Skip to content

Let’s Talk About Attrition Rates at UnConferences

August 22, 2013


Attrition
I’ve been helping to run UnConferences since way back in 2009 when Liz Davis and I organized the inaugural EdubloggerCon East at BLC. I’ve since helped to organize that conference for three years, a TeachMeetNJ, EdCamp Common Core and two EdCamp Leaderships.

Running an unconference is not rocket science, but it is a commitment of time and effort. I’m happy to do it. I welcome the opportunity to exchange information and ideas in an informal setting. I’m even happy to go to vendors asking for money to pay for food and door prizes.

Here’s my concern:

Is 50% attrition acceptable?

Why do we accept only half of registrants on a free event showing up as a good turnout?

For planning purposes the organizing committee must plan for:

  • enough space
  • enough food
  • give-aways
  • sponsors

Honestly, the time and efforts donated by the organizers is the same whether it’s 200 people or 400, but I hate to see the wasted food, that could have fed some local hungry families. I hate to see the vendors spend the money on the wasted food when they could have donated equipment or supplies to a local classroom in need. I hate to see the organizers stress over how many people will ACTUALLY show up and whether there is enough space and food for them.

So, why do I bring this up now after four years of hosting these events? 

I have seen the attrition rates creeping up over the years. Back in 2009, almost everyone that registered for a free event would show as the concept was such a novelty. Over the next couple of years, we would plan for 30% of folks that had “bought” tickets not showing. Then, last summer I planned for 50% attrition. But, last Monday, for Edcamp Leadership, we had only 25% of registrants show. Believe me, we all had a fantastic day, but it was disappointing.

What’s the plan? Do organizing committees continue to guesstimate? Or do we establish some unwritten rules about only registering for something that you are committing to attend. Please share your thoughts.

About these ads
8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2013 9:43 am

    I am sorry to hear that. But, I have to believe that all of the teachers did it with great intentions.

    I would recommend a minimal fee. Maybe $25 at registration with no refunds. Then, I bet they would put it on their calendar. We have done that with our tecs@bucks which is 2 days in June aimed at K-12 teachers. I believe that the attrition rate is much lower.

    Arta

    • August 22, 2013 10:31 am

      I am comfortable with a nominal fee, but many may say that it takes away from the spirit of an unconference event. Thanks for sharing Arta!

  2. August 22, 2013 1:59 pm

    It’s definitely a concern, Lisa. We saw 25% to 40% non-attendance at EdCampIowa (both locations) last year. It think it just goes back to the old saw of ‘if you don’t have any skin in the game…”

    That said, I think unconferences should be free if possible. I’d rather have the committed majority have a wonderful event than worry too much about the uncommitted minority. Also, anyone who’s been to an unconference knows how awesome they are. I think most of the non-attendees are folks who’ve never been and thus don’t know how to weigh attendance against whatever else seems important that day…

    • August 22, 2013 3:23 pm

      I think what bothers me the most is the waste. Of course if no meals were offered, there would be no waste. Thanks for chiming in Scott!

  3. August 23, 2013 10:32 am

    Great post and question, Lisa. I sense your frustration and it’s certainly justified. From what I’ve read, a small attendance fee can increase people’s commitment, but, Edcamps (in order to be called Edcamps) must be free. An ‘unconference’ can do anything it wants, but those rarely if ever charge admission either, in my experience.

    I take a very different view of the attrition rate. I don’t have any problem at all with it. We just plan for it. Sometimes we’re right on. Sometimes we miss the mark.

    Here are some strategies I’ve used to help maximize Edcamp attendance rates:

    – Frequent ‘email blasts’ to registrants. These help to remind people, and, you can ask those that know they are not coming to tell you. They will. Especially if you are emailing frequently.

    – Frequent blog posts about the program that get retweeted widely. This helps generate continued interest, especially when the blog posts have particularly impactful content.

    – “Who’s Coming” profiles posted on the event blog that let people know who will be there.

    – General twitter chatter about the event, especially as it approaches. Having someone dedicated to social media helps a lot here.

    – Targeted email messages to select attendees that you know have something to share and will be willing to lead sessions.

    – Posts about event sponsors and their giveaways (that are also retweeted widely). Let’s face it, people love unconferences but they love free stuff even more!

    – Articles in traditional media (local newspapers, TV, etc.) about the event. Easier said than done but it’s not unheard of.

    – Mentions in other electronic newsletters (like the NJDOE blast that Sue Sullivan sends out.)

    Finally, on the food issue, in my view the bottom line is you just have to be okay with running out. Sounds mean but here’s my thinking. If half (or a large number of) the people don’t get anything eat, that’d be bad. But, running out of food for a small number of people is not that terrible. It’s a free event after all! That said, some people have a big philosophical problem with running out. Betty Napoli, one of our Padcamp planning team members, comes from an Italian upbringing and intentionally over-ordered pizza by quite a bit. At $7 a pie, having a few extra was not a problem. When food is more expensive, you just have to be even more careful with predictions and ordering.

    At the end of the day, you have to rely on the Open Space principle:

    “Whoever comes is the right people.”

    Reference: http://goo.gl/S5OA9j

    Thanks for being part of the team!

    -kj-

    • August 31, 2013 3:08 pm

      Thanks for your comments Kevin. I believe our team put into play most of these strategies. But there is always room for improvement.

  4. Victoria Williams permalink
    September 28, 2013 12:20 pm

    Great thought Lisa!
    I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I have never heard of these conventions nor have I ever attended one but I feel that something must be done about the wastefulness. It is not only the wastefulness of the food but also the money and the time of the people involved. My suggestion is to charge a fee. The fee might make people commit more to coming.

    Victoria Williams

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,425 other followers

%d bloggers like this: