November is a time for gratitude, pumpkin spice lattes, yoga pants (so what if I’m a little “basic”?!), and the American Evaluation Association’s annual meeting! Just fresh off the heels of Halloween, AEA was held November 1st-3rd in the lovely City of Cleveland and EvalFest partners shined bright in a panel session entitled “Community-Created Multisite Evaluation – A Method for Speaking Truth to Power.”

Speaking of shining bright: it’s tough to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for an 8 am conference session, especially when the lights aren’t working in the room where you will be presenting. Eek! Several rooms in the surrounding block were without lights, but luckily the other technology in our assigned room was unaffected – so theEvalFest team decided to just roll with it! We loaded our PowerPoints and then pulled some chairs together into the best-lopsided circle we could make for a good ol’ moderated group discussion…in the dark!

Karen Peterman kicked off the session with some introductory remarks about the EvalFest model and then turned the floor over to Cyndi Hall from the Charleston STEM Festival and Rachel Giatrasfrom the Philadelphia Science Festival to share how the data they’ve collected as part of EvalFest has been instrumental in speaking truth to the power of their festivals’ work. Cyndi shared with the audience how evaluation was instrumental in assessing the effectiveness of the save-the-date reminder bookmarks they provided to local schools – a marketing strategy that helped theCharleston STEM Festival grow their attendance from 1500 to 10000 attendees in just four short years. Rachel shared Philadelphia’s experience with using data to speak truth to the power of their partners’ involvement in the Philadelphia Science Festival. Utilizing data from the EvalFest Attendee Survey, Philadelphia’s partners have been able to justify their involvement in the event and better understand the impact of their actions.

I rounded out our scheduling programming with a discussion of how partners are creating value through their participation in EvalFest. Again, the topic of data reigned supreme in that the results overwhelmingly indicated that most EvalFest partners see the attendee survey data as a value asset to their work. It was such a great experience to have Cyndi and Rachel there to talk about their festivals before presenting the value creation data we’ve collected through interviews with partners. It really brought the festivals to life in a way that theoretical codes just simply can not, so thanks for bringing yourselves, your experience, and your pictures to help our audience really “see” the awesome things you’re doing at your festivals! Pat Jessup brought us home with some thoughtful discussion around unifying themes from the morning’s presentations, which generated some interesting discussion among our small, growing audience for the session.

If I had to use one word to reflect on the experience, it would most certainly be “delighted” –

de-lighted due to technical difficulties, but delighted by the richness of our collective story.