A Little Goes a Long Way

Art Ward
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Some thoughts on the make-up and size of adjudication teams for large international tournaments

Over the last ten years of the World Universities Debating Championships and the European Universities Debating Championships the numbers of teams competing has increased from just over 300 to almost 400 and from 72 to over 200 respectively. Along with this increase in team numbers has come a large increase in the default size of adjudication teams. In some cases this has been an increase in Deputy Chief Adjudicator numbers1, in other cases it has taken the form of an increase in the number of Chief Adjudicators2 and in some select cases, both of the above have occurred simultaneously.3 This article will posit that this level of increase is neither necessary nor helpful, and is only one facet of a larger problem with bid competition, which should be prevented.

It is worth making three brief notes at the outset:

Firstly, the purpose of this article is to provide what I hope is a reasoned perspective on this issue, having seen first-hand various incarnations of adjudication teams at large tournaments (from a Convenor’s perspective for WUDC 2009, from a DCA’s perspective at WUDC 2011 and from a CA’s perspective at EUDC 2012).

Secondly, only WUDC and EUDC will be directly referenced in this article. There are two reasons for this: firstly, they are comparable tournaments (both being large, international and in the British Parliamentary (BP) format). Secondly, I have direct experience of these tournaments in a way not true of other international competitions. The fact that competitions in other formats  are not directly comparable, such as the Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championships4 means that claims or suggestions made her put forward may not be applicable to all international competitions such competitions.5 As a result, the discussion will be limited to WUDC & EUDC.

Thirdly, this article is not meant to be an attack on the fine and dedicated people I have had the chance to work alongside at various tournaments over the years. It is merely a frank (and hopefully useful) set of observations that I have conglomerated through my time in debating. I hope it is taken as it is meant.

A Brief History Lesson

In 2004/05 WUDC held by MMU in Malaysia consisted 312 of teams and was overseen by an adjudication team of 4 (1 CA6 and 3 DCAs7). The upcoming WUDC in Berlin, Germany (2012/13) consisting of 400 teams will be governed by 2 CA8 and 3 DCAs9. The following year in Chennai, India (2013/14) consisting of 360 teams will be governed by 2 CAs10 and 4 DCAs11. The last WUDC on record held in Manila, Philippines, consisting of 396 teams, was overseen by an adjudication team of 7 (2 CAs12 and 5 DCAs13).

The number of teams at these championships has expanded steadily over the years, hitting a high watermark in at Assumption WUDC, Thailand of 396 teams. Each tournament held had the same number of rounds, the only alteration being the expansion of the ESL break, and the creation of the EFL break – at most the creation of 5 extra rounds of debate, all knock-out rounds (‘out rounds’).

The story is extremely similar when examining EUDC. At Durham EUDC in 2003, there were 72 teams overseen by an adjudication team of 2 (1 CA14 and 1 DCA15). Next year’s EUDC set to take place in Manchester, England featuring 220 teams will be overseen by a team of 6 (1 CA16 and 5 DCAs17) and the last EUDC on record which took place in Belgrade, Serbia and featured 21218 number of teams in 2012 was overseen by a team of 5 (1 CA19 and 4 DCAs20).

What is clear from these two tournaments is that team numbers are increasing, though not extraordinarily so, but the numbers of members of adjudication teams are increasing at an extremely high rate. Some of this increase can be attributed to the expanding number of teams at these tournaments, some of the rest of the increase to the corresponding increase in the number and size of extra breaks at these tournaments. However, I would suggest that the largest part of the increase is due to competition between bids, and that the other factors such as increasing team numbers or ‘representing more regions’ are in fact neither sufficient reasons for allowing these increases to continue nor, even, of worth in and of themselves – as will be detailed below. Realistically bids do not think ‘we have a high team cap, therefore it is incumbent upon us to have a very large adjudication team in order to cope with the issues that this will create’. Sadly, the thinking is normally ‘let’s win the bid first doing whatever we need to in order to secure votes, and we will sort the rest out when the dust settles’.

The Myth of ‘Regional Representation’

Before moving to look at what are common defences to the expanding size of adjudication teams, there is one that I feel arises so often that it should be dealt with separately.

The most rhetorical and common defence of the appointment of larger and larger numbers of adjudication team members is wheeled out a lot at the council meetings of both EUDC and WUDC. It is that we need more and more DCAs in order to ensure representation of all of the regions’ views, opinions and concerns on an adjudication panel – and, vitally, that those views, opinions and concerns are best (or only possibly properly) put forward by a member of that debating community.

