AEA Newsletter: December 2015

Message from the Executive Director - Locating the Right Space for AEA’s Conferences

From Denise Roosendaal, AEA Executive Director, and Sydney Vranna, AEA Events Services Manager



According to the feedback we have received, Evaluation 2015 was a strong success (always with room for improvement, of course). The AEA Management Team enjoys serving AEA’s members and the conference attendees. In conversations with members over the past two years, we have noticed a real interest in how the conference sites are chosen and how arrangements with the hotels are negotiated or managed. For this month’s column, I have teamed up with AEA’s events services manager, Sydney Vranna, to outline the factors that are considered when choosing sites for the AEA conference. In this article, we will address the factors for selecting the space. In a future article, we will address how the space is negotiated and managed to match the specific needs of AEA.   

First, a bit of background information:

  • AEA’s attendee growth rate over the past five years has been quite impressive – generally 6-8 percent per year, increasing from 2,534 attendees in 2010 to 3,500 in 2015. This growth rate signals a healthy evaluation community and interest in the many benefits offered by the conference.
  • The total number of session submissions has also increased in the past four years – from 1,570 in 2012 to 2,100 in 2015. Keeping the rejection rate of session submissions as low as possible affords more presenters the opportunity to speak or present papers.  The growth in total session submissions creates increased demand on the number of concurrent sessions per breakout block – 42 sessions per block in 2015. (The conference program typically has between 15 and 20 different session times to fill throughout the four-day conference format. The variance depends on whether early morning or evening sessions are scheduled, as was the case at Evaluation 2015.) 
  • The Topical Interest Groups (TIGs) play an important role in the association as a whole. For the conference, TIGs play an especially important role in generating session proposals from within their topic area as well as reviewing the submissions received. The number of TIGs has increased from 45 TIGs in 2010 to 55 TIGs in 2015. 

Site selection criteria for AEA has evolved over the years based on the growth factors as well as AEA’s culture as an organization. The following priorities are the primary factors that are considered for site selection:

Site Selection Priorities



Identification of conference site options based on meeting space requirements

Square footage requirements and # of breakout rooms required


Square footage required for AEA’s conference is 75,000-80,000. AEA typically requires 53 separate meeting rooms for the breakout sessions.

Identification of options based on availability over preferred dates

The preferred dates for this conference are mid-October to mid-November with the desire to avoid dates of conferences that draw a similar audience.

Based on the attendee profile, these dates are optimal. The government fiscal year starts October 1. Various academic year constraints also make this window the prime date target.

Identification of options based on availability of geographic rotation

Alternating sites between east, D.C., central, west locations

This rotation allows ample opportunity for evaluators to take advantage of the conference closer to home, reducing the travel burden for attendees over time.

Identification of desirable sleeping room rates

Range is based on tiered cities/high and low, government room rates, and overflow hotels.

Keeping costs affordable for attendees is a high priority. Costs vary depending on the city.

Location of site and proximity to desired amenities (priority on transportation) and general avoidance of sites with incompatible uses (e.g., casinos or luxury resorts)

Desire to be within 45-minute drive of airport, walkable to restaurants and local attractions; plentiful flight options at reasonable rates

Based on attendee feedback

The AEA Management Team did a quick search on C-Vent, an online program populated by all major hotel chains and convention centers around the world that assists event planners in locating available conference space. Based on the first-phase criteria for 2018 (timeframe availability, square footage parameters, and sleeping room availability) and the next open year for the AEA conference, this search yielded only 25 potential properties with sufficient space and only 20 would be appropriate for AEA’s attendee preferences (e.g., no casinos, alternating Tier 1, 2, and 3 cities for favorable flight costs/availability, and other cost impacts, etc.). This field of options is then narrowed down based on a variety of the other parameters (east, west, central rotation; anticipated costs to the AEA; layout of the conference space; and more). The conference dates and locations for 2016, 2017, and 2021 have already been contracted and do include some assumptions about growth. The conference location for 2017 and 2021 is D.C. and was co-contracted to take advantage of savings.

Once a suitable hotel or host city has been identified, management begins the process of negotiating the contract and managing the space, which includes another set of factors such as allowable food and beverage minimums (which allows for the meeting space to be contracted at low/no cost). See our next article for information on the contract negotiation phase.


