Achieve more: How research should inform your association’s meetings strategy

As part of my ongoing series titled “Achieve More,” I’m profiling this month the role of research in the development of compelling educational experiences that inspire learning, engagement and community.

At least in my mind, there are two different types of professional development staff (and neither is better than the other, they are just different). The first is characterized as highly innovative, collaborative and experimental, and could easily be classified as an early adopter. The second is much more traditional in his/her approach to the development and delivery of content.

To be sure, those who are especially avant garde are immersed in a variety of professional development listservs and discussion forums; are knowledgeable about adult learning principles; and have a propensity for developing interesting new content delivery methods. Coupled with cutting-edge educational opportunities, case studies and white papers, these individuals are thought leaders in their field and light years ahead of their time.

Based upon the goals and objectives of each specific program, these individuals bring to their organizations a wealth of knowledge and experience which they draw upon when building an effective strategy for educating members. These individuals rarely rely on member feedback and industry research, spending much more time focusing on instructional design and curriculum development.

Ultimately, these programs are memorable, refreshing and very successful. Although they require significantly more planning, organization, lead time and logistics management, these experiences are not only well received but contribute valuable engagement opportunities that support the organization’s recruitment and retention efforts (not to mention the bottom line).

Conversely, those individuals and organizations with a much more traditional approach to education (think: keynote speaker and a series of lecture-style breakout sessions that follow a similar schedule from year to year), are struggling to compete/demonstrate value in a market that is literally saturated with learning opportunities.

To these organizations, the challenge is to transform industry-specific knowledge and information into viable training; to align education with member needs through regular industry research, analysis and trending; to connect the dots between theory and practice; and to explore opportunities for virtual or blended learning formats.

When organizations want to reimagine a signature program or an entire annual meetings calendar (and don’t have the knowledge, skills and expertise of a professional development pioneer), I very often recommend the following five-step research process:

  1. Develop and conduct a member survey. Based upon the goals of the survey (e.g., to identify topics or speakers for future education programs), the survey can be as little as one question (e.g., “What is the one work-related issue/challenge that’s kept you up at night within the last year?”).
  2. Facilitate an education focus group. Convene a group of key constituents (e.g., education committee members, board members, industry speakers, subject matter experts, target audience members and staff) to interpret the results of the member survey.
  3. Identify actionable next steps. Based upon the input of the constituent group, develop a reasonable list of action items that will breathe new life into your education efforts (e.g., rework the annual meeting schedule, explore different learning formats for an upcoming program or add a blended learning series to the annual meetings calendar).
  4. Implement actionable recommendations. The assistance of volunteer leaders, subject matter experts and industry speakers should be enlisted to support the implementation of the group’s recommendations. Consultants may also be secured to support the process, as needed.
  5. Evaluate the process and the outcomes. Once each recommendation has been implemented, a careful evaluation should be conducted to determine both effectiveness and member satisfaction. Additionally, the five-step research process should be evaluated, tweaked and implemented annually in some form to keep the organization’s education strategy fresh, competitive and valuable.

So, my question to you is this: Do education research and strategic conversations about learning inform your annual meetings calendar? Is your organization’s approach to member education cutting-edge or much more traditional? How would implementing this five-step research process impact the effectiveness (and reputation) of your meetings department?

For more information about my professional development consulting firm Event Garde, download our promotional brochure, visit the website or like us on Facebook. A personal, fun and completely free conversation will also enable us to discuss how I can best contribute (via research or other strategy) to the success of your organization’s professional development efforts. Together, we can achieve more.

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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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