Evaluation, ROI, data, the three catchwords of the meetings industry. As far back as the early 1990’s the concept of return on investment for meetings was beginning to be the tool by which meeting planners held onto their jobs and companies invested in gatherings. Even today the basic questions around evaluating events remain the same. 

What insights did we gain?  What should we do differently? How much did we spend compared to last year? Has productivity/teamwork/motivation changed because of the experience?

Most non-business related retreats happen for entirely different purposes and the information needed to make future decisions is much harder to quantify, but easier to reveal.  Determining productivity or workplace changes are not applicable because most retreat participants gather voluntarily and do not work or live together.  However, many retreats are within faith or family and evidence of impact is highly visible. Retreats are often planned to help a group develop deeper bonds to the host organization and each other. The ROI will be in knowing that participants care more about the cause and want to be a stronger, more committed member of that community.

Retreat planners can watch for changes in group dynamics just by monitoring who people sat next to during meals throughout the retreat.  They can watch for interest and participation post-retreat through programs offered back home. Most of all they can watch and even measure participation during the retreat in discussions, programs that require “buy-in” and in the cabins at night.  How much are people talking to each other from their beds, how comfortable are people when it comes time to change clothes or brush teeth.  These behaviors are direct indicators of trust and care.

Holding retreats at locations designed to enhance community building makes it very easy for planners to gauge success because the facilities themselves are part of the program – they are built for group interaction and relationships.

Next time the issue of evaluation arises, make sure discussions about enabling leaders to literally watch for outcomes take place. Ask decision-makers to select facilities that enhance the desired outcomes.

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By Jaynie Schutlz, Co-Founder, Retreat Central 
Jaynie Schultz created Garrett Creek Ranch with her mother more than 20 years ago. She served as the founding Director of Sales and Marketing and is involved in many non-profit organizations and leadership development programs. 

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