I promised to write more on this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (iwmw10) and having just worked my way through the data from the online evaluation forms suddenly find myself with a lot to say!
This year we gave out paper feedback forms at the event but also published a more comprehensive online feedback form using Google Docs. Obviously there are lots of reasons for having an online form (saves a huge amount of data input for a start) but one of the key benefits was that we could also ask for feedback from those who attended remotely. Of the 65 who filled the form in 7 had attended remotely. This was a real chance to hear how successful it had been as an ‘online event’ from those who had truly experienced it in this way and also whether others would be willing to do so too.
As the chair of the event this year I’m interested in the event from two different, but very specific, angles. Firstly was it successful (how did people find the programme, speakers, admin, technologies etc., what can we improve on)? Secondly is it sustainable (In the light of government cuts can people carry on attending)? As writer of this blog I am also interested in the remote attendance angle.
The IWMW events differ significantly from many other commercial events in the ‘web management’ area. While many may focus on training and problem solving etc. IWMW takes a slightly different approach. Although ‘learning about things’ is important at IWMW the key aspiration of the event is development of a community of practice. Without being too cheesy the ideology is similar to the the “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” proverb. IWMW helps people make the links that can help get them through the year to the next IWMW event. One of the challenges for us is fostering this community of practice among people who aren’t physically at the event.
OK so lets hear what people had to say. Here are some choicest cuts from the questions we asked and the answers they gave. Note that this isn’t a complete evaluation of the event as I’ve primarily focused on the success of the event, its sustainability and remote attendance.
Comments on the event itself
I won’t go into specific details about speakers (Ranjit Sidhu and Paul Boag‘s talks were probably the two most popular, though the rest received lots of praise too) but people had lots to say on the event itself.
Of course there are always minor niggles (apparently the food sent people to sleep, the showers were lousy and there was only decaf coffee in the bedrooms!) and people always wants to attend more parallels (more videoing of these?)! We are also often restricted somewhat by the event venue – so this year people found the seats a bit uncomfortable and would have liked a tiered lecture theater – but a travelling conference pays this price.
However as usual there was great praise for the event team. I’m not just blowing my own trumpet here because IWMW is a team effort and one of the reasons it works so well is because we have very specific roles. Natasha and Michelle do a great job of the actual organisation, I work on co-ordination of activities (putting together the Web site, programme, sorting out speakers and facilitators, setting up the blog, informing AV people and so on) and of course Brian does a fantastic job of encouraging new innovation, enthusing everyone and keeping things moving at a incredible speed. We also had a few extra members on our team: The sponsored place people wrote lots of summaries, made videos and generally helped out and once again Kirsty blogged and videoed at a rapid rate.
“I’m amazed at how much the event blogger manages to do during the conference and at such high quality.”
Other points include the enthusiasm for Twitter and the Twitter wall, enjoyment of the QR code game and respect for people’s willingness to share ideas.
“Twitter interaction (thankfully having brought a laptop this year, so also the connectivity at the venue and in halls was crucial and superb) was also great and felt like it kept people connected during and after sessions (and in turn, after the workshop perhaps).“
Of course these type of technologies don’t always go down well with everyone!
“The constant tweeting was annoying. Not everyone does this! It was particularly irritating during the closing speech, when it was up on the screen behind Brian. I found it almost impossible to concentrate on what he was saying.“
Some useful suggestions include better marketing of the event (sometimes the manager word scared people off), earlier confirmation of the date, more sessions about what people are actually doing at their institutions (people liked the ‘doing the day job’ session) putting QR tags onto delegate badges and making the programme available via iCal. We also need to do more to help new attendees meet their peers – one person has suggested “some kind of web management speed dating to help people make those initial connections” – great idea, we’ll have a think about this.
There was also some discussion about sponsors. I think people have started to realise that they are a necessary addition to the event and there can be many benefits to having them there (they give a much needed outside perspective and this year two commercial speakers gave great talks). However their role may need more clarification and better boundaries.
“Still get the feeling from some that there is a fear of being ‘sold to’, but if IWMW is to have funding through sponsors etc., then people need to become more comfortable with a commercial presence.“
Some people have lots of ideas for more we could do, but then there is only so much time in the day!
“Another useful thing that I’d like is a library of case studies and info that is kept up-to-date, i.e. somewhere where I can go and find out, say, the structure of web teams, roles, and responsibilities across the various HE institutions, or the business cases for mobile that people have used. This would be enormously useful for me when senior managers ask “what’s everyone else doing?” or “has anyone else tried this and how did it go?“.