Diversity - Diversity and the International Year of Evaluation: The Year in Review

From Zachary Grays, AEA Headquarters

Zachary Grays.jpgAs we bring to a close the International Year of Evaluation, it goes without saying that 2015 has been an especially exciting year here at AEA and in the evaluation community at large. There has been much cause to celebrate. The Graduate Education Diversity Initiative (GEDI) saw its largest cohort with 11 scholars poised to take the evaluation world by storm. (More to come from this group in 2016 in this column. Stay tuned!) We partnered with the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) to offer a unique strand of professional development workshop offerings during Evaluation 2015 that proved popular among attendees. We welcomed the very first Voluntary Organization for Professional Evaluators (VOPE) to participate in the AEA International Partnership Program. Finally, Evaluation 2015 itself, AEA’s annual conference, brought over 3,500 attendees from more than 77 countries together in Chicago to celebrate the International Year of Evaluation. This also included a virtual conference component that brought conference session access to over 1,500 registrants from across the globe. By all measures this has been a banner year in spotlighting the diversity of the individuals in the evaluation field, creating inclusive environments for practitioners and highlighting the exemplary and culturally responsive evaluations conducted in diverse, global communities.

While there were many, here are some of the highlights from this year at AEA:

AEA International Partnership Program Members Share Their Experiences, Lessons Learned at Washington Evaluators

This March, AEA welcomed the very first Voluntary Organization for Professional Evaluators (VOPE) to participate in the AEA International Partnership Protocol. This program offers the opportunity for AEA, by means of its executive director, to support the strengthening of peer VOPEs through mutually beneficial partnerships. Through funds made available through the program, Tatiana Tretiakova, coordinator at the National Monitoring and Evaluation Network of the Kyrgyz Republic, and Alisher Nazirov, member of the Monitoring and Evaluation Community of Practice of Tajikistan, had the opportunity to make a presentation on the development of evaluation in the Central Asian region and meet with the wider staff of the Washington Evaluators to seek advice from their experience and discuss possible cooperation with their colleagues of the Central Asian Voluntary Organizations for Professional Evaluations. AEA took the opportunity to ask Tatiana and Alisher to recap their visit and share firsthand how they benefited from their trip. Read more here.

AEA Partners with CREA at Evaluation 2015 

This fall, AEA partnered with the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) to offer a unique thread of professional development training options as part of the pre- and postconference offerings during Evaluation 2015. CREA was established in 2011 in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with Stafford Hood, Ph.D., Sheila M. Miller professor, serving as its founding director. CREA is a culturally diverse and interdisciplinary global community of researchers and practitioners in the areas of (but not limited to) evaluation and assessment. CREA's primary focus is to address the growing need for policy-relevant efforts that take seriously the influences of cultural norms, practices, and expectations in the design, implementation, and evaluation of social and educational interventions. CREA is the only university-based evaluation and assessment research center with a primary focus on the centrality of culture and cultural context in this work. A core group of longstanding AEA members comprise the founding and active members of the CREA community. Read more here.

A Conversation with LA RED

This winter, AEA had the pleasure of introducing two new Topical Interest Groups, Military and Veteran's Issues in Evaluation and Latino/a Responsive Evaluation Discourse (LA RED). While the more than 50 Topical Interest Groups are all unique, wide spanning, and diverse in their own way, when it comes to culturally responsive evaluation, LA RED represents the newest TIG collective with an explicit investment in serving the underrepresented Latino/a population in evaluation. I had the opportunity to interview the inaugural chair and program chair of LA RED, Lisa Aponte-Soto (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) and Saúl Maldonado (University of California, Santa Cruz) to learn more about this new TIG and their goals now that they are officially established. Read more here.

Reflections from the Australasian International Evaluation Conference 

With 2015 being the International Year of Evaluation, AEA had the opportunity to send two evaluators to represent AEA on the international stage during the more than 25 international events celebrating this monumental occasion. You will have an opportunity to read more from Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead on her trip to Global Evaluation Week in Kathmandu, Nepal, in a later edition of this column. Our representative for the Australasian International Evaluation Conference earlier this fall was Sarah Mason from Claremont Graduate University, a Ph.D. student in the Evaluation and Applied Research Methods program. Sarah describes her experience representing AEA on a panel of emerging evaluators at the Australasian International Evaluation Conference in Melbourne. Read more here.

