The Governance of influence


Scouting Ireland is poised on the precipice of what will be perhaps the most fundamental set of changes to how the movement in Ireland works, since the foundation of Scouting on the island in 1908.

Scouting in Ireland is well known for its aversion to change. There have been several fundamental (and positive) changes to how the association is led in recent weeks and months, but these changes have been over half a decade in the making. In this context of loving the status quo, it was perhaps not a complete shock to learn in September that a series of changes, imposed by external entities, are likely to have more impact on Scouting in the next half decade, than any internal machinations ever could.

National Council 2015 (the EGM), included a presentation to outline forthcoming changes to how charities in Ireland are regulated and how Scouting Ireland, like other charities, will need to make adjustments to how they operate, in order to comply with new regulations.

For Scouting, this all happens in the context of the long debated ‘company versus association’ or the ‘game’ of scouting versus the ‘business’ of Scouting topic. Undoubtedly the views that individual members hold on the charities act and associated regulatory changes will be informed by their views on these latter points.

The Scouting Ireland proposals around these changes in regulations and reporting make for interesting reading, but are the subject of a separate article being prepared for publication by theirishscouter.

The perhaps more pertinent question to be addressed first, given some of the stark choices now required to be made by Scouting Ireland, might be why this seems to have been thrust upon us at such short notice (as the general breathless tone of the presentation indicates). The Charities act became law in 2009 (2008 in Northern Ireland) and the Charities regulatory authority has been established just short of a year (the Charities Commission in NI was established in 2013).

Where has the voice of Scouting Ireland been in the consultative processes around the Charities Act, the creation of the Charities Regulatory Authority and the rules and guidelines that said regulatory are now introducing?

Entities such as the GAA, other major sporting bodies and of course all the big (and not so big) names from the charity industry appear to have been centrally involved in the consultation process around the development of this legislation.

Early intervention when legislation is being drafted can provide specialist insights to lawmakers to help them understand the likely impact of a piece of law. Special provisions can be made (and frequently are), to exclude certain entities or groups from a law that is either not being drafted with them in mind, or might adversely affect them for no good reason. Unintended consequences and fallout for entities caught in the crossfire of change, when they were not the intended target of a given piece of legislation, but will be fundamentally affected by it all the same, are all too common.

On the issue of the Charities Acts and related changes to charity regulation, Scouting Ireland is starting to look like less of an influential player in Irish society and more like a regrettable piece of largely irrelevant ‘collateral damage’ as society once again re-adjusts without any proactive input from Scouting.

Scouting Ireland has a full compliment of professional staff, employed to manage issues that volunteer management may not be able to give full focus to, given the focus may be required for particular problems during office hours. It seems that high up this list would be a piece of legislation and the creation of a regulatory authority that look to be on the verge of driving a series of fundamental changes to how Scouting Ireland works.

If Scouting was centrally involved (and this would appear highly unlikely), why does the tone of the slide deck presented at National Council’s EGM in September sound as though these planned changes have simply materialized out of nowhere?

The choice on offer appears to be to either continue down the road of corporatization, with faceless bureaucrats in national office dictating to local volunteers and thus a continuation of excessive authority being centralized, whilst the responsibility for actually delivering scouting remains firmly at local level, OR proceed to a system where individual Scout Groups become independent charities in their own right and in doing so become autonomous entities with merely a membership link to Scouting Ireland’s national entity.

The former option will reduce the role of local scouter to essentially that of ‘burger flipper’ at a fast food joint – merely an overworked, under resourced wage slave (without the wage), told what to do from on high. This will have deep-rooted and permanent ramifications for the sense of ownership that drives local scouting volunteers to give so much of their time and passion. Ultimately it will kill off most Scout Groups. Who wants to be micro-managed by a second rate bureaucrat in their own scout group, where they work for free?

The latter option, by contrast, seems likely to create around 450 mini associations, with Scouting Ireland, the national entity, reduced to figurehead status. Given the creeping corporatization in Scouting in recent years, this option might sound tempting, but at what cost to our overall cohesiveness as a national association?

