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Unread 03-31-2012, 08:37 PM
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Chairman's Award Concerns

First things first, I'd like to congratulate team 1816 on another Chairmans Award! The team has always been inspirational for Minnesota teams and is always very gracious and professional while doing so. I hope nobody miss-construes what i am about to say as being anything less than proud of their accomplishments.

That said, over my 7 years of experience in FIRST, there are some things I have observed about chairmans that are beginning to trouble me.

The first concern I have is that teams may be stretching the impact and scope of their outreach. While I originally wrote off these as harmless mistakes of leaving out inconvenient details, I have now observed teams creating very misleading testimonies about their experiences. In some cases, teams have implied their participation in an event was equivalent to creating that event, usually by putting it within a list of other events they created.

I now must admit I have observed this occurring to my team's projects, and as such I may have lost objectivity on discussing this problem. As such I would like to know if any other teams have had similar experiences to mine or not.

However, even if I were to write off all of these concerns as paranoia (and trust me, I really wish I could; many of these teams have gained my respect and admiration over the years), there is something even more troubling. Several very veteran teams have begun measuring their impact on FIRST by measuring the impact of the teams they once helped to mentor. At best this is misleading, implying a connection can be drawn between helping a team begin and what new team members do years later. At worst this could become a pyramid scheme, where the oldest teams can always claim the work of younger teams as their own, appearing vastly more influential in spreading FIRST.

All of these concerned are compounded by what I believe to be an inability of checking the validity of statements. As far as I am aware, teams have always been trusted to be gracious and professional in reporting their team truthfully. While I like this system, I think its reasonable to say nobody is perfect and we are all susceptible to over-estimating ourselves. However, I think teams that are truly gracious and professional would want someone to remind them when they have deviated from the core ideas of FIRST in order to win an award.

Please let me know if you've shared similar experiences or have an alternative explanation for what I have observed. As stubborn as I know I can be, this is one thing I really hope I am wrong about.
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Unread 04-01-2012, 04:37 AM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

I'm surprised no one has hit you over the head with the proverbial GP bat for your comments. I've been at this for almost ten years now and have seen what you are talking about. Sadly, several times. I don't know if its getting more prevalent or if our experience allows me to notice it more. While none of us are in the interview room and can be sure of what was said, it becomes obvious when team websites tout outreaach and programs as their own and you know otherwise. Sometimes its the wording, as you mentioned, that gives the appearance that they were involved more than they were. I know you want to portray your team in the best possible light but If a team wants to stoop to that level to acquire a plastic trophy what can you do? I do believe in Karma! 5 minutes to present and then 5 to ask questions is not enough to find these inconsitencies if you ask me. Yes, I know the judges are supposed to look at team pages and the essay too but they are very restricted as well. I've asked that judges for this award come from the robotic community and are not professors and engineers who don't know the teams. Who better to know what the Chairmans is really for and if teams are embelishing their accomplishments than people who are active in robotics. Perhaps FIRST can allow more time for judges to get to know the teams so they can truly assess what a team is actually doing. How sad when teams mirror the real world of politics to bend the truth for their own favor, yet it does go on and until some changes are made it appears to be a way to win it if you are willing to stoop to that level?
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Unread 04-01-2012, 05:26 AM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

I was actually having a conversation about something like this today (though not about any specific team's truthfulness).

It struck me that because teams give their presentations behind closed doors, to a set of judges who are very often not in a position to check facts (much less check facts within the limited timeframe of an event), there's great potential for inaccuracies (intentional or unintentional) to affect the process.

So what about making video of the interviews available after the award is given? (You can't simulcast them, because teams will draw cues from the ones ahead of them. You probably don't want to reveal them before the award, because the suspense is useful.) That holds the teams strictly accountable for what they say, because large chunks of the FIRST community will (effectively) crowd-source the fact-checking. If it is evident that some team exaggerated their accomplishments, maybe the judges at the Championship will have reason to overlook them this year. At the very least, the team will have to do some sort of damage control to protect their reputation.

There is some bad that could come of this openness. For example, what if a team member tells a falsehood, but says it confidently? Will we know if they were lying, or just mistaken? Was it a team decision, or an individual one? Will we jump to conclusions and undeservedly ruin a reputation?

Nevertheless, it's probably fair to say that, despite the faults of some journalists and the news-consuming public, more than any other thing, it's journalism that keeps politicians in check. Could the same be said of FRC?
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Unread 04-01-2012, 12:04 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

The longer you dwell on doubt and shadows, the further you remove yourself from trust and the light of integrity. It's a natural consequence.

