Evaluation has an important part to play in ensuring that meetings are effective and meet the needs of those attending. Collecting data on the perceptions of those attending meetings is important, both to enable participants to influence the shape of future meetings, and to allow progress on the group’s identified priorities to be tracked and new issues identified. The approach adopted should encourage participants to record their reactions to the meeting. Balance the need for ease and informality with the natural reluctance of some participants to criticise others, particularly where the concerns would focus on the actions of identifiable individuals. Broadly speaking responses can be verbal or written.
Verbal responses can be collected by dedicating a brief session at the end of each meeting to reviewing the meeting itself. This can be a structured process in which the chairperson or evaluation facilitator elicits responses under a number of headings. These could include responses in relation to the meeting’s relevance and progress on identified priorities. They should also address key aspects of the meeting’s organisation and conduct. Areas to be considered could include:
- Notice of meeting, advertising, information circulated prior to meeting;
- The Agenda – issues addressed;
- Guest speakers (where relevant );
- The time devoted to the discussion of issues;
- Opportunities for participation – meeting strategies such as small group discussion, brainstorming etc.;
- Conduct of the meeting – the chair, facilitator etc.;
- Physical arrangements – venue, refreshments, seating arrangements etc.;
- Valued contributions;
- General observations – new issues to address.
Alternatively the process can be more general. Comments are sought on ‘things that went well’, and ‘things that didn’t go so well’ or ‘possible improvements’. Comments from the group should be publicly recorded. on butcher’s paper. It is useful to group them under headings such as Pluses, Problems and Improvements.
Either of these approaches work best in situations where communications are open. Many factors can influence the type of feedback obtained in this way. For evaluation to be useful, care needs to be exercised to ensure that people are encouraged to provide honest, thoughtful responses in a spirit of constructive criticism. * Improvement can only be gained by addressing problems.
Alternative approaches allow participants to provide anonymous feedback in written form. As with verbal responses, written responses can be more or less structured. An informal approach may ask participants to record brief comments on blank paper under the headings of pluses, problems/ concerns, improvements. A more structured approach may involve a pre-prepared sheet with a series of questions. Responses may be written, tick a box or can ask participants to express their satisfaction on a rating scale.
An online survey is a convenient way of gathering feedback. Online providers such as Survey Monkey will allow you to set up a free account and do a limited number of surveys. A free account will usually meet the modest needs of a Parent Club.
Close the loop
To enable the group to maintain an overview of its progress the results of meeting evaluation should be publicised to participants. This may fall to the secretary as a consequence of preparing the minutes. However, collating and summarising the results of written evaluation involves additional work. The club may wish to identify an evaluation facilitator with responsibility for this task. Alternatively the chairperson may take responsibility, reporting on meeting evaluation as part of his/her regular report.
Make it real
The most important point of all is to make use of the evaluation data collected. If you do not collate and reflect on the meaning of responses collecting them is a waste of peoples’ time and creates a false impression of responsiveness and purpose.
Just as the style of meeting should be shaped to accommodate the needs of participants and their chosen concerns, the approach to meeting evaluation should also be crafted to the group’s particular circumstances and purposes. To achieve this, the evaluation approach needs to be reviewed and modified based on the usefulness of the information obtained.