Contests

April 26, 2011

I often have this gut instinct not to like ‘contests’ or lists of “Best or Top (fill in the number)”.  I know this is not a popular view.  I also know that yes, we all like accolades, it makes us feel good about ourselves and our work, and a little competition can be a good thing.  But is the time and effort put into these contests the best use of our limited time and resources as we work to make a better world?  A major focus of my work is about sharing information that can help practitioners develop and implement practical programs to change people’s quality of life for the better.  Thus I want to get as much good information out there, in accessible ways, as possible.

A list by Devex  that came out last week of “40 Top Development Innovators” brought this reaction once again, and has helped to clarify for me what I don’t like about these type of lists. First let me say I highly respect the work of all of the organizations on this list and they are all doing some good and in most cases ‘innovative’ work.  But what was the goal of this list?  If it is to say ‘you’re doing a good job’ and your peers respect you, then the goal was probably accomplished.  But wouldn’t a project like this become so much more valuable to the sector if the goal was also to provide useful information in an accessible way that other organizations and practitioners could learn from?

There is a lot of information one has to sift through to get to the hidden (and usable) gems in these organizational descriptions.  Buried in most of the organizational descriptions under the question “Can you provide a specific example of something your organization has done that is particularly innovative?” are the beginnings of some very practical information that could be of use to other organizations.  What of instead of just a listing (or in addition to), the innovations could be pulled out and organized in a way that they could be searched by others?  Even better what if Devex (or any other organization that has similar contests and “Best” or “Top” lists) then included this information on their website so that it would be searchable into the future? What a contribution that could be to modeling effective ‘knowledge management’ in the digital age.

I know we won’t easily eliminate all of these ‘contests’ and “Best of…lists’ but if you are with an organization that is sponsoring one of them, please think twice as to what your goals are.  You could be really innovative by trying something different that could make a real and long lasting contribution, rather than becoming  just another quick news story.