With summer event planning season now in full swing, now is the time to consider how you will measure and demonstrate the value that your events provide to your community, district, businesses and sponsors. While events and community gatherings are an important part of what makes a commercial district vibrant, they can and should serve a larger purpose within the community. Understanding the purpose of the event during the planning phase will help the group evaluate potential options and cost items relative to how well they will help the event achieve a specific mission. In addition to providing a format for decision-making, understanding the purpose of an event will also help shape a set of benchmarks for success. While many communities consider an event successful if it makes money or breaks even, this sells short the potential community benefits and limits future growth options. Having a more specific goal for the event facilitates targeted marketing materials and sponsor outreach for both the current and future years. Moreover, understanding event goals is essential to setting up a system for tracking and measuring progress toward the goals.

Questions to Consider

In short, there are four basic questions to consider and answer during the planning phase, regardless of whether it is a new or long-standing event:

  1. What is the purpose of this event? Will it draw new people downtown? Increase sales at businesses? Change perceptions of the district?
  2. How is the desired impact going to be measured? How do we hope to grow/evolve the event over time that should be tracked?
  3. What type of collection method is required to acquire this information? Surveys? Attendance counts? Sales tracking?
  4. In addition to information necessary to determine if the event was successful, what other information would be useful in the future for promoting the event, securing sponsors and demonstrating value?

There is a saying that you only get what you measure. While this is overly simplistic, it is true that even if the event is a success and enjoyed by individuals in attendance, it is difficult to share this success with others in the community (e.g., elected officials, sponsors, etc.) if there was no information collected during the event to demonstrate this. At the very minimum, high-quality images or video can help convey the spirit of the event, while a little foresight will allow staff and volunteers to collect any number of useful pieces of information, anecdotes and experiences to illustrate the full impact and tell the story of the event. In most if not all cases, this information cannot be collected once the event is over.

Tell a Story

The story-telling aspect of event measurement can be summarized in two rules: appeal to the two H’s (head and heart) and the five senses. What information can be collected that illustrates what it is like to be at your event? How does the event impact the community and participants? What does it smell like, taste like, sound like, look like? What specific experiences contribute to the experience?  Examples of information that might be collected to demonstrate the impact of a food festival include:

  • The kettle corn vendor hands out 2,000 free samples, and 75 percent of people who receive a sample buy more.
  • The face painting booth creates 500 pirates and ballerinas per night.
  • The beverage tent goes through 25 bags of ice to keep locally brewed soft drinks and craft beer cold.
  • It takes 40 volunteers and more than 1,200 hours of effort to host the festival every year.
  • Over 4,000 attendees visit from out of town, and attendance has increased 10 percent over the past five years.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong information to collect, as long as it will provide the necessary information to demonstrate event effectiveness to the organization and any sponsors and meet future marketing or funding needs (for example, if you are contemplating writing a grant for additional funds in the future, considering the type of information required on the application may be important). It is most essential that the organization is able to use what has been collected. As Thomas Edison stated, “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”