.

Why not propose a ‘flipped conference’ session – where the presentation is done beforehand (presenters make it available online, participants read it and send back comments and questions online), and then the face to face time is structured around the issues that have been identified in the feedback?

Would it be possible to have  a ‘marketplace of ideas’ where presenters upload a brief video or narrated presentation, and those that get the most questions or comments get a slot at the conference to engage in more detail?

Or would one of the innovative formats provide a good process?  These are the formats already in use at the AEA conference:

Birds of a Feather Gatherings:  relatively small and informal discussion-based gatherings, aimed at building networks and exploring ideas. No formal presentation; instead the facilitators ensure that there is time for introductions amongst those in attendance and come with questions or ideas to spark discussion around a particular topic area.

Demonstrations: Demonstrations are formal 45- or 90-minute presentations that show how to use or apply an evaluation concept or tool. These sessions differ from Skill-Building Workshops which provide a hands-on experience.

Ignite Presentations: Ignite Presentations use 20 PowerPoint slides that automatically advance every15 seconds for a total presentation time of just 5 minutes.

Other Experiential Learning Session: Do you have a unique and interactive way of presenting contact? Choose this session type to submit a session that does not fit in to our traditional categories, but that challenges learners to engage with evaluation content in an innovative and interactive way. Potential formats for this session type include, but are not limited to sessions built around simulation, peer to peer dialogue and case base learning.

Roundtables: Roundtables are 45-minute oral presentations with attendees seated around a table. Roundtable presentations typically include 15 minutes of presentation, followed by 30 minutes of discussion and feedback.

Skill-Building Workshop: As part of a 45- or 90-minute session taking place during the conference, workshops teach a specific skill needed by many evaluators and include one or more hands-on exercises that let attendees practice using this skill.

Think Tank: A Think Tank is a 45- or 90-minute session focusing on a single issue or question. Initially, a chairperson orients attendees to the issue or question and relevant context. Then, attendees break into small groups to explore the issue or question and finally reconvene to share their enhanced understanding through a discussion facilitated by the chairperson. 

Proposals for the AES conference close this coming Monday 13 March*.  The conference will be held in the Australian capital city, Canberra, 4-6 September 2017. More information here.

*Extended deadline

Proposals for the AEA conference close strictly at midnight Eastern time March 16 2017. The conference will be held in the USA capital city, Washington DC November 6-11 2017.  More information here.

A special thanks to this page's contributors
Author
Director of BetterEvaluation/ Professor of Public Sector Evaluation, Australia and New Zealand School of Government.
Melbourne.

Comments

Anonymous's picture
Kylie Hutchinson

I would love to see conference organizers drastically cut down the number of sessions offered. AEA can get very overwhelming at times and I'm usually burnt out by Day 3. There is no time to digest and integrate new information learned before you're up and off to the next session. 

Patricia Rogers's picture
Patricia Rogers

I think that's a great idea, Kylie.  

And to still give people a chance to put their ideas on the table, we could focus on shorter presentations as part of thematic sessions, with links to more detail available before and afterwards?  And some synthesis and reflections sessions during a conference, with perhaps some presenters invited to have an additional slot to explore some ideas, or respond to each other more?

Anonymous's picture
Ian Goldman

Patricia

i couldn't agree more. Most conferences are vehicles for one way communication and ego rather than real learning. Introducing group sessions where you explore ideas and co-create knowledge is much more effective at learning.

Ian

Anonymous's picture
Martina Rillo Otero

Great questions!!!

How to promote real conversations?

I think it is all about strategies to put people to talk to and listen each other. 

I have this exactly sensation: "Is it finishing NOW? But we are beginning just now!"

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