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5 October 2007

Tips: Adjudicating & judges

There are pages and pages of rules and guidelines on how to adjudicate. The best guide is available at : - Guide to chairing and adjudicating a Worlds Debate

However to highlight some key general points of the adjudication process

1. Take time to review your notes if you wish so that you are able to participate in the discussion. Some people can go straight into a discussion. However in a tight debate it is well worth taking a few minutes to go over your notes. If your chair wants to push straight into a discussion don't be afraid to ask for a couple of minutes to review what was said especially by the early speakers who you saw almost an hour ago.

2. Panels come to a consensus (not necessarily unanimous) decision. If it is clear that a majority of the judges are firm on one result then there is nothing wrong on returning a split decision. There is no need to hold up the entire competition trying to come to a unanimous decision. However that does not mean you can simply vote at the start and accept that as the decision. There should be adequate time given to discussing and evaluating the debate as a whole.

3. All members of the panel have the right to have their opinion considered. Chair judges cannot override their panel. Panels are constructed with more than one judge because people will put different strengths on different arguments. It is only fair that all those opinions are considered.

There have been cases where chair judges have overruled their panels. This has even happened in some high profile cases at Worlds. The judges in question were generally severely dealt with and did not chair again.

It is trusted that the chair judge will have the ability to win their panel over their way of thinking or if not then they can explain to the adjudication team that they were out voted and why they think it was wrong thus potentially impacting on the ranking of judges that made the incorrect call. However that is not to say that chair judges should be vindictive. The chair should be mature enough to know the difference between a valid result which they can understand but disagree with and a completely incorrect result. I have been out voted (it doesn't happen often as generally I can talk the judges over to my side) however in these cases I can see the reasons behind the result even if I found other arguments more believable.

4. The Chair of the panel has to fill in ONE speed ballot and ONE detailed form. More on this in a later post.

5. Finally I'm going to focus on something that isn't mentioned in official guides but is on the minds of many judges. The concept of judge "ranking" and "breaking". I've been through the process from both sides. I broke to judge the final of my first Europeans but I went to 3 worlds before I broke. I was also DCA at worlds in Stellenbosch and a key role of the adjudication team is to manage the rankings of hundreds of judges. Therefore I know how it feels to be in the scramble to break and I know how difficult it is to manage that scramble.

If you are just starting off as a judge and feel you have no chance of breaking don't forget that your performance and feedback at one worlds could stand you in good stead at the next worlds. Rankings and notes on judges are generally passed from one worlds to the next. We had a profile and history of over half our judges at worlds in Stellenbosch before they even set foot in South Africa. We didn't rely entirely on it because judges can improve (or not) over time. At worlds judges will be asked to fill in their experience (don't lie, detailed records are available and may be checked), sit a test on the rules and judge a video. All this information combines to give an initial ranking.

During the tournament the debaters give feedback on the chair judges and the chair judges give feedback on the panellists. A good adjudication team will read every feedback form and use these to adjust rankings.

In some cases judges rise in ranking and can do from panellist to chair to breaking. One judge did that at Worlds in Stellenbosch. We had an initial ranking from him based on feedback from other IVs. Between the video and constant good feedback from chairs and debaters he rose to be the first reserve judge in the break. When another judge didn't turn up he made it onto a panel.

In another case a judge who considered himself a top judge in his country could not understand why he was not rising up the rankings. In this case the feedback from a previous worlds was average, video adjudication he did was terrible and the feedback from chair judges was not good. Finally in another example we had a series of complaints from a number of debaters about unacceptable conduct of a chair judge. Once we verified what happened the judge went from certain break to effectively a 3rd panellist.

The best way to rise through the rankings is to participate in the adjudication process to the best of your ability. State how you see the result and crucially be able to explain and back it up. Remember that as a panellist you are being ranked by the chair judge and the best chair judges (who have most influence with the adjudication team) aren't looking for "yes men" they are looking for people who can give well reasoned adjudications.

If you go from being a chair judge to being a panellist this does not automatically mean your ranking has fallen. It could mean you are being "watched" by the chair judge. The most experienced judges are often given specific people on a panel with the aim of assessing them with a view to breaking. Also for round 9 of Worlds the critical "bubble" rounds are generally filled with strong panels. Being demoted to panellist along side a well known judge for round 9 means you are being trusted with one of the critical break rooms.

Complaining to the adjudication team about your "demotion" or the quality of the teams you are seeing (or the food, accomodation, entertainment and such like) isn't going to do your chances of breaking any favours. The adjudication team at worlds are suriving on around 3 hours sleep a night and managing a very stressful event. If you add further misery to their lives then remember one of the few things they can completely control is your ranking and after 9 hours sleep over the previous 4 days they are perfectly within their rights to become vindictive.

I hope that clarifies some of the mystery around how judges break. There are some judges who will go into a tournament certain to break based on their experience and proven ability (Ian Lising is one prime example). But there are more slots available than people generally realise. Factors such as regional representation do play a part BUT the main factor is performance during the tournament.

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