Thursday 14 June 2012

When is an award not an award?

Tonight I am embarrassed to be at the British Cartographic Society Symposium in Basingstoke.  Each year there are a number of awards conferred on those who submit their professional work for judgement by their peers.  I have submitted work on numerous occasions and been fortunate to have received two awards in the past.  It's been a source of great pride.  This year, my colleague Damien Demaj and I submitted a map to the John C Bartholomew small scale thematic mapping category.  I believe something like 6 other individuals or organisations did likewise (though that is unverified).  Unfortunately, for some reason or another, BCS, with the support of Collins Bartholomew and the Bartholomews family did not bring themselves to make a decision on a winner in the category they sponsor.  The category wasn't even mentioned and no explanation or thanks to those who entered offered. This is both insulting and unprofessional.

It is not the winning that matters.  In many ways it's irrelevant...but for a sponsor to absolve themselves of the responsibility to decide who, amongst a single crop of entries, is the best in a given year is lame.  As Editor of The Cartographic Journal it is my job to ensure the Editorial Board select a winning paper from each issue.  This requires people to read and re-read; to compare and contrast; to look for uniqueness, innovation and high quality work.  It takes time. Our baseline is that we compare papers to those published within the year.  So we select a winner. What we do not do is say we found them lacking compared to last year; or find some other excuse for not making the award. Neither do we hide behind silence.

In my view this has seriously devalued the award and, more generally, the awards.  Why have awards if the judges cannot make a decision?

Let me be absolutely clear...the fact I entered is immaterial.  I neither need nor seek praise in this way but I support the awards by entering.  What I hope to do here is stick up for all those who did enter and note the dissatisfaction.  I am not alone and I have heard comments from many delegates that feel it is a ludicrous situation.

The outcome? Hopefully BCS will address their entire approach to their awards; be more transparent; and reserve the right to take sponsor's judgments as merely advisory.  Awards have to be made, particularly as there is so much encouragement to enter and so much hype to make them be seen as prestigious. People take a huge risk entering their work and have a right to expect a resolution.

I won't be bothering again. I wasted my time, effort and $280 in postage. For that, I expected one of the entries to win. Instead, I congratulate all those who entered and took the risk. I particularly congratulate the winners of those who were awarded in other categories.  I am sorry that, for some, it was an entirely pointless effort in the John C Bartholomew category this year. Of course I'll be accused of sour grapes but to me it's about making a stand to get it right in the future.  This cannot happen again. One last thought...there was a £500 prize for the winner of the John C Bartholomew category.  It would be nice if they donated it to the London Mapping Festival's charity (MapAction) given it wasn't awarded.

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