What an exciting year! As we say goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016, look forward to continued growth in the amount of cross-collaboration and connections made among colleagues across the globe. The year 2016 is already looking bright for diversity and inclusivity in the field of evaluation with spectacular news already on the horizon. I look forward to bringing to you the amazing work of your colleagues in the New Year. 


Potent Presentations Initiative - State of the [Presentation] Art

From Sheila B. Robinson, Potent Presentations Initiative Coordinator 

Sheila Robinson-RS 2.pngPotent Presentations (p2i) is looking forward to some exciting updates in 2016. In thinking about keeping our content and resources relevant, I often do a quick Google search to find out what people are talking about in the presentations space outside of our world of evaluation.

So, what’s going on these days with regard to presentations?

It’s clear that presentations are still a hot topic in business and industry and while I didn’t find much in the way of content that is new or different, it is apparent that the three primary elements identified in our Potent Presentations Initiative – message, design, and delivery – still reign supreme in this arena.

Here’s just a sample of what I found searching “presentations” in Google news, organized by our three elements:

p2i December Image - RS.pngMessage: The most interesting of these three articles – “For Better Presentations, Start with a Villain comes from the Harvard Business Review blog and is focused on the art of storytelling.  “Instead of starting with theme,” says author Greg Stone, “you can make your story more compelling by focusing on its three main actors: the villain, the victim, and the hero.” The villain here need not be a person, but rather, could be a situation – a product, program, process, etc. If you are presenting on a literacy program, for example, then perhaps illiteracy becomes the “villain” in your presentation.

Design: In “PowerPoint Presentations: One Chance to Make a First Impression, author Max Maxfield laments being presented to with bullet-laden, text-heavy PowerPoint slides read aloud by the presenter. He then shares his experience of being asked to present at his own alma mater, and the serendipitous opportunity to work with a “graphic guru” who offered to create his slides. The guru came up with a cartoon theme for the author, who received kudos from audience members on the slide design. The article includes a link to some of the slides.

Delivery: While “The Biggest Mistakes You’re Making During a Presentation” includes a list of common mistakes (and their solutions, of course) related to design and message as well, author Al Gomez beings by identifying fidgeting as a common delivery problem for presenters. The solution? Strike a “power pose” for two to three minutes prior to presenting. These relaxed, open poses studied by researcher Amy Cuddy and showcased in her popular TED Talk are supposed to increase hormones responsible for self-esteem.

Hey, did you attend a Potent Presentation at Evaluation 2015? Please write to me and let me know what resonated most with you. Have an idea for a new resource for the p2i website? Please let me know! Have ideas about how to spread the word about p2i and improving our presentation practices? Connect with me at

Image: Brisbane City Council via Flickr


International Policy Update - Global Evaluation Week a Huge Success

From Mike Hendricks, AEA Representative to the International Organization for Cooperation in Evaluation (IOCE), with contributions from Jim Rugh, EvalPartners Co-Coordinator

RS - Mike Hendricks.png       Jim Rugh 2010.01.16.JPG

Greetings from Kathmandu, Nepal, where the very exciting Global Evaluation Week has just wrapped up. AEA was well-represented here, specifically by John Gargani, AEA president-elect; Mike Hendricks, AEA representative to IOCE and EvalPartners; Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead, AEA representative to (and global co-chair of) EvalYouth; Svetlana Negroustoueva, AEA representative to EvalGender; and Jim Rugh, coordinator of EvalPartners. The week consisted of four separate, but highly related, events:

1. The EvalPartners Global Evaluation Forum II was essentially two full days of roll-up-the-sleeves work to further clarify the “what” and “how” of the Global Evaluation Agenda 2016-2020 (EvalAgenda2020). Over 130 participants from VOPEs, national governments, parliaments, civil society organizations, and UN agencies and funders, as well as young and emerging evaluators, met first to review, discuss, and endorse the draft EvalAgenda2020, then to plan concrete steps to strengthen (a) the enabling environment, (b) institutional capacities, and (c) individual capabilities for evaluation, plus (d) the interlinkages among these three components.

