Strategy is a word that many of us do not readily associate with our day-to-day involvement in Scouting. Clipboards and spreadsheets can seem somewhat out of place in the middle of a field, in torrential rain, when the immediate priority is putting up a tent or getting a fire started.
Equally, when up to one’s neck in coils of sisal, ancient frying pans (including one that looks suspiciously like it originated in your mothers kitchen), folded tents and flagpoles as the annual spring clean of the store room gets underway, the work at hand often takes precedence over visions and plans for the future.
However there is a tendency sometimes to overcomplicate the idea of strategy and to dismiss it as the preserve of bookish policy wonks locked in a windowless room.
What is Strategy?
When you strip away the paperwork, spreadsheets, logos and other hyperbole that accompanies ‘strategies’ from corporate entities, major charities, government agencies, etc. what you are left with is, simply put – how are we going to allocate our resources. What are we going to focus on?
That question is one that leaders (of all ages) in Scout Groups ask too. A nine-year-old sixer who has twenty minutes with her team to build the tallest tower out of straws or get a paper plane airborne for the longest possible distance is strategizing in advance of getting the job done.
A thirteen year old Patrol Leader does likewise when there is a campsite to be built, a fire to be lit, a patrol to be fed and a bunch of ominous looking clouds on the horizon – he allocates resources following an assessment of the situation, in order to get the best possible outcome.
In the Section
We all lead busy lives and Tuesday evening at 7.30pm after a long day at work and just as the troop is gathering is not always the best time to be planning things out. But programme sections can really enhance their performance by setting some strategic goals for the year.
Consider what the section does best. Maybe for you it is outdoor activities and great programme at weekly meetings. So also consider what you could do better. Perhaps scout skills are a weak spot. Maybe troop admin is patchy (attendance sheets, subs collection, recording progress through the One Programme).
Choose two or three things for the year to focus on in terms of improvement. Set one for the PL team (or the sixers, group exec, lodge leaders). In cubs or scouts, maybe this is the weekly subs record. Set one for the adult scouter team – perhaps this is attendance records and tracking progress in the One Programme for individual members. Choose another on which to seek some outside help – in this case, perhaps it is Scout Skills – get the team on a training course, enlist the help of other scouters in the wider group. Do some joint training with a neighbouring Scout Troop.
Relatively quickly, you have three strategic objectives, a leadership group driving the first two and some external expertise for the third. Taking on more than three objectives may simply mean that none get the focus they need, so three should be a maximum, but two or even one works just as well. Before you know it, the entire section will be working furiously to make the improvements agreed.
In the Scout Group
This approach scales up easily to the wider Scout Group. If strategy already happens at Group level, this is a great ‘lead by example’ move to encourage all the sections to do likewise!
At Group Council, ideally at the start of the year, identify three key things the group wants to do better over the coming twelve months. In theirishscouters group (for example), there are typically three headings and one key strategic objective under each.
The three headings are: (1) Youth Members/Programme, (2) Scouters/Training, (3) Premises/Equipment. In years past, the objectives may have been; Every programme section to undertake a summer camp (or equivalent) this year (the Youth/Programme objective), All adult scouters to complete the next available level in training and the replacement of the rotting fire doors on the main hall with new steel replacements.
Three simple objectives that should make the group a better place in twelve months time. Easy for everyone to remember. Focused enough that they can be covered each time the Group Council meets.
When setting objectives, remember to consider resources. There is little point in putting ‘new tents’ as an objective, if ‘cash for tents’ might be a better first step. Equally, if the group is tight on adult volunteers, this might be the first thing to get sorted before committing to running a summer camp, if the scouters are just not there to facilitate it.
Cut your cloth
A large group with a solid leadership team and a well-maintained premises, good equipment, active engagement with the County, etc. will clearly have more sophisticated strategic objectives than a start up group.
This makes perfect sense. A small entrepreneurial business cannot (and usually should not) set similar objectives to a bigger and longer established company.
A large group may ponder opening a new programme section and hear section reports of plans to run a summer camp to Europe. A smaller group may simply want to increase membership by ten people and find a reliable meeting place for the year ahead. Cut your cloth to suit your needs as a team.
Sharing is caring
If you set some strategic goals and find that the approach works for you and your group – tell people about it! Share some stories and photos with the County, with neighbouring groups. This is not about ‘look how great we are’ its more a question of saying ‘we tried this and it worked – you might find it helpful’.
Some of the best ideas in Scouting come not from books or from national strategies – they come from the Scout group ‘up the road’ or the scouter you meet on a training course.
Strategy will be high on the agenda for the incoming team elected to Scouting Ireland’s National Management Committee in just a few weeks time. It will take time to implement, will be complex and detailed and will require buy in from a large number of stakeholders. Ultimately, if managed correctly, it will bring great benefits and set a course for Scouting Ireland’s national policy.
Regardless of these deliberations and machinations, life goes on in the local group and strategy can be just as useful a tool for those of us playing the Scouting game in the local community.