Nick has already posted about feedback from the conference, and I’m here to add some more on that topic. Now I for one love seeing statistics such as those Nick mentioned. Seeing that the majority of respondents enjoyed the conference, felt that the range of presentations was good and that they would attend future events, gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside – it means we did okay for our first conference! However the other part of my brain says “that’s all well and good but what does it really mean?” So I’ve chosen to look at the comments and qualitative feedback we got from the respondents and, having not been able to attend the conference myself, I’ve also solicited comments from colleagues who did attend, which I’ll try and factor into this post a little as well.
As you can see from the word cloud above, most of the comments received were very positive and included words like interesting and inspirational. However rather than simply telling you all the positives and what we, apparently, got right I’m going to highlight some of the more constructive comments and leave them here for posterity. The reason for this is partly so that we can learn from the areas needing improvement for future conferences, but we’re choosing to share it with everyone via the blog so that other people can learn as well!
So the constructive comments – I’m deliberately not using the word negative because as you can see from Nick’s post the scores given by attendees were all at the higher end of the scales.
The constructive comments fit nicely into three main areas, the first being linked to the Wi-Fi/Eduroam capabilities. When organising the conference this was something really important to me, unfortunately on the day the Wi-Fi didn’t apparently stretch fully into the room used for the presentations this is something we’ve fed back to the team at Sunley Conference Centre and I am in agreement with the two attendees who took the time to mention it. Having a conference with limited access to wireless is frustrating, one of the commenter’s mentioned Eduroam which I believe we are moving to later in the year, unfortunately we’re not currently part of the scheme, however the wireless at Sunley didn’t require a login so when you could access it there were virtually no barriers. I appreciate this doesn’t make it any less frustrating however and perhaps accounts for the small number of tweets received on the day.
The second area of constructive criticism related to networking opportunities and time for questions. On the matter of networking opinion seems divided with some people suggesting it was a great networking opportunity whilst others felt it was difficult to network. Perhaps this can be partly explained by the ratio of internal versus external delegates? It must seem much harder to network when the majority of the attendees are all from one institution, perhaps for the next conference we should build something a little more structured into the conference for the purpose of networking. An opportunity to ensure that the delegates all mix and perhaps have time to discuss the papers in a more organised fashion is something we’ll try and find a way of providing for future conference events. Please feel free to comment with any ideas you have regarding how we can improve the networking side of the conference. The timing for questions was something that was made difficult by the packed nature of the conference programme. With hindsight we should perhaps have allowed a few minutes extra for questions at the end of presentations, however we hope that attendees felt able to approach the presenters during the breaks to continue discussions, or indeed to contact them after the event for further information.
The final area that was mentioned by a couple of delegates is something that I think was peculiar to the way in which we advertised the conference to colleagues in our own department. Essentially the easiest way of advertising the conference in our department was via email, in these emails we didn’t highlight the blog as much as perhaps we should have, we were more concerned that our colleagues knew when the conference was and how to book. As a result some of the colleagues didn’t notice the link to the conference blog containing all the information they could have wished to read and the full conference programme.
All in all the criticisms we received were, I feel, minor ones. For the first conference event we’ve put on I honestly think that we can use this as a learning curve and take on board the comments to improve things for future events.
From talking to colleagues after the conference, but before reading the feedback form comments, the other comments I had were all very positive. The conference has enabled colleagues within the department to learn more about the activities going on elsewhere and after a year of structural changes it has, I believe brought the department together a little. Many of the people I’ve spoken to claimed they felt “proud” to be part of the department. The largest number of attendees (as Miggie has mentioned) came from within our own department and for the first conference I think that was to be expected, however I think for future events we need to ensure our publicity to academic staff from our institution is increased to encourage more of them to come along and find out about what we as a department are doing. Perhaps the success of this first conference will encourage us to be more vocal about our projects and research both internally and externally.