As evaluators, we evaluate everything, and AEA’s 2017 conference is no different. Yet this was the first survey that’s stumped me in a long, long time.

It was the second question: “What was the single best part of your experience in attending the Evaluation 2017 conference?”. It’s rare I can choose the single best part of anything, but I felt I should be able to come up with something. Problem is, everything crowded into my head at once. AEA was a lot; there’s no doubt about that. Being a first-time attendee and fairly new to the evaluation field, I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to a conference this large, and further, I’d never even been to D.C.! Choices abounded: numerous pre-conference workshops, hundred of different sessions a day, networking opportunities, group learning and individual learning. Thousands of other evaluators from around the world were in attendance. There was just SO MUCH.

That turned out to be the beauty of it. With so many choices – so many ways to accomplish your goals – you had the opportunity to experience AEA’s annual conference in the way best suited for you.

For me, networking was not a priority, as I had few contacts in the field and no idea what I had to offer at a networking event. I wanted to learn methodology for higher quality work; I drooled over sessions focused on community development and collaboration; I desired to know the inner workings of “evaluation”. With the hundreds of sessions, I figured my thirst would be well quenched. It wasn’t. Instead, I learned that there are so many ways to accomplish just about any evaluation task. “It depends,” as one facilitator fondly said. This lesson was my single best part of AEA. Every session I attended taught me at least one new thing. Each of those bits of knowledge pushed me ever further, widening my understanding, allowing me to think outside the box. I cannot wait to apply this new knowledge and creativity to my work at Via and to continue to be challenged at AEA in upcoming years.

If you would like to learn more about evaluation and the 2017 AEA conference, call us at (716) 362-0627.