Hiding the Chairman's Rubric is Hurting FRC

Currently, the Chairman’s Award Rubric is not given to the public, but kept in the hands of a select few. This white paper lays out the problem, the stakes, and solutions on why this is inherently harmful to our community.

To gain access, one must have networked with a judge advisor who can give her impression or have information leaked to you. Additionally, many individuals who create this rubric craft new submissions for other teams. Meaning these individuals created a competition where they made the rules competitors don’t know about. This culmination means the basis for determining recipients on a Regional level were determined by a minority who do not represent the body of FRC. We do not know to what extent this hidden document goes to purposely reward those who suit the authors’ needs. To compare Chairman’s with the Robot building aspect, this hidden rubric is the equivalence of giving out the game manual to the people who helped make it or the people who had it leaked to them.

To provide clarity, this is a completely separate topic from determining the quality of Regional Chairman’s Award winners and Hall of Fame Teams. This essay only fights the secrecy of the rubric, placing the blame on FIRST as an institution.

The Stakes/Why You should Care:

The lack of transparency over the Chairman’s Award Rubric diminishes the diversity of outreach considered “impactful”. Making the award a more equitable competition will provide more avenues for unique, impactful outreach teams can be rewarded for. Thus likely increasing motivations to seriously submit impactful narratives. If it was made clear outreach is not singularly about the “amount of FLL teams” or “FIRST programs” a team perpetuates, I ask we consider the effect this may have on the work being done to advance FIRST culture. At its core, the Chairman’s award attempts to recognize FRC teams as role models, but there exists a long list of teams who’ve contributed bounds to FIRST, yet receive no recognition because they either haven’t learned to play the game or simply choose not to.

In addition to recognizing FIRST teams that are positive role models, the Chairman’s award is also an incredible opportunity to teach students how to effectively write essays, share ideas, speak professionally, and understand the impact of their work on society. This creates well rounded and equipped students who will make great contributions to the world, regardless of whether or not they decide to be engineers, and turning teams off from this award prevents students from fully gaining the benefits developing a submission inherently creates.

The Solution: There are two possible remedies.

  1. Abolish the rubric: FRC teams all come from different backgrounds. Thus, the means by which each team advances FIRST’s mission will inevitably vary. FRC teams from California that have existed for twenty years and recently registered teams from Turkey cannot be reasonably compared against one another on the same exact scale. The rubric also generates incentive for dishonest volunteerism in order to “check boxes,” when that effort would be more effectively applied to that team’s personal strength. For instance, Team A may be strongly connected to their community through volunteering at the senior center, but feel pressured to start FLL teams they cannot sustain in order to “check boxes.”

  2. Publish the rubric: Instead of selective individuals and judges have access to arbitrary judging criteria, promote complete transparency to avoid corruption and unfairness. Given that it is difficult to judge an award without any criteria at all, the minimum we should be held accountable to is honesty and fairness.

Regardless of whatever you may believe about fairness or who should get what, I hope you can agree this set-up is a disservice to the teams who do work regardless of the recognition. This secrecy disregards the teams who passionately believe in FIRST’s mission, come up with creative ways to use their passion as a force for good, concisely convey their story, but don’t realize they are playing to the rules of a game working against them. Even worse are the teams who have lost faith in this award because they do not feel it represents them or their membership in this community.

I only ask we consider how this affects our community and what it means to be a FIRST team in a time when the world is rapidly changing. We see large issues with the award being about “significant measurable impact” but then its determination is not anything inherently scalable, even worse this is not made apparent to the body of individuals who are supposed to care.

Postscript:
The author of this document requires anonymity to protect their team and associations. Whistleblowing is a risk, but done in an honest effort to create a playing field for varying beliefs, philosophies, and ideas.

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I agree with your idea in theory, but… do you have any proof the rubric actually exists and certain teams are taking advantage of it? This is a pretty big claim to make without any evidence.

Assuming it is real, I’d be in favor of restricting access to non-mentor FIRST staff and volunteers under NDA so that teams don’t just do outreach and write their essays/presentations based only on what FIRST is looking for.

edit: Retracting comment about outreach until I know what the “rubric” looks like

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Personally, I’m more of an Aeneid guy

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As someone with 0 involvement in chairman’s, I actually am interested in hearing more conversation about how people feel about how to improve the chairman’s award, if there are improvements to be made. Unsure of the OP’s intentions but I would be interested in learning what people think. Here’s to hoping this thread doesn’t go the way of (early) summer CD.

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We’ve anecdotally experienced a very wide range of judging styles and emphases whenever our Chairman’s submission has been presented. Perhaps making a more formal and public rubric would help this, but frankly I don’t see it mattering much unless it’s evenly enforced. Which, having done judging before myself, I am well aware is extraordinarily difficult to do. Probably impossible. So, while (I think) I understand where this is coming from, I’m not sure I agree with the punchline.

