Disclaimer: I’m writing this to work through an extraordinarily strong reaction to a passing comment. I am not suggesting that “No barcode, no result, no exceptions” is a bad thing.
One of the very few rules that parkrun HQ has is “No barcode, no result, no exceptions“. It was introduced back in 2013* when parkrun was really taking off and the numbers of events, volunteers and parkrunners was beginning to rise exponentially**.
Before the rule was introduced, it was fairly common to see volunteers at parkrun taking down details of any runners who had forgotten their barcodes so that their results could be added in manually when the results were processed. That additional manual processing is something which some volunteers at smaller parkruns were quite happy to do. Adding in one or two results from time to time, for runners you probably knew personally wasn’t such a big deal. At larger parkruns, however, it was becoming a time sink, and parkrun HQ decided, quite rightly, that they would put the onus back onto the parkrunners to bring their barcodes. “No barcode, no result” was born.
The trouble was that parkrunners don’t only stick to their home parkrun. They have a pesky habit of visiting other parkruns, either in passing or by design. That meant that volunteers at parkruns who were enforcing “No barcode, no result” would be met with “but they added me at the parkrun I visited the other week” and volunteers came under pressure to make exceptions. To support those volunteers, the message became stronger. “No barcode, no result, no exceptions”. Small parkruns with time-rich volunteers who were perfectly happy to add in results manually were asked to harden their hearts and fall into line. The message went out to parkrunners in newsletters and became a regular feature of run briefings and new runner briefings and gradually the general parkrunning population moved from expecting to have their results added manually if they’d forgotten their barcode to accepting that they wouldn’t have their results added manually if they’d forgotten their barcode.
Of course, life is messy. Some parkruns do still routinely add results manually and others will add them if asked. An unspoken modification to the rule emerged. “No parkrun, no result, nobody mention the exceptions”. If you come across a rogue parkrun (or heaven forbid benefit from attending a rogue parkrun on a day when you have forgotten your barcode) you must never tell. Exceptions must be buried under the carpet because if you can’t get everyone to comply with the rule, then pretending that everyone is complying is the next best thing.
The trouble is that not all parkrunners know about the unspoken modification. Why would they? They are aware of “No barcode, no result” and they (hopefully) accept that if they forget their barcode they shouldn’t badger the event team to make an exception, but if the event team seem perfectly happy to add results in manually, they see it as a kindness and want to say thank you.
Is that wrong?
If I break a rule and you publicly thank me for it thus exposing my rule breaking for all to see, should you get flak for it? Are you the villain of the piece because you broke an unspoken rule that you may or may not have been aware of? Am I the villain of the piece because I broke a clear and long established rule that I should definitely have been aware of? Is my community the villain of the piece because it has decided to prioritise the satisfaction of its locals over the needs of the wider community? Is the wider community the villain of the piece because it has assumed compliance with something without taking adequate steps to monitor and reinforce that compliance? Is the rule itself the villain of the piece because it is “one size fits all” in a community which is far from “one size”?
I agree whole heartedly with “No barcode, no result.” I will happily accept “No barcode, no result, no exceptions.” if that is what is needed to protect parkrun volunteers from taking flak from people who don’t want to accept “No barcode, no result”.
What I disagree with is the unspoken modification to the rule, or rather with the finger pointing that takes place when anyone transgresses it. As someone who hates unfamiliar situations because of a paralysing fear that I will break an unspoken rule and be ostracised for it forever, and as an ex-auditor who has seen nothing but harm come from people pretending that rules are being followed when they are not, I want to erase the unspoken modification from the books.
If “No barcode, no result, no exceptions” isn’t working, we need to know about it. We need to look at it again to decide if it’s still fit for purpose. If it is, we need to clamp down on non-compliance at the source. Go back to parkruns who are breaking ranks and remind them again (and again, and again) why the no exceptions element is crucial. We should see incidents of parkrunners thanking teams for making an exception as a way of monitoring the success of our policy. If it isn’t still fit for purpose because what is needed for Bushy parkrun is utterly ridiculous for Yakutsk Dokhsun parkrun, then we need to modify the rule.
No barcode, no result, some exceptions at the discretion of the local team*** .
It’s not catchy, I grant you. But it may better reflect the reality of such a diverse, global phenomenon.
** Figuratively. Probably not literally.
*** who are under strict instructions to make no exceptions for anyone who argues