That’s not fair! An approach to evaluating the fairness of 4-H competitive activities: Part 1

Evaluating the “fairness” of 4-H contests can be a challenge. By following a succinct method of investigation, 4-H leaders, superintendents and staff can determine the fairness of events for participants and make changes, if necessary.

It is again time to begin preparing for spring and summer events and contests in the 4-H program. Research suggests that competitive events help youth develop character, sportsmanship and responsibility. Planning and implementing various 4-H events and contests comes with a variety of challenges for organizers, whether volunteer or extension staff. The “fairness” of an event is a common concern from youth and parents, and should be an important consideration for program planners.

Michigan State University Extension programs are founded on research based knowledge and determining the “fairness” of contests and events should be no exception. In order to determine the fairness of contests and events, evaluators should examine the mechanics of the contest, the perceptions of youth, parents and volunteers and create a common language that communicates the intent of the 4-H project and associated contests.

To date, a majority of studies that have been conducted on youth development and fairness have relied heavily on youth perceptions, which has led to a subjective view of “fairness.” Authored by Wendy Hein, 4-H Youth Development Instructor at Oregon State University, “How Do We Know if Our Contests Are “Fair?” examined the fairness of the Clackamas County Master Showmanship Contest. Her approach to solving the question of fairness based on statistical data can help program planners determine if they are viewing the question of fairness on the perception of parents and youth or on statistical data and empirical evidence.

Over a series of articles, a simple process to examine competitive events and their fairness will be outlined. Additionally, best practices to communicate the results of research within boards and councils will be discussed so that 4-H programs can be strengthened and better positioned to reach the goals of teaching project content knowledge and life skill development.

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