Monday, January 28, 2013

Framework in Public Forum Debate - part 1

This is part one of a two-part series on Frameworks in Public Forum debate.
(Part 2 click here).

The Judge's Weighing Mechanism

Very simply put, a framework in academic debate is the set of standards the judge will use to evaluate a case.  It is the judge's duty to listen to both sides of the debate and determine a winner.  The judge will either use criteria you provide or her own or a combination of standards.  When we say "standards" we refer to something that is deemed true or accurate.  For example, when weighing an item on a balance beam, the unknown weight is placed in one tray, then known weights are placed in the other tray until balance is achieved.  The known weights, are "standards" and so we can declare the unknown weight because we trust the standards are accurate.  In academic debate, the judge will evaluate the truthfulness or accuracy of a claim based either on known facts (those the judge knows to be true by experience) or based on criteria revealed in the debate.  For example, you may make a claim the judge knows nothing about, say, herds of cattle contribute to global warming. The opponent may claim the impact of cattle is insignificant.  How does the judge decide which is accurate without a standard upon which to base the decision?  If neither debater provides a standard, the judge will try to evaluate things such as the source or timeliness of the data.  More than likely though, the judge will simply dismiss the offsetting claims and defer to a higher standard such as, "well, the Pro's other claims seem accurate so this one about cattle probably is as well".  You need to understand, the judge will fulfill her duty and make a decision and to do so she will go through a series of evaluations, weighing the claims.  In most cases, it is to your advantage as a debater to give the judge the standards of measure rather than having her apply her own or worse yet, applying standards given by your opponent.  How the judge uses these standards, that is, yours or her own, is a function of the judging paradigm and in practically every round is a huge unknown (unless you know the judge very well).  Therefore, it is to your best interest to ensure the standards used are the one's which favor your case.

Framework Definition and Context

For the purposes of this discussion I shall define framework as a set of beliefs and standards and we shall apply these beliefs and standards to the context of the debate case.  I think it is important to narrow the scope since we are not trying to establish a worldview.  These are not necessarily standards by which we want to live our lives and they may not be beliefs we hold outside of the context of the debate round.  The framework is merely a set of standards you wish to apply for the twelve minutes (minus cross-fires) you are arguing your case.  Nevertheless, it is to your best interests to ensure your framework does not contradict the judges overall worldview too much or you run the risk of alienating your position.  I shall expand upon this throughout the discussion.

Types of Frameworks

Expanding any previous discussion I have made about framework in other parts of the website, I hold there are three kinds of framework in Public Forum Debate: the Rules-based/theoretical, the Interpretive and the Comparative frameworks.  Each of these are aimed toward giving the judge a means to evaluate the round.  Typically a particular framework, which may be a combination of any of these, is established in the constructive speech by explicitly telling the judge which standards to apply in her evaluation.  Some teams will do this upfront in the form of observations.  Even if you do not create your framework as observations, it is best to explicitly state it somewhere in the speech early and often since you want it to stand as the principle basis for how your case should be judged.  The only framework not explicitly stated is the rules-based framework which, with only a few exceptions, are implicit within the context of a Public Forum round.

Rules-Based Framework

The rules and theories of Public Forum Debate are almost never mentioned in the debate constructive speech since, for the time being, the rules and theoretical standards are clear for the most part.  There is a sort of presumptive framework which is built upon National Forensic League rules for the category.  For example, it is established by rule that Pro and Con shall establish a position of advocacy, which means there is no presumption of victory.  If for some reason it is not clear that, say, Con must advocate a position as opposed to merely refute the Pro side, then it may be necessary to establish a rule-based framework which lets the judge know she should favor the side side which sets up an offensive position rather than only a defensive position.  These kinds of frameworks are rarely needed so there should be a presumption by the debaters there is no need to state within the body of the constructive that the other side has a burden of proof.  Nevertheless, there are times, and hopefully they are rare, when the debate may take place entirely on your side of the flow.  For example, you give your speech, the opponent gets up and attacks your speech for four minutes and for the remainder of the debate the attacks and rebuttals remain on your side since the opponent never gave you anything to attack on the other side.  Under these circumstances it may be to your best interests to invoke a rule-based framework as a key voting issue and say something like, "our side has won this debate because our opponents have not established a position for us to attack.  Seeing how they have spent the entire debate attacking our position proves they have no grounds of their own upon which to stand." or something like, "our opponents have chosen to attack our position throughout this debate without establishing any position for us to attack.  This violates the NFL rules and should be reason enough for you to vote [pro/con] but even if you disagree then we win this debate because...".  In each example statement, you give the judge a standard by which to evaluate the round.  However, the second example is better because you are allowing the judge an alternative way to evaluate in case the judge does believe the other side held a legitimate position.

