The National Management Committee of Scouting Ireland recently signaled a decision to introduce three new positions at senior level in the association, designed to alleviate pressure on a role occupied by an elected volunteer.
This is a positive step.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
The ‘Assistant National Secretary’ roles will each focus on one of three significant areas of the National Secretaries very extensive brief. Each role will be an appointment (by the NMC), presumably with some element of endorsement to come later from National Council at which point these roles may gain more of a statutory footing, following rules changes, etc.
The NMC is to be applauded for taking a prompt decision in this area and for moving swiftly to implement it. The tenet of ‘volunteer led’ is a critically important one for Scouting in Ireland and this decision should help to make a large chunk of work easier to manage and ultimately drive better implementation too.
These roles will tackle large, frequently invisible (and often thankless) tasks that many members of Scouting do not see, but which add up to a series of essential services for the association. Those willing to undertake this work to the required standard will not be easy to find.
SHOWING AN INTEREST
The calibre of the individuals appointed will be of pivotal importance, not just in terms of their competence, but also in terms of their integrity/perceived integrity and their overall suitability for the job.
In this context, theirishscouter hopes that due attention will be given to any potential conflicts of interest that prospective candidates might have, that could influence (or be perceived to influence) their thinking or actions on a given topic.
The association, having emerged from a lengthy period during which nepotism or the strong perception of it cropped up rather too often and many decisions were made in what might diplomatically be described as a somewhat ‘opaque’ environment, needs to ensure that the breath of fresh air ushered in with the 2015 elections, remains fresh.
In particular, prospective candidates for any of these ‘Assistant National Secretary’ roles and indeed for the top job itself when the election comes around should declare membership of a fellowship patrol, if they are or have recently been a member of one.
Scout group loyalties and those of County and indeed Province are plain for all to see. They usually turn up on the Scouting CV of election hopefuls in any event. Corporate related conflicts of interest are equally easy to spot and in any case rarely manifest themselves in a Scouting context. However membership of a fellowship patrol is invisible to the casual voter. Yet depending on the patrol, it can signal interest in a particular policy area or convey a particular world view that those casting a vote should know about, lest lack of knowledge result in a different voting decision being made.
STILL OPEN TO ALL
Membership of a fellowship patrol should not preclude anyone from running for office (or applying for a paid job in Scouting Ireland for that matter). But the candidate, in the interests of transparency, should declare it.
It may necessitate a successful candidate absenting him or herself from a particular vote or conversation. It may prompt an office holder to withdraw from an interviewing panel or avoid officiating in a specific dispute. It may involve none of these things in some instances; if the NMC in their capacity as Board of Directors takes a view that a declared conflict of interest poses no issue and this is recorded into the minutes of the board meeting.
One would like to think that every member would have the wherewithal to know themselves when facing a conflict of interest and would have the integrity to withdraw accordingly from a decision or discussion, but recent years of observing how Scouting works at National level strongly suggests this could not be a relied upon course of action every time.
A formal request for a declaration of any potential conflicts of interest should be an integral part of all elections and appointments to National Scouting roles and indeed to all contracts of employment. These new Assistant National Secretary roles are a good place to start.
This article will of course prompt howls of protest and more anonymous poison pen emails from the usual source, but these new roles are sensitive, as are many key National roles, so transparency is critical and is in the interests of the association, the membership AND the candidate(s).
One role will be responsible for governance. Another will be dealing with disputes. The candidates undertaking these roles need to be not only completely and utterly impartial, they need to be seen as such. Otherwise, the NMC’s initiative in creating this framework will be fatally undermined and with it the prospect of an elegant solution to the challenge of having a National Secretary role that is just too large for one person to undertake alone.
FIND THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Scouting is full of talented, highly capable people. Yes it is fair to surmise that many truly capable people run a mile from taking on vast, invisible and thankless roles, preferring instead to channel their spare time into local scouting pursuits. However, the association must strive to resist the temptation to appoint other people who are unable to undertake a role because they either lack the competence, the credibility or the capability, simply because there happens to be a vacancy and they are willing to fill it.
Far better to create the role and leave it vacant until the right candidate comes along. Great strides have been made in the past year to reposition how the association is managed at National level. It will take time for this narrative to translate into an all-pervading reality. But staying the course and insisting on a better class of leader will pay off.
Whoever comes forward for these vacancies deserves credit for putting their name into the hat. The role of the leadership will be to have the wisdom, the strength of purpose and the tact, to choose very carefully and equally not shy away from a difficult conversation with an unsuitable candidate, if such conversations need to be had.