William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, USA is credited with saying ‘Inquire often, but judge rarely, and thou wilt not often be mistaken.’ Yet how often do we do the reverse -inquire rarely and judge often. Perhaps it’s more a question of the quality of the judgement. For example, criminal defendants and promise-breakers (some politicians) need to be judged well, fairly and on the facts, if society is to progress.
Making an adverse judgement isn’t necessarily fatal. In fact, it can be a deliberate part of the improvement process. Sports coaches are quick to judge mistakes and provide feedback to the players. In the business of software development, the use of beta testing to reduce a product’s release time is another example. One group of users sit in judgement on the initial release, bugs and all. A much wider group review and judge the final, finished product.
In the entertainment industry, a variety of judgement methods exist. For example, the producers of certain reality TV shows deliberately invite viewers to be the judges and ‘vote off’ the programme people they think are unworthy contestants. An example is the Big Brother series in the UK.
In other UK reality TV shows, such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing, the judges are a combination of appointed experts and the viewing public. Whether this is to contrast judgements on technical merit versus popularity, or to create the potential for greater controversy in the choices made (to boost the show ratings) is difficult to know.
Some TV programmes rely on the presenters’ judgements alone. These include competition-based shows where the presenter awards points for a correct answer. Another example is in review-based shows such as The Gadget Show, America’s Next Top Model, Top Gear and The Culture Show.
Finally, there are programmes where the participants themselves are the judges, with the viewing audience judging the judges. For example, Come Dine With Me and Wife Swap.
The interesting thing about these judgement variants isn’t the sheer variety on offer, but instead, the importance of judging to the production itself. Having judges as a key element creates added drama, critical review, additional commentary and interpretation for the viewer. Viewers learn that there are technical standards to reach. They can learn more about the technical standards being assessed. They are made aware of the extent of genuine innovation on offer, since the judges often comment on examples of originality and technical difficulty when they see them. Judges can also be colourful characters, competing with the contestants for entertainment value to the viewer.
Arguably, many of our public policies are designed to encourage participation rather than winning the race. Yet the very presence of judgement in so many areas of our lives suggests people cannot help but make comparisons.
A popular trend is the creation of award ceremonies. Many sporting groups, companies, trade and professional bodies hold them to pay tribute to important achievement in that field. In sport, there are leagues, world cups and the Olympics. In Science, there are Nobel prizes, while the motion picture industry has the Academy Awards.
In fields such as education, there are student report cards, school and university league tables. In business, there are employee performance reports, entity credit ratings, audit reports, accreditation standards, market research results and share prices.
Governments create policies, regulators and laws, all leading to judgements made on a daily basis.
Finally, we the voters get to sit in judgement at every election cycle.
So what can we learn from the above? To embrace diversity, but embrace objective judgement with it. That judgement has an important place, providing the criticism is constructive. That judgement on style is different from judgement on substance. And finally, that judgement needs its reasons. Just as reasons need fairness.