Plan to Evaluate .. but is numbers or opinion that counts?

AbacusIt’s always important to know who is coming to your event(s). Not least because you want to know how successful you have been and whether you have achieved that target but also because we want to know who they are, why they attended and how they heard about it (and often lots more too!).

We often design events with a target market in mind and with a motive of influencing behaviour or encouraging people to buy or addressing a particular issue in society but how do we know that we have done it?
Evaluation is key and this needs planning in from the start in order to understand what the return on the investment is both numerically and socially and how you are going to measure it.  Both quantitative and qualitative methods need to be used to provide a balanced picture of the impact of the project so the usual surveys or attendee counting or cost per head come into play. is a great site with a well structured, multi-level event evaluation tool that has been developed over many test and live events and really works as a solid basis for assessing impact across the triple bottom line (economic, environmental, social).  There are other (more interesting) ways to evaluate but they are subjective or can be incomplete and their value is often questioned in comparison to a financial analysis.
For example, photography and film are part of a rich picture describing the event and providing evidence of what happened – smiling faces, action shots, crowd images etc.  You could use vox pops to gain immediate feedback on the event and the experience that attendees are having.  You could ask for post it note feedback as people leave. And there are hundreds of approaches that could be useful.  But the sad fact is that we (as society) put most value on the numbers in terms of ascertaining whether it was successful or not.
So it’s particularly challenging then when the quantitative measure that was supposed to be used (and is held in great regard by the client) was inaccurately used so tickets given out at a free event weren’t counted.  This has meant that we have no accurate means to assess unique visitors to the event.  We did head counts throughout but that can mean duplication over time as people stick around for more than the 15 minute interval between counts and there is no way to know how many people actually came.  Sometimes, and particularly for free events, this ambiguity can be acceptable and a ballpark figure worked out that the key stakeholders agree to, but in other cases, the organiser gets paid on the basis of how many came and can easily lose out if the client decides that their estimate is much lower.
Whatever the situation, it’s complex and it needs planning in advance matched with effective delivery on the day so that we can truly understand our target market, who comes to our events and what they are looking for in the future.
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky


Leadership goes well beyond delegation

Tour Guide's UmbrellaEvent Industry News have recently launched a new series exploring leadership in the events industry and topic one in this was emotional intelligence.  Without doubt, the events industry presents significant leadership challenges but are they massively different to any other sector?

It is true that we are often leading or being part of teams of suppliers or freelancers and therefore leading people who we don’t directly manage, therefore needing to develop a high level of emotional intelligence and capacity to work with people who have different perspectives.  Often over time, there develops a hierarchy that is based on experience, contacts and confidence which can be a pleasure to work in with positive banter and a shared understanding of how we all work but can also be exclusive and can present significant barriers to entry for new employees.

These teams are highly effective at getting the job done and for those within them, often offer an opportunity to develop skills by learning from others. However, these close knit teams also suffer from ‘groupthink’ where they all think and respond in very similar ways. It can be great to have your ways of thinking endorsed by this mentality but it also restricts creativity and potentially improvements or efficiencies. With these close team/supplier relationships it can be difficult to raise issues, difficult to change culture and difficult to adapt to different circumstances.

So the leadership challenge is more than just managing people who aren’t employed by our respective businesses or managing teams of suppliers but rather about ensuring that whoever is involved is supported and engaged in both the team and the output. This is not an easy task and is made more challenging when we, as event managers, have a job that is much more than only managing people.

So is this unique to the events sector? I would suggest that there are various other professions where you find high performing, multiple disciplinary teams such as in the armed forces, professional kitchens, tall ships, Motorsport teams….and in sport of course. So well done Germany – another example of a high performance team!

And in mentioning Tall Ships, here is a reminder that the 2014 Tall Ships race starts from Falmouth at the end of August with both water and shoreside activities and entertainment, including the finale of Ping! Cornwall. Hope to see you there!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Digital treat anyone?

So our first Thrive sessions have started in Bath and, as is often the case, we are learning as much as we are leading the training.  So we have come up with the programme following training needs analysis and we come up with the content for the sessions….we then run the sessions and we always try to tailor the sessions to the people who are there so it’s really applicable and relevant.  However, this agile approach is also a recognition that we don’t have all the answers (and neither should we) but we facilitate that sharing of knowledge and experience within the group to find solutions.

So within this context, I ran the Audience Development session with additional input from Jim Brewster at The Audiences Agency. We covered various areas from strategic relevance to practical how to, from application of data analysis to value propositions and then we started talking digital….and at this point, Jim introduced us to the principle of “digital treats”.

I love this idea that social media and user generated content provides such digital treats that might be photographs taken at an event or comments or films or anything really that connects the digital and the live worlds.  The concept of hybrid events is becoming mainstream and even if it’s just having a social media presence, digital is featuring in almost every event the world over.  And from an audience development perspective, this offers a fantastic opportunity to engage people wherever they are and provide a range of reasons for them to want to be involved.

