Tuesday, October 8, 2013

We hear you!

Attendees give Solutions 2013 high marks, help set direction for next year

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

Solutions 2013 was my first conference with NHC, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s always rewarding to see months of work come to fruition, and if that can happen in a conference center full of 400 housing advocates and practitioners from all over the U.S., all the better. More important than what I thought about Solutions, of course, is what our attendees thought about the conference—and what we’re doing to respond to their feedback. So instead of giving you a day-by-day recap of what happened in Atlanta, I thought I’d share what we learned from our survey of Solutions 2013 attendees, and some of our plans for when we take Solutions to Oakland in November 2014.

The majority of survey respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with their overall conference experience. The majority also expressed an interest in returning next year, though understandably, cost or location were cited as potential barriers by many. We’ll continue to offer early registration discounts, and Solutions will be in a different region of the country each year so that people around the U.S. have a chance to attend a national housing conference in their own backyards.

Those who took our Solutions survey were for the most part very pleased with the organization of the tracks, and with the workshops themselves. We heard a lot of positive feedback about the content of most of the workshops, and we will continue to put our energy into creating days full of content-rich sessions. We are conscious, though, that different attendees—advocates, government employees, and housing providers, for example—all have different viewpoints and needs. We’ll work to meet those varying needs better at Solutions 2014. We are also looking for ways for more of our members to participate in workshops as moderators or speakers, or by proposing workshops. NHC members should be on the lookout in the next few months for an invitation to submit session or speaker ideas.

Where plenary sessions were concerned, survey responses were more mixed. Our survey respondents told us they wanted the general sessions to be more relevant to their work. We also heard from Solutions attendees that they loved the networking opportunities we provided, and that they want more. At Solutions 2014, we’ll still aim to bring in at least two major speakers, but we’re also looking for ways to use general session time—and the wealth of knowledge our attendees possess—more constructively. We’re contemplating providing structured networking opportunities during one or more mealtimes that would allow attendees to organize themselves around specific topic areas and learn from one another. Let us know what you think of this idea, and if you have seen something like this done well at other events.

Our survey told us that if you attended one of our mobile workshops, chances are you had a great experience. We also heard that having more information about the mobile workshops earlier and more clearly both in the registration process and at the event itself would have helped you plan and participate. For Solutions 2014, our goal is to give you more information about the entire conference up front. We hope to have general sessions and mobile workshops planned by the start of spring, and workshop descriptions set by the middle of the year, so you’ll know early on whether or not Solutions 2014 is the right conference for you.

Being away from home and engaged in workshops all day can be tiring and difficult for everyone, so we were especially concerned about your personal comfort during the event. Most who took the survey were satisfied with the hotel and with the assistance they received from both the hotel staff and NHC and Center staff. But our attendees had one complaint we heard loud and clear: You need a reliable, free internet connection in the meeting rooms! We agree, so for Solutions 2014, we’ll make every effort to make internet access available to our attendees.

One final issue that came up across the Solutions survey is that many attendees would like us to provide content that addresses the needs and special challenges faced by rural communities, and by communities of all sizes that are just starting to get their affordable housing work off the ground. This is a challenge we’re happy to take on, but we want input from those with experience with these issues to make sure we’re addressing them in a way that is constructive and useful. Do you have recommendations for us? Let us know in the comments.

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