Better late then never.
I drafted this post in November 2013 but never got around to posting it. Just last week I started thinking about what I would attend at AEA Denver 2014 with my Kinnect colleagues – so will use this as a precursor to this year’s AEA conference.
Spoiled for choice like a kid in a candy store! With over 800 sessions at this years conference the toughest job is always selecting what to go to – and sadly what sessions you won’t be able to attend. With only a small NZ contingent attending this year, there was less opportunity to confer on presentation selection and allocate between us. With some time slots having up 49 concurrent session its not surprising, that on two occasions I had eight presentations that I wanted to go to in the same time slot. Normally however the choice was one of two or three.
My approach to picking sessions to attend
- I generally select from within two or three TIGS (Topical Interest Groups) in my case this year the Systems, Data Visualization and Indigenous TIG. (For those not familiar with AEA conferences the TIGs are responsible for reviewing conference abstracts and selecting conference presentations.)
- Pick sessions related to areas of interest (e.g. Complexity, Sustainability, Developmental evaluation, data visualisation etc
- Select from presenters/speakers of interest. This also includes looking at sessions they are discussant for or chairing.
- Then there is the off the radar sessions or people /presentatiions that friends bring to your notice and make session selection ever more complicated.
- Prioritise and then see/encourage friends and colleagues to attend other sessions on your conference list – where you can at least get firsthand feedback if you can’t attend.
None of this is an exact science but over the years I’ve found it valuable to attend a suite of somewhat related presentations looking for a range of perspectives and increased depth in a few areas of interest. The smorgasbord approach with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, I find too once over lightly for my needs; but for those new to evaluation this ‘taster’ approach to evaluation and the conference
Memorable moments. One of the many memorable sessions that I attended, was the presentation by James Johnston III, Indigenous Evaluation in Alaska: Making Our Way Upstream and Ricardo Millett, Lens From the Bottom of the Well (AEA13 Session 449). They shared in a deeply personal ways their histories and how these experiences shape the lens through which they see the world, and how this lens influences their approach to evaluation. Whilst I had read their personal histories and pathways to evaluation in the Indigenous Pathways book to which we had all contributed chapters, there is no substitute for powerfully
The one that got away. As always there will be a not-to-miss session that you missed. For me this year it was AEA13 session 756 by Nora Murphy Title: Organizational Collaboration and Learning in a Complex Adaptive System: A Principles-Based Developmental Evaluation of the Otto Bremer Foundation’s Youth Homelessness Initiative. It was on my radar because it touched a number of areas of interest within the one presentation particularly in the systems field; complex adaptive systems, developmental evaluation, principles based etc – and importantly because of the recommendation of colleagues I respected as knowing my areas of interest and the presenter. And from all accounts it was excellent on a number of dimensions including content exploration of ideas and presenter connection with audience. I now have to live vicariously through the recollections of others and the presentation in the AEA library.
The value of a not for me session. Despite the 800 plus sessions, it is still possible to have a gap in your personal conference schedule, or at least nothing that is a must see priority session. If so, then you just might find time, as I did, to attend a session for a friend and colleague Kataraina Pip (but still of interest to me). AEA13 Session 83 a Think Tank titled Facilitation: An Essential Ingredient in Evaluation Practice. The session bought together a group of evaluators and facilitators collaborating on a publication. When you have a group of highly skilled facilitators running a session, the expectations are that it will be highly engaging, collaborative, surfacing valuable insights and fun – and it was all of these. It generated rich conversations and reflections among participants about the role of facilitation in evaluation and of evaluation in facilitation. Roll on the publication.
The session was facilitated by Dawn Smart, Rita Fierro and Alissa Schwartz. During the conference I would find time to meet with (and sing with) Rita and Alissa and talk more about evaluation; and to re-centre what had been an in-passing, on-the-run acquaintance to an embryonic relationship; exploring collaboration opportunities and plan for a visit to Aotearoa New Zealand. Yeah!
Conference Stamina. AEA like any conference is teeming with opportunities to mix and mingle, and be exposed to new ideas and people. Of course it can be a very tiring schedule with breakfast or TIG meetings at 7am in the morning; sessions finishing at 6pm followed by a TIG event or catching up over a beer or a glass of wine before heading out to dinner. So dinner finishes about 10.30 ish and maybe getting back to the hotel around 11 or 11.30am. And then back at the hotel your greeted by an avalanche of emails, because at home its the end of the working day and they are ignoring your out of office notice.
Looking forward to the CREA conference in Chicago September 14-18
And then roll on AEA 2014.