Shaking evaluation conferences with un-conference events.

Dear all,

How do you feel about exploring new ways to shape evaluation conferences? Have you ever attended an Un-conference event?

I have put together some ideas on this topic on the post Shaking evaluation conferences with un-conference events at the EES Blog.

The issue is that, in my opinion, evaluation conferences are a great way of learning and networking. I really think so, anyway. And yet, I believe they could and should be even better. I’m not sure exactly how, but I’m quite convinced that by adopting some of the so-called “open spaces technologies” or facilitation styles, traditional conferences would improve. I’m actually starting to think that this is the only way to prevent them from eventually disappearing as a strategic place to learn and do networking.

I would love to know how do you feel about those new forms of “open-space” events that are arising to provide participants with fresh new learning and networking experiences.

Actually, I’d love to hear your views and to find some fellow travellers on this.

Are you interested? 


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Comment by Rituu B Nanda on August 31, 2014 at 10:05

Another experience comes from Australia courtesy Dee Brooks

Participant driven conference called unconference

I can forward you a note which Dee sent me. 

Comment by Rituu B Nanda on August 31, 2014 at 9:56

Hi, you will find this experience from conference very useful and we can adapt this in the context of evaluation conferences. The experience is from Singapore and posted by Gerard in the Constellation community . - 

A conference about community must involve the community

Comment by Rituu B Nanda on August 15, 2014 at 14:19

Hi Ramon,

Here is an experience of a Knowledge Fair

Schmitz, Gaston and Forth, Philip(2009) 'Believing in the human capacity to respond to HIV and
malaria: sharing experiences on a human level for global impact', Knowledge Management for Development Journal, 5:2, 173 — 184


Comment by Rashmi Agrawal on August 8, 2014 at 11:05

 A very thoughtful issue.
 Conferences are becoming repetitive. People take the same topic with more or less same people. Innovative thoughts and topics are needed for organizing conferences. Topics should be chosen after brain storming with various groups including experts, learners and others
2. We as evaluators feel that we have done a great job in doing evaluations. In conferences we should listen the other side also like beneficiaries, those who have been evaluated and other stakeholders. It would give good lesson learning.
3. Conferences are convened in various strands; sometimes valuable/interesting topics in one day and people get deprived of some good learning. Less invitees can tackle this problem or 'after conference products' should be prepared.
4.I have seen that in some strands too many people are there while in others a few. There should be a registration and limit of numbers for each strand.
5. Conferences are learning based and develop capacities. Some topics should be chosen where healthy debates ( Pro and against) could take place.
Besides experts, persons from student community should be invited and encouraged to participate in discussions to have new and innovative ideas from the Young.

Conferences should be more participatory

Comment by Ramon Crespo Forte on August 6, 2014 at 16:33

Dear all, great food for thought you provide when it comes to improve the usefulness (learning, networking, etc.) of Evaluation Conferences!!

Rituu, there is a great potential behind the idea of impregnating evaluation conferences with a storytelling approach. Just by incorporating such a view, I am pretty sure that many things would change: the way people would communicate, interact, learn…etc.

Of course, what Suresh suggest sounds great! In the end, significant learning lies on interaction.

Kylie, I share this feeling of yours about how thankful it is to have additional unscheduled downtime for networking and integration of learning. Very frequently the temptation is to ask for ramping down a little the whole thing....

And Rakesh, I fully endorse all the elements you listed in order to a traditional professional conference to be successful.

So far so good but, by putting all your comments together I need to stop thinking evaluation conference as at present.  In other words, it is not just about making a friendlier scheduling. It is about stop thinking them as a conventional paper presentation event, based on pre-set strands topics and a peer review evaluation process. I am thinking of an emergent and fully participant-driven event based on an “open space” approach, where no single speaker at the front of the room giving a talk is expected.

Outside the conventional ways, many options can be explored.  Generally speaking, creating an egalitarian conference where people from all backgrounds and professional roles can simply share and learn, could look as simple as that: attendees write topics they're interested in on cards, suggest a time and a space, someone gathers and organizes them all, and people break into discussion groups.

And if at any time during the conference you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, and go someplace else.

Many have done this before (like the 2012 Environmental Evaluators Network Unconference) and very useful thoughts arose within theAEA Unconference Open Space Technologies Working Group.