If this event was discontinued what would be the impact on your work and that of your organisation?
The biggest concern cited if the event was discontinued was isolation, many felt that their organisation would end up working in the dark without the support of other institutions.
“I think its really important to maintain the relationships amongst your peers – that is best done face to face. Also the different approaches and willingness to share what others are up to is important. So I guess there would be more isolation, duplication and waste if we weren’t making contacts, learning from each other and most importantly sharing amongst the community.“
There would be less general understanding of new technologies and innovation would suffer.
“We would increasingly lose contact with key industry representatives from HEIs, but most worryingly we would lose the ability to measure our activities against standards and benchmarks set across the national HEIs related to the web and its technologies.“
Other issues mentioned were a reduced level of job satisfaction and staff motivation.
“My own work would probably stagnate if I didn’t have this fresh shot in the arm every year. “
Their was a recognition that this is the only event specifically targeted at for UK University web professionals.
“It would be the loss of the only event that appears to be directly relevant to the work my institution and I do in terms of web development. It’s a great opportunity to hear about emerging technologies and strategies, as well as share best practice with peers (even if I am from FE and most attendees are from HE!).“
Some pointed out how cutting back on staff development and discontinuing the event would be a false economy.
“In the course of three days my institution received the equivalent of several tens of thousands of pounds worth of consultancy – from leading figures in the field. I know from my discussions with other delegates that this is a common feeling. I firmly believe that the dividends from activities like IWMW (and by extension UKOLN, JISC and JANET) vastly outweigh their costs.“
“We need to start thinking about shared services and I’m not sure how that’s supposed to happen if we don’t meet each other and chat and explore those ideas and opportunities.“
In order for event organisers to make contingency plans for future events please let us know if you would consider attending next year’s event remotely.
Given an option most people would rather attend the event in person. The main reasons for this were to avoid work distractions and to be able to have face-to-face interactions with people.
“The most useful parts of the workshop for me were the chance meetings during the breaks between sessions, over breakfast etc, and late night discussions. This doesn’t really happen online, and I don’t think it ever will – although there is a certain serendipity attached to find new people to follow through Twitter conversations.“
“For us being there physically is very important. That said, we’d welcome more live streaming for parallels and barcamps to widen the potential audience.“
However attending the event was not an option for everyone and many recognised that in the next few years attendance may become more difficult. For many remote attendance would be a good second best.
“I’d hope to attend in person but remotely is the next best thing.“
Some also reported benefits of attending in this way.
“One advantage of remote attendance is that key lessons learned are not diluted by travel home. You are right there in your seat of power ready to implement changes. however getting uninterrupted time is very difficult. perhaps you could set up regional hubs and connect nodes together. “
And some felt that this is the future (see the Open University Online Learning Conference.)
“Yes. I think the OU’s recent remote only event was an interesting innovation. Personally after 5 yrs or so in HE I have conference burnout, so remote suits me well. “
“I watched one session, Sid’s, while uploading a video in my room and felt that the experience was just as good as being in the main room. Very engaging. I began watching another session on the following day and quickly stopped as the content was uninteresting to me. This was a much preferable experience to being stuck in the main room when the speaker isn’t engaging with you….I found a mix of remote and physical attendance was an ideal combination. A room showing a live video feed of the main sessions would be great maybe.“
The majority of the remote attendees who filled in the form praised the event amplification.
“Great live streaming and the rapid posting of content after presentations, the twitter stream and the fully documented meeting website – nothing was/is difficult to find – including slides before the presentations started.“
The Online BarCamp also went down well.
However there were some issues, for example not all speakers spoke into the microphone and the streaming feed didn’t work for about 1 hour on day 3. I think what with our feedback and the lessons learnt from the Open Univeristy Online Conference there’s still quite a bit for us to work on here.
“I dipped in and out of the event during the period it was on. I’m not a web manager, but I found it very interesting, as I’m interested in mobile web, mashups, re-use of data. I followed the hashtags via Twitter, rather than on the IWMW10 site/blog. I couldn’t access the live video streaming, as it wouldn’t play via my work PC. I’ve been browsing through through the blog and have bookmarked a few of the sessions already. Having a record of the whole event for future reference is really useful.
I think on the whole the event went really well and people left feeling positive and inspired in what we know to be a turbulent time.
“Excellent support from the UKOLN team and UoS – really well done, thanks to all!“