There are a variety of problems with this line of thinking. Firstly, if we followed it adjudication teams would be astronomically large.21 Secondly, it assumes that just because a given person is from a given region they are necessarily the best advocate for the issues of that region. While that may hold true some of the time, it is not a good metric for deciding on a DCA appointment, especially where applicants lack a track record of such a level of advocacy for issues arising specific to that region. Thirdly, and I think most importantly, it fetishes regional issues above all other issues in deciding what needs to be represented on an adjudication team. I completely understand that to some extent adjudication teams should be diverse, insofar as they don’t simply constitute a bunch of people who operate on the same circuit week-in week-out, but beyond that, the issues facing debaters in different continents (or the issues which they should be worried about) are not dealt with by DCA appointments.

The important issues such as appropriate understanding of language considerations,22 the allocation of funding to independent adjudicators, the screening of motions from different circuits to prevent unfair advantages being given etc., are ones which should be dealt with in a different way. Funding issues should be dealt with via clear and accountable systems of how funding is allocated (cf the process by which adjudicators were funded for DLSU WUDC in 2011/12 and the report submitted to WUDC Council re same23). All adjudication teams should be screening motions to avoid repeating those recently run at major tournaments regardless of the regions they are personally from. It is not aided by someone from a given region being at a certain tournament during the year.

In summary, adjudication team members do not ‘represent’ the world debating community in a traditional sense. They are basically trustees of the debating aspects of the tournament. We should appoint them based on their skillsets and how much trust we place in them overall first, with any and all other considerations coming afterwards.

Some Problems with Larger Adjudication Teams

Bid Inflation

The increase in the number of universities who are willing to pursue the extremely arduous task of bidding to host large scale international competitions is to be celebrated. However, as more and more become willing to try to play host, the competition between bids escalates. While this may have some very useful consequences (fact-checking of claims in bid documentation is more strenuous, people are more fastidious in general when they have someone with whom they can be directly compared, competitors tend to get more for their money as bids have to offer more to win votes, etc.), it has created an unfortunate situation where bids have begun to compete on the size of the adjudication team which they hope to offer.

Let me be quite clear in what I mean by this – I do not mean that they are competing on the sheer quality of their candidates (obviously appointing a strong CA for a bid is an extremely good thing); I mean that they are competing based on the size and makeup of adjudication teams in bids. One bid offers to appoint 3 DCAs, the next offers to appoint 3 plus 1 to come from guaranteed region X. In some cases, bids appoint a variety of people (qualified or not)24 whose primary purpose at that point is to straddle the map and grab as many votes as possible in the competitive bidding process. This is the aspect of bid competition with which I have a substantial issue.

The process of CA/DCA bid inflation has some serious drawbacks. Firstly, when bids are in direct competition quality candidates who could prove to be extremely beneficial for competitors at the tournament (wherever it is held) are aligned with one bid, and against the other(s) – i.e. they become part of bid A, which loses and are then unable to contribute to the eventual tournament. While some element of this is unavoidable (e.g. the bid needs a CA in order to be viable) it is avoidable in the case of DCAs to a very large extent.

Secondly, when DCAs begin to be appointed to bids in a flurry of activity when competition begins to step up as the bid presentation date commences the focus can very easily shift to a less than thorough examination of the given merits of the candidate beyond a) having a substantial CV of one kind or another (recently this is shifting more and more towards people with strong speaking CVs as opposed to general adjudication experience or previous adjudication team experience) and b) being from a place with voting power or just being able to tie up a given region. This has happened countless times in the run up to both EUDC and WUDC, both in the guise of adding people to bids or, at extremely short notice, altering the number of DCAs that a bid will commit to appoint.

Thirdly, it can lead to the unfortunate situation of bids appointing individuals for the purpose of depriving a different bid of their participation. This is obviously not to say that the individual in question may not add value to the bid they end up as part of, in the vast majority of cases they will, but they are being appointed strategically first and on their merits second, which is entirely the wrong way around. The candidate being added to their bid can provide them with value, but a significant proportion of that value comesfrom that person’s unavailability to the other bid now.

Often DCA roles will be type cast – there may be the person who has lots of previous adjudication team experience, there may be the person who is a hot commodity off the back of recent successes – but often there are a couple of people who fit the bill for a given role. By appointing two similar candidates (strong candidates both, but both not required) firstly the team grows in number, which is hard to row back from (see below for further discussion of this point), secondly the other bid in the process is deprived of a candidate who would have provided much more marginal utility for them than that candidate provides for the other bid, or eventually, tournament.

