Friday, February 9, 2007

Multifactor analysis of UBC VFM votes

I’m going on vacation to Mexico February 10-17, so here’s a going-away present for my readers: a toy you can play with while I’m neglecting this blog. It’s an Excel spreadsheet (fun, huh?) modelling how UBC media contestants won votes – linked here.

Some explanatory outline is in the spreadsheet. Here are a few more notes:

I created this to help understand what factors affected voting in the UBC media contest. I defined 4 factors:

Name = how well known the name is among voters
Serious = quality x quantity of serious election coverage
Fun = quality x quantity of fun election-related content
Non-web = amount of promotion by print media and advertising (including Facebook) beyond having a website

I subjectively evaluated each media contestant on each of these factors. The spreadsheet calculates an OLS regression to “explain” the nuber of votes based on these factors. I’ve posted the spreadsheet here so that you can download it, input your own subjective evaluations, and see what results you get.

Based on my numbers, the most important factor was “Name”. My preferred measure of importance is the number of votes (“Impact”) caused by a one-standard-deviation change in the factor. (Standard deviation here is the cross-sectional variation across contestants.) Impact of Name was 116 votes; of Serious was 50 votes; of Non-web was 38 votes; and of Fun was 10 votes.

Keep in mind that we can play around with the input numbers to make the outputs say anything we want – garbage in, garbage out – lies, damn lies, and statistics. I can’t claim any objective proof here. I’m just trying for some plausible explanation.

I think that a media group’s “Name” is affected cumulatively through time by its past performance, especially its past history of “Serious”, “Non-web” and “Fun”. So even though “Name” is the biggest factor in the short run, the other three are more effective in the longer run. (Of course there are bound to be additional factors I haven’t captured here.)

In my next post I plan to explore how media groups can become more successful.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Year-round media coverage

What might we expect if we have VFM at UBC again next year? I’m willing to sponsor it again, and preliminary conversations indicate some AMS interest in a second year of VFM, with modifications to be determined. So in my next few posts I’ll speculate on how the behaviour of various participants (media, voters, electoral candidates) may evolve, and on some VFM system design changes we could consider.

Many observers (including The Ubyssey) have recommended broadening the scope of voter-funded media to extend beyond the election period, perhaps covering AMS issues year-round. I agree. I had wanted to launch the VFM contest in September 2006, but it took time to work out all the implementation details. I’m glad we launched it anyway though, because we learned a lot that will help us make it more successful next year.

The January 2007 VFM implementation generated new insights into AMS policy issues, candidate platforms, experience, and qualifications. Judging from the still-low turnout, these insights did not spread to many voters, but at least those who were paying attention (candidates, media and some others) benefited, which should be healthy for the AMS. The critical comparisons of media quality were enlightening, especially (I hope) for journalism students.

While year-round coverage may be ideal, it will take a few months to assess the results of January 2007, decide whether to do VFM again and if so how. So suppose it gets launched in September 2007. How will that earlier start change things?

Let’s suppose that other aspects of the contest are as before, so the media contest will be judged by voters in January 2008, with $8000 in prizes awarded. The media will have to decide how to allocate their effort through time. Will voters remember enough to reward them in January for what they did in September? Probably some media will cover AMS issues throughout the fall, while others may enter later and just cover the election. This should lighten the over-concentration of all VFM effort on the election that we saw last month, so electoral candidates should find it less fatiguing.

Most important, a September launch will give the media a much better opportunity to build voter awareness, of their coverage and of the VFM system. They can do this even before the contest begins, investing in their name brand reputation. Voters might also appreciate expanded media coverage of departmental student elections.

Next I plan a couple of posts on what elements make up a successful media group.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

UBC AMS Elections & VFM Results

Congratulations to everyone involved in the 2007 UBC AMS Elections – that was an exciting exercise in democracy! Best wishes to the elected officers for a successful year representing students. I thank all those who participated in the pioneering test of voter-funded media, and hope it made a positive contribution to the elections.

I congratulate the VFM contest winners. Like many observers I found the results surprising, and look forward to learning from them so as to improve the VFM system design. First-place contestant The Underground published an entertaining and informative elections issue. But correlating the overall voting results with various contestants’ election coverage, it seems that voters were rewarding other contributions besides that coverage. For example, name recognition established in prior years (especially of print publications) seemed to earn a good proportion of votes.

We recognized the possibility of such outcomes when designing the contest:
Judging Criteria: The contest is intended to encourage election coverage helpful to voters, including analysis of AMS issues, interviews and assessments of electoral candidates, and reviews of the other media contestants. However, students are free to vote by any criteria they choose.

The power of VFM should come from a feedback loop from media to voters to media to voters – the turbo in turbo democracy, if you will. We got part of the feedback loop working: VFM successfully encouraged some highly creative and insightful election coverage. But not enough voters have yet realized what these new media are offering them. It takes time to build reputation. As emphasized in The Ubyssey, we had only a limited amount of lead time to get the word out about this VFM system that no one had ever seen before.

Impressive as some of the VFM coverage was, in the future even higher quality is clearly possible – more on that in future posts. Starting the contest in September, for example, would encourage coverage of ongoing AMS administration issues, while gradually building voter awareness of VFM. But until voters catch on to the new media, we may need to design a more carefully targeted reward feedback system.

Media to Students: So tell us what’s the problem – is it ignorance, or is it apathy?
Students to Media: We don’t know, and we don’t care!

Well, I don’t actually believe that. I think voters do care. Once they realize what VFM offers, they will use and reward it.

VFM results
Election results