Digesting ‘Food for Curious Minds’

Compared to Interpret Europe, which, with around 100 delegates was quite intimate in scale, the 1100-delegate ECSITE conference was a bit of a shock to the system – magnified by the fact I’d barely had time to decompress from one conference before leaping into the next.

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I used to be a regular at ECSITE, but this was my first time since the 2007 conference in Lisbon. It was also the first time that I had been a presenter.

The conference website has storify summaries, presentation slides and other info, which I’ve bookmarked to come back to at a future date (after the conference I took a well-earned holiday in Venice, hence the delay in writing this wrap-up post). But for now, here are a few of my first quick impressions, more about the delegate experience than the conference content per se:

  • Lots of delegates means LOTS of parallel sessions (up to 10). This can lead to both choice paralysis and session envy. It also got me pondering the psychology behind having lots of (too much?) choice – does it mean you’re less satisfied with the session you *do* choose, because you’re haunted by the prospect of the session you *didn’t* choose being AMAZING? I’m not sure how the organisers can get around such a conundrum in such a large conference, but I think it’s definitely a factor in how delegates perceive their experience.
  • With so many sessions happening at once, it could be very easy to get confused about what was happening where. Keeping true to the theme of the conference, the organisers named each room after a well-known Italian food. This signage was reinforced on the stairs, in the lift, and on floor graphics throughout the MUSE conference venue.
Directional signage on the stairs, saying what room's on what floor.
Directional signage on the stairs, saying what room’s on what floor.
  • Organisers made clear what measures they had taken to make the conference as sustainable as possible (using biodegradable cups and cutlery for the breaks was the most obvious). They also invited creative participation through the “Sustainability is our favourite ingredient – what’s yours?” chalkboard wall lining an underpass linking the two main conference venues.
Chalk board that delegates progressively added to and decorated over the course of the conference.
Chalk board that delegates progressively added to and decorated over the course of the conference.
  • Because by this stage of the trip my energy levels were flagging a bit, I kept a low profile during the evening events, attending only one and even then leaving quite early as I was presenting in the 9am slot the following morning.
  • The session in question (link to slides here) was quite well-received, and we had several people staying back afterwards to talk more about our work.
  • I also presented a poster on my PhD research during the Project Showcase session. However, this felt a little tacked on to the side of the Trade Show which was happening during every break. Delegates who were not playing close attention to the programme may not have even realised it was happening. I didn’t see that many people browsing the posters, anyway. But a friend came by and captured this snap:
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Poster presentation at ECSITE 2015 (photo by @elinoroberts)
  • Most of the sessions I attended were ones relating to Natural History Museums (since I’m now working in one), Visitor Research, or Mobile Technology. There have been some interesting developments in advancing a research agenda for Natural History Museums in Europe, and collaborations between museums and university researchers more generally. With respect to Mobile Technology, I got the sense that there is still quite a gap between what tech companies are selling and what is practically possible on the exhibition floor, at least at the sort of price point museums are usually working at. But more on that later, once I’ve digested my notes and my thoughts.

Back to the office tomorrow!

Musing on Interpret Europe

It will take me a while to fully digest the last few days. A conference with a theme of “sensitive heritage, sensitive interpretation“, and that includes field trips to sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, is hardly going to be lightweight stuff. A lot of us frequently found ourselves in a reflective mood, and it was interesting to share thoughts and feelings with other delegates, often coming from very different perspectives (in the order of 30 countries were represented). The conference was small enough (around 100 delegates) that you had a chance to meet more or less everyone, however briefly, and this reinforced the sense of us all having a shared experience.

The conference had a good balance of theoretical and practical sessions, so I’m left with much to ponder as well as things I’m keen to try out once I get home. Although there were plenty of long days, most days had the format of a morning keynote, parallel sessions before lunch, and then a field trip running into the evening. This offered a welcome change of pace that helped counter the “session fatigue” you can get when spending whole days in seminar rooms.

