Summertime Evaluations

Summertime and evalin’ is easy
Surveys are fillin’, and response rates are high
Your dataset’s rich and your graphs are good lookin’
So hush little funder, don’t you cry

(With apologies to the Gershwins and Ella Fitzgerald!)

Despite the song, summertime evaluation has its own challenges. The nicer weather often signals a hiatus to regular programming and an increase in special events such as community BBQ’s and multiple-day festivals, requiring a different approach to engaging participants for their feedback. We also slow down a bit in the summer and limit tasks that seem too heavy – who wants to fill out a long survey when you could be outside having fun?

With that in mind, some thoughts on how to collect useful information when the weather’s nice:

  • Start with the simple metrics, like attendance, ticket sales, or amount of food consumed. They’re easy for stakeholders to understand, but just remember that they can be greatly influenced by factors outside your control (especially if your event is rained out): also, they won’t provide much insight if you’re looking for evidence of a greater impact.
  • Hit the pavement! Set up some volunteers with pencils and clipboards and get them talking with participants. Keep the questions to a minimum (3-4 max) so you’re not taking people away from the event for too long, and consider providing a little reward such as a sticker or coupon for providing their two cents.
  • Alternatively, set up a stationary spot for attendees to come by and participate. This method provides the option for longer surveys or more innovative data collection methods such as dot-voting. The main downside is that you need something to encourage people to come to you: if it’s a hot day a shaded tent and a cup of water may be a strong enough draw, but in any case take a minute to figure out what will appeal to people at your event.
  • Go online! Consider including in your evaluation plan social media statistics such as the number of visitors to the event website, likes on Facebook, and usage of the event hashtag on Twitter. Online conversations through these channels can also provide insights into what’s working and what needs to be changed. Promoting an online survey through social media and at the event itself can help collect data, as long as you remember that participants using these tools may not fully represent everyone who attended the event.
  • Debrief with your team of event organizers, volunteers, staff, and other key partners, using an approach such as the After Action Review. Don’t wait too long to hold it, and remember that your team’s perspectives may not match those of event participants.

Determining which method or methods to use will depend on a number of factors, including the scale of the event and the resources you have available. The main consideration, though, should be the purpose of the evaluation – what do you want to learn from the process, and what does success look like? If you just want to demonstrate that your event is popular, collecting attendance numbers (with perhaps a quick demographics survey) would be sufficient. In contrast, if you’re hoping to see more of an impact such as increased community awareness of your organization or a change in attitudes or behaviour, more time and effort will need to be spent engaging participants.

Got any tips for evaluating in the summer? Share them below!