Evaluating Your Meeting

The first step in the development of appropriate evaluation activities is to incorporate an evaluation strategy into the project planning process.

My job as the editor-in-chief of this magazine has given me a unique opportunity to observe and sometimes participate in a wide variety of evaluation procedures.

So where do you start? As a general rule of thumb, it's best to proceed incrementally, beginning with what is possible to measure in the planning stages (e.g., price negotiations compared to the cost of the event in the previous year) and gradually increasing evaluation activities as the various stages of the meeting develops. Planners should strive to evaluate a few main components of an event well, rather than attempt to measure a large number of elements superficially.

Here are eight best practices, which I have gleaned from my observations, to consider when creating an evaluation strategy.

1. Start early. One common misconception about evaluation is that it is something done after a meeting has been completed. A good evaluation plan should be developed before a meeting takes place.

2. Develop measurable objectives. Be sure the objectives are logically related to one another and to the goals of the host organization as a prerequisite for evaluation. There are two types of objectives: outcome and process. Both should be addressed.

3. Create an action model. This model clarifies how the activities of planning and staging the meeting will be achieved. The model should specify what is to be done, along with completion dates. It is the most critical step in the development of a sound evaluation plan.

4. Generate specific criteria. Once measurable objectives and an action model have been defined, make plans for evaluation based on specific criteria. Criteria are technical standards that can be used as the basis for making judgments about the success of a goal or activity.

5. Target data sources. Once the criteria have been defined, planners must identify the best sources of data and determine how often these variables will be measured.

6. Design the measurments. The key to a good evaluation plan is the design of the study or the surveys created to answer the evaluation questions. There are many possible research designs and plans. Your objective should be to maximize the reliability and the validity of your evaluation results.

7. Create a plan for project evaluation. Attendee evaluations are simple, but evaluating the planning process can be difficult to do during the meeting. Establish an information-gathering system that includes regular meetings held to review and use the evaluation results.

8. Analyze the results. All evaluation is wasted unless the results are used to improve future meetings. All reports should include not only evaluation results and reports of progress, but detailed explanations of how those results were used to reinforce, refine, or modify planning activities.