My honest opinion - the chairman’s award, in its current form, does not drive teams to make creative and meaningful impact in their areas. It places more emphasis than I’d like on forwarding the goals of FIRST itself. Which, though good for FIRST, is not always what a community needs. It’s not a bad award by any stretch of the imagination. But, teams looking to make a positive impact in their area should be looking far beyond any rubric or requirements toward Chairman’s.

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Teams “take advantage” of the intricacies of the chairman’s award all the time, and likely without knowing it. The old 5 unsustainable teams versus one with longevity debate comes to mind. Where do we draw the line?

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The Chairman’s Award is hurting FRC

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Furiously checks mentorbuilt.com for leaked chairman’s rubric

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It’s even more fun when you receive a feedback form with 100% positive feedback but then also do not win the award.

The rubric and judging process being public information would make the entire process better for the teams, which should be a top priority for any judging process.

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I generally agree. I think you still need some form of “hold harmless” clause for the judges - basically, trust them to judge against the rubric to the best of their abilities, expect them to give good and thoughtful feedback, and make sure that teams know they can’t go back and complain about how “we don’t think judge XYZ applied the rubric to us properly”. Ultimately, this won’t “solve” any existing problem, but would definitely make the writing and submission process much less stressful. Which I’d prefer.

But… overall… knowing exactly what FIRST is looking for is a key way that HQ can use their powers to concretely influence the way a bunch of really motivated volunteers spend their time.

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This doesn’t surprise me. I strongly believe that the minute they shifted the focus away from community outreach and toward who can found the most amount of FLL/FTC/FRC teams and petition their congressional representative for government-sponsored FIRST marketing Chairman’s began hurting FRC.

I don’t mean to get into conspiracy theory territory, but Chairman’s is about what team can spread FIRST the most effectively. It’s no longer about pure outreach and community good. It’s about hyper growth. Making their expectations known and public would help.

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It’s also an issue of well-funded teams vs not well funded teams. Another team in our city has the resources to spread FIRST on an international scale. We simply don’t have those resources, and while we do the best we can to do outreach, we just can’t match that resource wise. I’m sure we’re far from the only team in a similar situation

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I would be very interested in intentionally creating “competing” Chairman’s teams, all with intentionally very similar outreach (similar funding, community size, etc), but changing one variable in each, like VEX vs FTC vs BEST vs whatever teams founded and events hosted, then comparing their feedback sheets. Of course, this wouldn’t be kept very secret and would all be a ploy to provoke a Frank blog post addressing the issue. (but if this thread keeps up that may be unnecessary)

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I wouldn’t go that far. I know a lot of teams are doing a lot of great things for FRC. However, I do belive the chairman’s award could be growing FRC in a more meaningful way.

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Assuming that a rubric does exist, and that this rubric is made available to the Chairman’s judges at Regional and District events, I fail to understand a valid argument for keeping it secretive. I see even less or an argument for abolishing it.

I’ve been an FLL Judge and JA for many years. The rubric is the guiding document which ensures that a process which can easily devolve into subjectivity remains as objective as possible. I’ve also found that the issue of teams only doing things to check the boxes isn’t a problem. Nobody can achieve everything perfectly with no room for improvement, so teams hitting the maximum is not a major issue. The teams which tend to stand out are actually the ones which lay out their work according to the rubric and also offer additional content beyond the requirements laid out.

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To be fair, it’s not like FIRST tries to hide this. Engineering Inspiration is pretty much the award for non-FIRST community outreach, going by the official descriptions FIRST gives.

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I’ll do you one better.

Hiding the criteria of any awards would be harmful to FRC…

Would be darn nice if they posted it in some sort of document that most teams seem to never bother to read outlining what each award was looking for.

Edit: Sniped by bobby. I’m leaving it…

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With a heavy bent toward “STEM”, but yes overall.

I like this explanation far more than “second place Chairman’s”, which I’ve heard more than once.

AND. If you’re honestly asking me which I’d prefer more - a blue banner or a paid entry fee to champs… Let’s just say I can make a blue banner for about $225, and champs entry fee is quite a bit more steep than that…

My point: Is Chairman’s the top award given out by FIRST? Yes, because they say so. Does winning the Chariman’s award mean we’ve done the best we can do as a team? It means we’ve done something good, but it definitely doesn’t mean we’ve hit our peak.

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I’ve experienced being in the stands near a team that audibly groaned when they realized they didn’t win EI, but Chairman’s (Of course cheering once they were announced). Precisely targeting “second place Chairman’s” could be a very viable or even necessary fundraising strategy in some situations. Hoping this changes in the near future, but sponsored awards are weird.

EI is what Chairman’s should be: a focus on spreading STEM through any medium, not just FIRST programs.

Chairman’s focus on FIRST growth only often leads to unsustainable teams where they would often be better served by VEX or other cheaper programs. But VEX teams don’t make FIRST money, and starting VEX teams isn’t impressive to FIRST’s sponsors*. Teams absolutely do plan outreach around Chairman’s criteria**, and changing the criteria will help focus teams on more sustainable outreach.

Chairman’s is a pyramid scheme.

*speculation
**not speculation

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