Scouting Ireland’s NMC have made a recommendation and theirishscouter has firm views on this too (see our next article), but the predicament we are now in of having change foisted upon us seems once again to be a result of burying our heads in the sand and hoping that major events outside the Scouting bubble just go away.

We should surely be able to expect more than this somewhat ad-hoc approach to engaging with government and legislative agenda’s when we spend around 75% of our entire budget on ‘administration’ – the lions share of this on staff costs.

With a paltry 5% of our total association spend allocated to ‘youth programme’ and just 1% set aside for ‘communication’, whatever the ultimate outcome of our collective deliberations around gearing our structures to align with new regulatory realities, there simply must be a better model for engaging in a professional and grown-up (and proactive) manner with entities beyond our own who can (and do) change the landscape in which we operate.

Who is responsible for managing our relationship with government entities, legislative bodies and other influential external stakeholders? Who in our association is charged with having long-term visibility on major changes in the regulatory or legislative landscapes and who is supposed to be advising the NMC on this? Does the association need a task force or standing committee to take this job on – it seems like it is currently vacant and it is quite an important area.

We seem curiously adept at focusing on censoring chat forum discussions on matters of trivia, filling flip chart pages with relatively unimportant strategic thinking about badge sizes and flag colours and expressing outrage when someone has the temerity to wear a hoody (shock, horror) whilst making a point from a podium at National Council (coherent argument and intelligent debate are null and void if one is not properly attired).

Yet when it comes to spotting fundamental shifts in societal or legislative thinking that will have major consequences for how we operate into the future, we seem remarkably incapable of getting our act together.

If we were an association exclusively made up of volunteers, there might be some excuse, but we are also a significant employer and surely part of the point around employing senior and experienced managers is that issues such as major changes in legislation that will affect how Scouting works will be identified early, engagement with the relevant authorities will take place and pro-active work to ensure said legislative changes will not adversely affect how we deliver our services, will be undertaken.

In this instance, it seems little of this approach has been employed and thus once again, Scouting is merely a bystander, rather than a part of the debate – a breathless follower of societal trends rather than the setter of such trends as we once were.

5 thoughts on “The Governance of influence”

  1. It is really sad t see a once constructive leader continue to fight old battles that are no longer relevant or real. But to confuse and indeed “frighten” people about new structures is somewhat unforgiveable.

    These new regulations are now law and talking to people at National Council most attendees were impressed with the presentation and the availability of speakers to reply to questions. To my mind it was a sensible use of National Council time.

    From speaking with other youth organisations I Know that they are impressed at the manner in which SI has prepared for these changes and in fact the general view is that SI is considerably ahead of the possee on this.

    Incidentally the reason that the GAA is not included is that it is not a Charity – though I gather that is what they would like to be.

    So lets start form the top Garrett:

    I do not see this as being any Fundamental change. just a recognition of reality. A lot of money goes through SI ( at National and Local Levels) it is reasonable that such be accountable. Unless you are suggesting it should not be.

    Scouting in Ireland, like Ireland itself ( sadly) has been “conservatish”. However when it does make fundamental change – opening up to non specific faiths membership, co-education and eventually the merger – all of which I actively campaigned for – it did so with enthusiasm.

    As a County Officer for a long time and a member of a very big and long established Group I have never ever been involved in your supposed big debate about The Business of Scouting versus the Game of Scouting. Its in your mind Garrett.

    As to why SI was no involved in the debate around the time of the adoption of the Charity Act – it beats me Garrett but it was enacted years before the current CEO took up his post – and he has been very active in engaging with Government since. ( I know that form my own work).

    You go on to speak about “faceless bureaucrats in national office” who?, name them, I know the names and faces of most people who work there and so do you. Your then shamefully refer to ” second rate bureaucrats” Go one name them or withdraw it ? It is a shameful.
    comment from someone who was once a senior member of SI.

    Your reference to the local leader being reduced to a “flipper” is simply nonsensical. After we register as a Charity and appoint Trustees ( about twenty minutes work) Donnybrook Group will still be Donnybrook run by a Group Leader and a Group Council and still a member of Scouting Ireland – stop frightening people.