Some quick take aways, which I hope to expand upon in future blog posts:

  • James Carter and Patrick Lehnes’ session on Interpretive Philosophy: interpretation can be seen to have a foot in both the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Both have their benefits and pitfalls. But I find this an interesting framework for thinking about the different sides of a controversial heritage topic.
  • Nicole Deufel’s research on “preferred readings” and the interesting differences revealed between English and German visitors to site related to their respective national histories.
  • Visitor journey mapping as a way of conceptualising all facets of the visitor experience in a holistic way (workshop by Jane Beattie and Chuck Lennox)
  • The transition from “history” to “memory”. This was a common thread throughout several sessions, but it crystallised for me during Roger White’s session on interpreting industrial heritage. Similarly to how I’ve described before, it struck me how there is a qualitative difference between heritage related to the recent past (i.e. within a generation of the people who actually lived through it) and that related to more distant times. More recent heritage also seems to be the more sensitive, controversial or contentious. It also presents interpretive and management challenges when a site’s story makes the transition from a “memory” era (within the last 75-125 years typically), to a “history” era (the past as a foreign country).
  • High quality, atmospheric exhibition design at both the John Paul II birthplace museum and the Schindler Factory Museum.
  • Finally, Eva Sandberg’s reminder that controversy is an opportunity: if a topic is controversial, it means it’s relevant, and that people care about it. Controversial and relevant trumps bland and boring.

Now it’s time to head off to Trento for ECSITE 2015. . . .

The Gaze of the Other

Keynote address by Dr Andrzej Leder, Polish philosopher and essayist, at the Interpret Europe conference in Krakow, Poland, 7th June 2015 [1].

Consider the following: an Israeli husband and wife, aged 57 and 60, are arrested at Balice Airport, Krakow, accused of removing objects (spoons and other small domestic items) from Auschwitz and attempting to take them out of the country. The maximum penalty for such a crime under Polish law is 10 years’ imprisonment.

A spokesperson for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum considers this a “crime of a special dimension” – such objects are the only things that remain of the 1 million plus people who faced annihilation at the death camp. Removal of these remnants represents a further annihilation.

The couple plead guilty and are fined. They apologise and return home. Once back in Israel, however, the couple are less repentant. While they regret any hurt their actions may have caused Holocaust survivors, they maintain that they did not really ‘steal’ anything. The objects concerned had been recently unearthed by weather, sitting in the ground. Their motivation for removing the objects was to ‘save’ them by turning them over to the custodianship of the Yad Vashem Museum in Israel.

The couple and the Museum spokesperson thus have competing moral frameworks, or “social imaginaries” to use Leder’s term. They may well know and understand each other’s perspectives on an intellectual level, but they choose to ignore or otherwise fail to acknowledge the aspects that challenge their own moral framework.

The couple would have known that Auschwitz-Birkenau is a museum site, and you can’t just take objects from museums whenever you please. However, many Holocaust survivors do not recognise Auschwitz’s legitimacy as a trustee of Holocaust memory. They consider the only true trustee with the moral authority to act in this role to be Yad Vashem.

Similarly, the Museum would have known that the couple, being Israelis of late middle age, would very likely have had direct connections to Holocaust survivors and that their intent was preservation, not destruction. Nonetheless, how can Auschwitz be properly managed and maintained if every visitor with a link to a Holocaust survivor is entitled to treat the place as their own property?

In its response to the incident, the Museum management emphasised the significance of Auschwitz as a grave site, for which they are ultimately responsible. In Polish tradition, the guardian of a grave has a right to speak for the dead. Delegitimising the right of Poles to take this guardianship role is seen as the first step down the road as casting the Polish people as bystanders, complicit in the Holocaust.

In post-war Europe, there were many competing different narratives and social imaginaries at play. There are the perpetrators and victims, those who were complicit (Vichy France and Quisling Norway for instance), and many questions about whether others did enough to stop or prevent what happened. With the lowering of the Iron Curtain, there are further narratives in the West that served to cast Eastern Europeans as the ‘bad guys’.

All of these different social imaginaries create Us and Them moral frameworks. Such comfortable certainties deny ambiguities, and ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ are) are always the ‘good guys’ in our own moral frameworks. Such positions undermine empathy. We cannot accept what the Other says, even if we understand it on an intellectual level, because to do so would undermine the social imaginaries/moral frameworks of our world.

Resolving this requires what Leder calls a “Kantian imperative of empathy”. This means being ready to face inner tension between your own moral position and that of another. It also means being willing to look at yourself through the eyes of the other – and endure that gaze. Knowledge alone is not enough.

 

[1] The official session title was Imperative of Empathy – the Kantian pre-condition for any kind of European future. This summary has been hastily pulled together based on my notes taken during the session and without benefit of having a copy of Dr Leder’s slides (I’ll post a link to them if they become available). Any errors or misrepresentations are mine.