As a sector, we only get better at what we do by collaborating and sharing practice – I am so looking forward to learning more in this Thrive Bath programme.

Events student to professional … is it easier said than done?

_53664977_graduates_640Another key point that I gained from the Association of Event Management Education conference this week was that employers are looking for live experience of the events sector above any other skill, training or experience.  Pretty much all of the event management courses in the UK offer this in some way shape or form.  Most of us offer running their own events, volunteering, placements, industry qualifications like personal license or first aid, as well as the higher education qualification.  And several of the presentations raised the need to go further.  We are all offering these opportunities to students but even some of the best are struggling to settle in employment in the sector and are being beaten to the best jobs.

I have observed this struggle from both the University and employer perspective where I have employed people I have taught and who I have believed to be brilliant but they have struggled to  get their heads around this transition into employment.  Maybe it’s the simple fact of moving from part-time attendance to full time work.  Maybe it’s the increased workload and the multiple projects.  Maybe they struggle to change our relationship from tutor/student to employer/employee.

Whatever the reason, it’s happening all over the place and brilliant students are leaving the sector and not fulfilling their potential.  Similarly, we as an industry are not making best use of the talent that is out there.  So what can universities do to ensure that students are really truly ready for employment, that they have the skills and confidence needed?

Well it comes back to that previous blog post about engaging the senses to reach that state of becoming and being.  Employers need graduates to be and become before they start work.  We need them to have taken risks and responsibility and pushed themselves and worked really hard across both practical and theoretical approaches.  We need the universities to enable students to connect that belonging with being so that their commitment and ability might be interconnected.  This is not because we (employers) are shirking our responsibilities but rather because our industry is fast paced and hard work and high pressure and we just don’t have the time to coax people into work.  We need them alert, engaged, ready to go and ready to make their contribution to making great events happen, to making a difference and to fulfilling their potential.  We can’t do it for them.

So it’s not just about providing more live events experience for students (although that might be part of it) or necessarily about grades or qualifications.  I think it’s about finding the aptitude and engaging the motivation to learn and develop and deliver.  And I believe that it’s going to take a different approach to achieve it; one that is more bespoke, supportive, engaging and definitely not via powerpoint!  It’s not an efficient way to get students ready for work, but I believe it is effective.  I’d best go and work on my planning of sessions for September then!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky


Shoulders back, clear the throat ….

lecternI have just been at the Association of Event Management Education conference where I presented a paper (for the first time in my life and it went well – phew!) and one of the keynotes by Professor Colin Beard talked about the human experience, particularly of learning.  In his keynote, Professor Beard went beyond the usual Maslow hierarchy or Kolb learning cycle and talked about engaging all the senses in the teaching and learning process.

So, we all have our inner and outer worlds and there is, quite rightly, a barrier between the two although they overlap at times.  In order for us to learn, there are five stages of progression into that inner world –

  1. Belonging – being part of something more than us, perhaps a social group or a university class
  2. Doing – active learning by undertaking something practical
  3. Sensing – engaging all the senses and thereby engaging more of the potential of the human brain
  4. Feeling – engaging our emotions and thereby our commitment and support
  5. Knowing – developing a body of knowledge held within us and the confidence that goes with it

Past the knowledge stage, we reach becoming and being which is a state of confidence and capability where we are able to apply knowledge to move forwards.  It’s probably better explained with an example.  So consider a university student on an events course (and here I am just thinking of the academic process):

  1. They already ‘belong’ to their course cohort.
  2. We (tutors) engage them in practical activity perhaps volunteering or running their own events.
  3. We support reflection on that experience in terms of what they saw, heard, felt, smelt etc. (and maybe even create sensory experiences in our teaching but that’s another subject)
  4. The student begins to attribute emotional responses e.g. I enjoyed it, or didn’t and self evaluate in considering their strengths and weaknesses
  5. With academic content, they start to build a body of knowledge supported by experience
  6. The student builds their capability, becoming more confident and the learning becomes embedded in their practice (and subsequently increases their sense of belonging to that group and we come full circle)

Well that’s what’s supposed to happen!  I can see that it does in many ways and I think that this model presents some significant challenges in terms of how we engage and support students and also how we create and design events that engage our target markets.  Considering my portfolio, this is particularly relevant for the Bridgwater Way project where we are trying to change behaviour and encourage more to cycle and walk to school, work and for leisure. The events programme is part of creating stages 2 – 4 from which the specialists can pick up, share knowledge and build a local community of cyclists.   So the design of the events needs to offer something to do, something that engages all the senses and then engages their emotions (positively) for the Summer Festival (19th July, Blake Gardens 1 – 4pm), we have taken this on board so we have a wide range of activities including cycle obstacle course, fastest tyre change challenge, Bike Build-Off etc; we have passive engagement including music and  circus entertainment; we have food & drink including the Smoothie Bike; All of which is designed to create smiles on faces, engaging those positive feelings about the project and about cycling and walking from which the information stands and specialists can share knowledge……and after all that we are keeping our fingers crossed that this model really works and enables attendees to become confident cyclists or walkers, to undertake active travel more frequently and to become an advocate for it.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Congratulations and Commiserations

TangleLast week, Arts Council England made the long-awaited announcement of their National Portfolio Organisations funding for the next 3 years.  It was a moment of significant stress for arts organisations across the UK as they waited to hear whether they had any funding and if so, whether it was cut and by how much.

