Evaluating Outcomes for a Conference

How does one measure the success of a conference? 

Typically this question is answered poorly, if at all – using "smile sheets" that ask questions such as, "Would you recommend this conference to a friend?"

Which all assumes that the reason for having a conference is to have a conference – an end unto itself.

What if the desired outcomes for a conference are bigger and broader than that?

What if the conference is seen as a beginning of an effort to create palpable outcomes on the ground in communities?

How might a group evaluate that kind of success?

That's the question we will begin to address Wednesday, April 9th at 1pm ET / 10am PT right here (at the bottom of this post). 

The desired outcomes for the joint Creating the Future / Pennsylvania Association of Nopnrofit Orgs conference are the big hairy audacious kind:

  • People building trust relationships, at the conference and in their community (and gaining the skills to do so)
  • People building upon the wisdom and strength of each other (and gaining the skills to do so)
  • People finding and building upon a shared vision for what's possible (and again, gaining the skills to do so)

If you are an evaluation geek; if you are an outcomes hound; if you've wondered how to evaluate BIG change in your own social change work… join us right here!

To watch the meeting, watch for the video to appear here. If it is a bit past the hour, please be patient – we may be running a bit late. To share your thoughts, ideas, questions, please tweet to the hashtag #CTFuture. See you right here!

4 thoughts on “Evaluating Outcomes for a Conference”

  1. Many conferences base their success on how happy people are with the "networking opportunities". They know it's what keeps people coming back.

    That's clearly not good enough here, but it's likely to be on the minds of attendees. So maybe there are ways to ask about relationships differently on the evaluation. How many people did you RE-CONNECT with who you expect to connect with again in the next few weeks? How many NEW people did you meet who you expect to connect with again in the next few weeks? 

    You could give a checklist of what topics people plan to follow up on: community building initatives, partnerships, jobs, volunteering, etc., with of course a big open text box for the new ideas.

    If possible, get email addresses included so you can do customized follow-ups in maybe three months.

    • Jane – this is spot on. From the position of PANO and Creating the Future, the building of relationships is one of the 3 desired outcomes from the event. So it won't just be on the minds of attendees, but is our goal! To that end, we are building relationship building into the educational sessions themselves, and then into the rest of the conference. So your questions are hugely pertinent. Many thanks for that!


  2. First, we need to definew how the conference fits into our theory of change — what are we trying to change and how will the conference contribute.  Often, this is about changing behavior but the conference is a single event/influencer.  Are we designing the conference to change knowledge, awareness, behavior?  What other influences are around participants to reinforce (or resist) the behaviors we are trying to influence?

    1. Conferences can have particpants define their own change agenda at the conference, a plan to alter/practice some behavior…and in pairs or by group, check in with each other 30 days or so after the conference.  And/or report back to conference organizers what they were able to change.

    2. It is worth looking at Everett Rogers work on Diffusion of Innovation.  How does innovation spread? What role does person-to-person and/or formal educ play in changing behavior? When and in which types of people?   Rogers talks about Awareness (how is conf raising awareness), Principles (how is conf giving particiopants an idea of why something works), and How-to Knowledge (is conf giving participants practical steps to making change)

    Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation (summary)


    3. Another framework is the ADKAR – Awareness Desire Knowledge Ability Reinforcement…how is the conf moving participants along the continuum? Where are participants when they start, at the end, 30-60 days after?

    ADKAR Framework


    • Tom – first, thank you so much for being part of the meeting today. It was so helpful to have your deep experience and wisdom informing the questions we kept circling back to.  I'm lamenting you are so far away, as I'd love to grab coffee and keep this conversation going. For now, we'll all be checking out the links as we prepare for asking all the questions everyone came up with – at the event itself, of the attendees. The story will continue!


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