Identity Crisis?

drowning-red-tape

With the characteristically deflective wording worthy of a Communist party press release, the coterie of pen pushers who delight in the generation of red tape at Scouting Ireland announced in a letter on October 16th to members that ‘it has been decided’ to introduce a Scouting Ireland membership card’. A bizarrely worded justification appeared a few days later on the website scouts.ie.

The initiative, cynically regarded by some frustrated members as a CV-enhancing/legacy building mechanism for those who are driving it, has been rushed through the National Management Committee with the characteristic minimum of scrutiny and discussion. Fed up members of this committee are keeping a low profile on the topic in the face of growing membership irritation at yet more pointless admin emanating from National Office.

EXPENSIVE GIMMICK?

The cost of implementing this project is likely to be high – in the region of €100K. Coming as it does on top of the rather expensive ‘Vision 2020’ project (estimated spend: €200K) that members ultimately binned after lack of consultation and debate rendered it untenable, questions are inevitably being raised about the decision to pursue another complex project that equally does not seem to have membership or management support. The key point so far apparently overlooked is that Scouting Ireland simply does not have the resources in place to manage such a huge administrative task in any event.

The rationale behind the ID card like most recent initiatives from National Office is to centralize control. Vast amounts of personal data will be poured into the creaking Scouting Ireland database and unelected administrators will get to decide when to communicate with youth members and their parents, with the ability to bypass the (democratically elected) Group Leader and Group Council in the process.

Not only does this initiative arguably create a serious risk of a major data leak of confidential member details, given the associations lack of experience in data management on this scale, it surely also constitutes a serious assault on the core volunteer-led tenet of Scouting Ireland.

DO LOCAL VOLUNTEERS NO LONGER COUNT?

Youth members (and their parents) have an established relationship with the volunteers in their local Scout Group. Direct contact from National Office will undermine local Scouters. Scouting Ireland is starting to increasingly look more like a poorly run utility business and less like the volunteer-led community-based entity that it is supposed to be.

If the corporatization of Scouting continues and the local scout group becomes merely a branch – a bit like how a burger joint chain is run, where is the incentive for anyone to bother volunteering locally?

The Irish Department of Education does not send letters directly to the parents of school children. No equivalent youth organization in Ireland has an ID card. Do parents of scouts even know what Scouting Ireland National Office is? Answer: Most actually have no idea.

SUPPORT OFFICE OR HEAD OFFICE?

The quest for ID cards in a way sums up a fundamental question.

Is National Office a ‘support’ office for local Scouting or is it a Head Office, to which local groups ‘report’. Volunteers seem to be getting a raw deal here. This is strange, giving Scouting Ireland is a ‘volunteer-led’ association.

The National Office narrative seems to be that local volunteers are unable to manage by themselves and cannot be trusted to run their local groups without (expensive and unaccountable) bureaucratic interference.

The ID card initiative is simply another step towards wrestling control from the local scouter and concentrating it centrally.

There are poorly run Scout Groups. However Scouting Ireland policy seems to be always drafted with the lowest common denominator in mind. What about the vast majority of groups who not only run properly but also FUND these Orwellian projects with their membership fees?

ID cards for youth members are fundamentally useless.

Most young people will forget to bring them (to a given activity) or will loose them. There will always be members in the group who have yet to receive them. This is especially true if, as the letter to members on the topic suggests ‘we will only be doing one issue of the ID cards in 2015’.

If ‘ID’ is required for young people in Scouting terms, what is wrong with a neckerchief?

Hiring administrators to run a volunteer led association has its limitations because administrators simply create more red tape in order to justify their position and to build a business case for er, more administrators. What is required is an injection of common sense by someone who understands how Scouting Ireland actually is supposed to work.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

When it comes to Scouters, do we really think that adults who are not members are going out to buy Scout Uniforms in order to impersonate Scouters? (one of the more amusing arguments apparently being put about by a management ‘mouthpiece’, to justify ID cards)

Where does this impersonation take place? An imposter will be instantly spotted in a Group or County context. Equally so on a national campsite (particularly since most Scouters avoid wearing the impractical and dated uniform outside the scout den most of the time). If on the other hand, the purchaser is merely going to a fancy dress party (or has a deeply flawed sense of fashion), lack of an ID card is unlikely to present a challenge.

