Researching our communities: Who’s coming to design events (and why)

Several months ago designer Vitorio Miliano asked me to do some statistical analysis for a project he was undertaking profiling the Austin design community.  Vitorio had distributed a survey across various design-related groups in Austin in one of the first community-wide attempts to see who these people are, what they want from their community, and whether those needs are being met.  It culminated in an essay about local design communities that was published in the first issue of Distance.  (We also developed a 2012 version of the survey and event response cards to help others in tracking their own local communities — if you’d like to implement these, please contact us.)

We gained a lot of insights from analyzing the survey, such as the fact that junior practitioners (the people who would seemingly get the most from local events) are more likely to miss events simply because they don’t keep track of what’s going on (whereas senior practitioners are more likely to know what’s happening, but not have time to attend).  But there were several other trends that didn’t quite fit in Vitorio’s essay, such as the statistics of event draw.  Austin’s design organizations have hosted a wide array of events, including presentations, many happy hours, tables for eight, panels, lunches, and workshops.  Each appeals to different types of people who want to accomplish different things at these meetings, and professionally.

Much of this will be most relevant to group organizers, where decisions like venue and event type can literally mean the difference between 5 attendees and 50.  But this information also has value for attendees.  If your primary interest is comparing notes with company founders, lunches may be your best bet.  But if you just want to get away from work and socialize with other professionals, skip lunch and go to a happy hour.

Over the coming week, we’ll be examining the insights we gained about various types of events.  We begin with an overview of the community at large, and then highlight unique characteristics among individuals interested in particular types of events.

Before proceeding, however, do read the caveats below.  This work is highly exploratory and should not be regarded as definitive.  But consider it a first step toward user-centered design for our professional community events.

Caveats

Several caveats are in order.

1. The current analysis is largely exploratory, meaning that our goal is to extract interesting trends that we can investigate further in future studies.  For the statisticians out there, I have not controlled familywise error in these analyses (it was, however, controlled in the analyses reported in Vitorio’s essay).  This means that some of the trends reported here are likely due to chance.

2. We are primarily examining differences across groups.  We’re just looking to see if people in certain groups are more likely than average to display certain traits or interests.

3. This survey represents only the small subset of the web and design community in Austin who could be reached via the mailing lists of local organizations.  This means that people who are not on one of these mailing lists are most likely excluded from the sample.  For many group organizers, the holy grail is reaching those people who aren’t on any mailing list, and these survey results may not apply to them.

4. There may also be systematic variation within the survey respondents themselves.  For instance, members of the Austin UPA may respond differently from members of the WordPress Meetup, which might influence other observations.

5.  Self-report does not necessarily predict actual behavior.  While these results are probably reasonably good representations of people’s wishes and interests, there is no guarantee that respondents’ reports are accurate.  In 2012, we hope to record actual attendance at various types of meetings around Austin in order to better predict true behavior.

Continue to Part 2: Overall community profile

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