This applies to every thought given to anything politically motivated or how teams take advantage of the system. You can spend your time spinning tales or you can do something useful - like work on the character of your contributions to the FIRST experience for yourself, your team, and your community.

Leave the decisions to the judges. Leave the judges and the process in which they arrive to the decisions - alone. Trust the process.

Jane
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Unread 04-01-2012, 12:16 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

I've wanted to see (and my kids to see) other teams Chairman's presentations, not to see if they are telling the truth, but to see what they are doing and to help us do better. This was the first year that 2914 has submitted for Chairman's and with one student that has done FIRST before, we have a lot of room for improvement. 116 was gracious enough at the DC regional to do their presentation again for several members of 2914 so we could get a feel for what other teams are doing and how we can improve going forward.

I know the schedule is already jam packed, and many venues may not have available space, but setting aside a few hour long blocks and a quiet space where teams can give their presentation to anyone that wants to see would be a good thing, in my opinion. They say it's not about the robots, but the robots often are all that are formally presented to everyone at the regional.

Let's celebrate the change.

Wetzel
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Unread 04-01-2012, 12:20 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

Do I think this happens sometimes? Yes.

Can I prove it? Probably not, and I don't want to spend time on a quest to defame another team.

Do I think most teams or even a significant portion of RCA winners do it? Nope.

But I do see what you're getting at, and when I see certain things I get the feeling that it is happening, and sometimes it does bug me.

This is one of those things, though, where I just do my best to keep my team on the straight and narrow. When I'm helping the kids prepare their essay and presentation (although I'm not the most help on the team by any means ) I act as somewhat of an auditor, making sure we did what we say and more importantly making sure the kids realize what they mean.

We won our first RCA award last year, and it was such an amazing feeling. years of hard work, writing, and presentations finally led to that moment. We felt we had truly earned it. I would never want to cast doubt on or defame another team in that position (and I do understand that you are NOT trying to do that)

Realistically I'm not sure how much more could be done. At the WI regional this year, 25 teams, which was over half the regional, submitted. This was AWESOME! However, the original presentation scheduled went from right after opening ceremonies Friday to halfway through eliminations on Saturday. Imagine if we got to a point where nearly every team submitted for Chairman's. If a regional average attendance was 50, the number of average applicants would be much above the number we had at WI.

Last edited by BigJ : 04-01-2012 at 12:24 PM.
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Unread 04-01-2012, 12:29 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wetzel View Post
I've wanted to see (and my kids to see) other teams Chairman's presentations, not to see if they are telling the truth, but to see what they are doing and to help us do better. This was the first year that 2914 has submitted for Chairman's and with one student that has done FIRST before, we have a lot of room for improvement. 116 was gracious enough at the DC regional to do their presentation again for several members of 2914 so we could get a feel for what other teams are doing and how we can improve going forward.

I know the schedule is already jam packed, and many venues may not have available space, but setting aside a few hour long blocks and a quiet space where teams can give their presentation to anyone that wants to see would be a good thing, in my opinion. They say it's not about the robots, but the robots often are all that are formally presented to everyone at the regional.

Let's celebrate the change.

Wetzel
Wisdom.

Kudos to 116 for that. It's a win win for both teams.

This would also be helpful with Business Plans, too.

Jane
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Unread 04-01-2012, 12:31 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wetzel View Post
I've wanted to see (and my kids to see) other teams Chairman's presentations, not to see if they are telling the truth, but to see what they are doing and to help us do better. This was the first year that 2914 has submitted for Chairman's and with one student that has done FIRST before, we have a lot of room for improvement. 116 was gracious enough at the DC regional to do their presentation again for several members of 2914 so we could get a feel for what other teams are doing and how we can improve going forward.

Wetzel
Excellent idea!
I've toyed with the idea of asking if a team could videotape their presentation so other teams could see the presentation process and perhaps be inspired to come up with more effective presentations. However, there are drawbacks if teams focus too much on their 5 minute presentation rather than how the team works towards their vision of FIRST core values.

Watching a voluntary "live" presentation allows teams to not only see some good presentations, but to interact with team members who are striving to change the culture. That interaction and exchange of ideas and issues would really be one public display of what FIRST is all about.

Any team could find a place at a competition (even the parking lot!) and publicize the time and place. Saturday would be a good time since the presentations to the judges would be completed and the presenters would have chance to give their impressions on what the judges focused on.

I really like this idea! I would love to see the presentations!

