Another National Council looms and with it, another concerted effort to subvert the democratic process is underway.
As usual, it is coordinated by the same group of self-appointees, who mask blatant self interest under the guise of being the real ‘guardians’ of Scouting.
The last time this group tried to damage a Chief Scout candidate, they did so in spectacular fashion in 2015 and ended up damaging not just their intended target, but the other candidate too.
This time around the focus is the current Chief Scout. The vehicle is a review into safeguarding that has highlighted some apparent glaring gaps in how the association manages such issues. The purpose behind these antics can merely be the subject of conjecture, though the damage inflicted on the entire association has left their 2015 project very much in the shade and simultaneously undermined their entire ‘raison d’être’ – or at least the one they state when pressed.
That Scouting Ireland’s national association is suffering from a severe deficit of management on a day-to-day basis is not news to members. But it is perhaps news to wider society, now getting a glimpse into just how dysfunctional our management structure is. Alas, it won’t end with the current series of revelations either.
One faction in Scouting’s ongoing culture war has cynically and ruthlessly exploited a very serious case in a most poisonous fashion, ostensibly in order to undermine another.
Some senior volunteers in the association may have questions to answer and soul searching to undertake. However the narrative being pedaled by friends of the association’s senior employees that professional staff were somehow hoodwinked or given the runaround by ‘scheming volunteers’ simply doesn’t hold up to even cursory levels of analysis.
The unedifying sideshow of backward social conservatives squabbling with forward thinking liberals around the direction Scouting Ireland should take will add colour to the usual dullness of the nowadays sanitized and dumbed down national council event. But this is a distraction to the wider strategic question that recent revelations pose.
Scouting Ireland has slid into a rut of bad management over the past half decade. The slide has been gradual and several factors have driven it. The casual disregard for the associations Constitution & Rules, the relations between volunteer scouters and professional staff – at an historic all-time low, the botched ‘Vision 2020’ initiative, the astonishing inaction around the introduction of the Charities Act and an increasingly weakened Board of Directors unable to nip any of this in the bud, have all played a part in getting us to the present predicament.
Strong personalities and massive egos have played a part too, spurred on by weak resistance and encouraged by cronies as competent board members left in frustration, to be replaced increasingly (albeit thankfully not exclusively) by seat warmers and ‘yes’ men (and women).
The national association contrasts markedly with the local groups of Scouting Ireland, thriving in communities in all corners of the country. There have been more than a few wry remarks in recent days about how heavy-handed staff and pontificating senior volunteers would be very quick to condemn a local scout group for any sign of bad behavior, yet all seem to be running for cover in the face of a scandal on their own piece of Scouting turf.
The Chief Scout, a fundamentally decent individual and probably too honest for his own good, has been caught in the crossfire of a mess that was not of his making. He has stepped in to try and steady the ship, whilst those who’s actual job it is to do so have spent their time fabricating meetings with their chums and trying to cover their own asses.
There will likely be senior volunteer casualties from this debacle. There may be senior management casualties too. The public is now aware of what the membership have known for years. More revelations are coming.
Senior, elected volunteers in Scouting Ireland increasingly lack the calibre to undertake the complex and arduous task of being a director of a board. There is more to it than the ability to wear a neckerchief and get misty-eyed at the sight of a flag.
Major briefs such as the Chief Commissioner roles and that of National Secretary are simply too large and unwieldy to be undertaken by a single person, regardless of calibre. Any management restructure needs to take account of this and ensure volunteer roles fit volunteer bandwidth.
The board needs a comprehensive restructure where, notwithstanding the need for a youth presence and some element of regional representation, the candidates should meet certain minimum requirements in terms of qualifications and corporate or similar experience.
Board members recruited from outside Scouting or at the very least from among the ranks of qualified persons, who have not served at national level for five or more years (or ever), should make up 25% of the board.
Board members should be there to uphold the law, the constitution and the rules. They should advocate for the membership in general. They should challenge office holders and those responsible for specific portfolios. They should have far stronger oversight of key staff and set KPI’s for the Chief Executive Officer.
Scouting Ireland’s senior professional staff also needs to be reviewed and in some instances replaced. The present CEO’s term ends in early 2019. The next CEO should be an external candidate with a long and proven track record in management, not scouting. The present occupant has a track record at the latter, but has proven to be simply out of his depth at the former, in this writers view.
A new CEO should guide the implementation of all policy. Volunteers and staff alike should report to her (or him). The CEO should be accountable – truly accountable – to the board.
The present structure where staff and volunteers are locked in a constant turf war has resulted from factors set out in a previous irishscouter article. The people who should be mitigating this are presently exacerbating it. It needs to stop.
A CEO with the right sort of experience and gravitas will quickly earn the respect of and thus the right to lead volunteers and staff together. This will greatly streamline workflows, it will streamline accountabilities and it will neutralize this tit for tat squabbling that presently absorbs inordinate amounts of time of both staff and volunteers.
A significant leap forward in transparency is needed in Scouting Ireland. The national association is the servant of the membership in local groups. This ethos has been completely lost in recent years. Present management and a good number of the current leadership; simply don’t see things this way.
The membership for their part now needs to demand it and demand the removal of those who resist or put roadblocks in place to avoid it.
The spectacle of unelected individuals unilaterally binning properly submitted motions to 2018 National Council, that don’t meet with their personal approval is a timely example (and one of many) of the utter contempt in which local members are held by some occupants of national office*.
*These antics have happened previously too and have been verified by a source.
The national association has no function outside serving the interests of members. It needs to get better at articulating what it does and the value it generates, but it also needs to deliver more, deliver it better and deliver it in a transparent manner.
Salaries of senior staff, membership of committees, participants in foreign junkets, issuance of awards and the people involved in deciding on them are just a few examples of where more information must be shared with members.
Scouting Ireland national office is not a missile base (despite the incendiary revelations from this week in the press). It is a youth organization funded by member registration fees and taxpayers. There should be few secrets. Questions and critique should be welcomed. Directors with the appropriate qualifications and experience will understand this and ensure it is delivered upon.
This is a bad week indeed for Scouting. But from every crisis comes opportunity.
Humility and honest leadership will be needed to navigate our great association through a tricky series of soul-searching questions, a frank and honest acceptance that mistakes – serious mistakes have been made – and on to an ambitious restructure that gets us back – truly back – to the aspirations we all signed up to when the association was established in 2004.
The Chief Scout, Christy Mc Cann is decent, honorable and a competent leader. He is not a manager, nor an administrator, nor a PR or legal expert. But we did not elect him for any of these things.
We need a leader with integrity to get us back on the right road after what has been a torrid few weeks. The current Chief Scout embodies much of what is good about Scouting Ireland. We should support him and equally signal with clarity our expectations for demonstrably better governance to manifest itself within weeks, if not days of Saturday’s meeting.
It takes years, decades to build reputations. They can be severely tarnished, if not destroyed in a matter of minutes. What Scouting Ireland does next will be watched by many outside the organization.
Let’s hope we take the right steps.