Sunday, 9 December 2007

The notorious project awards again

Finally we have managed to mobilize some other people about the issues concerning the rather unfortunate project awards I ranted about a few days ago. Quite a few protesting voices have now joined the mailing list discussion, as members around Europe and Asia feel confused, disappointed, and frustrated. I wonder whether our administrators could see this coming, or whether they were simply too busy to consider all the possible repercussions in advance. The more I think about, the more it smacks of an ad hoc plan, made up in haste to solve the dilemma of this year’s awards. But, of course, this is just me second-guessing… Yet, it's all rather fishy, and they seem to be making the rules up as they go along, depending on what issues are brought up by the members. For example, only now are we told that the online voting will count for only 60% of the final assessment, and there will still be a panel of judges to account for the remaining 40%. Really? How interesting! Surely this should have been made clear right at the very beginning? Sounds like this is a new improvised twist introduced as a last resort in a desperate attempt to silence us.

But leaving all that palaver aside, one member's comment really caught my attention. She complained: "It seems to me a somewhat strange procedure to count votes like that as it favours those projects whose leaders take the extra time and effort to rally for votes". It was direct criticism against me personally, too, as I am one of the coordinators, and yes, I have done a little bit of rallying. Now, why do I suddenly get these negative vibes from this? True, when I first read the ridiculous change of rules in an email, my gut reaction was literally to throw in the towel and announce that I would withdraw my projects out of the 'race'. However, on second thoughts, after sleeping on it, I came to the conclusion that I shouldn't, because it would be tantamount to letting my whole project team down! Like the captain abandoning the sinking ship kind of ideology - so I decided to follow my sense of coordinator’s duty and do what I could to collect at least some votes, to show willing - or to show what actually?? I don't really know any more…

I can't help feeling that the person blaming me and other coordinators for taking the extra time and effort is getting it wrong. What else can we do? I have voiced my doubts and concerns to the administrators, but to no avail. All I got was a cordial ‘thank you’ for my commitment and suggestions. I somehow feel being pushed between a rock and a hard place. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Or, here I am like good old Don Quijote fighting against the giant windmills!

In this age of all the magnificent communication technologies, the sensible approach would have been to open this dialogue to all the stakeholders well before any new measures were adopted. By so doing, a lot of this unhappiness and regret might have been avoided, and everybody could have felt that they were heard and were given the chance to contribute to the final decision. Undoubtedly, that decision would have required many compromises, but c’est la vie. There is power in such networking today – our collective intelligence should be tapped into more often, particularly as we now have the tools to do so, even globally. I am thinking now whether this type of negotiation procedure is a western ideal – maybe some of our Asian colleagues would not feel comfortable with it? Hmm, I am stereotyping again perhaps, although I do often feel that deep-rooted unspoken cultural values cause many critical incidents in intercultural communication. A good book to read in this connection would be Guba and Lincoln's 'Fourth Generation Evaluation' (1989), which presents a constructivist model that, in my opinion, could have been applied here. To me, a westerner as I am, the upshot of all this is that it rather makes a travesty of democracy and open dialogue. As it is, whoever will receive these cursed awards now won't be able to enjoy the well-deserved good feeling of accomplishment, while others will forever suspect them of dubious means.

Scrap the cash awards! Give all participants who manage to complete the year’s project and meet the rubric criteria – some better, some more modestly – a diploma and a badge to upload on their website. That would do me nicely. And then full-steam ahead with this year’s new project challenges!

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