Disclosure of Interests as a Mandatory Practice

Overview: In any assessment, the assessor/analyst/judge must openly identify the State of Relationship they possess to all assessed entities prior to carrying out the assessment activity. For debate, this places a burden upon the judge to expose this current state to both teams prior to the initiation of the round. For risk assessments, this mandates the disclosure in written and oral reports on the state of risk in an assessed entity.

My son Jay and I had a valuable experience tonight at our church council meeting. He’s had the valuable opportunity to serve as a representative even though he’s still a young man still in high school, something I believe is tremendously valuable in bringing forth perspective and discourse from a realm that is usually not appropriately represented. In the council meeting, we were discussing a financial decision regarding moving church investments from one bank to another. As the sole council member who possesses a financial education and professional background in risk management, the council looked to me to provide the majority of the technical guidance and recommendation.

Early in the council discussion, I disclosed my relationships to the entities assessed, explaining briefly my prior experience, engagement and bias with the financial institutions we were evaluating in this decision. The debaters that I judge on the Nebraska-Iowa circuit know that there isn’t a round where I won’t openly disclose my relationships to each of the teams I’m judging before the round occurs. While they may perceive it as a socializing moment, with me relating to where I last judged each team, the quality of the round, any trend in ballots (e.g. if you’ve been winning or losing consistently with me), or if I haven’t judged you yet, there is a deeper process occurring. This is my opportunity for both of us to bring forward my State of Relationship to those which I will be assessing, disclosing the current nature of that relationship to all in the round, and making all aware of that status. In other words, I’m dragging all of my latent perceptual bias, baggage and noise-inducing distortion before all of us so that I can, as the assessor of the round, correct for that error to the best of my ability and render the most effective decision possible given the limitations we face. I believe this is a practice that merits greater attention in both debate and in our professional engagements.

Exposes the Quality of Bias
In both cases, this gives the other parties greater information on how to assess the information I will present (mind you: a commitment to ethical practice is presumed here; this post doesn’t intend to get into the issues of malpractice due to unethical conduct). In this respect, this practice is far from unusual. You’ll hear people disclose their “potential conflicts of interest” in the professional world on a regular basis. Indeed, my attorney friends will often defer on making a commitment to provide representation until the firm has been able to verify that no conflicts exist which would preclude their capacity to give appropriate consultation. But there is much more to this process of screening, both from the screener’s and the screened’s perspective. Indeed, Heidegger contributes much thought here in “The Essence of Truth” (which is clearly beyond this blogpost but merits appropriate attribution).

Application to Debate
Recalling the awareness of the State of Relationship brings forward the emotional baggage that is latent within each of us, in the policy debate circuit, there are the teams that I always love judging and enjoy as individuals (specific Millard West, Fremont, Norfolk, Millard South and Indianola teams very much come to mind) as well as the teams that have struggled with me. As a debate judge and “expert” in the round (in that I sign the ballot, render the decision), it’s critical that I bring these biases forward, for contrary to what a debater might expect, it’s equally possible that my relationship to you will set a higher standard. I may be compelled to give “the new team” my ballot should your performance be 50% of the last round, should I not draw out this condition and force myself to evaluate simply the round before me. At NDI’s final round, I found myself emotionally angry at every debater immediately following their rebuttal speech, knowing deep down that Ashley, Kirstin, Shane and Tyler were all much more capable than the performance I was observing (noise, that terrible parasite, was showing up in that final round through the exhaustion of the debaters). But that noise registers on the judge. (It’s for this reason that I believe the tabula rasa paradigm is pure myth; noise disrupts the round in so many forms, and the delusion of blank slates is as absurd as are the presence of Plato’s Forms).

Application to Risk Management
In the professional world, this disclosure of the State of Relationship is even more foundational. As a risk manager, I’m asked to provide our executive management guidance on whether they should lose sleep over an issue, business unit, platform, etc. As an example, my employer has several “problem child” business units that have repeatedly experienced difficulty. Having visited each of the individually, learned of the people involved and the dynamic of that organization, the capacity for noise to distort my message is high. Once again, this disclosure of the State of Relationship becomes fundamental, not only in allowing the executives to filter for that error in my report, but for my own filtering in the analysis and assessment of that entity.

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