Phil and Deven recently attended the American Evaluation Association’s annual conference (#Eval22) in New Orleans, LA. Consciously, they took a few weeks to process and reflect on the experience – take a look at some of their initial takeaways from this year’s return to in-person conference:
What were your expectations going into this year’s conference?
I’m not sure what I expected this year. This was the first time that Viable has exhibited at AEA, so I suppose I just expected to meet lots of good people wandering around the exhibitor hall.
Honestly, my expectations were a bit unclear for the conference itself – it felt like in many ways we were coming back together as if the past several years hadn’t happened. The return with near pre-pandemic design felt uncomfortable, as I think many folks reflected before, during, and after the conference. However, I did notice that the previous expectations that I held for myself were in a bit of flux as I rejoin new and familiar colleagues in the field at an in-person gathering.
How were those expectations challenged?
Clearly, we are navigating a world that was torn apart over the past few years by a pandemic. I think it is going to take a few more years for our community (and others) to feel completely comfortable with the idea of convening for a multi-day in-person conference. That said, it seemed like a really great turnout at the conference, and I look forward to seeing what Indianapolis will look like!
As I mentioned, some of my expectations shifted and in some ways, there was some discomfort around this. More specifically, I felt inclined to return to old ways of conferencing – where I found myself coming and going in early hours, attending as many sessions as I could, and connecting with as many folks as possible.
I had to recenter a bit. Remind myself things were different. There was a conscious decision to be gentle with myself and to hold onto what I had come to appreciate about our time away from in-person events – for example, getting a full night of sleep, choosing a couple key sessions, dedicating ample time to reflect and sit with myself, and ensuring I prioritized relationships (but not at the expense of the aforementioned). So, you could say the challenge or conflict was positive – even if it meant feeling like I was swimming against the norm.
What were you most excited about?
It has been several years since I attended an in-person conference. I was definitely most excited about the opportunity to network with new folks, and have face time with old friends. That, plus New Orleans is always fun!
Honestly, seeing my evaluation friend-family. Virtual connections were amazing and in some ways, it felt like no time had passed since seeing all of them…but the hugs and the warmth of their voices in person was refreshing and energizing. I missed my people.
What about the conference was the most memorable for you?
We were there to get the word out about our new IRB service – VIRB. I think my greatest memory is really just an observation of how well it was received. Our professional colleagues and counterparts recognized the value of what we are trying to accomplish with VIRB – an affordable and accessible option for researchers and evaluators that don’t necessarily have an IRB to go to.
A few things stuck out to me – one of which is that we haven’t quite figured out what our return post-pandemic should look and feel like. This is something that I think is less about getting it “right” and more about a dedication to the reimagination and envisioning.
The other was the opportunity to have some “real estate” at the conference and share more about our federal registered Institutional Review Board, VIRB. I’m excited that so many people got it and validated the need for some [positive] disruption of this process that is often antiquated, exclusive, and out of touch with evaluation and community research.
Lastly, I touched on it earlier – relationships are everything. They’re so important to tend and nurture, and in all the noise of returning that can be lost. Visiting with colleagues – familiar and new – affirms the importance of making connections a priority. The other “stuff” that falls into the productivity and consumption bucket can wait.