A transparency questionnaire …
1. In Scouting Ireland to date how many National Officers have been members of a fellowship patrol during their term of office?
2. How many employees in Scouting Ireland and its subsidiaries are in a fellowship patrol?
3. How many NMC members since 2004 have been a member of a fellowship patrol whilst in office?
4. Do some fellowship patrols count among their membership both employees and volunteer directors of Scouting Ireland?
5. Would this scenario be likely to present any challenges in terms of optics for stakeholders inside (and outside) Scouting Ireland?
6. What implications would it have for transparency in Scouting Ireland, (a registered charity funded by member subscriptions and government grants)?
7. Is there any reason to believe that conflicts of interest may arise from time to time and what measures might be in place to manage those conflicts of interest?
And what exactly IS a fellowship patrol?
Scouting is a truly wonderful thing.
At it’s heart, the Scout Group. This is where most of us begin our Scouting adventure and the place where we form our deepest friendships and strongest loyalties.
It is not surprising that the bond of friendship and loyalty established in the scout group can frequently transcend many others. Friendships can span years, even decades and are bolstered by a companionable shared pride in the group and an understanding and belief in the scouting concept.
Some members of course, volunteer to help other groups. Some do so in the guise of a County or Provincial role. Some work at National level, supporting the entire association or segments of it.
Many key Scouting roles nationally require the endorsement of the wider membership. People interested in such roles, typically share some information about themselves as part of the election process. This ‘Scouting CV’ mentions various things but the most important reference is detail of the candidates scout group, the work undertaken there and the duration of service.
DOSE OF REALITY
Regardless of the role undertaken however or at what level, local Scouting involvement keeps us all grounded. There is nothing better for a County Commissioner or a member of the NMC than to return to their scout den and be assigned a game to run, be handed a sweeping brush, or be pointed in the direction of the kettle. Your own Scout Group is a place where, no matter what your position or title elsewhere in Scouting, you remain just you and nobody bats an eyelid when you walk into the den.
The relationships one form’s locally and historically in Scouting will rarely influence a good leader with an eye on good governance and being fair to all.
The prominence of Group affiliation as part of the election process shines a further light in rare instances of potential conflicts of interest presenting themselves.
But there is another far less formal but no less robust a framework that exists in Scouting alongside the Scout Group. The fellowship patrol.
Fellowship patrols have probably always existed to a greater or lesser extent. Scouting Ireland CSI sought to formalize the practice in the latter days of that associations existence and the concept sort of caught on around that time.
Formally run fellowship patrols are relatively few in number and are usually identified through the use of a patrol name, a fixed membership, a patrol neckerchief and a couple of specific events per year. Less formal fellowship patrols can simply be some old friends meeting for an annual hike or a few drinks, but the continuity more so than the intensity of activity highlights the bond of friendship and thus loyalty that exists within fellowship patrols.
In many ways, this bond is comparable to the links to scout group. Deep and unshakable, built up over many years and where loyalty to one’s companions can come to overrule all other Scouting considerations. The two big differences in terms of transparency is that (1) some fellowship patrols have specific agenda’s or objectives. These views or positions could influence the views of delegates in an election, if they were aware of a candidates affiliation to a given fellowship patrol. (2) Membership of a fellowship patrol will rarely appear on a Scouting CV….
Imagine an election taking place or a job vacancy arising in Scouting Ireland. If the interview panel consisted exclusively or predominantly of members of one Scout Group and another member of the same group got the job over many other equally well-qualified applicants, might a conflict of interest be suspected? Quite likely.
Play this scenario again with a Fellowship patrol in place of a Scout Group however and the ‘remarkable coincidences’ suddenly become largely if not totally invisible to most observers.
As part of the process of improving good governance in Scouting Ireland, should a protocol be put in place that requires candidates for prospective employment to declare membership of a fellowship patrol?
Should participants in an interview panel declare a potential conflict of interest, if a fellowship ‘colleague’ is successfully short-listed for interview?
Should candidates for senior volunteer roles in Scouting Ireland be equally candid about their fellowship patrol membership, so that delegates to national council can be clear about the number of members of a given patrol that might be represented on the National Management Committee, a standing committee, contingent team or even among the ranks of employees?
Should directors of Scouting (members of the National Management Committee) be expected to resign from a fellowship patrol upon election, in the interests of eliminating perceptions around conflicts of interest and/or favours done for friends, whilst occupying a position of considerable influence in such a large and diverse organization?
Should similar rules apply to professional staff above a certain level?
Is it anybody’s business what fellowship patrol anyone is in?
TRANSPARENCY KILLS RUMOURS
Theirishscouter believes it IS in the interests of the membership to know about fellowship patrol membership in the case of candidates for national office and employment in particular.
It’s a question of transparency. But it is also a question of loyalty.
Where does one’s loyalty lie? Can every individual be relied upon to put the interests of the association ahead of that of some old friends if they are sure that favouring their friends will never be found out?
Lets be clear. Most members of Fellowship Patrols are honourable, decent people. They are passionate scouters. They are as opposed to cronyism or perceived cronyism as any other member of Scouting Ireland who is not in a fellowship patrol.
But in the same way that controls exist in politics to prevent conflicts of interest arising, (despite most politicians being honest, publicly-spirited people); the same must apply in Scouting if our structures and leadership are to enjoy the full confidence of all members.
What would the implications around government funding be, if the wrong perception took hold around a particular decision, or the optics suggested something that in reality was innocent, but looked too much like a coincidence to be considered as one?
How would Scouting Ireland protect itself against such a scenario arising?
WE OWE IT TO OURSELVES TO BE OPEN
All candidates for national positions should declare their membership of a fellowship patrol prior to election. Employees (senior employee’s in particular) should do likewise. Current incumbents should lead by example and declare membership of a fellowship patrol, where appropriate.
Alongside a written manifesto and participation in a Q&A in advance of the election (in the case of volunteer candidates for election), this would greatly enhance the level of information available to the electorate and thus enhance the quality of the decisions made around the types of people we place into key positions in our association.
We owe it to candidates who are prepared to undertake big responsibilities and time-consuming jobs in a volunteer capacity to ensure they have a mandate for the vision they set out prior to election. Equally, we owe it to employees to ensure that it is clear to all that they were hired for their talent and competence. Imagine getting a job and then having some people wonder privately if you got it because you are good or simply because you knew the right people?
In essence transparency and the availability of relevant information to members in advance of making a decision is not only a good governance practice, it successfully eliminates the risk of and even suggestions of potential impropriety, cronyism and conflicts of interest. It also allows our elected members to get on with the business of running Scouting Ireland.
Fellowship patrols will continue to be an important and enjoyable part of Scouting life, much like that reassuring constant – the Scout Group.
To ensure not only a level paying field for all, but critically to also be seen to ensure such fairness, is important if a wider level of trust is to be re-instilled in Scouting Ireland’s National structures.
The author acknowledges the contribution of others in Scouting Ireland who provided research and analysis towards this article.