Thursday, December 07, 2006

Prizes and such matters

"Crispin" from writes to me as follows:

"I have been thinking about "prizes" recently and their ability to stimulate advances or maybe even to work for good. I was wondering what would be the most beneficial outcomes that could be advanced by creation of a small number of prizes? Any thoughts? It would make an interesting post."

I couldn't find an e-mail ID for you or any Feedback form on your website,Crispin, otherwise I would have sent this to you. But then others would not have the pleasure(?) of seeing my response to you...!

Anyway, prizes: certainly, they provide recognition, and that is good. One probably needs to distinguish between the satisfaction and encouragement that prizes provide to a recipient, and the public encouragement of the relevant activity.

The former happens in any case (I think and hope!). The latter is a more complicated matter, because it is linked with the question of publicity.

Having served on a jury or two, I am very aware of all the hard work that goes into selecting a prize winner - sometimes, collectively, the jury will have put in as much effort as the prize-winner! Not to mention the work put in by the organisers or the work put in by the individual(s) who earned the money that funds the prize.

However, all that effort (i.e. doing the work that is being recognised in the first place, as well as the work done by others) amounts to little more than individual satisfaction if there is no resulting publicity. And that is an enormous issue today.

If you endow the largest prize in any field, you are more or less guaranteed to get some publicity.

Small prizes can and do win publicity, but you have to be that much more inventive and creative if you want to get the attention of the media. You may want to look carefully at what the Booker Man Prize for Literature, or what the Nobel Prize Committee does, if you want some pointers regarding how best to win publicity. Yes, that does take a lot of money, but not only money....

So go ahead and endow a number of small prizes, Crispin. They will spread the cheer and satisfaction around to the winners in any case. If you want additionally to encourage the related activity as a whole, on the other hand, go either for a single large prize or make sure that you put enough time money aside for the specific purpose of organising the effort of getting media attention - which is not as simple a matter as merely buying advertising.

BTW, in my view, the USA should get the prize for creating the largest number of prizes (they seem to have prizes for everything). The UK, Northern Europe and Canada come more or less equal second. The non-Reformed parts of the world remain pretty poor in the number of prizes they offer. Sphere: Related Content

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