RSE Conference feedback: what did people think?

Posted by s.aragon on 10 October 2016 - 10:07am

RSE ConferenceBy Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director, Software Sustainability Institute

In a previous post, I discussed the success of the RSE Conference, but I’m hardly an impartial observer. To make sure that the conference improves every year, we ran a post-conference survey so that people could let us know what they thought.

We received 87 responses from the 202 attendees at the conference. That’s a response rate of 47% which is a phenomenal rate for this kind of survey. It’s best practice to offer a prize for feedback because it helps even out the balance of responses by providing an incentive to those who feel ambivalent or negative about the event. However, one £50 Amazon voucher doesn’t account for such a significant response, which means that people felt passionately about the conference. At this stage of the analysis, you’ve just got to cross your fingers and hope that this is good passion, rather than bad!

We asked whether people would attend the conference again—95% would—and whether they’d recommend the conference to others—100% would. That’s fantastic feedback, especially when we see that the conference was rated on average at 4.3 out of 5.

The majority of our attendees came from a background in Physical Sciences (30%), Computer Sciences (18%) and Biological Sciences (17%), but we managed to attract attendees from a wide range of disciplines (albeit at lower numbers). We’re good at appealing to the physics, computer science and biological science communities because many of the committee come from these fields. Next year, we’ll target some of the less well-represented communities to broaden the background of our attendees. After all, all research relies on software, so RSEs come from all backgrounds. Expect to see more about the makeup of the attendees in the diversity report that will be coming out next week.

We asked people to rate individual aspects of the conference. The keynotes rated very highly (on average 4.2 out of 5, and 41% of respondents awarding them top marks), as did the talks (3.9 out of 5) and the workshops (3.8 out of 5). The conference venue—the Museum of Science and Industry - was always going to go down well: it received a rating of   4.4 out of 5 (60% of respondents awarded it the top mark). The dinner venue did less well with 2.8 out of 5, because it was a little too cramped. There will be more elbow room next year!

When running something new, many of the decisions you make are based on a best guess. We were keen to understand whether we had achieved the right technical level and the right balance of activities (i.e. talks and workshops). 70% of the respondents thought the technical level was just right, and 78% thought that the balance of activities was just right. Based on this feedback, it would seem that we should use a similar format for next year’s conference.

We in the RSE community feel very passionately about our work and the importance of building a sustainable community around things like the RSE Conference. I may be far from impartial, but I feel that the feedback on our first ever conference shows that the community feels likewise.

And congratulations to Sam Mangham, from the University of Southampton, who won the Amazon voucher!

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