To get to this point, these organisations invested weeks and weeks of time and effort to develop and write their funding bids, trying to demonstrate their value to the cultural sector (to the Arts Council) and articulate their impact on the local, regional and national communities.  Numerous versions of the core documents, consultations, development plans, detailed budgets and strategies for everything have been created as part of making their case for public funding.  The Arts Council are very clear about what they want and need and which objectives they need to be fulfilled and rightly so.  For many of the NPO’s, we are talking about thousands and thousands of pounds of public money so it is right and proper that there is a rigorous process in allocating it.

I don’t envy those in the Arts Council who were making those decisions either.  All of the blood, sweat and tears that go into those funding bids make an emotive argument for support but there is never enough money to fund everyone. So they have to make choices and not everyone gets through.  It is utterly tragic for those organisations who don’t make it (although there are other options with the increase in the grants for the arts fund) and euphoric for those who do!  There have been many organisations celebrating over the last week including some new National Portfolio companies such as Tangle (run by my friend, Anna Coombes) who successfully demonstrate that it’s not just funding for the same old same old but rather strategic investment in innovative, challenging, high quality cultural activity.

Aside from my background working for a number of Arts Council funded organisations (and for the Arts Council itself for a little while), this whole process is of interest because it highlights the power that many of those organisations have given to their funding sources.  With this dependency, they run the risk of that large funder changing their minds or priorities and whilst they can be comfortable for the next 3 years, what about beyond then?  This stress of having to prove one’s value doesn’t go away after the funding bid is granted; if anything it increases.  The same is true in the private sector when a company is dependent on one major client – what happens if that client decides to go to a competitor or changes their mind? Or if they still want to work with you but want you to work in a different way – do you change according to their demands?

So whatever area we might work in, we need to manage that risk of being too dependent on single activities, funding sources, people, income streams etc.   The risk beyond the financial is that of funder drift where organisations just follow the money, leaving their creativity, ambition, values and integrity by the wayside.  There are times when it is good to say no or what might feel like a disaster (such as funding being cut) really opens up new opportunities to the benefit of the organisation and leads to greater success and happiness.

Congratulations then to all those who have been granted NPO funding – well done!  And commiserations to those who haven’t but let’s look at this as a massive opportunity to change and develop or simply to retain our integrity and follow the path that we want to.  If this is you, then I wish you good luck!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Is Art Something That Can Ever Be Owned?

monumentsmenI watched The Monuments Men on Saturday evening and I was struck by the dichotomy that the film presents.  That is, art (and culture) being very highly valued as a currency and identity in times of conflict and equally being worthless in comparison to the reality of life and death.  Each of the artefacts that the Monuments Men were seeking and protecting were representative of our collective human cultural expression, of our identity as human beings.  As such they were prized by Hitler as providing him with ownership of that identity. That identity that he also crushed in the gas chambers.

We saw the same when Baghdad was liberated and Saddam Hussein deposed – artefacts from the Iraqi National Museums were stolen, broken and destroyed (with few exceptions) because they were ‘representative’ of Hussein’s regime and yet also had an increasing cash value.  Again, culture being used as a means to communicate with the masses and demonstrate control and ownership.

So this led me to think about who owns our culture then? Is it the artist or owner or observer or ticket purchaser or writer or politician or dictator? Perhaps this principle of cultural ownership is dependent on our individual perceptions of engagement or the context in which we are operating at the time?

For me, watching a film or seeing art works does not make me feel an ownership of them.  I may well relate to them, even resonate with the content or it may move me to tears but I do not feel that they are mine.  I should point out here that I am talking about this relationship, this resonance rather than the ownership of copyright or intellectual property.  Ownership in this sense is a collective experience, not exclusive.  By my viewing a painting, I do not take away the opportunity from someone else.  My engagement does not prohibit anyone else from experiencing the same kind of ownership and this becomes a collective responsibility.

Later this week, I am speaking at the Association for Event Management Education about engaging a community’s heart and using City of Lights as an example of how this develops over time.  On an emotional level, there is a very high level of engagement from the community and particularly from those children who have been part of it both now and in the past.  There is an intuitive recognition of the value of the creative and collective experiences in the planning, development and delivery of the event across stakeholder groups.  The images of the event are used throughout publications, online and social media  BUT when it comes to asking these collective owners to contribute financially, we find it much harder to get them on board.

It seems that we need to reconnect the ownership and the value of the art in order to have a sustainable future.  Do we need to have our cultural identity threatened or even stolen before we will take on the responsibility of that ownership to enjoy and appreciate our culture, including those works saved by the Monuments Men?

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky