Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Contest Contrast: UBC vs SFU

Voter-funded media contests are now underway at both the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. But the two contest designs are very different. Here’s how and why they differ:

- Annual media awards budget $8000 at UBC; about $5000 at SFU.
- UBC annual budget all allocated in one annual vote in January 2008; SFU budget planned to be spread across 12 monthly votes, starting with $300 in January 2008.
- UBC’s media ballot is part of their annual student rep election ballot. But at SFU, media voting is separate from election voting, and is conducted on an online course management system where students can vote at any time.
- Contest administered by student Elections Committee at UBC; administered by Mark Latham at SFU.
- Only UBC students can vote in their VFM contest; at SFU, all students, faculty and staff can vote.

- UBC has about 45,000 students; SFU about 25,000.
- I started with UBC in 2006-2007 because it’s closer to where I live, & as a UBC alum I knew more people there and am more familiar with it.
- The primary focus was voting in elections. That’s where voters have the most power, so would benefit from insight on how to use that power. Piggybacking the media vote on the election vote seemed effective & low cost. So UBC 2006-2007 had its VFM vote on the election ballot.
- My goal was always to encourage year-round media coverage of student union issues. I urged the UBC student union to start last year’s contest in September 2006, but it didn’t start until January 2007. The student committee’s March 28, 2007 VFM report recommended starting the next contest in September 2007. But it seems it will start as late as January again this year. The AMS Elections VFM page as of today still has no info on this year’s contest, only last year’s.
- Year-round online voting for monthly media awards should help avoid this late-start problem, and encourage year-round media coverage. In fall 2007, I got the idea to use existing online course management systems for this. The plans for UBC’s 2007-2008 VFM contest were already underway, so they are still using the annual award vote system. SFU’s contest plans got rolling later, so they are using the new year-round design. I plan to recommend this new system for use at UBC after January 2008.
- When media voting is on the student union election ballot, it seems best for the student elections committee to administer it. When media voting is separate from election voting, other choices of administrator become practical. At SFU we are trying the simple design of having the contest sponsor (me) administer the contest.
- At SFU, all students, faculty and staff have access to the online course management system that hosts the VFM ballot. While it's perfectly feasible to limit VFM ballot access to students only, it's easier to leave it open to the whole SFU community. But more important is the fact that we’re all in this together. The success of SFU depends on students, faculty and staff cooperating. Issues that matter to one group will affect all. So we’re trying the “big tent” approach of encouraging media to think about the entire community.

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