HOW TO EXCEL ON THE MARIO TEST
Sonny: Alright, listen to me. You pull up right where she lives, right? Before you get outta the car, you lock both doors. Then, get outta the car, you walk over to her. You bring her over to the car. Dig out the key, put it in the lock and open the door for her. Then you let her get in. Then you close the door. Then you walk around the back of the car and look through the rear window. If she doesn’t reach over and lift up that button so that you can get in: dump her.
Calogero: Just like that?
Sonny: Listen to me, kid. If she doesn’t reach over and lift up that button so that you can get in, that means she’s a selfish broad and all you’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg. You dump her and you dump her fast…
This conversation featured in A Bronx Tale, perhaps one of the best movies ever produced, in a scene where Sonny was explaining to Calogero how to judge another’s character. This method, deemed the “Door Test” was a significantly improved and more dignified way of judging character than the previously introduced “Mario Test.”
In fact, because of how unnerving the Mario Test could be to both the test giver and test taker, it was deemed unacceptable by Calogero, which is partially why he went to Sonny for advice in the first place. Calogero was fortunate enough to be able to avoid the Mario Test entirely.
At the IRPP, unfortunately, I do not have such a luxury…
There have been times where a refugee family living in an EROC has seen another family of similar size and circumstance arrive after them and receive permanent housing before they do simply because the county that family was randomly assigned was better at securing houses. When refugees approach staff about why their waiting time is so long, they are told that their county is doing the best it can (which is often true).Since its inception, the IRPP has used a rigid resettlement model which matches incoming refugees to a country without granting the assignment flexibility. Refugees were to be housed in an EROC (a reception centre) until their assigned County Council found accommodations suitable for them. While this model worked effectively with few counties, as the amount of counties and programme refuges grew, the model faced increasing trouble scaling. Currently, the resettlement model is resource intensive, difficult to manage and, at times, can create a sense of unfairness.
IRPP staff sympathise with refugees suffering from long resettlement wait times. Given their limited amount of resources, they make a large effort to care for all refugees fairly and equally. However, for various reasons, the IRPP has historically run into difficulties while trying to revolutionise the resettlement model.
Recently, I was tasked to engineer the newest incarnation of the Revolution. The goal was to devise a semi-flexible resettlement model that paired families to available households, instead of to counties. This would ideally resolve the sense of unfairness and resource intensiveness of the current model.
I’ve never had experience with quite a task before. I told one of my supervisors, who, like all good Revolutionary Leaders, repeated the idea broadly to me, sent me tools (in the form of a 26,000+ cell Excel sheet, which is how staff currently assigns refugees to resettlement counties) to reference and finally assured me that any work I produced would be great. A revolution is won by many small victories after all, and as an intern I am merely a volunteer mercenary fighting for Justice and Equality.
I worked tirelessly for the next couple of days trying to learn Excel. After days of training from fellow coworkers and Google I started getting the hang of it and was fascinated by its potential. Once I started dreaming of Excel spreadsheets and different tactics to organise data, I knew I was ready to apply what I had learned.
Trial and error finally led to the creation of an Excel formula that highlighted potential family fits and allowed the user to organise families based on how long they have been in an EROC when given certain inputs. I felt like I ‘Excel-ed’ and I was proud of that. I thought I had completed the task at hand and that my model would help thousands.
However, I quickly learned that my task was far from finished as the model still needed stress-testing and approval from others. The first tester, nicknamed “the old wise bear” for how long he has worked in the office and how much he has interacted directly with refugees, had a reputation for being critical toward changes to traditional models. His name: Mario. My model needed to pass the Mario Test…
Yesterday, two days before I was supposed to meet with Mario, I was taken to an EROC to sit-in on an Inter-Agency Meeting. These meetings and visits were supposed to be routine, quick and efficient, so I didn’t expect too much excitement; however, a moment of realisation came over me when I interacted with some of the residents…
On a standard tour of the EROC, I entered a classroom, and was rushed by excited children who had just finished beautiful hand paintings and were eagerly asking for high-fives. It was there that the potential impact of my Excel task hit me. The children in front of me put faces to what was previously just a line on an Excel file. They added a sense of humanity to a project that was previously solely computer-driven.
Too often those writing the policy do not meet those the policy affects, and too often do those that interact with individuals not have time, patience, or optimism necessary to revolutionise policy. It is difficult to engage in both the theoretical and the practical nature of a given concept, while still being empowered to refine it. As I sit at my desk, reflecting on my experience yesterday, trying to amend the system I created, and pondering the weight of the task that lies ahead of me, I know one thing for certain. I will never forget to appreciate the memories of all the little victories I had along the way to keep me hopeful that ultimately the model will improve and pass the Mario Test. It is in this hope that the secret to passing the Mario Test lies.