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.  eventIMPACTS.com 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

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