Do teachers carry ID cards? Do members of the public ‘dress up’ as teachers and sneak in to take classes? Is it not conceivable that young people would notice such a scenario?

How exactly will an ID card go about “improving the link between the member and their parent/guardian” – an actual quote from the website statement. More to the point, who is writing this nonsense? Does the arrogance of our paper-chasers now extend to telling families how to communicate with their own children?

The poor handling of this unworkable idea highlights the contempt towards volunteers that this and other silly policies display. It also makes an assumption that youth members are fundamentally stupid. This does not seem like an ideal position for a youth organization to adopt, even tacitly.

LAME DUCK LEADERSHIP?

One reason that implementation of national initiatives is so poor in Scouting Ireland is that members have very low levels of trust in the National entity. This is not surprising. For half a decade, the National Management Committee has been steadily undermined and it’s authority eroded. Senior figures seem to want a ‘command and control’ structure, but lack the courage to take ownership of the concept, justify it and debate it openly and coherently with the membership, beginning with the NMC itself.

Compliance on administrative tasks imposed by National Office is lower than it could be because there tend to be too many tasks to complete, they change frequently and there are usually high levels of duplication. Try applying to be a Scouter, for example and count the number of times you need to write out your name and address (on multiple forms).

Managers who should be using their time and presumed expertise to streamline essential admin and curb pointless pen-pushing, seem to lack the competence and vision to do anything other than drive further proliferation.

ID cards for adult scouters could potentially have a role to play in Scouting Ireland. However right now, the association needs to sort out simpler problems – admin around adult training for example, where service to local groups is patchy oversights occur and a ‘computer says no’ mentality appears to prevail. Embarking on a gargantuan task is surely premature when the easy one’s seem beyond our capabilities.

Youth members certainly do not need ID cards and this idea should be dropped immediately. It is expensive and will be impossible to fully implement. Adult ID cards alone as a project is likely to prove extraordinarily difficult to effectively deliver without vast expense.

In a good indication of the lackluster level of enthusiasm that even the management has for this project, the letter to members warns wearily ID cards that are not received due to incorrect information on the database will not be reissued” Could this possibly be code for ‘we are standing over the expenditure of a vast amount of association funds that we strongly suspect will largely be a waste of money’…?

GOVERNANCE DEFICIT

Supervision of association spending to curb these vanity projects needs to be strengthened. Directors of Scouting Ireland need to stand up for once and for all and say ‘ENOUGH’ to the clique who are driving through these doomed initiatives at huge expense to the association and undermining the fundamental ‘volunteer led’ tenets of Scouting Ireland in the process.

Frustrated members of Scouting Ireland should send a clear signal at the next meeting of National Council. There will be a significantly changed leadership team. The membership need to make choices at election time to ensure a decisive shift in culture that puts the local Scout Group and volunteering back at the centre of Scouting.

FURTHER READING

https://my.scouts.ie/news/article/membership_management_and_membership_cards-1032.html

https://my.scouts.ie/uploads/files/Official%20Documents/Group%20Leaders%20Mailing/2014/L35-2014%20-%20Scouting%20Ireland%20ID%20Cards.pdf

One thought on “Identity Crisis?”

  1. In a letter from the National Secretary posted on the SI website, it says its not ID cards but receipt of membership and that all members are ultimately members of SI and not the local group.

    The letter also states that there are significant numbers of youth and adult members who are not registered, and this practise has been on going for a number of years.

    The root cause problem needs to be fixed first, then receipting membership will be simple and cost effective.

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