Are any of you planning to attend the EES conference in Dublin? Any change to conspire together on this there?






Comment by Rakesh Mohan on August 5, 2014 at 11:58

Greetings!  Rituu, Suresh, and Kylie have made excellent suggestions.  It might be useful for conference organizers to look into the program and structure of past conferences organized by some large, medium, and small evaluation associations.  As examples, here are links to the conference agenda of two associations – one large and the other small:

American Evaluation Association (AEA) Annual Conference history

Eastern Evaluation Research Society, 2014 conference agenda

In my opinion, for a professional conference to be successful, it should have at least some of the following elements:

  1. Every effort should be made to keep the cost of the attendance as low as possible.  This may require finding conference sponsors.  There is a negative side to having conference sponsors; some folks may see this as an official endorsement of the sponsor/product by the evaluation association.
  2. Find ways to telecast/stream live certain parts of the conference to members who were not able to attend the conference.  This service should be available to members at no or minimal cost.  We now have the technology to do it cost effectively.
  3. On the conference website, provide a place for slides and handouts to be uploaded by presenters.  These documents should be available to all association members at no cost.
  4. The conference should not be dominated by academics reading their research papers.  There should be good balance between theory and practice.  Encourage practitioners to present real world situations and how to guides to fellow evaluators.
  5. The conference should have a good mix of skill-building workshops, panel discussions, multi-paper sessions (closely related papers), and poster sessions.
  6. All panel and multi-paper sessions should have a moderator/discussant.
  7. About 25% of the session time should be reserved for discussion and Q&A.
  8. Do not overload the attendees with too many sessions each day; have lots of down time for them to relax and network with each other.
  9. Have both structured and unstructured times for attendees to network with each other.
  10. Have a place at the conference where employers could talk to prospective employees and vice versa.

I hope you will find these suggestions useful.  Namaste!

Comment by KylieHutchinson on August 4, 2014 at 23:12

I'm a regular attender of both the American and Canadian Evaluation Society conferences and often feel totally overloaded with information at the end, much of which I end of not absorbing and integrating.  In March 2014 I had the opportunity to attend the AfrEA conference in Cameroon, and although there were some significant glitches, I appreciated the minimal program and unscheduled downtime for additional networking and integration of what I was learning.  There were only 2-3 session slots per day, with 10 session options max.  I realize this might not be feasible for conferences like AEA or EES, but I do think things could be ramped down a little....

Comment by Rituu B Nanda on August 4, 2014 at 21:47

Second response from Dr Suresh Sundar from India Civil Society facebook group. Dr Sundar is a very experienced development sector professional. Thanks Dr Sundar!

Suresh Sundar 
**At many Conferences, the schedule is generally very tight with lots of speakers making excellent presentations, leaving hardly any time for question-answer.
**If the format of sessions is a workshop type, rather than mere presentations by experts, that could be more useful.
**Also, there should be good moderators who manage the time of speakers, and who prevent select individuals from hijacking the Q A sessions if held, so more participants can raise questions and seek responses.
**Finally, if spouses/ children are accompanying, a separate committee should take good care of their sight seeing/ shopping, etc.. so the delegate can attend sessions undisturbed, during the working hours.

Dont know, if such generic suggestions were expected or found useful
Comment by Rituu B Nanda on August 4, 2014 at 20:29

Hi Ramon,

One element we can add in the conferences is a space for sharing and learning between conference participants.

I work part time with an international non-profit organisation called the Constellation. For international events we use Knowledge Fair format to encourage sharing among participants. The experiences have been compiled to create knowledge assets which are pearls of knowledge and can be shared with those who could not attend. For instance in the Global Learning Festival held in November 2012 there was a storytelling session. We had many professional story tellers amongst participants but we did not do a powerpoint or workshop. We divided participants ( donors, implementers, evaluators, communities, private sector employees etc) into groups and they listened to each other especially on how the stories were narrated and gave inputs on how to improve the story. At the end we had many stories and participants had build their skills in story telling.

Evaluation conferences are very expensive and its not possible for everyone to attend. What if there was a virtual element to the conference so that a larger number can attend?  

Hope you find this useful.



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