Destination Imagination (DI) New Hampshire, Appraiser Conflicts of Interest Bothers Me

I have a long, and until now very positive, history with New Hampshire Destination Imagination (NH-DI). All 4 of my kids have taken part in DI. Consequently, I have been involved one way or another with NH-DI since 1996. My son, who did NH-DI for four-years, won State twice, in 1999 and 2001, and went onto DI Global Finals in Knoxville, TN.

Last year I was an Assistant Team Manager. This year my wife and I were both Team Managers. I was also an Appraiser and appraised at the Sanborn Regionals (Kingston) on March 17, 2012. My wife and I both attended DI Team Manager training workshops this year, and I, in addition, did the online Team Manager and DI Appraiser training offered by the ‘DI University’. [That our 11-year old ended up as the Gnome at Kingston was a bonus.]

So, I have no axe to grind with NH-DI. I have been a great proponent of NH-DI and have enjoyed being a part of NH-DI.

So what is my gripe?

When my elementary team competed on March 10, 2012, at the Kearsarge (N. Sutton) Regional Meet, in the ‘Coming Attractions’ challenge, I was shocked to see that two of the appraisers were from our school! One of them had even attended our last dress rehearsal the week before and had spoken at length with the kids about their performance.

Until that point it had never crossed my mind that NH-DI permitted such Conflicts of Interest.

Right after their performance the kids (ranging in age from 8 to 11) asked me how it was possible that they were judged by two of their teachers! They found it incongruous.

We did not do well in the challenge, mainly due to stage fright. But, we came 4th out of 10. Here are the results. Given the blatant Conflict of Interest we feel that there should be an asterisk next to our placing! We don’t feel good about it because we know of the Conflict.

So there is my issue. Plain and simple. NH-DI should let all concerned know, from the get go, that it is possible to have Conflicts of Interest when it comes to appraising. That is it. Period.

I just want transparency. NH-DI should publish a list of all the appraisers and their affiliations. That way everything is all above board.

Yes, many sports employ ‘partial’ judges and Olympic ice skating and free style skiing comes to mind. But, the affiliations of the judges are always disclosed.

To me, having these secret conflicts of interest totally undermine the integrity and credibility of NH-DI.

In my opinion, it is not fair on the kids. They put a lot of effort into the competition. Let them have a perfectly level playing field — SANS suspicions of Conflicts of Interest.

What have I done?

Right after the competition, on March 14, 2012, I e-mailed Jim Heedles the Regional Master for that event. I also contacted, via e-mail, Kara Swedlow, the NH-DI the Affiliate Director. They, for obvious reasons, want to play down this issue. I also tried but they just referred me back to NH-DI!

I have also spoken, by e-mail and in person when I attended the March 17 event, with a number of NH-DI officials. All of them expressed ‘surprise’ at what I had to say and ‘promised’ to look into it. But, nothing has happened — and I can fully appreciate that NH-DI does not want their results and reputation to be compromised.

The young lady coordinating my appraising on March 17 had asked me via e-mails whether I had any conflicts of interests. I informed her that I had none at the meet that I was officiating — but told her what had happened at the March 10 meet. She assured me that they try very had to avoid such conflicts.

So imagine my shock when one of the appraisers I was judging with, on March 17, informed us that he was a teacher at the school that had just performed — and he had appraised!

I spoke with the coordinator. She was aware of it, but said that the teacher had assured her that he did not know any of the kids in that team.

Come on! All I am asking for is transparency. With DI there should never be any doubts or suspicions that the kids did not get a fair shake of the stick.

Thanks for reading this. I feel much better now that I have got this off my chest.

Anura Guruge

5 thoughts on “Destination Imagination (DI) New Hampshire, Appraiser Conflicts of Interest Bothers Me

  1. Steve Greenwood

    Mr Guruge,

    The ideas of fair play and a level playing field are at the core of the philosophy of both New Hampshire Destination ImagiNation and Destination ImagiNation. Our kids spend a great deal of time and energy working on solutions to our challenges with the expectation that we will appraise their solution in as unbiased a way as possible. Consequently, your allegations that appraising at our tournaments is biased is something we need to address.

    To start with we do have policies in this area that were actually strengthened this year. Our basic policy is that an appraiser must not:
    — be a team manager of a team solving the challenge they are appraising
    — have a child or sibling on a team solving the challenge they are appraising
    When it comes to Instant Challenge Appraisers, we ensure our appraisers don’t appraise an instant challenge that their team or a child or sibling will solve. These people are in such close proximity to the children solving the challenge we remove the natural urge for the kids to request advice.

    We do NOT have a policy that prohibits teachers, school staff, ministers, civic leaders, neighbors, scout leaders, etc from appraising teams that they interact with through the course of these activities. If someone in one of these roles indicates a discomfort in appraising kids that they interact with, we attempt to solve the issue on a one-on-one basis by moving them to another position.

    This year we formally required each of our appraisers and team managers to accept a code of conduct that includes strong language about maintaining a level playing field for the kids.

    So we have what we believe is a well thought out policy to preserve this core value of the program. While we might be more restrictive by eliminating other common relationships between adults and team members, our approach is to instill integrity in the appraiser’s evaluations so that is not necessary.

    To this end, appraisers should not be evaluating team challenge solutions outside of sanctioned tournaments. Doing so could easily become interference. Note that evaluating instant challenge solutions is fine. It appears that you are reporting that this took place. We will investigate this further and increase our emphasis that this not be done as a part of our training.

    Your call for transparency suggests appraisers list publicly all of their affiliations that might involve children. These people are volunteers and we value their dedication, thus we will continue to rely on their integrity. So if you or one of your children see a teacher on an appraiser team that you know, you can believe that they are not going to adjust their scores up or down based on that relationship.

    Steve Greenwood
    Chair of NHICC

    1. aguruge Post author

      Thank YOU. That was very kind of you. You made my day. Having PC hardware problems. Using backup PC. So I needed something to cheer me up. All the best. Nice day up here. Hope you are enjoying warm weather too. All the best. Anura

    1. aguruge Post author

      I was talking to another NH DI Team Manager (and former Appraiser) last night. He agreed that he couldn’t see why NH-DI would not want to disclose who all the appraisers were for a given challenge. NH-DI says it is not a big deal. OK. So lets have transparency. But, doesn’t really matter to me. I am not doing DI next year. All the best. Cheers.


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