Thursday, 23 October 2014

Judging competitive debating - Part 1 - A general framework

This is part of a series of introductory articles. Which explain basic concepts of competitive debating. It is followed by "Judging Competitive Debating - Part 2 - The process of judging."

I am indebted to the wonderful David Bender for the first part of this explanation, I was going to write one myself but his is sufficiently good and concise that would seem like a waste of time:
CC - Photopin
[Judging] is a 'comparative assessment of each team's persuasiveness'. 
It's comparative, insofar as you compare teams: there is no absolute standard of persuasiveness a team has to beat. 
It's team-based, insofar as you have to judge the whole team. 
We know that three things make a speech persuasive: content, analysis and style. If a speech contains all three of those things, it is persuasive. 
Content means attempting to prove things relevant to your side winning. You can choose content - so pick what path you want to take to proving your side. However, other teams can challenge you to provide content: 'demonstrate this is legitimate'. Look to see what metrics teams set themselves, and what metrics are set by other teams. 
Analysis means explanation. Specifically, an idea is well analysed if teams explain why it is true, and why it is important. Analysis can be thick or thin. Thick analysis is well explained with each logical step explicated. Thin analysis is poorly explained with many missing steps. Analysis can be broad or narrow. Broad analysis contains many independent logical chains to prove a claim. Narrow analysis contains just one. Broad, thick analysis is most persuasive. 
Style means you can understand what they say. If what they said is confusing, it cannot be credited. 
If a speech fulfills its relevant burdens, in a well analysed and stylistically clear manner, more so than other teams, that team wins. 
This framework works well for most university level competitions, but might be harder to apply in novice and schools competitions where arguments may not be made as clearly and may not explicitly clash with each other. (I’ll probably write a more detailed post on this in the future).

A few additional notes:

It is important (at least in BP/WUDC format) that judges don't bring in any of their own knowledge to judging a debate, and instead assess claims based on how persuasive and well explained they are. Obviously there are exceptions if something is obviously insane, but if you have particular knowledge of a topic you shouldn't penalise teams for saying things that you personally know to be untrue, or for making claims that don't fit with your personal moral and political beliefs. The official standard for judging what is common knowledge is the "Average Reasonable Voter" who is loosely defined as someone who follows the news (e.g. reads a good newspaper regularly but not religiously) and otherwise has no specialist knowledge or strong views on the subject. In practice it is hard to follow this standard all the time as our subconscious biases and pre-existing knowledge will bias what we find persuasive or credible, but it is  a good standard to aim for.

In general you should always judge the debate you see, not the debate you expected to come from that motion or compare the debate to what you would have said. A team failing to make a point you think is obvious, important or interesting, may be bad in an abstract way, and might be something to mention to them in personal feedback, but it is irrelevant to whether they have beaten other teams in the room. (This can be a particular issue when you have chosen the motion, or it is on a topic you know a lot about).

We also don't explicitly punish speakers for technical faults, e.g. not filling the time, not having a standard structure, not taking/offering POIs. These things are all good, in the sense that they add to your persuasiveness by making your speech easier to follow and demonstrating engagement, but they are not good or bad in themselves. This also includes things like "knifing" (contradicting another team or speaker on your side of the debate) or unusual/unexpected ways of propping the debate. There are no automatic fourths in competitive debating, as whatever a team does they can be persuasive in spite of that, or another team can do worse.

We coach speakers to do these things right as they make a speech more intelligible and persuasive. When a judge has difficulty understanding your points and where you are going with them it becomes more difficult for them to credit you with good analysis. Failing to take/offer POIs can indicate a lack of confidence in your material. And bad tactical choices will harm you in a debate by meaning you are not saying the better things you could have been saying instead, or forcing you to spend time on pointless things. [I plan to talk more about this in specific posts on each topic.]

Analogously, a sportsperson is taught various standard techniques for throws, kicks, tackles etc. because they tend to make you better at the sport, but the referees don’t give you extra points for them, they are ways of making it more likely you will score points. You can still be good in spite of failing to do them, but it makes winning less likely.

I am grateful to my beta readers group and everyone who contributed to the discussion on facebook. Comments are welcome as always. 

No comments:

Post a Comment