COVID-19 and Local Circuits: Part II, Virtual Recruitment Strategies

Datum: May 20th, 2020
By
Category: international, Mittwochs-Feature

This article will review recruitment and outreach projects some debate societies have undertaken. It does not attempt to provide  recommendations / criticisms of different policies and responses.

The first part of this series profiled experiences of organizers, coaches, and debaters in different parts of the world. The third part of this series will discuss dealing with COVID-19 funding cuts. If you would like to share projects on your local circuit or have comments please feel free to email me at spruced [at] tuta [dot] io

Featuring

Gaini Ibragimova, DC “Parassat”: With a 20 year history, DC “Parassat” is one of the oldest and strongest debate clubs in the Debate Community of Astana (DCA) and in Kazakhstan, representing students at most Astana universities. The community anticipates establishing itself internationally with the hosting of Astana EUDC by the non-profit Astana Debate Union.

Daniel Maier-Gant, Development Officer, University of Auckland Debating Society: Auckland is the largest city/university in New Zealand, and has the largest debating society. Many members have come to Auckland for the university. The society is tight knight and feels a deep connection to the New Zealand circuit: “we very consciously seek to include and support other campuses in our digital outreach.”

I. Past Experience with Online Outreach

Previously, DC “Parassat” has relied heavily on in-person events, although it has participated in online tournaments hosted in Russia. “Parassat” has over the last two years tried to introduce online training and debate rounds for academic vacations, but without much enthusiasm.

The University of Auckland Debating Society had actively communicated with new students, members, and alumni through a robust digital presence, with an audience of 2 – 3 thousand fr their Facebook page and group and an Instagram and regular newsletter. However, since lockdown, this presence has had to shift from documenting their in-person events to orient around digital inclusion in events.

II. Anticipated Approaches to Upcoming Recruitment

Hosting Events

Both societies have hosted large regional tournaments with international reach since the shift to online debate: Parassat Open 2020, run by DC “Parassat”, and Cinammon Scroll, by the University of Auckland Debating Society. Auckland also hosted a novice tournament with participating from multiple universities.

Both societies emphasize the potential of online tournaments to equalize access to debate and improve opportunities for local circuit participants: the Parassat Open established a proportional quota of team slots for Central Asian teams at their Open.  Similarly, Daniel says that the upcoming online Pre-Australs (Whippersnappa), which might “rival an ordinary Australs in size,” will be free to enter in order to reduce barriers to access and inclusion of participants.

Outreach Initiatives

Daniel describes many programs they’ve established to improve virtual outreach and continuous engagement with their members and potential members: the streaming of “regular Thursday debating seminars, a popular weekly talk-back show with international guests and direct community engagement (Noise From the Bench), and live debates from tournaments that we have run or attended that have attracted up to 5,000 viewers.” The University of Auckland Debating Society also has “a Facebook practice page to organize Zoom debates, a Thursday club night for anyone interested, and targeted events for women within the club.”

DC “Parassat” will continue competing in open and novice tournaments in both Russian and English, and their coaches have been preparing lectures and workshops online. Gaini anticipates that schools and universities will begin to open in the next few months – their academic year is not yet concluding.

However, if virtual education continues in the next year, they have a plan: “a lot of educational content in social networks, online trainings, workshops, tournaments, and other events. In the near future there is a School Debate Academy, a traditional event of DC “Parassat” for beginners.

Gaini hopes that the move to online events, especially for beginners, will enable “students [..] not only from Astana but also from other cities of Kazakhstan” to be included.

III. Challenges to Virtual Recruitment

Reach

Gaini describes difficulties with using social media (VK, Instagram, Facebook, and Telegram) to target key audiences – it’s hard to know which to use and how to draw interest, even after years of recruitment. However, Gaini says that DC “Parassat” will continue experimenting and see what changes.

Daniel suggests that their diversity of online content, including a first year law seminar popular with the rest of the student body, has helped them retain interest in the society. Their outreach has also benefited from an already  platform-concentrated audience.

Interest

Interesting people in debate. It is difficult to communicate what debate offers as a “unique tool for development” even at live meetings, Gaini explains. However, due to quarantine, their may be a vacuum in other development opportunities which will push more people to look into debate as an option- and “DC “Parassat” is ready to answer their requests.”

Daniel agrees with the potential appeal of virtual attendance, pointing to ease of access encouraging newcomers to take a step into practice from “the comfort of their homes.”

Retention

Coaching and connecting are key retention strategies for DC “Parassat”, Gaini says, with in-person social outreach being especially crucial in communities that don’t trust social networks and online communication. Communicating by video will be a barrier to motivating newcomers to become more involved and improve.

Daniel agrees that it is a crucial challenge to balance the development and social aspects of the Auckland Debating Society in doing online outreach. The University of Auckland Debating Society has been incorporating social/development events into their online organizing, such as post-practice Wikipedia Zoom races and Netflix watch parties for women in the club.

Coordination

Daniel suggests that each society may want a digital or technology officer in leadership, pointing to Auckland’s adaptation to Zoom and Facebook live as being key to their society’s ability to “help out both nationally and internationally. For example, we were able to host and stream the final of the Asia Queer Open with less than 10 minutes’ notice! This was nice for the Auckland team in the final, but also for the thousands of people (especially young, LGBT debaters) who were able to view the debate.”

 

Mittwochs-Feature: The Mittwochs-Feature (Wednesday-Feature) features an idea, interview or book regarding debate – usually in German, sometimes in English, sometimes both. If you would like to start a debate please mail us your idea to team@ achteminute.de .

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