Lasting Practice

The problems mentioned above would not prove to be as troubling if they were contained in a single tournament. However, the process of adjudication team inflation appears to have a lasting effect. Despite certain years of team numbers leveling off, or in fact decreasing, we see no correlative decrease in the overall size of adjudication teams. With the demand for team spaces at EUDC and to a greater extent WUDC, this is issue is only going to be brought more sharply into focus. WUDC survived for many, many years with a single CA and 3 DCAs,25 when team numbers varied substantially.26

The efficient running, or otherwise, of the tournaments that took place during this period, was not dictated by the number of DCAs present. It was dictated by the quality of the DCAs and to an extraordinarily large degree by the quality of the tab setup used at the various tournaments. The same analysis can be applied to the recent EUDC and WUDC tournaments where efficiency of tournament running is very easily decoupled from the size of the adjudication teams in charge. If we look at tournaments with lower number of DCAs that ran extremely well as opposed to others with large teams that did not. Again, this is not to say that tournaments cannot run well with a large adjudication team (they obviously can and have so done previously) but given that a) there are downsides to larger teams that don’t exist with smaller teams and b) tournaments can demonstrably run well with small teams, the preferable scenario seems clear.

It becomes extremely difficult for tournaments to suggest a structure much smaller than other tournaments (even if that is only returning to the old numbers) when other bids are offering more DCAs covering every corner of the globe, or promising to appoint X number of DCAs from a given region, where that region looks like being the origin of the swing votes at council. The longer successive tournaments continue to have larger and larger teams, the less likely it is we can ever return to more manageable numbers and the more problems that are likely to be caused. The idea of limiting the numbers during the bid stage has already gained momentum at EUDC, recognition, in part at least, of some of the harmful consequences of ever expanding numbers of adjudication team members being announced during the bidding process.27

Decision-Making & Workload

The final substantive issue I would like to discuss in relation to problems with larger teams is how larger numbers begin to affect decision-making. The more people there are, the more ideas that are generated, the more input you get on your ideas – or so the conventional wisdom seems to be saying.

Being perfectly frank, this is only true to a point when it comes to the generation and wording of topics. A solid, experienced CA, coupled with a solid and experienced team of DCAs (numbering no more than 3 in my view) should be perfectly capable of creating, constructing and crafting motions in such a way as to make them viable for use at a large international competition. As the numbers begin to grow, so do the alterations necessary to get a version of a motion that everyone is happy with. Obviously I am not against refining of motions, but the more voices in the room, the more drawn out and fraught the process tends to become. While conversations can be facilitated well in large groups, and I have personally seen so at times done effectively, it is something which specific thought and effort has to be put into to ensure it happens, whereas with the more nucleated adjudication team this is less of a concern.

As a precautionary note – for tournaments who do have large teams already in place, or for future tournaments who decide to run contrary to the advice here and put in place a large team – it would be very wise to place serious thought and consideration into the ability of the CAs of such a bid to control and facilitate useful discussions among large groups of people.28

Moreover, the larger the number of voices in the room when it comes to motions, the more likely it is that discussions will lead to situations of horse-trading. The ‘I know you’re not keen on this on, but you can run your motion about X if you will let us run this one’ conversation becomes more likely. This is not to say that it happens in all large teams (or that it never happens in smaller teams) but it becomes more likely in larger teams due to larger groups banding together on a given motion or wishing to pacify someone in the obvious minority.

Suggested Alternatives

In the case of competitive bid processes

The European debating community, to its credit, has attempted to legislate on this issue to prevent some of the ills, which I have outlined above. They have amended the constitution governing EUDC to state that when a bid is created that it is embargoed from appointing more than 1 CA and 1 DCA before being awarded the rights to host the Championships. This prevents bids adding large numbers of DCAs in order to shore up votes.

This seems like a common-sense solution to a large proportion of the problem – and I wholeheartedly hope that someone will table an amendment to the WUDC constitution to the same effect. However in spite of these benefits, it does not deal with the general idea of tournaments appointing large amounts of DCAs as they feel it simply makes the tournament look better. DCAs should be chosen to fulfill very specific needs – motion setting, organisational ability, overall competence in the role – anything else should be subordinate and very much ancillary.

To substantiate this point, look at the questions people are now asking when they hear an institution is bidding. The first question is usually ‘who have they got on their team?’ The ability to answer this question with a host of big names is appealing to bids, grants a given bid a larger sense of stability.29

To be very clear – the point here is not that just sheer large numbers of DCAs wins votes, the point is that appointing lots of DCAs to shore up votes from different areas/constituencies does win votes. But the sheer process of doing so consistently ups the numbers (which brings the attendant problems discussed above).