The language of objects

Objects may not be silent, but what difference does that make if you don’t speak their language?

I’ve been doing a bit more musing on some of the anecdotes Stephanie Weaver shared during her keynote at the recent Interpretation Australia conference (first instalment here). She mentioned the often-heard claim that objects “speak for themselves” (a view that appears especially prevalent in art circles), thus rendering interpretation irrelevant at best, interfering at worst. In response, one time she challenged some “speak for themselves-ists” with an image of a carburettor, similar to this one:

Did the object speak to them about what it was? Was it a particularly fine or noteworthy example? In the absence of any relevant mechanical or technical knowledge, Stephanie’s interlocutors were stumped. They accepted that this object was mute in the absence of interpretation (at least to them).

But Stephanie also told the story of the object that spoke to her immedately, profoundly, and so powerfully it moved her to tears – no interpretation required:

In this case, the painting was the trigger for an avalanche of meaning that lay within Stephanie’s own life experience. It was in the Musee d’Orsay, during a much-anticipated and long-awaited trip to Paris. The painting was beatifully presented in a gallery context. The content resonated with Stephanie’s childhood as a dance student. And of course there is an aesthetic appeal that needs no overt explanation*.

This made me think that the “objects are mute” vs “objects speak for themselves” debate may be missing an important nuance: perhaps objects do speak, at least some of the time, although we as visitors may not necessarily be conversant in the language any given object speaks. And if not, the object is as good as mute to us.

Some communication transcends language: in another conference session, Pamela Harmon-Price described how a Japanese tour guide used timing, gesture and body language to convey considerable meaning, despite Pamela not understanding a word of what was said. Drawing analogy to objects, there may be some aspects of an object: form, colour, positioning, and so on, that can speak to us on some level.

But then there is the Tower of Babel of other languages any given object may speak. And of course the same object may speak multiple languages (the languages of technology, or art, or social history). And that is where interpretation can step in – conveying that meaning to those who don’t know enough of the language enough to understand it.

On a radio interview held with Stephanie, Pamela and John Pastorelli during the conference, they reflected on the fact that people outside the cultural sector tend to assume “interpretation” has something to do with languages. Perhaps on some level they’re right: it’s just that it’s intepreting the languages of objects and places rather than other people.

So next time you see an object that you think “speaks for itself” – ask yourself: can you only hear it because you already know the language?

 

*At least to people enculturated into a Western perspective of aesthetics. Although there are some aspects of aesthetics that may be ‘hard wired’, so to speak, yet others will be a product of the culture we live in, and we deem those as “universal” at our peril!

Your experience footprint is bigger than you think

It all started with a mysterious bear. . . 

But before I explain, first a little background: Last week I was at the Interpretation Australia national conference, Enriching the Visitor Experience, in Brisbane. The opening keynote was Experienceology‘s Stephanie Weaver. As the author of Creating Great Visitor Experiences, she had plenty to share about the role of interpretation and storytelling in crafting memorable and meaningful visitor experiences.

So back to the bear – Stephanie’s museum career started out at the Chicago Children’s Museum, which at the time was located in North Pier. Consistently in evaluation and focus groups, children kept on mentioning that “the bear” was one of their favourite exhibits. Good to know – except staff at the museum had no idea what exhibit the kids were talking about! There were no bears, teddy bears, pictures of bears, or anything remotely bear-related in the Museum. So what was this mysterious bear exhibit?

It turns out the solution wasn’t in the museum at all. As it happens, North Pier was at one end of an atrium mall, and this mall had a toy store. And across the atrium this toy store had strung up a large model of the “Ernest the balancing bear” child’s toy that cycled across and back on its tightrope. Although this display had nothing to do with the Museum – they didn’t manage it, they had no control over it – it was nonetheless perceived by visitors to be an integral part of the Children’s Museum experience. In fact, when exhibit staff proudly proclaimed the “bear mystery” finally solved, the Museum’s ticketing staff told them “oh yeah, we get all sorts of complaints when that bear isn’t working”.

Ernest the balancing bear (from www.fatbraintoys.com)

From this, Stephanie said she learned two important lessons about visitor experiences:

  1. The extent of the visitor experience as perceived by visitors – what I’ve called the “experience footprint” here – is much bigger than you might think, and may well include factors beyond your control (but which you still need to think about).
  2. Front-line staff often have a better idea of what’s happening on the exhibit floor than exhibition staff or management.

