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.
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.
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.