Monday, December 12, 2011

Transitioning to Policy - Intro and What to Expect

This series is aimed at the experienced Public Forum or Lincoln-Douglas debater who wants to switch to Policy Debate.  Usually a coach will see more examples of policy debaters seeking to move into other forms of debate but policy debaters are often recruited or enticed from other debate formats.  No matter which way one decides to transition, the move can be somewhat akin to moving to another country.  The culture is different so don't expect that the language, skills and methods used in one category will always work well in the new category.  Quite often, they do not and the result can be a sort of "culture shock".  For those planning to move into policy debate, hopefully this series will minimize the shock.

Many courses, books and essays already exist on the world-wide web which start at the beginning and explain, what is policy debate, what is the structure of a round and speech times allowed, what are the stock issues, etc, etc.  If you are a novice debater, I suggest you start there and begin to read.  If you are an experienced debater, I do not necessarily recommend asking your existing policy debaters about how to make the transition to policy.  If your team has a policy coach, talk to him or her before consulting potential team-mates. It is best, if your team has a coach who understands not only policy, but also the category you want to leave as that coach is more likely to be capable in showing you how to adapt your current skills rather than starting from scratch like a novice.

Team Work
If you are an LD debater, one of the first things you will need to adapt to, is working with a partner.  PF debaters are already experienced with partner debate.  In some respects, working with a partner is easier than going alone. A well organized team can feed each with information the partner may have missed and may setup the other for maximum effectiveness.  In my opinion, this does not mean partners need to hang out with one another when not debating.  They do not need to be friends.  They just have to know how to work together at the right time to accomplish a common objective and so they will need to be able to trust one another to do their respective parts when the time comes. Because of the trust issue, partner debate can also be more frustrating, especially when saddled with a partner who does not do their part.  But these are usually the kinds of issues that should be managed by your coach since it is always considered bad form to publicly blame your partner for team failures.

When transitioning to policy you may be doing it because another debater whom you know has encouraged you to join as his or her partner, but sometimes, you have no real choice about who your partner will be.  Hopefully, you and your new partner will at least have mutual respect and for one another and if the existing partner is already an experienced debater, you do well to adapt to policy as quickly and efficiently as possible as this is the best way to develop mutual respect and cooperation and prevent the experienced partner approaching the round like a maverick with a helper instead of as a team.

As an experienced debater you should already be familiar with how to flow.  In policy debate, flowing is an essential skill.  Unless you are a very prolific flower (one who flows), you will soon find out policy flowing will require much more paper and if you flow on computer, you will need to update your flow template.  For those who do flow on computer, when I speak of sheets of paper, it will typically be the equivalent of a "tab" on your electronic flow sheet.  In PF or LD the constructive speech may be flowed entirely on one or two sheets and you will probably have one flow for the affirmative (Pro) and one for the negative (Con).  Policy debate is usually flowed differently.  Each contention of each constructive speech is flowed on a separate sheet.  So if the affirmative constructive is comprised of an inherency contention, a solvency contention and three advantages, the affirmative flow will consist of at least five sheets of paper.  If the negative constructive consists of a topicality challenge, and two disadvantages, you will have three additional sheets containing the negative position (called "off case" arguments).  Neg's on-case arguments will be specific attacks against the affirmative case and so will be flowed on the affirmative case flow.

Obviously, as you gain more experience, you will develop your own flowing style so this discussion only serves as a guideline.  It is not critical to policy success for you to flow the way I suggest.  But it is critical to policy success to develop a technique which allows you to effectively capture all of the key arguments.

Finally, I would like to point out that depending on your district and the category of debate you are planning to leave, the importance of evidence in policy debate can not be overstated.  Evidence is almost always "carded" which means each card will appear as a single document (perhaps several pages long) with a tag-line (headline), author, date and source citation, and the body of the evidence itself.  When flowing, it is important to capture the author and date citation as this will become the unique identifier of the evidence in subsequent speeches.  You will hear statements like "Extend our Smith '11 evidence" or " stated on our Jones '09 card...". Therefore it is important to know what Smith '11 or Jones '09 say and in which context they where presented.

In-Round Conduct
Another big change you will notice from PF and LD debate is how debaters and judges conduct themselves in the round.  Bear in mind, each district enforces NFL rules of conduct differently so what I say here may not be universal but it does apply to many of the policy rounds in my district in contrast to what is seen is PF or LD round.  First, things may be more distracting than what are you used to.  Sometimes the speaker's partner may interject with a comment of clarification.  This is especially common during cross-x.  At times the judge may interrupt, asking for some clarification, usually prior to the speech and he may shout "clear" in the middle of the speech if the clarity of the speech becomes difficult to comprehend. Also expect you partner or the other team to be actively moving around, shuffling through papers or tubs.

