How Gathering Both Active and Passive Data Improves Events

More than ever before, consumers have stated that they are willing to part with personal data in exchange for personalized event experiences. Those are the findings from a recent report from Accenture. In 2018, 66 percent of the respondents said they would be willing to share their personal information. That’s a respectable amount; however, the number of positive responses rose to nearly three-fourths of respondents (73 percent) stating they would share their data.

However, there is a caveat. These respondents are only willing to share their information with brands that are completely transparent about how their data will be gathered, used, and stored, and that it will be correctly and promptly disposed.

This willingness to share information is coming at a time when event planners can gather more attendee data than ever before. Thanks to traditional, active data gathering methods (such as registration information and polling) and new technological innovations (like RFID wearables and facial recognition) that enable passive acquisition, event planners can piece together a complete picture of each attendee’s journey and use that information to provide a deeply personalized event experience.

Passive Data Gathering

Passive data is the collection of information without the involvement of the person (or people) being observed. In fact, with passive data, the data provider may not even know their information was collected. (Although, that’s not going to happen in your case because of your transparent data collection policy. Right?)

Passive data allows you to track an attendee throughout their time at your event. You can discover which activities attendees favored and those where attendance was scarce. Passive data can also reveal previously hidden facts, such as activities where many attendees left before it was over. In the past, a headcount at the door would give the impression that this activity was popular. However, passive data collection will reveal that this session has some problems that need to be addressed.

Currently, many technological tools facilitate passive collection (and surely more are on the way). A few examples include:

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), Bluetooth, and NFC (Near Field Communication) Wearables

These technologies can be incorporated into any item an attendee can wear, such as wristbands, lanyards, and badges. These devices work by connecting with beacons placed around the event venue to continually collect attendee data. Where did attendees linger the longest? What spaces were avoided? Which sessions attracted the largest crowds? What areas seemed to slow down foot traffic and cause congestion?


Wearables are also used to improve the attendee experience. For example, wearable tech can allow attendees to walk past a scanner at check-in and entirely bypass the registration area. Wearables can simplify making a purchase from a vendor, help shorten entry lines, and personalize experiences.

Cameras Combined with Facial Recognition Software

Currently, cameras placed around a venue combined with facial recognition software can monitor individual attendees on their journeys through the event, much like wearable tech. However, due to the ability to distinguish faces, this technology can also enable event planners to monitor attendees’ emotions.

Facial recognition software can identify changes in facial expressions to record attendees’ emotional reactions to stimuli. This aspect of the tech is consistently refined and improved as more data is fed into artificial intelligence (AI) systems. As the tech improved, increasingly reliable emotional satisfaction maps will be generated for every aspect of an event.

Facial recognition can also improve the attendee experience. Again, check-in can be simplified because the camera can recognize attendees as they approach the doors. Ticket scanning and lines will become a thing of the past. This software can also spot anyone who should not be at the event, greatly enhancing security.

Active Data Gathering

Active data is information that is collected by asking questions and receiving answers, so it requires the participation of attendees. Active data gathering is a staple of event planning and marketing, and it remains a valuable asset to understanding your attendees.

Active data’s biggest benefit is also its biggest drawback: that it requires feedback from attendees. This is a benefit because you can learn more detailed information than passive data can (currently) provide. The drawback is that some (often, many) people simply will not participate. It is also easy to ask for feedback too often, making attendees feel badgered (at which point, your search for information begins to negatively affect your event’s rating, the exact opposite of what you hope to accomplish).

There are a few time-honored methods for acquiring active data:


Surveys are a reliable method for gathering valuable data about an event. Historically, surveys were mostly distributed after an event to gain insight into the attendees’ experiences. Occasionally, event planners will send surveys out before an event to gain an understanding of what attendees want and hope to achieve from an upcoming event.

Today, however, thanks to smartphones and the rise of event apps, it is common to send out surveys during an event to learn insights that can help planners make adjustments on the fly. Not only do these surveys collect an attendee’s immediate thoughts, but they also tend to be shorter than post-event surveys (and also help to keep post-event surveys short), which makes people more likely to participate.

In addition to the event app, surveys are distributed through social media and email campaigns. There are also platforms dedicated entirely to surveys that can simplify distribution and response gathering and analysis.



Again, thanks to event apps, running polls immediately after educational sessions and keynote speeches are a common occurrence at many events. Live event polling can help educational sessions adjust content to be more relevant for an audience and speaker content to become more engaging.

Additionally, these polls do not have to be strictly serious. They are also an efficient way to gather real-time votes for contests.

Types of Data

Both active and passive data gathering will help you gather multiple types of data. In general, this information falls under one of three categories.

Demographic Data

This is specific information about the characteristics of your attendees. Examples of demographic data include age, gender, occupation, job title, income, etc. Demographic data can be compiled to form personas of your attendees.

Engagement Data

Engagement data is a measurement of how invested your attendees are (or were) with your event. This type of information can be measured by reviewing audience participation (measured with wearables, cameras, etc.), social media engagement, brand awareness, and attendee feedback.

Sentiment Data

Sentiment data analyzes how your attendees feel about your event and what drove them to attend in the first place. This information is typically gleaned from survey responses, social media posts, and online reviews. The data is then categorized by subject and divided into three emotional groupings: positive, neutral, and negative.

When actively gathering data, you want to establish a set of parameters that ensure consistency. Data from a single event is useful. However, data from a series of events can be priceless. By analyzing multiple years of data – and comparing it against one another – you will be able to spot trends and, eventually, predict attendee behavior. You will also be able to notice minor changes in attendee behavior that indicate a massive shift is imminent – so you can course-correct and get ahead of the trend.

However, that is impossible if your data collection methods are not consistent. So, while gathering a variety of both active and passive data, you want to maintain consistency throughout the years. When you follow best practices like keeping survey questions the same and collecting identical statistics year after year, your data will yield results that could revolutionize your events.