Another area where rules-based weighing mechanisms may be used, is in the rules of evidence.  Depending on where you debate there may be different ideas about the revealing of sources or evidence in the round.  For example, one side makes a claim and the other asks to "see the evidence".  In some places and in accordance with NFL rules it is enough to give the citation, in other districts the evidence must be shown which means a copy of the actual article or paper in context must be handed-over to the requesting team.
Additionally, the rules of evidence are often vague regarding the timeliness of when the evidence must be shown; whether immediately, during the requesting team's prep time, before the final speech, etc.  In those districts which hold that evidence must be shown if requested, there is often ambiguity about which position the judge should take if the evidence is not handed-over or not done so at the appropriate time.  Should the judge, reject the evidence, vote against the offending team or merely note the infraction but not make it a key voting issue?  If the local rules of evidence are well established the team which notes the violation should claim the infraction as a violation of the implicit rule-based framework.  Nevertheless, like in the example above, it is a good idea to give the judge alternative reasons to vote for your side.

Finally with regard to rules-based frameworks, whereas I think it is usually never necessary to establish an explicit rule-based framework in Public Forum debate there is a notable exception I have been seeing which is driven by the nature of some of the resolutions being debated.  Occasionally, I have seen examples where debaters are explicitly invoking the rule prohibiting advocacy of "plans".  Usually this framework is established as an observation in the constructive and may state something like, "Observation 1: while we will advocate the United States should [meet some resolutional requirement] we are not required to advocate a particular plan for doing so.  We will, however, prove the feasibility of our position by certain examples."

The Interpretive Framework

One the first things that should be done prior to debating any resolution is undertake a thorough analysis of the resolution, specifically how to interpret its intent and what is the stasis point (the point at which the two sides of the debate separate).  Your interpretation of the resolution likely forms a framework around which you will build your case and so it is reasonable you should try to convey that framework to the judge.  On one level, your approach to establishing the interpretive framework is define each of the words in the resolution then restate the resolution based upon the interpretation of those words.  Going through that exercise often narrows the scope of the debate to a specific interpretation which is then expressed in the constructive speeches.  That does not mean you must define each word for the judge and certainly does not mean you must restate the resolution in different wording.  All you need in the case is to define your approach based upon what your team believes is the reason for the debate.  It sort of answers the question, "what does the resolution want us to debate?"

When stating the interpretive framework a team will declare something like: "we believe this resolution is asking us to advocate [some position] and the other side to advocate [the other position].  The team which best meets those burdens will win this debate..."  There are potential traps in these kinds of frameworks which must be avoided.  The framework must allow debate on both sides.  It is bad form to create a tautological interpretation or a kind of unopposable truism which preempts any possible position by the opposition.  An example of a tautological framework for the resolution, "Use of unmanned drones should not be used in the war on terror" would be to define unmanned drones as an illegal weapon.  While it may sound favorable to frame the case as "illegal weapons should not be used in the war on terror" it creates a logical fallacy for the opposition which is forced to defend that "illegal weapons should be used to fight terror".  The opposition, if they are smart, will reject your framework in favor of one of their own and thus the ability of the judge to favor your framework is compromised.  Hopefully you can see from this example the idea is not to establish a framework which ties the opponents hands.  The idea is to a create a framework the judge will favor over any other.

Since either side is free to define the resolution there is the possibility that clashing interpretations will arise.  This happens quite often when one wishes to define a certain term in a way which is restrictive to the opposition and so the opponent will offer a counter-interpretation.  Think about the judge's possible responses to the counter-interpretation.  It is not enough to merely offer another interpretation.  One must also give the judge a reason why the interpretation should be preferred.  Commonly, preference is given to interpretations which promote fairness by allowing a better division of ground and promote a better educational experience, but even better is when one can offer an evidential or logical rationale as to why the interpretation should be preferred.  For example, an interpretation from an authoritative body is often preferable to a dictionary depending on the resolutional context.

Finally, since the interpretive framework establishes an approach to the resolution and presents evaluative positions to the judge, there is another very critical kind of evaluation that is sometimes required and is often overlooked.  For each resolution, no matter what side you are advocating you should ask yourself, not only what must I defend but to which degree must I defend it?  Must my position (and my opponents') be true always or true most of the time?  What exceptions can be made and which exceptions cannot be tolerated?  Your interpretive framework should explicitly answer these questions.

In the second part of this series, I will discuss the comparative framework and then present techniques for setting up and using a framework in PF debate cases.


  1. "An example of a tautological framework for the resolution, "Use of unmanned drones should not be used in the war on terror" would be to define unmanned drones as an illegal weapon. While it may sound favorable to frame the case as "illegal weapons should not be used in the war on terror" it creates a logical fallacy for the opposition which is forced to defend that "illegal weapons should be used to fight terror". The opposition, if they are smart, will reject your framework in favor of one of their own and thus the ability of the judge to favor your framework is compromised."

    Do you even know what a tautology is? Because this isn't one.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


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