PACRAO’s Paperless Future

PACRAO took a step into the paperless future by using a mobile-friendly app called Guidebook as our primary communication device during the recent PACRAO 2017 Conference is beautiful Spokane, Washington. Guidebook entirely replaced the Schedule at a Glance as well as the paper forms for session evaluation.

For those of you who did not attend the conference, but would like to have a look around, the app is still downloadable at

This article is a reflection on our experience in creating our Guidebook, some data on how the Guidebook was used during the conference, and reflections on how we might get even more value from this app.

Overall, Guidebook was a great success. Anecdotally, I saw conferees using it all the time, and almost all the feedback I personally received was positive. The negative feedback occurred when something was broken, and we were able to fix the broken stuff very rapidly. An example is when we discovered that we had erroneously set the survey system so that a user could only fill out one session survey and was then blocked from any further feedback at other sessions. Once we identified the problem, a quick check-in with the online chat help from the Guidebook team was all we needed to find the box we needed to uncheck to fix the problem.

That points to the fact the one of the biggest positives was the exceptional support from the Guidebook team. The user interface for preparing the Guidebook was certainly intuitive, and once I’d done a number of work sessions, I was flying around inside the app like a swallow on spring morning ;-} For an all-volunteer organization like PACRAO, it’s important to provide member volunteers with responsive tools so that we can make a contribution without tearing our hair out. I think next year’s program committee is going to appreciate this ease-of-use.

The app has many features, and we ended up choosing those features through discussion and experimentation. Some of the features we included were pretty obvious: the schedule, creating your own schedule, speakers and facilitators, and session surveys. We also enabled the attendees functionality, but this required that users check in. Some users did not check in, so they did not have the benefit of being able to message other attendees (see below).

We also created a list of all our vendor sponsors. It is always an important consideration for PACRAO to honor and recognize our sponsors because without them we simply would not be able to put on a conference or perform the many functions that make ours a viable organization. I think this is an area we should focus on next year. If I had it to do over, I would start earlier on this functionality so we could readily include links, a brief description, images and logos, and contact information. Perhaps we might find ways to use the app to increase vendor/particpant contact. I’m sure our vendors would appreciate it.

It took a little bit of time to master the maps functionality, but once I figured it out, I was able to map sessions to rooms. I’m not sure how useful that was, but when you’re trying to figure something out quickly, it’s nice to have a place to go! The maps functionality also facilitated creating an Eateries, Bars, and Attractions feature. That was a lot of fun to create and I hope that it was useful to participants. Spokane is actually a pretty fascinating smaller city, and its downtown is filled with excellent eating and drinking options. And if I succeeded in guiding a few people to the magnificent Monroe Street Bridge and its view of the spectacular Spokane Falls, then my work was a success!

But the devil is in the details. How about some stats?

The Guidebook was downloaded by a total of 267 users which is only slightly smaller than our total attendance. Of those, 104 users checked-in to the app so that they would be able to use all its functions; that’s a number we should try to increase next year. (Anyone can use the app, but check-in users could use in-app functionality to connect with other attendees.)

There were a total of 18,232 unique sessions, and the maximum number of unique active users was 252 at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 7. Everybody was having breakfast and checking their app!

As you might expect, most of the downloads were physically done in people’s home location, but 44 downloads were done in the Spokane area, and another 46 were done in the Seattle/Tacoma area. I suspect that a significant number of folks downloaded the app on their changeover in SeaTac!

Following is a chart of when downloads were done. There was a spike after President James Miller sent a reminder email, but the majority of downloads were at or immediately before the conference itself. This was our first year, so we were experimenting a lot. But next year, I think we should aim to have the app ready earlier, and try to get folks to download it earlier. This may help in building enthusiasm, increasing check-ins (see above), and facilitating communication among conference goers both before and during the conference.

Users posted 104 photos that are still available on the app. That is a lot of fun, but we should aim to double that number next year! We had a Twitter function available, but I do not have stats on how many folks used the app for that purpose.

Digging down a little deeper, as you would expect the top menu item was the schedule.

Again, I strongly suspect that some of the other functions would get better numbers if we had earlier adoption; conferees might want to check out the attractions or the vendors before they arrive if they have the app already in use. We had only ca 200 messages from one user to another, and of course people have lots of ways of communicating, but focusing on this might help make an even more friendly conference.

The top viewed custom list items is intriguing; the custom list includes any items that are not sessions.

Workout with Rebecca tops the list! I’m glad to see the Monroe Street Bridge up there, and the Saranac Public House was definitely a highlight of one of my evenings. Not sure how Jim, Mike, Kristen, and I ended up  in the list, but thanks folks for having a look/see! (Next year we might consider finding a way for speakers to add some personal details to their profiles, although that could end up being a lot of work.)

Perhaps the most important function of the Guidebook after scheduling, however, is session review, carried out this year for the first time entirely through the app. In 2016, we received 824 session reviews from combined online and paper sources. In 2017, using Guidebook alone, we received only 483 survey responses as of November 13, 2017; a few surveys trickled in after that. A total of 154 participants submitted at least one survey in 2017; we do not have numbers of participants for 2016 because of the method used to collect surveys. The results of 2017 represent a significant drop in participation in surveys. In 2018, it might be useful to figure out how to increase this number. Perhaps a reminder message could be sent based on session participation, or perhaps we could partially tie the swag table to participation: fill in a survey, get a prioritized chance to pick up some cool swag.

Some final recommendations that struck this writer: I think we should make more use of messaging to everyone, especially before the conference, to direct people to features of the app and hopefully to engage attendees even before the conference begins. Given the success of the workout and recreation possibilities, we should look at ways to increase these as well; perhaps we could solve the old problem of finding new people to have lunch or dinner with through the app! Lastly, attendees asked whether the sessions selected during enrollment could be pre-loaded to Guidebook. We did not see an obvious way to do this, but we might work with Guidebook to solve this. Or, perhaps, we should just collect these selections in Guidebook upfront to promote the app.

There is a lot more data available that our Board may want to review, but I think this gives you a pretty good picture of the success of Guidebook in our first year.

Comments and thoughts are always welcome. Feel free to contact Colm Joyce, PACRAO VP for Professional Development at if you have some perspectives or feedback.


Stephen is Associate University Registrar at Stanford, responsible for Registrar communications including web sites, the online course catalog, and the monthly Student Services Meeting of student services officers from across the University. Stephen has presented at PACRAO and AACRAO on topics ranging from Diffusion of Innovation to Credentialing, the Registrar, and the Future of Higher Education. He is an inaugural faculty member of PACRAO’s Leadership Development Institute (LDI). He holds a doctorate (Berkeley, ’98) in South and Southeast Asian Studies. In his free time, Stephen is an avid road cyclist who has recently completed his fifth AIDS/LifeCycle, an annual bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles dedicated to ending the AIDS epidemic and raising funds for HIV services..

See you all in Sacramento!


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