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Democratizing the Microsoft MVP Award

By Tony Davis,

The MVP award has so far succeeded well in rewarding people for helping communities of developers, and is generally held in high regard by those communities. However, one cannot help thinking that it succeeds despite the way it has been set up. In particular, the community must be able to scrutinise the way that the program is managed, and the reasoning behind the issuing of the awards. There should, in short, be more openness and democracy.

To have a chance of receiving the reward, you first have to be nominated by another member of the technical community. In practice, this generally means someone who is already an MVP, or a Microsoft employee. The work of those nominated is then subject to review by MVP regional directors ("super MVPs") and Microsoft employees. The phrase 'Microsoft Employee' crops up twice here. So, the first hurdle is to get nominated by someone who's already "in the club", and the second is to pass a rigorous assessment based on your "ability to help others make the most of their Microsoft technology".

This process has succeeded because everyone has wanted it to succeed, not necessarily because it is satisfactory. Why, for example, isn’t there any community voting within the nomination process? Surely, it makes more sense if a set, minority number of MVP slots each year are reserved for community-elected MVPs in each major technology area. Sites such as SQLServerCentral, SQL Team, SQLBlog, and so on, could then be encouraged to nominate those members who had contributed most effectively to their communities. The voting process could be hosted on MSDN, with anyone holding an MSDN subscription being eligible to vote for those candidates they considered most worthy of consideration for the award. The top x candidates could then be assessed in the normal way for one of the set number of community-voted MVP slots.

It is also very unclear to most of us what criteria are used for nomination.  What, for example, is the emphasis placed by Microsoft on the various different forms of community contribution (forums, articles, conferences, user groups etc.)?

These two steps – democratizing the election process and publishing more details on the selection criteria – would help to engage the whole community in the MVP program. It would ensure its continued success, and do a lot to silence those who occasionally wonder if the award is more about who you know, where you contribute and which tools and technologies you choose to evangelize, rather than what you know and how many people you help. It would also reassure those who are troubled by the way that the gift of MVP status could, potentially, be given and removed without any input from the communities that MVPs serve.



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