Tag Archives: SGAC

On how to administer bad surveys

As a general rule, I support the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC, below improperly referred to as SCAG) because it is their duty to represent the views of youth to the United Nations, which is a noble goal in my opinion. That's a very useful duty. However, it helps if you do it properly. Below is a bit of feedback from someone in the industry that was submitted to SGAC in response to their Near Earth Object survey and the more recent USA 193 shootdown survey. I would provide the links to the survey for you so you could make your own judgment, but neither are available online at their originally advertised addresses.

As a young person who works on various strategic planning projects at NASA Headquarters, might I ask why SCAG has developed a pattern of poorly executed surveys? Your results can not be used in serious policy discussions because of their methodological errors.

First, I'm basing my assessment on the two recent surveys regarding Near Earth Objects and the shoot-down of a satellite by the U.S. Navy. Both surveys claimed to attempt to assess the opinions of young people, and the NEO survey results were reported to the UN as being the opinions of young people. However, a basic understanding of the statistics behind surveys says that to accomplish your stated goal you need to survey a random sample of people. You do not have that, so you have failed at your stated goal and then misrepresented your results.

In fact, the disfunction goes deeper than this. The NEO survey was planned to "teach" people about NEOs, as per your chat forums. That is not the role of a survey, especially not one that the organization told outsiders was to assess existing opinions. You can't both assess existing opinions and try to change those opinions at the same time. Worse, the NEO and shoot-down survey questions are terribly biased and a casual observer can't help but see what opinions you want survey respondents to have.

Finally, you do not know your margin of error. All credible major surveys report how many respondents there were and the margin of error in the results. You report neither. You also have worse than a random sample. You have a sample which has been sent to your website through marketing efforts. You tell people you want them "to express themselves" or some such. You have a sample that is self-selected and by definition does not represent the wider population.

These are basic errors that have been made with multiple surveys. Please do something that achieves your real objective, such as a real survey if you want to report the views people already have, or a blog to let people vent on a topic, or a set of fact sheets if you want to give them SCAG's view on a controversial topic. I do not know which of these is SCAG's real objective, but please properly caveat the survey results that you have already collected.

For a little extra boost, surveys such as the one mentioned above look like this SGAC projects survey: link. (Actually, if you follow the original link to the NEO and ASAT surveys, this is the new destination.). My problem with this? Look at the link at the bottom to space-industry.com. This is a money-making venture for the SGAC executive director. Of course you won't get quality survey results when the purpose is to get quantity survey results that could be used to field test a product or entity that provides income for you.

Donate? Maybe. How will my money be used?

There are some effective ways to donate to youth interested in space exploration in which a larger portion of what you donate is actually used on the youth.

This is what is sticking in my mind about this SGAC donation campaign: how is the money being used? I can't tell you with much certainty. During the ten months before I quit the Executive Committee, I requested an up-to-date copy of the SGAC financial statement from the executive director. No luck. Several draft copies were offered for feedback, and I did ask questions about debts and expenses that appeared to be missing or in some cases, four-digit expenses that were listed on the draft statement that had not been cleared by the executive committee.

Were any of these questions addressed? No.

Was an updated statement offered? No.

What should this mean to me, that the officer responsible for maintaining the organization refused to answer questions about money he spent?

See a forwarded email below, which I have, to date, received six copies of... the Ron Paul of space advocacy, without the associated money bomb. Maybe I should salute them for having the temerity to ask me--however, I know it is a form email--but I will be keeping my money out of this campaign and offering it to other places where it will be better utilized.

I can think of two examples that will still benefit people that want to attend SGC. I encourage going this route instead of not funding altogether. I will fund youth to go, but in a way that I trust.

First, you can donate directly to a participant that wants to attend. Wait until the delegate selections occur in a few months and offer to give a sponsorship directly to one of them, not through the organization. Else the middleman will take a cut. How can SGC cost 300+ euros when a program of similar duration and scope in the same region (stretching here, but Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are neighbors) cost less than 10 euros? Think about it. Us Americans might lose a few dollars on a tax writeoff, but instead a delegate will be getting several multiples of what you miss.

Second, you could donate to the international SEDS campaign to send students to SEDSIC/IAC, which is not coincidentally linked to SGC; participants should be able to attend both (I am an SGC "alumnus"). When fellow SEDS alumni and supporters donated money for students to go to India for SEDSIC, all donated money went to the students. 100%. The only money that did not go to students went to Western Union fees--I learned that not all students from all countries could take personal checks--but I covered these fees personally in addition to the other sponsorships. If interested in this, let me know.

I support SGC in principle--the idea of getting youth worldwide together in a single place, provided they accomplish something of value. But it is asinine to think that it will cost 7 to 10 alumni an average of $50 each just to get one of them in the door.

Perhaps next on the agenda of transparency is to more closely analyze how 300+ euros/person could be spent. Surely some goes to scholarships, but after the smallest SGC ever, how much? How much went to manager salary? How much went to funding the manager's trip to India in February? How much of the money raised went to sending a youth to Hyderabad?

You should know where your money goes. Ask questions. This is not the only way to support the youth if you are not satisfied with the answers.

Dear Kirk,

As an alumnus of the Space Generation Congress, we have a special opportunity for you. SGAC has launched its 2008 fundraising campaign and one of the important things we raise money for each year is the Space Generation Congress, taking place next year in Glasgow, Scotland.  From 2002 to 2007 nearly 500 young people from around the world have taken part in the congress, including you!

Many of you have told us how important you felt your attendance at SGC was, and so we would like to give you the chance to share that experience with another young person in 2008.

