A scoping review about conference objectives and evaluative practices: how do we get more out of them?
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Large multi-day conferences have often been criticized as ineffective ways to improve social outcomes and to influence policy or practice. Unfortunately, many conference evaluations have also been inadequate in determining the impact of a conference on its associated social sector, with little evidence gathered or analyzed to substantiate or refute these criticisms. The aim of this scoping review is to investigate and report stakeholders' objectives for planning or participating in large multi-day conferences and how these objectives are being evaluated. We conducted a scoping review supplemented by a small number of key informant interviews. Eight bibliographic databases were systematically searched to identify papers describing conference objectives and/or evaluations. We developed a conference evaluation framework based on theoretical models and empirical findings, which structured the descriptive synthesis of the data. We identified 3,073 potential papers for review, of which 44 were included in this study. Our evaluation framework connects five key elements in planning a conference and its evaluation (number in brackets refers to number of themes identified): conference objectives (8), purpose of evaluation (7), evaluation methods (5), indicators of success (9) and theories/models (8). Further analysis of indicators of success identified three categories of indicators with differing scopes (i.e. immediate, prospective or follow-up) as well as empirical links between the purpose of evaluations and these indicators. Conference objectives and evaluations were largely correlated with the type of conference (i.e. academic, political/governmental or business) but diverse overall. While much can be done to improve the quality and usefulness of conference evaluations, there are innovative assessments that are currently being utilized by some conferences and warrant further investigation. This review provides conference evaluators and organizers a simple resource to improve their own assessments by highlighting and categorizing potential objectives and evaluation strategies.
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