    Of course a high % of our “National” spend is on staff. That covers, Admin, Training, Finance, campsites, Child protection, programme to name but the ones that come to mind quickly. That allows a huge % of monies spent locally to be on direct programme. The first facilitates the latter. My understanding is that despite a surge in membership – due to hit 50,000 shortly there has been no additional staff and our staff to member ratio has improved significantly.

    Finally I am not a great man for the uniform myself Garrett but we are a uninformed Movement. At National Council I do wear it out of respect for that fact. I happen to agree with you that Scouting Ireland needs to engage more with the world around us and with Government bodies. In that respect I was delighted to ensure that within days of his taking office the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn addressed National Council and within days of being asked Pat Rabbitte also addressed National Council – (indeed I would even acknowledge the excellence of his speech that was challenging to Scouting Ireland- ahem ahem). But I will so do from within the tent and not negatively picking on staff who by virtue of a deep loyalty to Scouting Ireland that is not always reciprocated cannot defend themselves.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment Dermot. Your opinions are always welcome. The ‘game versus business’ of Scouting is most definitely not just in my head – it is a widely used phrase and has been for some time now. It’s not necessarily a pejorative term, merely a way to describe the occasional tensions that arise between Scouting (the movement) and Scouting (the limited company). I didn’t coin the term, I just borrowed it.

    We have some really excellent professionals in Scouting Ireland who work tirelessly for the association, are flawlessly impartial in all their dealings with all members and who have earned great respect. You know them Dermot and as you say, so do I.

    Commenting on matters of national policy is not just a responsibility for members, it is surely a duty. It is a red herring in my view to equate the critique of national policy with ‘picking on’ anyone. Association funds are being expended and members are within their rights to ask pertinent questions.

    We have seen a big surge in bureaucracy in recent years, quite a lot of it unnecessary. Local groups are the centre of scouting and some members are worried about these latest changes.

    Larger and better resourced groups like Donnybrook (and Ballinteer for that matter) will take these changes in their stride – and there are many positives in the changes, which I welcome both as a citizen of the Irish State as well as in my role as a member of Scouting Ireland.

    However some weaker groups will struggle and how this is managed needs to be explored, articulated and worked through.

    I don’t accept that critiquing a policy is being negative – robust debate has been a feature of many changes in Scouting (remember the ‘One Programme’ proposals – ‘vitriolic’ might be a better word to use when reviewing how some members contributed to THAT debate).

  3. Thank you Garrett for saying so well much of what I have been trying to say and but across since I heard about the changes coming our way on the members forum. (And not doing the best job of it!)

    I think we have a right and duty to question anything we are told we have to do. I think we have a right to question why it has taken so long to tell us we aren’t compliant and if we aren’t why aren’t we??

    My understanding was that was why staff were hired in the first place. To take the burden of this sort of work away from the groups.
    This change may be good for us but in it I do wonder at what function SI see’s for itself if we are individual charities. That questioning has not made me popular in some quarters but it still stands.

    Our group became quite excited by the idea of having total independence but that in itself will leave us with some challenges. The decision to join the growing worldwide independent scout groups would not be taken lightly or easily. We do have a sense of loyalty to but it is feeling a little one way right now.

    We may decide to stay with SI but this change, as It has been introduced does leave us with a question to ask, do we want to stay?
    Our county works well, we want that structure, we work well together, we work often together.

    So many questions, so very few answers and for those groups who have active Group Councils with plenty of parents with the skills and time to donate to being trustee’s fair play to you but some of us smaller groups wont have that. What we will have is either one or two people taking full responsibility and the work or a closed group with many disappointed parents and children.

    It is easy to say share the work around but as we all know that doesn’t always work, it isn’t anyone’s job is it? We are only volunteers after all. My upcoming Stage 6 is supposed to talk to me about balancing scouting with my ‘other’ life. That will be an interesting conversation with events unfolding as they are.

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