For that, we have set up a special link where you can donate directly to SGC, so that we know exactly how you would like us to use your valuable contribution. To make a contribution, please go to http://spacegeneration.org/donate_sgc

Imagine if the 500 SGC alumni each donated an average of $50 each? That would mean $25,000 could be used to fund nearly 15 full scholarships to the congress. Combine that with corporate funding for SGC and we might be able to have our best attendance ever in 2008.

We look forward to you continued support and contributions to the future of youth in space.

SGAC + money, part 2

SGAC is getting ready to kick off a donation campaign: link. I think it's a good idea to support the organization, but I won't be since I've had some experience with their fiscal creativity. As a minor example, you can donate to help Chris and Kevin pay their own salaries. Why do I even note this? In November I resigned from the SGAC Executive Committee due primarily to a lack of financial and executive accountability. Since I believe in the premise of the organization, and was not successful in getting some elements of the executive leadership to be accountable for what they spend and what they do, I'm going to do some cleanup from the outside. And I want to purge the frustration that I harbor from being a member of their organization--lots of nice people and a good email list, but I'm not really sure what we accomplished.

(And after looking at their budget, I would mention the "Launch your space mission" campaign that they are trying to raise 10,000 euros for. I'm not sure how that fits in their mandate to "focus on pragmatic space policy advise"... Zero people have signed up for this mission since its release in the summer. It's vexing since another one of their mandates is to promote cooperation between organizations, and this mission is in competition with other programs, some of which run for free and thus are better suited to a large portion of their constituency which reside in developing nations. See PongSat for a free alternative that launches regularly, albeit not to the same altitude.)

I have a few other notes to make on this point, plus some commentary on the neglect (refusal?) of the Space Generation Congress to cooperate with the SEDS International Conference. Last year it was a refusal--the design decision to not collocate made some sense, but the refusal to help advertise or even mention the event, as was done by SEDS for SGC, did not. This year, despite the fact that one of the SGAC co-chairs knows who is the proper contact from the host organization UKSEDS (Alex had forwarded an email about the UK Space Conference to the Global list), the SGC local organizing team has scheduled a meeting with the IAC local organizing committee without any coordination from UKSEDS. It is more detrimental for them. Also, they know that I am a contact person as adviser. Communicate and coordinate indeed...

So, I'm hoping for the best. In the meantime, I'm going to do what I think is the most effective thing to improve the SGAC organization by performing what they will not: transparency. The purpose is to improve, not destroy, since working with students and young professionals is what I do in SEDS and AAS (and soon IAF). Let's see what we can do. I complain because I intend to make better.


SGAC + money = ...

SGAC + money = ...

Why does this make me uneasy? Actually, maybe uneasy isn't the precise word -- maybe I feel bad, or sorry, or something like that. Maybe it's because I know Chris Boshuizen is asking his friends -- past SGAC folks: the names on that list -- to donate to SGAC, which in turn goes to pay his own salary. $_Jessy + $_Robbie + $_Mark + $_Julia ~= MonthSalary_Chris. And I hope that the mystery donation isn't like the last mystery donation we received in SGAC, which was something that we are expected to pay back; sounds more like a loan than a donation.

I wouldn't want to be in his position, certainly -- effectively asking my friends to donate money for my salary. It would feel weird. If you ask me, having a paid executive director might be better suited for a foundation that is built for taking money and turning it around to pay for overhead costs. SGAC isn't the right format for that. (This is why I enjoy working on the seds.org server, adding information to the wiki, advising students, etc. -- I don't get paid for it. In fact, I can't get paid for it, and that's the way I like it. Thus my hobby is only a burden on myself... and maybe Ryan McLinko of SEDS-USA who deals with a lot of my emails.)

Mo' money: how much does the Space Generation Congress cost? 305 euros for students and 370 euros for non-students. How much does the similarly-timed and -placed SEDS International Conference cost? (sorry, you have to open a .pdf brochure to verify) INR 500 for Indian students, INR 750 for foreign students, INR 1500 for Indian non-students, and INR 2000 for foreign non-students.


Student (euros) 305 euros 9.23 euros (Indian)
13.85 euros (Foreign)
Non-student (euros) 370 euros 27.69 euros (Indian)
36.92 euros (Foreign)
Student (INR) INR 16,525 INR 500 (Indian)
INR 750 (Foreign)
Non-student (INR) INR 20,046 INR 1500 (Indian)
INR 2000 (Foreign)

Conversions done via xe.com.

Now, the exception: if you pay after today (and there is probably some leeway with this -- SGAC is not evil), the prices change to 355 euros for students and 420 euros for non-students.

Student (euros) 355 euros 9.23 euros (Indian)

13.85 euros (Foreign)

Non-student (euros) 420 euros 27.69 euros (Indian)

36.92 euros (Foreign)

Student (INR) INR 19,235 INR 500 (Indian)
INR 750 (Foreign)
Non-student (INR) INR 22,757 INR 1500 (Indian)
INR 2000 (Foreign)

Also, I have a suspicion that Rs. 16,000 is a lot more for an Indian than, say, someone from the US or Western Europe. That might mean pricing out the local population, which isn't a good play because for us foreigners, it costs quite a lot to even get to India -- between $1200 and $1500 from DC. (Not to mention the unintentional disrespect: no Indian keynote speakers) We'll see what happens. Best of luck to the SGC organizers -- I think they'll do something good -- but I won't be there to see it; instead of paying 370 euros/$495 (!), I'll be down in Vellore with the SEDSIC people, helping.

September will be a judgment call for SGAC. They've signed up for their SGC venue, throwing in their bet for this game. They've tied their organizational debts/expenses to the SGC costs... at least I hope so, how else could it cost 370 euros for a three-day young professional and student conference? The five-day International Astronautical Congress -- the larger conference that SGC tags along with -- costs 250 euros for young professionals and 100 euros for students.

We'll see.