It feels like every time I log in to LinkedIn, Twitter, or even my email, I see new webinars, online conferences, and other virtual events being promoted. I love learning and making new connections, so I have been taking advantage of virtual evaluation events as more have been offered throughout 2020 as in-person events have increasingly moved online. I quickly learned that I cannot sign up for everything (even though so many events sound interesting!) and that I can get a lot out of the events if I am an active and engaged participant. As Lyssa Wilson Becho mentioned in this blog, many of the outcomes of in-person and virtual conferences are the same (2020)!
I participated in IPDET’s first Evaluation Hackathon in July 2020. I was not sure what an evaluation hackathon was prior to the week-long event, but I was eager to learn through participating. In this blog, I will share my experiences in IPDET's first Evaluation Hackathon and the lessons I learned that helped me "hack" other virtual evaluation events.
We were arranged in teams for the Hackathon, so on the first morning, I joined the Slack channel to say hello, but I was the only member so far. I signed on to the Kickoff event, which included our first Design Thinking session. Design thinking is not something I had worked with in evaluation prior to the Hackathon and using this framework to approach a problem was exciting to me. I was still the only member on my team on day two, but this gave me an opportunity to reflect on the challenge, 1. Maintaining the quality of evaluation in times of COVID-19, and apply the Design Thinking principles myself.
As we approached day three, the Hackathon facilitators helped me join another team. I was thrilled, as I was hoping to work with others and expand my network as part of the Hackathon. I learned that one of my team members had experience using Design Thinking previously, which was a great asset as gaining hands-on experience with Design Thinking was a new personal goal from the Hackathon. Since we all brought such different experiences to the conversation, there were many perspectives to consider, strengthening our team. We challenged each other throughout the week to constantly improve the next iterations of our idea.
Around this point, we began to see team members drop off. Little by little, our team of seven shrunk until there were only three remaining team members. Once we had our final team defined, we were ready to move ahead with the rest of the Hackathon, and there was a lot to do! After debriefing our interviews, we determined that there was a lot of overlap between our ideas, and Quri was born.
The Hackathon was one of the most fun and memorable evaluation events I have participated in as we actively contributed to the future of evaluation from our respective homes across the world.
From there, we spent the rest of the time finalizing the details of the project and our pitch. That final day of the Hackathon, I stayed up all night working to complete the project by the deadline - 1 pm CET. I learned and improved many skills throughout these final hours – HTML coding and GIF-making to name a couple. The Hackathon was one of the most fun and memorable evaluation events I have participated in as we actively contributed to the future of evaluation from our respective homes across the world.
Throughout the week, I also engaged with those not on my team. There were informal opportunities on Slack as well as live networking sessions. During the facilitated networking sessions, I met seasoned evaluators and those just getting started. Now, I have new connections with colleagues around the world that I met through the Hackathon. It is great to see how a one-week event can expand a personal and professional network, and I even received a certificate, too!
I learned many lessons through participating in the IPDET Hackathon. The top 6 are:
1. Determine your time commitment. Being online has many benefits as we can engage with new colleagues from around the world without leaving home, but there are other challenges, too, as "normal" day to day life is happening all around you. Deciding how much time is available to dedicate is key.
2. Find your “buddies” early. In an in-person conference or event, making a connection from the start can make navigating the rest of the event easier. The same can apply for an online event. Having someone to share notes with or confirm details makes it feel more personal.
3. Ask for help when you need it. There are generally facilitators or someone in a role to support you if you get lost, or if there is no one in your group in my case. Your "buddies" can help point you in the right direction as well.
4. Reach out to new connections. Take note of who you connect with during these events and connect with or follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter. Instead of business cards, a LinkedIn connection with a quick personal message has helped me stay in touch with these new contacts after the event ends.
5. Select what to participate in intentionally. There are so many free webinars and opportunities online, and while they all sound interesting, I know I will get more out of actively participating in a select few than being a passive participant in more. Determining the best fit is crucial.
6. Take advantage of opportunities! While choosing the best events for yourself is crucial, taking the leap to get involved is important. Engage in the chat, use the event hashtag on social media, and be fully present.
While the Hackathon was an intense weeklong event, these six lessons can be applied to other virtual events (trainings, conferences, etc.) to be set up for success.
What are your tips for getting the most out of virtual evaluation events? Leave a comment below, and let me know!
Wilson Becho, L. (2020, September 18). Blog: Making the Most of Virtual Conferences: An Exercise in Evaluative Thinking. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.evalu-ate.org/blog/becho-sept20/