Improving your mechanism

A well crafted mechanism immediately puts the proposition in a position of strength, so it's worth sharpening up debaters' skills in this vital area. Here are some activities to help them decide the best way to put into action what the motion is asking for.

Start by asking students: what would you like to change about the world?

Have them write down the three changes they would most like to see change.

Then ask them: how would you do it? E.g.'I would like there to be no more racism'. How will you do this? Will you lock up racists? Execute them? Or will you educate them out of racism? What if they don't want to be educated? Etc.

Explain the debate motion tells us where we want to get to, e.g, 'This house would abolish racism' wants to get to a world without racism; the mechanism tells us how to get there, e.g. punishment for racists, education etc.

The difference between a definition and a mechanism is that the definition explains what kind of problem we are solving through the motion (e.g. you might define racism as any action which harms someone on the basis of their race) ; the mechanism shows us exactly how to solve it (e.g. making a law against these actions).

Discuss what is likely to make a good mechanism. It needs to be:

  • Practical - something that can be done
  • Enforceable - something that will be accepted by most people
  • Simple - something that can be explained in a five minute speech

So, for example, a mechanism for 'This house would tax air travel' might be a 100% tax on the price of all air tickets. This would be:

  • Practical - the airline has to give half of what it takes from the customer to the government; the government can make sure they do this.
  • Enforceable - people are concerned enough about climate change to accept this; they managed without air travel all through lockdown.
  • Simple - it's an easy thing to explain.

Divide students into groups. Have them analyse these motions and come up with a mechanism for each:

  • This house would ban cars from city centres
  • This house would abolish entrance exams for secondary schools
  • This house would abolish zoos
  • This house would make attendance at lessons voluntary
  • This house would make all students do an hour of sport every day

They then present their mechanism, showing how it is

  • Practical
  • Enforceable
  • Simple

End by asking students to suggest a motion. Then devise a mechanism for it together as a class.