Making a Meeting Matter: What Makes an Impact?
By Cat Gowan, WSU Extension | June 2018
Those of you who have been involved with AHB for a long time probably know about or maybe attended one or more of the three large poplar-focused meetings we’ve held over the course of the project. The Poplar Marketing Meeting in 2015, the Poplar/Willow National Working Forum in 2016, and the TREES Summit in 2017 were the culmination of years of research, networking, and expanding the research impact of AHB. In addition, AHB hosted the second biennial National Energy Extension Summit (NEES) in Seattle in 2015 and played an instrumental role in the subsequent formation of the National Energy Extension Initiative (NEEI) within the Association of Natural Resources Extension Professionals (ANREP).
The meetings were well-liked and well-attended, but as the AHB project comes to a close we want to know the long-term impacts that the meetings have. It turns out there are quite a lot of impacts! We used three different methodologies to hear what participants had to say. We developed a survey for attendees of one or two of the meetings and interviewed participants who attended all three meetings.
From the survey we learned that most respondents agree that attending the meetings made them more effective at their jobs (72.5%), helped them strengthen relationships with other relevant attendees (75%), and gave them the opportunity to meet new people (70%). Interestingly, there seem to be some differences in the three meetings. For instance, the Poplar/Willow Forum did not seem to be as effective for meeting new people, but it resulted in more lasting partnerships.
The interviewees provided some potential “whys” for these differences. One respondent said that the Poplar/Willow Forum felt like “a big family gathering” and that working towards a specific goal in the breakout sessions (providing information for the Poplar/Willow Roadmap) heightened focus and energy. The TREES Summit and the Poplar Marketing Meeting, on the other hand, were more about sharing new information and bringing together many different kinds of stakeholders.
To evaluate the impact of NEES and NEEI, we wanted to get the details on the programs and events that would not have occurred without the NEE Summits. It can be tough to predict all the different possibilities in a survey, and interviews are labor-intensive. At the ANREP conference in Mississippi this spring, we gathered as many NEES attendees as we could and held a Ripple Effect Mapping session, which is a technique to visually show the “ripples” or offshoots of a particular program.
We’ve converted the handwritten map to a more comprehensible digital version and hope to keep adding impacts! So far, we know that NEES and NEEI have increased cross-state and cross-programmatic sharing, leading to multi-state webinars and bulletins and the creation of replicated programs like community energy stewards. In addition, the NEES meetings provide a much-needed opportunity to network in person, decreasing the feeling of isolation some energy Extension agents experience.
Did you attend any of these meetings and want a chance to add to the evaluation? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!