A precautionary warning about judges to organisers of Dutch competitions this year

doorMascha Bloemer

A precautionary warning about judges to organisers of Dutch competitions this year

This is a blog post written by Daan Welling for his blog 7 minutes and 15 seconds. The original blog post can be found here

Last weekend I had the honour of being the Chief Adjudicator for the Roosevelt Open, our first competition of the year together with the impeccable Ruairidh Macintosh and Simon Tunnicliffe. I believe this tournament was superbly judged, yet this was due to circumstantial factors that won’t necessary be repeated at other competitions. Therefore I want to give out a bit of a warning about judging at future competitions, so conveners and CA teams can be prepared and take necessary steps to ensure that this year’s competitions will be fun for all and not be marred by bitching about bad judging. This of course would not be fun for any of the speakers, judges and organisers involved.
This post reflects only my personal views, and not necessarily those of the rest of the CA-team nor of anyone associated with the Roosevelt Open.

Numbers of judges

The situation at Roosevelt
UCR is a small still developing debating society, and many active and experienced judges graduated last year and moved abroad. As a result, it cannot boost a large strong local judging pool. This is a problem that many other fledgling debating societies have, and even many well-established debating societies rely on a substantial amount of alumni giving up a free Saturday for the competition.
We solved this problem by flying in very experienced judges from the UK, spending nearly 800 euros on judges alone. To note, I also reached out to many experienced Dutch judges, and we did get four Dutch chairs not through the N-1 rule, although many experienced Dutch judges couldn’t make it to Roosevelt.
We ended up getting two very good judges from Kalliope, one through the N-1 rule and one because his partner had to drop out on the day before. After intensive contacts with members of my own institution Leiden we managed to get judges from them as well, and broke two Leiden N-1 judges who proved themselves during the competition. Other societies sent us judges through the N-1 rule who may have only seen five or six debates before going to Roosevelt.
As a result, we had a 9-room competition with 11 people we gave chair judge slots in Tournaman, and 2 further people we felt confident could chair a room if needed.
If the Roosevelt Open OrgComm had not been so ruthlessly efficient with their budget however, we wouldn’t have been able to fly in two members of the CA-team and three additional judges. The consequence would have been that in one to three rooms we would have let someone with no prior chair experience chair the debate in round 1.

Why is this a problem?
Three variables may not be present at future Dutch competitions: A] enough money to fly in strong judges. B] the competition being in English, as you can’t exactly fly in foreign judges for a Dutch-language competition and C] a big local judging pool.
This means that for instance Cicero and the rumoured Trivium competition will find it incredibly difficult to be well-judged, and that the UCU Open has gone to pains to create a 1000 euros judging budget, money that could’ve been spent elsewhere (Although it means that the CA-team can fly in good friends who are astounding judges, so I’m happy with it on a personal level).

How do we prevent this problem from arising, apart from the measures Roosevelt Open took?

1] Be incredibly strict with N-1
When it looked like we would have one good chair per room I opted to actively waive n-1 rule for some institutions, as it looked like first year debaters would have to take the brunt of that decision and not be allowed to speak and gain valuable speaking experience. If you are not in that situation you may want to actually enforce n-1. Furthermore, I’d suggest to CA-teams that you don’t break up a random team, but break up that team which consists of the best judges of that institution. I have now been guilty of what too many other CA-teams are guilty of: eroding the norm around the judging rule.

2] Reform N-1
Some societies kept N-1 at Roosevelt. They did so, however, by sending novice judges. These people of course gain a lot from going to the competition and I hope that they learned a lot by seeing good debates and learning from their experienced chairs (we certainly tried to rotate our judges as much as possible). But if you are in need of experienced judges who can make decisions and give good feedback, only receiving these judges may be problematic for the level of your competition.
As I wrote on my blog earlier, the Israeli Debating League has recently reformed the N-rule so that societies are incentivised to send stronger judges or train up their novice judges. We may look into a similar system, by for instance having the incredibly modest requirement that within your N-judges one of them has judged at a previous competition.

Knowledge about who can judge and how they judge

How do we know who can judge?

I have a good memory, yet I didn’t know many of the people who came to judge at Roosevelt. This was much the same in previous competitions I judged (in Paris and in Riga, although in Riga the rest of the CAs had more local knowledge), and a judge registration form we created for Paris only received three replies.
There must be a better way to give CAs insight into who has judging experience and can therefore be trusted other than their memory – and actually, there is.
The Scottish debating circuit keeps an up-to-date spreadsheet with prior judging achievements of all judges at their competitions. As a result CA-teams can avail themselves to a wealth of data that they can use to check judges.
And all it needs is that someone (maybe in the Debatbond?) collects data about judges sent to them by the CA-team. Who judged (you can easily make a print-out from Tournaman), who chaired rooms and who judged outrounds? I have all of this information about Roosevelt, and I’m sure that tabbers have data from other competitions.

How do we judge?
In the semi-final at Roosevelt the Dutch judges had a conflict of judging styles. In judging an opening half of the debate, the majority believed that the Opening Opposition had beaten the Opening Government’s material narrowly and deserved to go through. A minority of judges found, however, that because Closing Government had won the debate by destroying the vast majority of Opening Opposition’s material there was less standing on the table after the debate for Opening Opposition compared to Opening Government, and thus Opening Government should progress.
Regardless of who is factually correct about judging in this context, what is apparent is that there is disagreement within our own national circuit about how to judge.
We may move to a more public discussion about how judging works. In the past the Debatbond tried to create judge training material and a judge ranking system based on this; the latter may be a bridge too far, but making judge training material from different societies public could be very useful.


The Roosevelt Open was extremely well judged by a number of great people, and hopefully sets a precedent for the rest of the year in terms of judging and tournament organisation (I won’t say anything about the motions). This excellence however is not a simple guarantee and requires hard work and planning by future conveners. In particular, the contributions of non-hosting institutions need to be enforced to keep the number of judges and chair judges at a decent level.

Mascha Bloemer
ASDV Bonaparte | + berichten

Mascha is een alumnus van de Amsterdamse Studentendebatvereniging Bonaparte. Zij was redacteur van SevenTwenty (2012-2013) waarna ze in 2013-2015 de rol van hoofdredacteur op zich pakte.

Over de auteur

Mascha Bloemer administrator

Mascha is een alumnus van de Amsterdamse Studentendebatvereniging Bonaparte. Zij was redacteur van SevenTwenty (2012-2013) waarna ze in 2013-2015 de rol van hoofdredacteur op zich pakte.

1 reactie tot nu toe

Jordy van LithGeplaatst op1:12 pm - okt 20, 2013

Thanks for the insightful article. As of yet, we intend to apply the following to the Cicero Tournament:

1) Be strict with the [N-1]-rule.
2) Approach everyone with common sense.

For example, N-1 allows everyone to send ‘wings’ only. Obviously this limits our jury-selection too much. Therefore we will speak up if we think the tournament and its debaters deserve a better delegation of judges.

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