I’ll share a few more insights from this and other sessions over the coming days and weeks.

Building Evaluation Capacity

I recently attended the 27th Annual Visitor Studies Association conference in Albuquerque, NM. Given the theme was Building Capacity for Evaluation: Individuals, Institutions, the Field, it’s not surprising that “capacity building” was a common topic of discussion throughout the week. What do we mean by building capacity? Whose capacity are we building and why? Pulling together threads from throughout the conference, here are some of my thoughts:

Individual capacity building:

Any conference offers a chance to hear about developments in the field and to build your professional networks, which is a form of personal capacity-building. VSA in particular runs professional development workshops before and after the conference as an opportunity to sharpen your skills, be exposed to different approaches and to learn new techniques. These are useful for both newcomers to the field as well as more experienced researchers who might be interested in new ways of thinking, or new types of data collection and analysis.

A common thread I noticed was both the opportunities and challenges presented by technology – video and tracking software allow you to collect much more detailed data, and you can integrate different data types (audio, tracking data) into a single file. But technology’s no panacea, and good evaluation still boils down to having a well thought-through question you’re looking to investigate and the capacity to act on your findings.

Panel
Panel session at VSA 2014

Institutional capacity building:

There were a lot of discussions around how to increase the profile of Evaluation and Visitor Research within institutions. There seemed to be a general feeling that “buy-in” from other departments was often lacking: evaluation is poorly understood and therefore not valued by curators and others whose roles did not bring them into regular, direct contact with visitors. Some curators apparently come away with the impression that evaluators only asked visitors “what they don’t like”, or otherwise had a vested interest in exposing problems rather than celebrating successes[1]. Others believe they “already know” what happens on the exhibition floor, but without systematic observation may only be seeing what they want to see, or otherwise drawing conclusions about what works and what doesn’t based on their own assumptions, rather than evidence.

For many, the “aha!” moment comes when they become involved in the data collection process themselves. When people have an opportunity to observe and interview visitors, they start to appreciate where evaluation findings come from, and are subsequently more interested in the results. Several delegates described Damascene conversions of reluctant curators once they had participated in an evaluation. But others expressed reservations about this approach – does it give colleagues an oversimplified view of evaluation? Does it create the impression that “anyone can do evaluation”, therefore undermining our skills, knowledge and expertise? What about the impact on other functions of the museum: if curators, designers and others are spending time doing evaluation, what parts of their usual work will need to be sacrificed?

A counter to these reservations is that visitors are arguably the common denominator of *all* activities that take place in informal learning institutions, even if this isn’t obvious on a day to day basis in many roles. Participating in data collection acts as a reminder of this. Also, at its best, evaluation helps foster a more reflective practice more generally. But nonetheless the concerns are valid.

Capacity building across the Field:

I found this part of the discussion harder to be part of, as it was (understandably) focused on the US experience and was difficult to extrapolate to the Australian context due to massive differences in scale. One obvious difference is the impact that the National Science Foundation has had on the American museum landscape. NSF is a major funder of the production and evaluation of informal science learning [2]. NSF-supported websites like informalscience.org host literally hundreds of evaluation reports (that actually extend beyond the “science” remit that the site’s name implies – it’s a resource worth checking out).

There are a considerable number of science centres and science museums across the US, and because of these institutions’ history of prototyping interactive exhibits, they tend to have a larger focus on evaluation and visitor research than (say) history museums. Indeed, most of the delegates at VSA seem to represent science centres, zoos and aquariums, or are consultant evaluators for whom such institutions are their principal clients. There was also a reasonable art museum presence, and while there were a few representatives of historical sites, on the whole I got the impression that history museums were under-represented.

In any case, I came away with the impression that exhibition evaluation is more entrenched in museological practice in the US than it is here in Australia. It seems that front-end and formative research is commonly done as part of the exhibition development process, and conducting or commissioning summative evaluations of exhibitions is routine. In contrast, besides a handful of larger institutions, I don’t see a huge amount of evidence that exhibition evaluation is routinely happening in Australia. Perhaps this is just the availability heuristic at play – the US is much bigger so it’s easier to bring specific examples to mind. Or it could be that evaluation is happening in Australian museums, but as an internal process that is not being shared? Or something else?