Last edited by N7UJJ : 04-01-2012 at 12:37 PM.
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Unread 04-01-2012, 01:26 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

It's true that sometimes it feels like the truth is stretched, and I bet at least one part of every Chairmans award submission from every team has been structured in such a way that it makes the team appear better than they actually were.

However, I agree with Jane here, you have to trust the judges and the process - that's all that the rest ofus have going for it. You can be assured, however, that the teams who win the Championship Chairmans award don't embellish their accomplishments.
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Unread 04-01-2012, 01:37 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

Thanks for all the input. Personally I don't think the system is fundamentally broken; it has shown in general to work well over the years. However, just like robot designs have progressed over the years, I think we can always work to improve the structure of the activity. I think making essays and presentations public would not only help other teams learn an incredible amount about how to improve their team, but also keep teams honest about what they present.
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Unread 04-01-2012, 01:42 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

I've had this problem for a number of years, and I don't know exactly what the solution would be. While I err towards trusting the judges and their judgement (especially at the Championship level), in talking to many teams after regionals I've heard many shock/anger stories about the events the CA-winning team claimed to play a large part in, from both mentors and students. That is not to say that I have ever encountered a team that didn't deserve to win chairman's that did, however, I could see a case being made for overstating one's accomplishments.

The fact of the matter is that since we don't know what exactly is said or claimed in the interview, or sometimes even the submission, the best practice here is to just be honest about your team's accomplishments, and if you worked with another team, acknowledge their help (and if you feel you need to, specify what help they gave). In this way the judges will get a better picture of your team and how other teams interact with you.

I am all for opening up interviews/submissions in some way. If we can do it in a way that will satisfy those teams looking to preserve competitive advantage, then I think it's something we can easily accomplish.
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Unread 04-01-2012, 01:48 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jedward45 View Post
Thanks for all the input. Personally I don't think the system is fundamentally broken; it has shown in general to work well over the years. However, just like robot designs have progressed over the years, I think we can always work to improve the structure of the activity. I think making essays and presentations public would not only help other teams learn an incredible amount about how to improve their team, but also keep teams honest about what they present.
There's always going to be subjectivity involved no matter what happens with the CA process.

Here's an example... let's say teams talk about the events they create, found, or host. How well are those events planned, organized, and executed? The participants know because they have participated, true, but the judges won't know that. The judges will only know that the events were created, founded, or hosted. That's the bottom line.

And, we have to remember - the bottom line is impact. How has the team impacted others? We can sit in judgement of other teams - that's easy to do. What's hard to do is continue to improve ourselves and bring a quality entry filled with integrity to the Chairman's process.

If we really want to help improve the process and bring change through more transparency - then we have to do it in a constructive and positive light that will benefit everyone. The judgement has to go.

Jane
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Unread 04-01-2012, 02:03 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

Why not have the teams judges are seriously considering for the award present before alliance selections? Pick the top three or four and have them present on the field. You'll get:
a) An opportunity for teams to see what these prospective teams have done
b) An opportunity for the FIRST community to crowdsource the fact-checking if necessary
c) An easy way for all teams to see the award, provided they are archived alongside match videos.
d) And many more!
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Unread 04-01-2012, 02:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JaneYoung View Post
The longer you dwell on doubt and shadows, the further you remove yourself from trust and the light of integrity. It's a natural consequence.

This applies to every thought given to anything politically motivated or how teams take advantage of the system. You can spend your time spinning tales or you can do something useful - like work on the character of your contributions to the FIRST experience for yourself, your team, and your community.

Leave the decisions to the judges. Leave the judges and the process in which they arrive to the decisions - alone. Trust the process.

Jane
I believe the OP is doing anything but spinning tales, he is trying to improve a system to make it more accountable. Just as we have police officers to enforce laws in the real world, or refs and inspectors to ensure robots are following the rules, making the chairmans process more accountable will make a system which removes the possibility of doubt while simultaneously improving the accuracy of presentations and allowing everyone to see the inspirational work of others.

I'm all in favor of taping the presentations and releasing them,

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Unread 04-01-2012, 02:12 PM
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Re: Chairman's Award Concerns

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Originally Posted by JaneYoung View Post
If we really want to help improve the process and bring change through more transparency - then we have to do it in a constructive and positive light that will benefit everyone. The judgement has to go.

Jane
Making things more transparent does not need to include an active process of teams criticizing or judging other teams. It could be as passive as teams choosing to be more honest in their presentations because they have to present their accomplishments to others.
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