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The evaluation: the ultimate learning opportunity.

For the staff at the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, an important facet of the annual conference, other than member education, is what's learned from the evaluation forms.

Susan E. Negreen, CAE, is executive director of NASW/Texas. Headquartered in Austin, the association, with a staff of five, serves approximately 5,800 social workers in the state. The 1992 annual conference, in Houston last fall, attracted 660 members for three days. There were four concurrent sessions and 10 breakouts at a time.

Three evaluations

As the association plans its 17th annual conference for this fall, Negreen says it will benefit from three types of evaluation from the last conference. Attendees were asked to complete a two-page form on the full conference. And last year, for the first time, there were shorter forms in each session room, to be completed on the spot and left in the room. In addition, the 40 or 50 booth exhibitors, mostly treatment facilities and service providers, completed evaluation forms.

Negreen, herself a licensed social worker who has been surveying conference participants since she arrived at NASW/Texas 11 years ago, says the comprehensive evaluation form serves a number of purposes. For openers, it helps her compare the demographics of attendees with those of her membership at large.

"But the things I'm most interested in are speakers, topics, and recommendations to improve the meeting," Negreen says. An example: In the field of social work, the competition for continuing education is high, and members are particularly focused on in-depth education. At NASW/Texas conferences, evaluations show that the largest demand on the part of the members has been for skill-building.

A full day of skill-building workshops used to follow the three-day conference. Evaluation forms show that participants want them built into the main event. Negreen says conference attendees view these workshops as a way to "see people in action in ways that impact their daily practice." She adds, "The idea is for them to be able to bring back something they can use in their daily work with clients."

Negreen says the primary evaluation form also monitors opinion about the registration fee, because her members are really price conscious. "We know, in looking around at what other groups are doing, that our fees are on the low side, but the members' perception is that they can be high."

Another discovery from the evaluation forms is that participants want longer general sessions--not shorter ones. Thus, this year's conference will feature some hour-long sessions, but session slots that typically were 1.5 hours are expanding to three hours. Evaluations also reveal that, while valuing the exhibit, attendees want a wider range of exhibitors. So this fall there will be a bookseller.

Building good forms

Are there any secrets to good evaluation forms? Negreen doubts it. First, she says, the form should be simple, "visually easy to get through," and user-friendly. "Our members, like the rest of society, want things quick."

Next, the evaluations should be quantifiable, which not only facilitates data collection but makes it easier to spot trends. Scales with rankings from 1 to 5 should be adequate for almost any group, she thinks.

Finally, advises Negreen, "Pay attention to the evaluations." She does a synopsis of the evaluations for the outgoing conference planning committee, and that summary then guides the incoming planning committee.

For several years, she admits, her association collected the forms, but no one looked at them. "When we started paying attention, we changed the format and attendance went up."

Evaluation Advice

1. Keep your evaluation forms simple.

2. Make your evaluations quantifiable so that you can use the information to spot trends.

3. Pay attention to evaluations. Use the feedback you get to build better meetings.

Katherine L. George, CAE, is president of Catalina Communications, Haymarket, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Annual Meeting Issue
Author:George, Katherine L.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:637
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