 

[1] A lesson from this is that evaluation reports may read too much like troubleshootingdocuments and not give enough attention to what *is* working well.

[2] The Wellcome Trust plays a similar role in the UK, but as far as I’m aware there is nothing comparable (at least in scale) in Australia.

Think, Feel, Act: Using Psychology to understand visitor needs

Today I presented at the Interpretation Australia Masters Workshop in Sydney. My presentation was about “Understanding audiences” and following on from the Google hangout I did for IA earlier in the year, looked at what we can learn about visitor experiences from psychology.

The presentation is based on a Venn diagram made up of three circles: Think (representing cognition), Feel (representing affect) and Act (representing behaviour). During the presentation I argued that while there are many complex social and motivational reasons for people to visit museums and other cultural heritage sites, it can be boiled down to the fact that visitors anticipate the experience will satisfy at least some of their cognitive, affective and behavioural needs. And since psychology is the study of human affect, cognition and behaviour, it should be able to tell us something about what these needs might be.

The presentation is a quick armchair ride through some of the psychological literature I have encountered during my PhD research. Summary of the references referred to:

Appleton, J. (1988). Prospects and refuges revisited. In J. Nasar (Ed.), Environmental aesthetics: theory, research and applications (Vol. 3, pp. 27–44). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bitgood, S. (2011). Social Design in Museums: The Psychology of Visitor Studies. Collected Essays Volume One. Edinburgh: MuseumsEtc.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Perennial.

Dahl, T. I., Entner, P. S., Johansen, A.-M. H., & Vittersø, J. (2013). Is Our Fascination With Museum Displays More About What We Think or How We Feel? Visitor Studies, 16(2), 160–180. doi:10.1080/10645578.2013.827011

Kaplan, S. (1988). Where cognition and affect meet: a theoretical analysis of preference. In J. L. Nasar (Ed.), Environmental aesthetics: theory, research and applications (pp. 56–63). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Litman, J. (2005). Curiosity and the pleasures of learning: Wanting and liking new information. Cognition & Emotion, 19(6), 793–814. doi:10.1080/02699930541000101

Norman, D. A. (2004). Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books.

Packer, J. (2006). Learning for Fun: The Unique Contribution of Educational Leisure Experiences. Curator: The Museum Journal, 49(3), 329–344. doi:10.1111/j.2151-6952.2006.tb00227.x

Plutchik, R. (1980). Emotion: A Psychoevolutionary Synthesis. New York: Harper and Row.

Rui Olds, A. (1994). Sending them home alive. In E. Hooper-Greenhill (Ed.), The Educational Role of the Museum (pp. 76–80). London: Routledge.

Russell, J. A., Ward, L. M., & Pratt, G. (1981). Affective Quality Attributed to Environments: A Factor Analytic Study. Environment and Behavior, 13(3), 259–288. doi:10.1177/0013916581133001

Smith, C., & Ellsworth, P. (1985). Patterns of cognitive appraisal in emotion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 48(4), 813–838. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3886875

Rising to the “Future Challenge”

Last week was Interpretation Australia’s National Conference, titled Future Challenge. As IA President Sue Hodges said in the opening ceremony, Interpretation faces challenges in the present, as well as the future. Economic downturns lead to budget cuts, which often disproportionately affect funding for interpretive projects and staff. In light of this, how can interpreters adapt to changing circumstances and make a better case for the value they add to natural and cultural heritage?

Our opening and closing keynotes gave two very different perspectives on this issue.

Genevieve Adkins, Director of the Centre for Interpretive Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland, highlighted the importance of interpreters having a solid grasp of the theory that underpins their work. Theory confers rigour, and rigour is necessary for funders and other stakeholders to take interpretation seriously. Judicious application of theory can also lead to better returns on investment in heritage interpretation projects.

For the closing keynote, Dee Madigan, Director of Madigan Communications and probably best known as a regular panellist on ABC’s spin-deconstruction program Gruen Planet, gave an ‘outsider’ perspective on the issues facing interpretation. She highlighted some of the parallels between advertising and interpretation, and how there is common ground in needing to understand the motivations and wants of your target audience.

I’ve prepared a storify of the tweets from Day 1 and Day 3. Day 2 was mostly taken up by field trips to destinations around Regional Victoria – I went to Point Nepean National Park and learned some of the history of the site as a Quarantine Station and later as an Officer Cadet School.

