Post-event Surveys Don't Work

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A behind-the-scenes look at a new approach

A behind-the-scenes look at a new approach

This post was originally published as a guest post on The Communications Network blog. Over the next couple of months, we’ll be pulling the curtain back on how we’re implementing in-the-moment evaluation for a large conference, and what we learned.

By Sean Gibbons and Elena Harman

The best practice for getting rich feedback about events is to engage with attendees in-the-moment, while the learning is fresh.

Are your events making an impact? You won’t be able to tell with a post-event survey. Think about it:

  1. People have terrible memories. The moment they leave your event, they start forgetting the details that could help improve future events.

  2. People have survey fatigue. The availability of SurveyMonkey and similar inexpensive tools have made post-event surveys so ubiquitous people have stopped paying attention to them. 

  3. Post-event surveys make it seem like you don’t listen. Often, you can’t change speakers, venues, or food because of the feedback you receive on a survey–wasting your time and your attendees’ time.

The best practice for getting rich feedback about events is to engage with attendees in-the-moment, while the learning is fresh. And we’ll be modeling this approach at ComNet19

The Communications Network is partnering with Vantage Evaluation to model how a conference evaluation should be done, with a live-action learning lab. This means attendees get to share what they are learning with us and each other in real-time. Plus they can choose their own adventure: 

  • Share challenges, insights, or a moment of inspiration or fun on our Sharing Wall.

  • Add your pin to the Network Analysis Map to show your connections to others.

  • Take photos and share connections you’ve made or challenges you face at our Photo Station.

  • Share what you’re learning through the ComNet19 app.

  • Respond to the Question of the Day via Twitter or Reflection Cards.

All of these opportunities are designed to help foster conversation among peers and help them connect with the best ideas emerging in the field. But they are also innovative evaluation tools that will provide rich feedback and guidance for the next 40 years of The Communications Network’s journey. We sincerely hope all the rooms are at just the right temperature, that the technology works, and that the food is delicious. But we really want to know if and how we are delivering on The Network’s core values of community, learning, and leadership. And that’s what we’ve designed our evaluation to capture.

The Communications Network will use the live-action learning lab findings to improve the way we plan, execute and deliver future conferences, network programs, and engagement. Even better, rather than getting that post-conference survey, we’ll be sharing what we learned. We’ll also give you a behind-the-scenes look at the whole process in a blog series so that you can apply it to your own work. 

We are thrilled to get more in-depth and personal feedback from you in Austin. Stay tuned for more details and please connect with us if you have any questions. We look forward to seeing you soon!

P.S. If you just can’t wait to see how it all plays out, or you want to volunteer to help, check out Vantage Evaluation’s pre-conference session on “Evaluating Conferences Without the Dreaded Post-Survey.” Or check out Elena’s new book, The Great Nonprofit Evaluation Reboot: A new approach every staff member can understand and she welcomes you to reach out with questions, too!


Sean Gibbons | CEO of The Communications Network

Through his leadership at The Communications Network, Sean supports foundations and nonprofits to improve lives through the power of smart communications. His commentary, writing and analysis have been featured in The New York Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, NPR, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, ABC News & the BBC.


Elena Harman, PhD | CEO

Elena takes the big-picture view of how Vantage’s work transforms how evaluation is used and perceived. She pushes everyone around her to think bigger about what evaluation can be, and how it can help improve our communities. She brings a deep expertise of systems, nonprofits, and foundations in Colorado, as well as how to engage diverse audiences in a productive conversation about evaluation.

Elena HarmanEval in the Wild