Question 3: What should the Program Coordinators accomplish in the next 18 months, and how will you help?
Judges love to talk about feedback. They don’t like to give it, and probably hate receiving it even more. This is the dark truth of the Judge Program. Like the Fellowship of the Rings, the feedback culture in the Judge Program is broken. What’s wrong with it and how do we fix it?
I think that feedback culture is upside down right now. So much of it is focused on how best to give feedback, and there’s no discussion about how to receive it. People clamor for feedback, saying that they don’t receive enough reviews, but when they receive an unexpected review, or feedback that contradicts their self image, the response is to attack the giver. This is creating a culture where people are afraid to give feedback.
There are artifacts of this everywhere in the Judge Program. For example, the “best practice” of clearing your feedback with the subject, either via face-to-face or a draft. I do agree that it is a best practice, but many have raised to the level of a canonical requirement, and get upset when it doesn’t happen. Putting the burden of clearing the feedback beforehand hurts the cause of the giver. Meanwhile, we aren’t doing anything to help train the receiver on how to take the feedback.
Yes, we can always educate and train judges to be better at how they give feedback, but we need to acknowledge the other end of these feedback dynamics and at least begin to make people aware that feedback is a relationship.
Relationships are an aspect of feedback culture that is underdeveloped in the Judge Program. All the instances of asking for feedback are random and disorganized. Even L3 recommendations, which should be the paragon of strong relationships between judges often fall to a “whoever will do it” basis rather than finding the people that matter to you most.
The most easily internalized feedback comes from those people who care about you. We should emphasize this and seek to create avenues for these strong bonds between judges to drive our feedback, and not the random chance of “you happened to be on my team.” Part of the above problem of judges not being accepting of feedback is that they aren’t accepting of feedback from certain people. We should seek to find the people the people that we will accept feedback from, and engage them to help deliver the feedback. This might take the form of something like the old judge pyramid or listing trusted feedback mentors in our profiles.
When it comes to the feedback culture, I believe that I am one of the most vocal leaders (other strong voices are Riccardo Tessitori and Dustin de Leeuw). In the past, I’ve been more focused on reviews, but I’ve made a push to change the conversation to feedback in general, and more recently to emphasize strong relationships and holding each other accountable. If feedback is going to be a core principle of the Judge Program again, my track record makes me one of its best spokespersons.
Diversity and Representation
Like feedback, the Judge Program talks a big talk (probably bigger) when it comes to diversity. The Judge Program is, on the surface, a welcoming and inclusive organization. However, there is a difference between merely promoting diversity as a general culture and focusing on changing the balance of representation, and this is where we need to focus more of our efforts on.
Changing the balance of representation often brings with it concerns that the bar is being lowered to let disadvantaged groups in. However, when there is a lack of representation in general, it takes extraordinary individuals to break through the glass ceiling. These people work even harder than the standard to fight against the inertia that is present, and it is my belief that reaching out to help more such people would not compromise our standards of quality.
Magic currently has a gender imbalance issue. Mark Rosewater once released a statistic that 38% of Magic players were women. This stat seemed wrong to a lot of people because when they looked around, they didn’t see that many women playing. Look no further than PT Aether Revolt, which had 2 women playing out of 424 players (less than 0.5%). SCG Tour events hover somewhere in the single digits. That’s a stark drop off from 38%.
This disparity in numbers has everything to do with the often unwelcoming environment of Magic tournaments, and this is where judges enter the picture. We are the ones responsible for these environments. We need to have more women at the front lines of the Judge Program (L1 store judges) to serve as gatekeepers and role models for more women to play the game. And for that to happen, we need to present role models among our high level judges as well.
To achieve this end goal, I propose that the Judge Program have dedicated avenues by which we recruit women to judging. There are two primary ways to do this:
Publicly showcase women in judging. Judge of the Week, other blogs and publications, putting women in key public positions. This normalizes the presence of women in judging and provides examples and role models for aspiring women to follow. These efforts don’t have to be directed “look at all the women” efforts. We can simply alter the ratios without necessarily bringing attention to it.
I want to address the fact that showcasing women, no matter how subtly done, will face sexist comments and actions. For example, when women are on camera in the feature match area as players or judges. It is important that efforts of representation are accompanied by both broad and specific messages condemning such actions swiftly and diplomatically. I had heard that there was a group of judges who were moderators in Twitch chat. Such a group should be supported, educated, and empowered to act on behalf of the Judge Program.
Have programs that encourage women to become judges or advance in the Judge Program, either vertically (in level) or horizontally (leading projects). One specific idea is a “women mentoring women” program that can put geographically disparate judges in contact with each other. I also think that we should be doing more than passively hoping certain strong L2s decide to advance to L3. the path to L3 isn’t an easy one. The path to L3 as a woman is even harder. We should have more direct and personal mentorship for those candidates, and more open channels of communication to listen to the issues that they face in the workplace.
I also want to emphasize that gender diversity shouldn’t be the only thing on the agenda, but currently it is the most glaring, and highlighting representation in other ways should not be ignored.
The general sentiment is that the Judge Program is nearing the end of its growth phase, and that we can no longer operate in the same ways that we have before. One example of this is the L3 forum. The collective number of L3s recently passed Dunbar’s number. While the merits of this theory or the exact number of people that can be in a sustainable network can be debated, the fact that we’ve crossed this threshold indicates that we should at least entertain the notion that our old methods of organizing and communicating might need an overhaul.
Moving back to spheres provides a renewed ability to subdivide L3s into various interest groups. This could be a way to continue discussions in smaller groups. The danger in breaking up the leadership is that you still want there to be some upper management communication and coordination. I don’t know that the PCs alone would suffice for this, and creating a second tier of management here starts to smell a lot like L4 and 5 again. To counteract that, I believe that more project management should fall to L2s and L1s. L3s are experts at a lot of things, but project management isn’t necessarily one of them. I believe this is a similar divide to the way L4 was split up between events and program. It’s a split that we should continue to embrace down the line.
Various policies that encourage unbridled growth should be reevaluated. One such policy that was recently brought up is the “train 2 judges in the last 12 months” requirement to advance to L3. While the actual number of new judges that comes about because of this may be small, it sends the message that growth is a priority.
An important consideration is that not all communities are at the same place in growth, and the Program should be sensitive to these differences. However, I believe it is more important to send the general message of slow growth now and deal with those communities on a case-by-case basis to encourage the local leaders to pursue independent courses of action that differ from the overall message. Having slow growth policies ready to go would also be helpful for when those communities catch up and reach a point of oversaturation.
My three core points have a lot of interplay. If we seek to slow down growth and emphasize making judges better, then feedback and emphasizing strong mentoring relationships plays a role in that. If we want to increase representation, that is going to lead to a swell in the number of judges, something that we should prepare for by slowing down growth in general.