Our evaluators are back from Minneapolis and have much to share about their conference experience!

The AEA conference in Minneapolis was a great experience. What I liked about the AEA is the ability to craft your own schedule.  In doing so, I tailored my agenda to include qualitative and quantitative methods.  Some of my favorite sessions were those that I felt provided me with a wealth of information that could be applied on the job back at CCNY.  This included “Getting Started with R” with data visualization specialist, David Keyes, “Advancing the Understanding of Measurement Issues in Behavioral Health” with a panel of various researchers from across the country, and “Data Design Planning” with evaluation consultant, Jennifer Lyons.  Although these were my favorite, each session I attended provided a good amount of information that I am eager to bring back and apply to CCNY.

—Meghan Santiago Harris, MPH

Attending AEA 2019 provided me with an important opportunity to connect with CCNY colleagues and internationally appreciated evaluation influencers, some of whom had a significant impact on my dissertation research and also on my development as a community social worker (in particular, David Chavis, CEO of Community Science). One of the best workshops included exploring the usefulness of Muppets, Mad Libs, and Bob Ross as creative tools for building consensus (and discovering I am a “Chaos” Muppet-type); and another “best” workshop was Evaluation Jeopardy that actively and energetically tested our knowledge and rewarded us (me and Jessica Tufte) with a $20 Starbucks gift card for coming in third place!

The daily plenaries were a pleasant surprise and I think they served to keep the conference participants connected and focused. In the future, I’d like to see an additional plenary on the last day of the conference – the day when connections start to fray and participants begin to give up on participation. Also, some of the most important workshops could not be attended due to being scheduled in very small rooms (despite some indications that they might be very well attended, i.e. Excel, R, and Tableau). Staying in an Airbnb allowed for some face-to-face contact with Minneapolis (within walking distance of a fabulous co-op) and an architecturally fascinating walk to and from the conference every day.

I’m already looking forward to AEA 2020.  I want a re-match on Evaluation Jeopardy!

—Sandra Sheppard, PhD, LMSW, CASACII

Spending four days among such a variety of evaluators -from over 20 countries and probably even more states- was a humbling and inspiring experience for me.  Sessions ranged from quantitative-based Research Control Trials to Evaluation Jeopardy and capacity-building with youth and children.  Unexpectedly, I found myself compelled to attend a few sessions led by indigenous evaluators who find themselves drawn between the world of Western-based evaluation practices and their own native culture.  From this, I gained perspective on how our own American culture shapes how we think about not only evaluation, but the world in general.  An example of this is how many of us don’t think about literal environmental/ ecological impact in our jobs. We complicitly, and many times unintentionally, isolate our human-ness from the rest of everything else.  Imagine if every proposal, report, and meeting in every field had a section about how the work at-hand impacts the environment and other people and living things’ well-being, for example.  On a more personal note, I’m so glad Sandy was there.  She fielded a number of questions at the end of our session about Implementation of Fidelity Tools with added perspective from her extensive previous professional experience in human services.  I’m thankful she was able to jump in so quickly with relevant knowledge and enthusiasm.

—Jessica Tufte, MPH

As a first-time presenter and attendee at AEA, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I’m happy to report that the conference exceeded my expectations! The hardest part of the 4-day conference was choosing which sessions to attend, as there were so many interesting topics being presented concurrently. I personally found tremendous value in the sessions on qualitative methods, and being able to take away some helpful ways to both collect and analyze data.

Impossible to choose just one, my favorite sessions were Empathy as a tool for an inclusive future of evaluation“Hold on, that’s it?” A six-step approach for transforming qualitative analysis into a community-engaged, transparent process, and Empowering people with intellectual disabilities (ID) to have equitable health outcomes. It also was encouraging to meet others in the evaluation field embracing design thinking and human-centered design, evidenced by the ‘pop-up’ Design Loft that AEA ran throughout the day on Friday and the numerous sessions that focused on these concepts.

Once my Ignite presentation was out of the way on Friday, I was ready to do some exploring in the Twin Cities! To my delight, I was able to catch Grammy-award winner PJ Morton perform an amazing set at the Varsity Theatre and then grab a late-night bite at Spoon and Stable. Despite the chilly temperatures, I found Minneapolis to be a very warm and welcoming city. I returned to Buffalo feeling inspired, energized, and ready to try some new approaches in my evaluation work. 

—Jennifer McQuilkin, MS Arch.

Here’s to AEA 2020! 🥂