In the case of uncontested bid processes

I would recommend that bids construct themselves as conservatively as possible. A single Chief Adjudicator is all that should really be required in order to represent the adjudication quality one can expect at a tournament should a bid be successful. Bids should spend a very large amount of time considering exactly who they want to head up their bid and then in consultation with that CA what DCA structure they wish to operate, making this the focus of the adjudication issues at the relevant council meetings. Bids should also restrain themselves once they have won the bid and only appoint as many DCAs as they feel are necessary to properly perform the various tasks making up an efficient tournament. To do otherwise while using the money of the tournament is at worst, misuse of that money, or at best inefficient.30

A Danger & an Exception to the above

The Danger

The primary danger with structuring bidding processes is that the formal appointment of DCAs is replaced with a cloak-and-dagger/nod-and-wink/jobs-for-the-boys (pick whichever idiom you prefer) system of appointments where there is a CA formally appointed and people are ‘promised’ DCA slots after the process is complete.

This should be combated in two ways, one far more effective than the other. The first (and less effective way) is for bids to heavily self-regulate. Restricting teams size is for the overall benefit of the debating community as a whole and the efficacy of the tournament in question. Bids (and CAs in particular) should see them as such. Secondly, all tournaments should adopt the application -> shortlist -> feedback process -> appointment model used in recent years by WUDC. It is an excellent way for the community to have their say, to weed out potentially viable but potentially problematic candidates and it makes the entire process both more transparent and instills more confidence in the tournament overall.

The Exception

One exception, which I think it is very necessary to outline, is in relation to the appointment of a second CA or ‘internal CA’ in situations where this is appropriate. On certain occasions it may be necessary for a bid to appoint a CA who is ‘local’, either to the host University or host city in order to secure support from the debating society bidding or from the University itself. While I maintain that where this isn’t necessary it should not take place, it is an understandable exception to the cases outlined above. Without allowing for such an exception the debating community could easily find itself in a situation where they are unable to find Universities who are able to bid. It can also often guarantee the non-participation of less well-known debating institutions who could host excellent competitions, but may not have the international reputation enjoyed by other institutions – obviously a very poor reason for them not being able to compete in a bid process.

  1. Newcastle EUDC, Galway EUDC, Belgrade EUDC
  2. Berlin WUDC
  3. Chennai WUDC, DLSU WUDC
  4. The physical debating format and the sheer number of motions required being just two differentiating factors
  5. However, to the extent that they do apply when it comes to how to think when constructing an adjudication team for a bid, all the better
  6.    Logan Balavijendran
  7. Kevin Massie, Praba Ganesan, Jeremy Brier
  8. Sharmila Parmanand & Douglas Cochran (Berlin)
  9. Victor Finkel, Isabelle Fischer, James Kilcup
  10. Harish Natarajan & Michael Baer
  11. Ely Zosa, Stephen Whittington, Fiona Prowse, Michael Shapira
  12. Sam Block & Lucinda David
  13. Joe Roussos, Tim Mooney, Cormac Early, Masako Suzuki, Art Ward
  14. Tom Hamilton
  15. Mila Turajilic
  16. Shengwu Li
  17. Omer Nevo, Leyla Orak, Filip Dobranic, Dessislava Kirova, Joe Roussos
  18. Rounding upwards due to the inclusion of swing teams
  19. Art Ward
  20. Isabelle Fischer, Stephen Boyle, Filip Dobranic, Benjamin Woolgar
  21. At last count EUDC could be said to have had close to 10 ‘regions’ represented at it
  22. The specific appointment of a DCA from an ESL or EFL speaking background may be a viable route to solve some of this issue, but a full discussion of that type of appointment is beyond the scope of this article
  23. Council was informed of a large amount of information concerning the process, including but not limited to: the amount of money available for distribution, the process by which it was distributed, the various stages in the allocation process and what was done in the event of funding becoming available late on due to drop-outs, cancellations, who received funding and where those who received said funding came from
  24. Very seldom are these candidates entirely unqualified, but there is a definite lowering of the quality bar in some cases to garner some more votes
  25. 2005-2011
  26. 312-296
  27. See below for a further discussion of this constitutional amendment
  28. This may appear trite, but it not a skillset which is often (if at all) referenced during any bid or appointment process.
  29. This hits at the idea that when people see big names signed up they assume that the bid must have lots of other things in order/in place.
  30. Said monies being made up in large proportion by money coming directly from participants