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.