Each Debate will have a clearly stated, short debate question, and each team will defend a specific, nonambiguous and clearly defined answer to that question. For example, the debate topic could be "Should Higher Education Be Free?", and there could be three teams, each of them defending these sample answers:
- Team Y: "Yes, Higher Education should always be free."
- Team N: "No, People should invest in their own education."
- Team D: "Higher Education should be free for those under a specific level of income."
We explicitly encourage a non-dualistic view of complex issues, so we suggest trying to avoid "yes-teams" and "no-teams" as rarely real-world issues have a simple "yes/no" answer.
Topics should be real-world, relevant topics, and can be proposed to the VPE of the club by any member.
Topics that are not suitable for debates (APDA, 2016):
- Purely subjective topics for which no objective arguments can be presented. E.g.: Which religion is "true"?.
- Tight cases (Topics for which it's extremely difficult or impossible to argue a different side of the base position). For example, No person should ever be tortured by the state without a reason.
- Tautologies (Topics for which only one position can logically exist). For example: Is the Earth smaller than the Sun?.
- Extremely knowledge-specific cases (Topics that require a great deal of specific knowledge in order to be properly debated). For example: "Disposing of PVC: alternative compounds"
When organizing the debate, it's suggested that the VPE merely presents the topic to the members (either electronically or at a meeting), and waits for people to express the positions they want to defend, rather than presenting the topic and a pre-defined set of options. The first system allows teams to "emerge" naturally and avoids being labeled as biased or one-sided.
It is also recommended that people sign up for teams that truly represent their position, rather than defend half-heartedly positions they don't believe in.
It's the role of the VPE to decide the final composition of teams.
Time / Space debates (as per the APDA) are a special type of debate in which the teams are asked to play the role of a specific person (usually a political leader) or body (a government, a board of directors) at a specific point of time in history. For example: "You're John. F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. You have just received the latest satellite photos showing that the URSS is installing ICBMs in Cuba".
The debates may or may not specify a spatial location. In the above case, it is not relevant - the place where Kennedy decided his course of action didn't influence his decision. However, if the debate topic was "You're General Gordon Meade; you've just defeated Robert Lee at Gettysburg", then the location (a battlefield where thousands lost their lives) might have certainly influenced his decision not to pursue the Confederate army.
Time/Space debates proceed as normal debates, with one notable exception: since they are debates that simulate a historical situation, a team representing a specific position cannot use information that wasn't available to the represented person or body at the time.
For example, if a team is representing the Japanese emperor in WWII, they cannot use the knowledge of the existence of Nuclear Weapons. Note that this rule restricts the use of information that was not known by the represented person, but not information that was known but not became widely known until afterward. Continuing with the same example, it's perfectly valid to assume that the Japanese emperor would know about the Pearl Harbor attack plans in a debate happening on Dec 1st , 1941, even though the attack itself happened on Dec 7th.
Information whose availability is not agreed on by historians should be avoided. Continuing once more with the above example, it's not yet agreed by historians whether the US government did or did not have clear prior notice of the attack, so if a team is representing the US government on Dec 1st, 1941, the Pearl Harbor attack should not be used.
Although the APDA recommends the rule that debate should be done respecting the psychological personality of the impersonated leader, we consider that this would steer the debate more into the theatrical, role-playing and research area rather than the argumentative/educational side on which Agora is focused. For an Agora debate, it would be perfectly valid if a team representing the Nazi government in June 20th, 1941 ( Two days before the beginning of Operation Barbarossa - the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany. ) and defending that it would be better not to proceed further scored higher than the other teams and "won", although such an outcome of events could presumably have never really happened historically due to Hitler's personality.
It is also recommended that for Time/Space debates, topics are not picked from very recent or very controversial events unless the club has a solid tradition of civilized debate without personal arguments.
Debates are organized and scheduled by the VPE of the Club, at least two weeks in advance. Each debate requires that the following roles be filled:
- A debate moderator.
- Debate Judges, in the case of a contest format.
- A debate timer (can be the same as the regular timer of the meeting)
- Two or more teams with at least two members each.For practical purposes, it's recommended to have no more than five teams.
- If possible, each team should have at least one backup member that can replace a no-show.
- All teams must have the same number of team members.
- Filler Words Counter and Word of the Day are not used during the section
- The Grammarian is used during the section since language correctness is a goal in all speeches.
- If the club has a Body Language or Listening evaluator, the role can be used during the section as well.
- The Meeting Evaluator should evaluate the debate moderator.
- The Meeting Leader introduces the Debate Moderator and the remaining roles as usual.
The following is a list of materials needed for the debate:
- An Entry and an Exit poll "ballot", for each audience member.
- A set of cards with the names or numbers of the team (for each audience member), for the Q&A section. If the teams are named with single-digit or single-letter names as suggested, these cards can be printed once and reused for all debates.
The role of the debate moderator is:
- To introduce the topic of the debate
- To conduct the entry and exit polls and announce the results.
- To introduce the teams and the position that each team is defending.
- To give the floor to teams in turn and receive it from them.
- To make sure that the debate rules are followed
- To apply disciplinary measures during the debate to keep the tone polite and respectful.
The debate moderator is helped by the timer to control the lengths of the speaking turns.
In contests, the Debate Moderator also briefs the Debate Judges.
Debate judges are in charge of:
- Questioning the teams during the Q&A section.
- Offering feedback at the end of the meeting
- If this is a contest, awarding scores to each of the teams.
They should be unbiased (as much as possible) and qualified professionals.
Debate Judges need not be Agora Speakers members and, in fact, it is encouraged that they are not. Some suggestions for judges could be:
- Teachers or faculty staff of schools and universities.
- Members of other clubs of Agora or other public speaking organizations.
- Local politicians or political party members/leaders
- Business owners.
The last two are especially indicated for debates involving social or ethical issues.