Matt Galen on Open Conferences: Increasing Access and Building Networks With Webcasting

My name is Matt Galen. I’m a PhD student in Program Evaluation and Applied Research Methods at Claremont Graduate University, and I’m going to give you a few practical guidelines for putting on an “Open Conference.” First, a brief bit of background about how I became interested in the idea of open conferences. Over the past couple of years, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, UNICEF, and other organizations, I have coordinated webinars and developed content for the free international evaluation e-learning program that has been discussed elsewhere in AEA365. More information about the e-learning program can be found here.

Galen 1E-learning programs are typically designed for an entirely online or virtual audience. In contrast, Open Conferences are designed to broadcast a live conference event to a virtual audience. The energy of a live conference event, combined with the mixture of in-person and virtual participants, creates a unique dynamic that can either go extremely well, or terribly wrong. Having facilitated open conferences for the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA) conference, Claremont Graduate University’s Professional Development Workshops, and several other events, I can proudly say that it is possible to bring the chances of a “terribly wrong” scenario down to about zero. Here are some lessons I have learned along the way – I hope that others find them useful guidelines for facilitating open evaluation conferences in the future.

Lesson Learned: Why have an open conference: There are two primary purposes for webcasting conference sessions and developing evaluation e-learning programs:

(1)   To increase access to the latest thinking in program and policy evaluation for people who are not able to attend (due to lack of funds, travel time, disability, etc.)

(2)   To expand the “brand visibility” of a conference

(3)   To expand and enhance global communities and networks of professional evaluators

Galen 2Hot Tip: What you will need to put on a successful open conference:

(1)   A carefully developed plan for which conference sessions you will be broadcasting

(2)   Tools

  1. Laptop(s) – preferably powerful
  2. Webcam(s) – preferably high resolution (720p and 1080p are the current standard)
  3. Microphone(s) – preferably USB-input, preferably with voice-tracking capabilities. This is the most important tool, as audio can make or break an online experience
  4. Web conferencing software – many competitors in this arena, and the jury is still out on a clear winner

(3)   Other

  1. Web access – either via a LAN cable or wireless network
  2. Trained webcasters
  3. An eager audience – it is very important to effectively market an open conference via multiple channels (social networks, email listservs, etc.).

Hot Tip: integrating the online audience:

(1)   Remind presenters ahead of time to ask questions of the online audience

(2)   Ask live audience members to speak loudly and clearly when asking questions or making comments

(3)   For large audiences, can make use of automated audience question moderation tools like this.

Interested in learning more, or considering putting on an open conference but don’t know where to start? Want to talk about ideas related to open conferences? I love a good chat. Please leave a note in the comments or send me an email at

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.



2 thoughts on “Matt Galen on Open Conferences: Increasing Access and Building Networks With Webcasting”

  1. I’m Christian Ortiz, currently a student at A&M University-Central Texas. Your article about open conference is pretty great. You list what you preferably need to successfully host one which is great. The idea of putting your brand out there and increasing it’s exposure is eye opening. You helped put me outside the box on ways to expose my brand to the public. Thanks.

  2. The idea of an open conference is eyeopening to me! I had no idea that there were organizers like yourself bringing this option to the forefront. Conferences are great resources to stay up to date with new technology and methods in various fields. Open conferences give those that cannot be there the same opportunity to grow like those that do attend. Your tips would be easy to overlook when planning these events. Thank you for making sure that the audience is not forgotten during these events!

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