Note to readers: any other tips you can think of would be much appreciated – please comment!
The most important thing I’ve learned is that TP is not an individual event. You can do all the brief writing yourself… but if you do, you’ll probably burn out, have no life, and have no friends. It’s far easier to collaborate with other people. That’s where a research ring comes in.
What a research ring is and why your club should have one
A research ring (also known as a “research club” or “evidence pool”) is a pretty simple concept. A while ago, policy debaters started to realize that cooperation is helpful for furthering competitive abilities. So they got together and agreed to each submit one brief every x weeks. That way, club members could always make sure they had a brief on virtually every case out there, while expending less energy. They’re incredibly handy – I’ve run them for both my club and for the regional prep. You get quality research, and you don’t have to write it all.
What a research ring is not
A research ring is, of course, not a complete substitute for individual research. Don’t assume, “oh, the club has a brief… I guess I shouldn’t worry about that case any more.” All members of the ring have to make sure they read the club briefs as they come out, and decide whether they’re sufficient. In other words, treat ring briefs as an updating sourcebook.
How to make successful research ring (setup)
The first thing to do is, of course, stir up interest. (refer them to this post if they need prodding 😉 ) Obviously, the more the merrier, but you also want good researchers… you don’t want one team always submitting one five page brief with evidence from letsnukerussianow.org, and mooching off of your fifty page law journal briefs. (if it’s a club ring, though, you probably don’t have a choice as to who joins)
Second, you need to think up some clear and concise guidelines. How many briefs per month? What are the source requirements (are you banning think tanks?)? How long do the briefs need to be?
Third, if it’s a big ring, you probably want some help. You’ll probably want to check all the briefs to make sure the links still work, the evidence isn’t taken out of context, and all the other good stuff that makes a good brief… good.
How to make successful research ring (tech)
There’s a lot of technical options for a research ring. You could, of course, coordinate everything purely by email, but that’s a lot of work and gets disorganized fast.
One option is using Yahoo Groups or Google Groups. They’re kind of like souped up mailing lists. You have all the standard email list features, so everyone can send group emails quickly and easily, but you also have support for file hosting, webpage hosting (for caselists and such), and (with Yahoo) calendaring and links. I’ve used Google Groups several times, and I’ve always been happy.
Other options include SharePoint (which Ethos uses, but is also very expensive), a wiki, or some other collaboration tool.
Finally, there’s the Evidence Scribe/Factsmith option. Both these programs are all-in-one suites for research, and both support collaboration. Evidence Scribe only does collaboration through its online program (currently in closed beta), automatically syncing with other members. Factsmith, on the other hand, syncs manually through an FTP host (you’ll need to set that up your self). Both tools are, at the end of the day, only useful if you use them for research, as opposed to Microsoft Word.
How to make successful research ring (follow through)
A research ring is a powerful tool, but if you have ten eager researchers and nothing to research, it’ll be wasted. Make sure your club keeps an up-to-date caselist. You can do this by trading information with other teams, sending younger siblings to time other rounds, and so on. And don’t rely on the Openness wiki… while it’s better than nothing, a lot of the cases on there are either dummies or out of date.
Not everyone in your research ring is going to be as excited about researching as you. Make sure you have a policy of “you don’t get the other briefs until you submit your own”, otherwise, the ring ends up collapsing and no one does any work. (enforcement = 90% of policy)
In addition, help your club keep on track. Add all your members on GChat, and pester them constantly. It works, and everyone will get research in the end… so everyone benefits.