Ships and their passengers en route to Melbourne were held in quarantine at Point Nepean. The station was in use from the mid 1800s until the 1970s.
Quarantine was strict – passengers belongings were fumigated and all passengers had to go through special bathing procedures. Even the mail was fumigated! This case shows equipment used for fumigating mail.

I also gave a presentation based on Chip and Dan Heath’s 2007 book Made to Stick: why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck. In keeping with the Future Challenge theme of the conference, this paper was intended to show how the Heath brothers’ ingredients for ‘sticky’ ideas are a useful checklist for interpreters. Conversely, it shows how the business world is hungry for sticky ideas: are there potential untapped markets for people with interpretive skills?

 

MASA2012 – it’s a wrap!

Last week was the Museums Australia National Conference in Adelaide. As one of the organisers, there is a sense of relief in being able to say that the week went off without any major hitches.

I have to say that I was pleased with the overall result – in particular we had put some considerable thought and care into the way that we combined the keynote speakers in the program, and from where I was standing this went well (even better than expected in some instances!). We also tried some different session formats, inevitably with some being more successful than others. You learn, you refine, you improve.

However, because I was so close to proceedings, it’s a little hard to give a critical reflection on the presentations and discussions that took place. So it’s a good thing there are plenty of other people who can do that for me! I was impressed by the number of delegates who contributed to the life of the conference through social media, particularly via the conference’s #masa2012 Twitter hashtag. Looking at how the Twitter activity has matured over the past three Museums Australia conferences is a good case study in how more and more people are starting to ‘get’ social media.

So rather than a comprehensive conference wrap from me, I’ll compile links to the tweets, blogs and photostreams of others. I hope this will give a good picture of the week’s proceedings. Here’s what I’ve found so far, and let me know if I’ve missed something out:

  • Tweets

There was good activity and conversations on Twitter. Suse Cairns (known in the twitterverse as @shineslike) kindly agreed to compile Storify of the tweets to the #masa2012 hashtag. It was great to see a lot of different people using twitter to contribute and converse (in previous years it has either been slow to get going, or otherwise dominated by a handful of accounts which may have discouraged newcomers from contributing).

  • Blogs

Thornypebble’s Pond: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Conference Presentation UPDATE: this very interesting and thoughtful piece about the use of twitter at conferences.

Museum Geek: Dispatch and Initial Takeaways from MA National Conference

Digital Nico: Mobile Engagement and some other scribbles

Pete Hoban: Day 1 (am), Day 1 (pm), Day 2, Day 3 (plenary), Day 3 (workshops), Rural and Regional Plenary.

  •  Photos

Museums Australia SA Photostream of the Welcome Ceremony, Conference Day One, Day Two, Governor’s Reception, Day Three, Conference Dinner and Regional Remote and Community Museums day.

Photoset of the conference from Adelaide Archivist.

  • Presentation Slides

There are plans afoot to share as many conference slides as possible via a conference Slideshare page – I’ll update with further details as and when this takes shape. I also presented a paper (with Jenny Parsons), a snapshot (just me), and a workshop (with Katherine Sutcliffe) during the conference’s parallel sessions. These presentations have already been uploaded to Slideshare:

 

I was also interviewed by one of the delegates for a podcast, listening to which made me realise how fast I can talk sometimes! (I come in at about 1:30)

My first Evaluation conference

Last week I went to the Australasian Evaluation Society’s conference – mainly because it was happening on my doorstep. Another draw was that Michael Quinn Patton (who needs no introduction to anyone who has done a research methods course) was delivering one of the keynotes. At first I was disappointed when I learned that this keynote was via videolink, but in this instance it worked well, if not quite the same as being in the same room.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the conference, because I’m not sure I can really lay claim to the title ‘evaluator’. But since evaluation spans such broad areas – public policy, health, international development, education and indigenous programs to name just a few – I wasn’t obviously out of place. Having said that, there was still some unfamiliar terminology and assumed knowledge among the delegates that had me reaching for Google later on.

I’ve compiled a storify of conference tweets which serves as a good overview. While most of the sessions were not directly related to my research, it was interesting to get some different perspectives on theories and methodologies, and see where the commonalities were. I also met some interesting people and gained a different perspective on how my skills could be used in my life post-PhD.