Sharing and Connecting: Innovation at CES 2017

It’s most definitely fall in Saskatoon – nights dip below freezing, the trees have shed most of their leaves, and it’s only a matter of time before the snow hits1. Another sign of fall? Upcoming due dates to submit presentations for conferences, including the Canadian Evaluation Society’s 2017 conference in Vancouver.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the conference and its theme of Facing Forward: Innovation, Action, and Reflection. Today, I’d like to focus on Innovation – but instead of looking at innovation in evaluation, let’s talk innovation in conferences. My experiences at evaluation conferences (both in Canada and south of the border) have been overwhelmingly positive: at the same time, I’m aware that these events can be criticized for not being the most effective use of time and resources. Indeed, there are numerous ways today that we can learn from others without having to leave the comfort of home – including blogs such as this one! As a result, it’s a legitimate question to ask whether it’s worth spending hundreds of dollars (if not thousands, when you account for travel and accommodations) to make the trip.

One of the key benefits I have taken away from conferences is the opportunity to connect with others walking a similar journey. These events give me the chance not just to learn from others, but to share my own experiences and have a real dialogue where ideas can arise from the space between. True, we can have this two-way communication through words or video, but there’s something about being in the same room together or perhaps pitching ideas over a meal (or pint) that contributes to the generation of innovative ideas.

Although most of these connections are informal, the conference organizers can set things up to encourage such dialogue. For CES 2017, the team behind the conference have provided some interesting presentation types that I’m excited to both see in person and also participate in as a presenter. One type in particular, called “Consultation and Collaboration”, is a highly interactive format that asks attendees to work in groups in response to a problem, issue, or topic brought forward by the session organizers. Giselle Patrick, Carolyn Camman, and I have submitted a proposal under this format on the topic of evaluation capacity building (ECB), with a focus on how ECB can be conceptualized and put into practice for different types of organizations. We look forward to bringing some unique engagement activities to our session and seeing what comes out of the conversation!

There are several other interesting presentation types this year, including Storytelling, Thematic Breakfast Roundtables (I’m thinking to host one on consulting in small and mid-sized cities), and Lightning Round Tables that sound like a mix of speed networking and information sharing. And of course, there’s my perennial favourite, Ignite presentations, where your slide deck automatically advances through 20 slides, 15 seconds a slide, for a total of 5 minutes. I’ve found it a fun challenge to craft a coherent presentation to fit within these limitations, and likewise have enjoyed seeing what others do with this format!

One activity that I’d love to see at CES conferences is based on an idea from our American colleagues, specifically the Community Psychology Topic Interest Group (CP TIG) of the American Evaluation Association (AEA)2. At the annual AEA conference, this TIG hosts an event called “Walk the Talk”, where conference attendees can sign up for a tour of a local community agency or group to learn more about their work, see how they use evaluation, and provide ideas and suggestions for the agency to move forward in accomplishing their mission. Vancouver, like communities across this country, is home to numerous agencies of all stripes and sizes doing amazing work, and I think it would be worthwhile to go beyond the conference venue to learn more and contribute back to these organizations.

So suffice to say, I’m looking forward to this conference, both as a participant and contributor – the hard part is deciding what ideas I want to present on! Fortunately, I still have another week and a half to finalize and submit my proposal(s). Over to you now: What are you planning to present on, if you’re going? What are some innovative presentation formats that you’ve seen at other conferences? Share in the comments below or on Twitter, or drop me a line!

  1. That is, until the snow hits again: Saskatoon saw an extended preview of winter at the beginning of October.
  2. Apologies for the acronym soup in this post!