Trying a Different Type of District Conference: Does It Work?

by Quentin Wodon

For the past four years, I have conducted evaluations of our district 7620 conferences using surveys administered through the web. This year our conference was different. It was shorter than previous conferences and cheaper to attend. It included on the first day several opportunities to participate in community service projects with local NGOs. It had substantially higher attendance (425 registrations) than previous conferences. It focused largely on fun and fellowship, with only a few sessions on Rotary matters. And it involved multiple locations with transportation provided from one location to the other. Because the conference was located in an area with several Rotary clubs nearby, many participants were also able to attend without having to book a hotel night.

Did the new format of the conference work? A total of 155 participants responded to the evaluation survey, which makes the results reliable. Overall, the conference was clearly a success. As shown in Figure 1, almost half of participants rated the conference as better than previous conferences. This is slightly below the result for last year at 60 percent, but still impressive given that for the previous two years (2012 and 2013) most respondents rated the conferences on par with previous conferences. We are getting better at organizing these events!

One Pager District Conference 2015_Page_1

Figure 2 provides data on satisfaction rates with the facilities and various aspects of the conference. The number of respondents for each question and ratings are provided. The ratings look good with most respondents rating most aspects of the conference as very good or good. Fewer responses are provided for hotel rooms because as mentioned many participants did not need to book a room, which is a good thing to keep costs down. The organization of the conference and the opportunities for fellowship were well rated. The categories on learning about Rotary and meeting with the district leadership were less well rated, probably in part because few sessions at the conference focused on Rotary business and training, but even in past conferences, these ratings have not been high either. Importantly, the cost of the conference was much better rated than in previous years – the conference was affordable!

One Pager District Conference 2015_Page_2

Some 25 different sessions were individually rated with at least nine respondents per session (this is a minimum number of respondents to ensure some reliability in the assessment). Six of the 25 sessions got 75 percent or more “very good” ratings: two of the service project sessions, the high school 4-way speech contest, the Interact session, the Saturday evening dinner with Dean Rohrs as speaker, and the subsequent Rock Tenor music performance. In other words, service projects, interactions with youth, and the Saturday capstone events stole the show in terms of approval ratings. Another nine sessions got between 60 percent and 75 percent “very good” ratings.

What could still be improved in future years? When asked what types of sessions they would like to see more off, sessions on successful projects and debates/discussions on Rotary and its future were mentioned the most. There were few of these sessions this year, and we should probably have more next year. In terms of speakers, participants would like more motivational and entertaining speakers. Participants would like the conference to remain short at two days. As to whether it is better to have one or more districts present at the conference, the feedback was split between the two options. All of those results were similar in previous years.

To sum up, attendance at the conference was high and most participants were highly satisfied with the event. The conference was affordable and fun to attend. At the same time, a number of areas for improvements were identified. Many of these recommendations are not new: they had already emerged from the evaluation of the past three conferences. The good news is that we seem to be getting better at organizing these events, and now at making sure that they are affordable for more Rotarians to participate.

Organizing Great District Conferences: Lessons Learned

by Quentin Wodon

April-May is a busy time for many Rotary districts as this is often the period during which districts organize their annual conference. How can districts organize great conferences combining learning and fun at an affordable cost for participants? A few months ago, I ran a series of three posts on preparing and evaluating great conferences. The posts were based on a detailed evaluation of the conferences organized by my district over the last three years. The evaluation is available here. Given that we are entering conference season in full swing, let me summarize in this post some of the key points I made in the three-part series on this topic a few months ago (the links to the series are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

What Feedback Did Conference Participants Give?

In my district, our evaluations suggested that participants were often fairly happy with most aspects of the conferences. But they also had suggestions. When asked what types of sessions they would like to see more off in future conferences, they suggested having more sessions on successful projects and debates/discussions on Rotary and its future. In terms of the types of speakers, participants would like more motivational and entertaining speakers, as well as more speakers from the business world versus nonprofits. Participants would also like less time spent on award ceremonies.

Participants would like the conferences to be shorter (two days). Shorter conferences would also help reduce the cost of attending the conference, which is often a complaint. This in turn may make it easier to attract more Rotarians to these events, including some of the younger Rotarians for whom cost may be a more serious issue. As to whether it is better to have one or more districts present at a conference, feedback was split between the two options – some participants prefer to have only their own districts, while others like the opportunity to meet members from other districts. Virtually all participants like opportunities for discussions with Interactors and Rotaractors, and would like more such opportunities.

While some of the feedback received in your district may be different, it seems to me that quite a bit of what we learned in my district about what was great and what could be improved in district conferences is likely to apply in many other districts as well.

Is It Difficult to Evaluate Conferences?

It is not. Evaluating district conferences in a serious way is feasible at virtually no cost, as illustrated by the work we did in our district. The surveys for the evaluation were administered through the web and by sending an email to participants a few days after the conferences took place. Using web surveys reduced the time needed to tabulate data, and ensures that there is no waste of information, say from legibility issues often encountered with printed surveys. Participation rates can be strong, so that the surveys are representative statistically. You can even monitor changes in the evaluation of conferences over time – as we did – by fielding similar surveys year after year.

Our latest survey for 2014 survey had a total of 24 questions, some with multiple sub-questions. The questionnaires were designed to take about 15’ to complete, so that substantial information can be captured without taxing too much the time of respondents. Two emails (one initial email and one reminder email) were sent to participants to ask them to fill the survey – this was enough to generate fairly good response rates.

In terms of the structure of the questionnaire, a first set of questions were asked to respondents about their profile (age, gender, Rotary status, length of membership, club affiliation, past attendance at district conferences, attendance rate at club meetings, positions of leadership in the organization, etc.). A second set of questions were asked for participants to evaluate all of the conference sessions to which they participated one by one, as well as their general appreciation of the conference along a number of characteristics and some of their preferences for future sessions. Finally, a last set of questions were open-ended to elicit qualitative feedback on the conferences. The questionnaire of the 2014 evaluation is available in the report on the evaluation.

If your district is one of many that are organizing their conference in the last quarter of the Rotary year, good luck! And if you would like help with evaluating your conference, please let me know by sending me an email through the Contact Me page of the blog.