If you had a management tool that was too simplistic to deliver the data you needed, yet so complex and time-consuming that it was difficult to use, you might think twice about that tool.

That’s the conclusion a growing number of meeting professionals seem to be reaching about one of the industry’s most established measurement systems. During the Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress last month, I heard from several planners who were losing confidence in the information they get back from return-on-investment research, while losing patience with the time and money a full-scale ROI study chews up.

A colleague summed up two strikes against ROI:

  • Although the methodology is supposed to weigh a meeting’s value against its cost, it’s too often used to micromanage and reduce expenditures. When methodologies like ROI “become focused strictly on cost, rather than quality,” she said, “they just become excuses for procurement to earn [an in-house] commission by driving down vendors' rates.”
  • A full-scale ROI study is expensive, and consumes more time than most meeting professionals can spare. “We’re all looking for strategic and creative ways to give our clients more bang for their buck,” she said, but “a 3 to 5 percent budget allotment for ROI has to come from somewhere.” If clients begin asking event planners to absorb ROI measurement costs, that expense may erode the quality of the very events the client set out to measure.

This isn’t the way meetings measurement was supposed to go. When they first embraced ROI, industry leaders were seized with the strategic value of a well-orchestrated event. They hoped planners would use the language of business to make the case for investing in quality programs.

Before long, that wider, more thoughtful focus gave way to an emphasis on comparing and cutting costs. Although the checklists and spreadsheets were anything but simple, the approach often became simplistic, with the up-front cost of innovative strategies receiving far closer attention than the benefits they might eventually deliver.

But now, there seems to be a growing appetite for simpler, more straightforward measurement tools that tell a more useful story about the benefits participants take away from a meeting. Depending on the meeting, the audience, the topic, and the host organization, those gains may be financial, educational, organizational, or all of the above. Meeting professionals are looking for more and better output from their measurement tools, without the hassle of supplying a lifetime of background data in search of useful results.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.