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

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.

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.” “How Do We Know if Our Contests Are “Fair?” by Wendy Hein, 4-H Youth Development instructor at Oregon State University, 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. This article in the series will discuss best practices for staff and program managers to share the data that they have analyzed with boards and councils which will help in proposing solutions and making program changes, if necessary.

The first and most critical piece of communicating when sharing the data and results from your research with parents, volunteers, youth, and other stakeholders is to create a common, consistent language. Ensuring that the audience understands what you are evaluating through using appropriate terminology. For example, Michigan State University Extension says that when discussing livestock we generally refer to the “specie,” however, we overlook that both beef cattle and dairy cattle are in fact, the same species, just as dairy goats and market goats. Using clear terminology such as beef cattle project area, dairy cattle project area, and so on will eliminate the misnomer, while also highlighting that they are different project areas with different standards.

Secondly, when communicating the numbers it is important to be clear and not allow the individual comparison numbers to be grouped. This takes away from the statistical significance of the research when looking at various contests. Educators should take the time to thoroughly present their findings in a logical manner so that it is easily understandable to the audience. Statistics is not for everyone, so when sharing the numbers explain why the study was created that way and why that is important.

Lastly, remember that if you have conducted research into the perception of “fairness” in an activity, you have taken a positive step to look at the situation objectively. Once you have results, you can extend what you have learned to make any modifications necessary to activities.

By taking a step back from a situation, evaluating it objectively, and sharing your observations with others, you can make positive steps in creating a level playing field for youth participating in contests!

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