The QSE (Quality Scout Experience) concept unveiled at National Council 2014 has begun a series of pilot projects around the country from about now. At its core, QSE looks like it’s a way for groups to identify what they do that works and perhaps more importantly, what they currently do that doesn’t work (or might benefit from some improvements).
In the ten years since Scouting Ireland was established, the social landscape in Ireland has changed significantly. The days of adults taking two weeks of their holidays to bring other people’s children camping in tents in Ireland or abroad have all but disappeared.
The country has gone from a period of full employment (and lots of time-poor people) through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, to thankfully now slowly recovering from a period of relatively high unemployment and genuine hardship in many families.
The downturn has brought an unexpected benefit to Scouting and to other volunteer groups, in that many people with more time on their hands have sought to contribute in a volunteer capacity. Equally, youth membership has also benefited to a degree with parents appreciating the breath of experiences and value for money that Scouting offers.
The upshot of this however is that local scout groups are now grappling with an increasing percentage of volunteers who know little in terms of scout skills. Coupled with this, an entire generation of younger scouters in their late teens and into their twenties & thirties are studying away from home or working abroad, constituting a brain drain in many parts of the association, but also a severe depletion in the numbers of unencumbered scouters who are pre-career, pre-family and thus in a position to devote disproportonate amounts of time to the practical business of running regular and well-planned activities out in the field.
In the midst of this, Scouting sometimes seems to have stubbornly refused to acknowledge the new realities of having to be more flexible and perhaps less in denial of the consequent drop in standards that has affected many scout groups.
Purists in the association still look down their nose at suburban groups who have collapsable tables for camping or who take scouts for a weekend away without everyone wearing full and correct uniform, whilst the mere mention of the word ‘Jeka’ (a not for profit company based in Belgium who in essence provide ‘package holidays’ for youth groups, including Scouts) is likely to have these people reaching for their (Brownsea Island branded no doubt) smelling salts…
Nonetheless, Scouting in communities around Ireland has undergone some fundamental and irreversable change as local volunteers grapple with the challenge of providing the best Scouting experience they can with reduced financial resources and manpower.
QSE is clearly intended to form one prong in a coordinated effort to bridge some competency gaps in local groups and seek to raise standards in a supportive, non judgemental way. Many groups will welcome it.
The tone of the outline slide deck that sets out the QSE vision has tellingly been written by or under the direction of a scouter (or scouters) who not only understand local scouting, but also seem to understand the people who deliver it and the pressures they are under.
The language used is important. It talks about the Scout group being ‘invited’ to ‘explore, investigate, question, discuss’. Paperwork is promised to be ‘minimal’ and the underlying suspicion of national initiatives as spying activities for overpaid bureaucrats is candidly tacked and reassuringly dispensed with within the body of the presentation.
There are no flashy graphics, no sleek copy-writing, no colour brochures (and no photo shoot with a government Minister) – this in part is likely due to the pilot nature of the QSE concept, but one also cannot help assume that the vast expense associated with ‘Vision 2020’ has consumed all available funds for some time to come.
However the simple format and honest language used in the QSE document is refreshing and the openness it promises is welcome in the context of the pontificating, political game-playing and bureaucratic double-talk that is more commonly churned out of National Office these days. One can only assume different people are involved in this, in place of the usual cosy clique.
This latter point bodes well for the initiative. As the association gears up for fresh leadership and the new direction this will hopefully bring, local scouters are looking for tangible support and fresh thinking that delivers results in scout groups, as opposed to grandstanding in the media and bureaucrats pushing paper around desks acting as a substitute for strategy .
The team behind QSE will need to tackle the perception that this is simply SQS (System of Quality Scouting) by another name. This CBSI relic, hastily adopted for Scouting Ireland with a new emblem being the most visible indication of change, ended up being overly complicated and ultimately demoralising for local groups, who would find themselves awarded ‘bronze’ year on year, despite visible improvements in membership, programme or other indicators.
Meanwhile, a nearby group facing significant challenges, would secure a silver gong, much of the decisions being taken by a ‘committee’ who’s members had not visited the groups they were ‘assessing’.
Group Leaders lost confidence in it, it became a box-ticking exercise and ultimately undermined what was conceptually a great idea – helping scout groups to improve standards through use of a framework, with some practical support, where sought.
QSE, even if highly successful, is likely to be a slow, gradual process. As the slide deck introducing it alludes to, a slow pace is not a problem (nor should it be). The haste and authoritative approach employed to impose ‘Vision 2020’ on a sceptical membership failed spectacularly. The team behind QSE seem aware that culture has a tendency, (as the renowned management consultant Peter Drucker observed) ‘to eat strategy for breakfast’. The QSE team also seem to have an appreciation of the importance of people skills when one is dealing with er, people.
Leadership by example, rather than management by bureaucrats might just make this concept take hold. The QSE team look like they are open, friendly, informal and not planning to judge. Scout Groups could potentially do worse than to engage when the appropriate time comes.
Quality Scouting Experience has a facebook page, if you are looking for more detail on it.