Our Head of Learning Experience, Michèle Robinson, gives you a peek into how e180 is developing a solution to help communities learn from each other year-long.
As a mission-driven company, e180 developed Braindate to strengthen communities through collaborative learning. We do this by helping event participants to tap into their community’s knowledge resources—through braindates—to drive their ideas and projects forward.
Our mission is to take that moment of transformation that happens when two or more people meet solely for the purpose of exchanging knowledge, and make it a regular occurrence. In other words, we want to help communities learn from each other, not just at events, but throughout the year.
At the center of our work towards this goal is our Head of Learning Experience Michèle Robinson, who guides our team in developing and implementing richer learning experiences for our users.
In this conversation, we give you a peek into how Michèle is working with the team to develop a brand-new learning solution, and share the insights she’s gained along the way. The biggest of them being: how designing the event-participant’s journey for impact rather than just satisfaction can lead to richer event experiences, and help event planners contribute to their organization’s larger strategic goals.
e180: Hey Michèle, thanks for sitting down with me today. For those who don’t know, can you describe your role at e180? What does it mean to be the Head of Learning Experience?
Michèle Robinson: Thanks for having me! So, I’m a designer, in the general sense of the word. As an internal champion of human-centred design (otherwise known as design thinking), I lead or facilitate research, ideation, prototyping and the communication of key insights back to the team. Every year, e180 sets what we call our innovation theme. That theme is my main playground!
For those who are less familiar with our current product and service: we bring a popular collaborative learning experience called braindating to large scale events. This year, e180 set out to explore and experiment with the theme of ongoing collaborative learning. That is, how might we help community leaders make knowledge exchange a more regular routine among their people?
There are some important design questions to respond to here, like:
- How can the power of events and gatherings still play into an otherwise ongoing experience?
- Who is looking for a solution like this?
- What real problems might ongoing collaborative learning solve for them?
- How will this be different from other things they’ve tried?
All in all, my job is to dive into questions like these so that I can bring valid insights back to the team. Together, we design experiments and prototypes that eventually grow to become real solutions.
“Designing the event-participant’s journey for impact rather than just satisfaction can lead to richer event experiences, and help event planners contribute to their organization’s larger strategic goals.”
e180: At the moment you’re exploring what needs are met when individuals and organizations learn from (and with) their community on a regular basis. How are you approaching this research?
Michèle Robinson: We knew we wanted to create opportunities for ongoing collaborative learning in communities, but in order for a solution to actually succeed in generating this impact on the longer term, we first need to make sure it’s solving a real problem for a real market. In designer-speak, this is called finding a Problem-Market fit. In plain English: I set out on a quest to find exciting problems to solve in markets that we’d like to serve.
To do so, I interviewed people in the events industry to see if there was a natural fit with this market we already know and love, people in HR/Learning and Development who are increasingly treating employees as a community, and people in Community Management who are known for fostering many types of engagement with their members 24/7, 365 days a year.
For each interview, I would set the stage by explaining e180’s mission, our current product and my quest to find exciting problems to solve that relate to ongoing collaborative learning. After that, I had 3 prompts to guide the interviews:
- Tell me about your role and your main objectives this year. What do you use to measure success?
- Tell me about some challenges you are facing. What about your work or goals puzzles you the most right now? How are you currently dealing with that?
- Tell me about the next frontier in your space/industry. Where do you think innovation is needed the most?
These questions allow me to listen for key insights about the person’s needs, challenges and dreams.
e180: Let’s talk about the insights you gained from your conversations with event professionals in particular. What is the biggest challenge they face in their work?
Michèle Robinson: My favorite insight from talking to events pros is about the way that success is traditionally measured and the challenges they face as a result when trying to prove the ROI of their events.
Imagine the scenario: five hundred people attend an event (real or virtual), they navigate the experience as it was designed, may or may not be transformed to the extent they expected, and receive a survey to share their feedback.
Theoretically, this process is great! Design something for people, measure its success, learn and iterate. The problem is that numbers traditionally used to express the value of an event, like Satisfaction, Attendance Rate, Engagement, are nearly impossible to connect back to business impact.
For example, 500 people attended Session X and 87% said it was highly satisfying; but did it generate a real outcome that strengthened your company’s relationship to these attendees? Numbers like these are called vanity metrics; they are fun to celebrate, but shed no light on the deeper, truer value of the work.
The mission of the events team is to contribute to larger goals like customer retention, brand loyalty and business growth by creating personally meaningful experiences for people.
In order to contribute to those goals, event professionals need to address questions like: What challenges, perspectives, assumptions and goals are my event participants bringing in with them, and how can my event design relate and interact with those? How will the event data and feedback loops provide insights as to the kind of transformation or impact that my participants experienced?
By shifting the focus from Satisfaction to Impact, events will unlock a whole new mindset: one that is centred on the humans they serve and that fosters coherence with their organization’s mission and strategic goals.
“The mission of the events team is to contribute to larger goals like customer retention, brand loyalty and business growth. In order to contribute to those goals, event professionals need to address questions like: What challenges, perspectives, assumptions and goals are my event participants bringing in with them, and how can my event design relate and interact with those?”
e180: How do you make that shift from satisfaction to impact? What can event planners or community organizers do to set themselves up for success?
Michèle Robinson: To make the shift, you have to reach that sweet spot between having impact on your participants and impact on your business. In order to get there, you first need clarity over how events currently relate to your organization’s strategic objectives. For example, you might ask someone in leadership to help you draw links between your events and key metrics that the organization cares about, like renewal, growth and brand awareness.
Then, translate these business-centric ideas into observable or measurable participant experiences. This part often requires creativity to draw the right links, but it’s more straightforward than you might expect, especially if you get a group of diverse perspectives together to help.
For example, let’s say your event gathers prospective customers, current customers, your internal team and invited experts together. Simply looking at ‘renewals’ as the business objective for now, what are some customer experiences that contribute to renewal?
This might sound like a basic question, but the answers are what the event planner should evaluate as opposed to the vanity metrics like Satisfaction that I was talking about earlier. Wouldn’t it be fabulous for your organization to know that, one month after your event ended, 500 participants report that your event directly increased their trust and excitement to work with you?
If you want to take it further (and I recommend you do), compare your event design to those participant experiences you just identified. Is your event creating the right opportunities to bring those experiences about?
e180: Looking ahead, can you give our readers a peek into how these insights are influencing the way we (e180) evolve our products and services?
Michèle Robinson: Great question. Remember when I said that I was on a quest to find exciting problems to solve? I was really inspired by this problem-market research because I discovered that people in Events, HR, L&D and Community Management had an interesting problem in common: they all struggle with capturing and communicating the impact of their work. I think we can do a lot to help them solve it by tweaking the way Braindate measures and reports on success.
I’m looking forward to creating more functionalities that capture and analyze impact data so that our clients and their communities can benefit.
Key takeaways from our conversation with Michèle about moving from satisfaction to impact
#1: The way the “success” or ROI of an event is traditionally measured (Satisfaction, Attendance Rate, Engagement) is nearly impossible to connect back to business impact. That is why event professionals often struggled to communicate the impact and importance of their work to their organizations.
#2: By shifting the focus from measuring Satisfaction to measuring Impact, events will unlock a whole new mindset: one that is centered on the humans they serve and that fosters coherence with their organization’s mission and strategic goals.
#3: In order to move from satisfaction to impact, draw links between your events and key metrics that the organization cares about, like renewal, growth and brand awareness. Then, call upon diverse perspectives to translate these business-centric ideas into observable or measurable participant experiences.