Vision 2020 lacks Vision (but it’s a start)


Scouting Ireland’s ‘Vision 2020’ document was launched this week, with the usual muted fanfare that this type of thing generates.

The concept is a transformational plan for the Scout movement in Ireland that will outlive (in political terms) many of the current national leadership of the association, thus in theory eliminating the effect that personal agenda’s, grandstanding and interest groups might have on slowing down or disrupting the project.

The outline of the plan is set out in a colourful, well formatted 24-page document that combines images of young people with tables setting out how the various aspects of the plan will be achieved. Another prominent feature of the document are the quotations, presumably from participants in the ‘consultation’ process, these seeking to reassure the reader that the tone, content and overall thrust of the ‘Vision 2020’ initiative is largely driven by ‘member insights’ (though the overuse of the word ‘stuff’ in the quotes suggests at least some were perhaps more the product of invention than insight).
Much of the content itself reads well and certainly sets out an ambitious plan for the organization between now and the year 2020. For example, transforming our current two revenue streams (member fees and government grants) into five suggests progressive thinking and whilst the detail of how this will be achieved or what these new revenue streams will be is not stated, this is a strategy document, not the detailed plan that no doubt lies behind it.
The Chief Scout, in his introduction, talks about the contribution that Scouting makes to Irish society, relative to the funding we receive from the exchequer and this valid point is delved into in more detail elsewhere in the document, drawing up a compelling case for greater government support, even in a time of austerity.  This is welcome analysis and the authors deserve credit for it. It is easy to come across as ‘whiny’ when making these points – this reads well.
The overall idea of the local Scout Group being at the centre of (or top of) the agenda, supported by local and national assistance is a laudable aim and seems to suggest that there is an appreciation among the associations top leadership (the people driving this project) that actually, scout groups ARE the core of what scouting does – national office being a means of support (as opposed to an end in itself).
The document talks about empowering young people, the scout method, core principles and values and a vision that sets the association up as ‘innovative, influential and dynamic’ as well as being ‘inclusive’ and having a ‘progressive culture’.
With all of this positivity, it really is a great pity that the initiative, apart from perhaps a couple of accidental successes, is unlikely to work in its current state. The reason for this is simple and it’s an error that successive people at the top of the Scouting organization make, given the tendency to develop delusions of grandeur once in office – members in Scouting Ireland resent being told what to do.
The ‘Vision 2020’ initiative is the brainchild of two people. Both are excellent managers, both have clear visions of what they want for Scouting, both have a high level of intelligence. The trouble is, Scouting is not a corporation. It is not owned by one or two people. It’s not owned by anyone. It’s a volunteer movement. Managers who apply management thinking to a leadership challenge and in doing so fall into the trap of viewing scouting as a business or a charity to be ‘controlled’ and ‘run’, with members to be ‘managed’ miss the point and in doing so, usually loose the plot.
The ‘consultation’ that took place in advance of the launch of ‘Vision 2020’ may or may not have extended to 1,300 members (lets assume it did), but the key word here is ‘consultation’. There was limited scope for engagement, debate, conversation and no scope whatsoever for dissent, challenge or disagreement. Its also worth noting, the 1,300 members ‘consulted’ equates to less than 3% of the total association membership – hardly a sufficient sample for such a potentially far-reaching, long term initiative that requires high levels of support in order to succeed.
This ‘consultation’ process will also, in common with many similar initiatives that have gone before it, have attracted participants that are often completely unrepresentative of the association membership.
The first such ‘consultation’ took place over 18 months ago. It signaled an apparent determination on the part of the drivers of this project to be seen to be inclusive, even of those who tend to challenge and question. (This determination by the way did not last long, extending as it did to just the first meeting and even then most ‘dissenters’ were excluded).
The meeting took place in a religious retreat centre and of the 50+ members present, 47 were male, the vast majority were over 40 and all were what might be described as ‘seasoned political scouters’ – the people who join national committees, take on national roles, love discussing policy and often have not been involved in a local group for many years.
All great people, but not representative of the majority of Scouting volunteers
I’m reminded of the saying “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always had” This ‘Vision 2020’ initiative will fail. It will fail because once again, managers have managed, not led. Dissenting voices, those with alternative ideas, those who broadly support but like to question and test ideas have simply been airbrushed out of the process.
But far more importantly, those driving this project have failed to engage with local scouters and scouts. They have failed to move outside their comfort zone in seeking to understand what EVERYONE in Scouting Ireland wants. Instead, they have taken their ‘vision’ to their own constituencies and supplemented this with a series of half-hearted ‘consultations’ around the country, attended largely by
policy wonks, turner-uppers and career scouters.
Bits of the vision will of course happen. The relentless efforts to ‘systemise’ local scouting so that running a group will in time be like running a fast food restaurant will continue. Lobbying to recruit even more staff will continue, because more staff means more power and status for those in-charge. Brochures and leaflets talking about ‘inclusivity, innovation’ and ‘youth empowerment’ will still appear because, if you have no intention of actually DOING something, the best approach then is to TALK about it a lot.
I look forward to being proven wrong in my assessment. But it’s looking unlikely. The current leadership deserve some credit for at least attempting to set out a vision. They need to go further however and ENGAGE.
We need to embrace debate, revel in dissent, welcome challenges to the prevailing wisdom. Strong leadership has the confidence to encourage this type of culture. That will ultimately lead to a stronger association and may even see the realization of more aspects of this ‘Vision 2020’ initiative.
If we want something we’ve never had, we must be willing to do something we’ve never done…
(This article was first published on the predecessor blog to the Irish Scouter, ‘Scouting Innovations’ in November 2013)

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