In small-group working sessions, participants developed goals and specific action plans for seven new EvalPartners initiatives: (1) EvalSDGs (focusing on the U.N.’s 17 new Sustainable Development Goals for 2030), (2) EvalYouth, (3) EvalGender+, (4) EvalIndigenous, (5) the Global Parliamentarians Forum for Evaluation, (6) the professionalization of evaluation, and (7) support to VOPEs around the world. Near the end of the working sessions, AEA President-Elect John Gargani assured participants that AEA embraces EvalAgenda2020, and he described some of the ways AEA will support it in the coming year.

AEA representatives played especially important roles in two of these launches. Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead, global co-chair of EvalYouth, reports that “EvalYouth is a new international network that gives a voice to, and builds capacity among, young and emerging evaluators (YEEs). It was launched in Kathmandu with the help of 25 YEEs from Africa, Australasia, America, Asia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Collaboratively, we all committed to increasing the involvement of YEEs in VOPE governance, committees, and activities; developing a YEE mentoring program; and organizing EvalYouth conferences.”

Also, Svetlana Negroustoueva, co-chair of AEA’s Feminist Evaluation TIG, attended the official launch of EvalGender+ and reports the following: “As the representative of AEA to EvalGender+, I was looking forward to its official launch. Marco Segone and Rituu Nanda brought visibility, attracted audiences, and encouraged the brainstorming of what could be accomplished. Representatives from a diverse set of regional and gender-focused VOPEs, as well as U.N. agencies, identified key areas of focus and committed themselves to action points moving forward.”

During the celebratory dinner for this forum, a wonderful thing occurred for AEA: Long-time AEA members won both of the two awards EvalPartners presented for outstanding contributions to evaluation on the global level. Jim Rugh was honored for his 40+ years of commitment to evaluators and evaluation associations around the world, and Tessie Catsambas was recognized for her idea to have an International Year of Evaluation 2015, which ended up with an amazing 84 EvalYear events around the world.

2. The Community of Evaluators – South Asia (CoE-SA) deliberately held its 2015 evaluation conference at the same time and venue so that its participants and those at the EvalPartners Forum could interact and share special events. The conference was inaugurated by none other than the prime minister of Nepal himself, and over 300 persons from over 100 countries enjoyed 16 skills-development workshops, 26 panel sessions, and three plenary sessions featuring 10 eminent evaluators. John Gargani gave a very well-received keynote speech and also made a separate presentation at this conference, and Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead gave two presentations.

A truly special treat was the presence of 83-year-old Robert Chambers, a seminal and much-beloved figure in development evaluation, who made a rare appearance at the conference to renew ties with a region of the world in which he did much of his earlier work. For many of us, it was a great honor to shake his hand and to listen to his provocative speech on “Inclusive Rigor in Complexity,” in which he appealed to evaluators to include the voices of those people being affected by development projects when we create a theory of change, develop indicators, design evaluations, gather data, apply statistics, draw conclusions, and use the findings.

3. The penultimate EvalYear2015 event was hosted by the Parliament of Nepal on November 25. Several ministers (equivalent to a U.S. secretary) were present from Nepal and Sri Lanka, and the chief guest was the Right Honorable Onsari Gharti Magar, recently elected by the people of Nepal to be their first-ever female Speaker of Parliament.

After lighting and accepting the traveling evaluation torch from Marco Segone, head of the United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG) and co-chair of EvalPartners, she stressed the value of evaluation for improving the living situation of all Nepali citizens. She also noted that this is the first time an evaluation event has been held in a parliament building and how appropriate that is, since evaluation can be a powerful tool for good governance by parliamentarians.

This event ended with the formal launching of EvalAgenda2020, the several EvalPartners initiatives mentioned above, and especially the Global Parliamentarians Forum for Evaluation. This global forum is being led by the Honorable Kabir Hashim, minister of public enterprise development for Sri Lanka, who spoke powerfully about the value of evaluation throughout the world. His words captured beautifully both the passion and the commitment of this memorable Global Evaluation Week.

4. Much less visible, but very important, the EvalPartners Management Group met for three days of business meetings to plan for 2016 and beyond. AEA was represented directly by Mike Hendricks and Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead as voting members and indirectly by Jim Rugh as EvalPartners coordinator.




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