Prior to the round, the opposing team may ask what you are running.  They may want to know your plan text, the specific affirmative and may expect greater details such as which solvency arguments or advantages you are running.  This is often awkward for some teams when they are asked because they don't know how to respond.  In my opinion, each team in conjunction with their coach should determine what their philosophy will be with respect to case disclosure at the beginning of each year and review that philosophy prior to state and national qualifying tournaments.  Arguments can be made either way about the legitimacy and fairness of disclosing prior to a round.  One fact is perfectly clear, they will soon know every detail about what you are running so whether or not to disclose is matter of team philosophy which often extends to a circuit-wide, defacto expectation.  Personally, I see no issues against disclosure prior to the round.  I also see no problem with disclosing before the season begins but I think there is a strategic advantage to not disclosing new cases prior to the major state and national qualifying tournaments.

Road-mapping or sign-posting or whatever you call it when you tell the judge and other team the order of your speeches is critical. In the case of judges or teams that flow on paper, the order of the speeches is required so the judge can arrange each flow in the proper sequence and avoid shuffling through a lot of flows while you are speaking.  So you should expect some amount of delay while the order is clarified and expect the derision of the judge if you fail to stay in order.  In my opinion, it is a very smart practice, to announce each change in the flow as it is about to occur "...and now on to heg..." or "...on to the terrorism advantage...".

If either team uses paperless debate, there will be allowances in time as the team about to speak prepares a flash drive or viewing computer with the speech and hands it over to the other team.  Most judges will allow this "flashing" operation and other kinds of technical issues to be resolved outside of prep time.  I think most judges and teams consider the minor inconveniences of "flash" time are far outweighed by the conveniences of paperless debate.

You should also expect a member of the opposite team may be taking each of your cards the moment you finish reading them and there is no reason you can not do the same.  Speeches are usually delivered at a high rate of speed and so it is not unreasonable to take the cards and enter the citations and key arguments directly into your flow.  In fact, I would encourage any novice policy debater (as a transitioning debater would be) to setup a desk right next to the speaker's podium and just take each card as he reads it or have the speaker set the cards right on your desk. Even the best debaters miss things, so take the card and fill-in your flow.

Judges do not have the luxury of taking the cards as they are read.  For this reason, some teams are now beginning to flash their speeches for the judge. Don't be surprised if the judge asks to see your or the other team's evidence.  Judges may be more vocal about things than you are used to. They will insist on a proper road-map, they may make some comments or suggestions between speeches.  Many judges will give oral critiques after the round explaining various aspects of the round from his or her point of view and quite often judges will disclose the winner.  But the delivery of oral critiques and disclosure is strictly a matter of personal preference with each judge so it may not always happen and you should not be upset if does not.  Finally a word about ballots.  Many judges do an excellent job filling out their ballots but sometimes you will see very little helpful information on the ballot.  You may see very truncated and brief comments such as "cow" (case out weighs) or "rfd: oral" (reason for decision given orally). As frustrating as that may be to you and your coach, some judges will not provide more.

Speaker Order
Each team must decide on a speaker order. Speeches are delivered in the following order (speakers A & B are the first and second for Aff, speakers a & b are the first and second for Neg):

Speech Speaker  CX  Speech Speaker  CX
 1AC      A     b    1NC     a      A
 2AC      B     a    2NC     b      B
                     1NR     a
 1AR      A          2NR     b
 2AR      B

Most teams arrange themselves such that Affirmative speaker 'A' does the 'b' speeches when the team is running the Negative position. Likewise, the speaker who delivers the Affirmative 'B' speeches also delivers the Negative 'a' speeches.  Deciding which team-mate should speak first depends on several key considerations.  The speaker who reads the 1AC, will be the same who delivers the 1AR.  The 1AR is considered one of the toughest in the round because the 1AR has 5 minutes to answer the Neg block (the 8 minutes of 2NC and 5 minute of 1NR).  Whereas the 1AC is simply read, the 1AR requires a good deal of debate skill in order to narrow the debate to the key issues, and quickly answer the neg block.  This speech can not be well prepared in advance.  So, if you choose or are assigned to the 1AC, you give the following speeches when Aff; 1AC, CX of the 1NC, 1AR and when Neg; CX of the 1AC, 2NC, 2NR.  The other team-mate will give the following speeches when Aff; 2AC, CX of the 2NC, 2AR and when Neg; 1NC, CX of the 2AC, 1NR.  The speaking positions are a strategic consideration best worked out with the policy coach.  You may choose a different arrangement other the one suggested here when running Aff vs. Neg.  The only rule stipulation is, which ever arrangement is decided, you must stick to it until the end of the round.

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