South East Scotland Regional Scout Council
Regional Development Project Review August 2015
As with any project, lessons are learnt along the way. Below are a number of comments on a variety of subjects. Some of these are taken from the online questionnaire we sent out across the Region near the end of the project, others from phone calls that were carried out between the LDO and local volunteers to get some further details, and lastly lessons learned by the LDO/DPMG during the five years of working directly on the project.
General lessons learned
- It is crucial to have “buy in” from Districts and Groups – not just verbal support but also in people’s time – if local development is to be successful. Development must be owned by Scouting as a whole – it can’t be left to the project, ARC Development or LDO.
- It is important to take small steps with Groups/Districts so that they are not overloaded and support can be spread around where needed.
- Districts often have to “fire fight” local issues and that can limit their availability to invest in development in other areas.
Running a development project
- Whilst the fourth and fifth years of the project had fewer goals than the first three, upon reflection it could be argued that we still set too many for these last two years. Having seen the success of other projects, and where we have been successful ourselves, part of the key to such success has been a focus on 1-2 particular goals at most. Additionally, how targets are to be measured needs consideration when choosing them in future.
- Line management and chairmanship of the DMPG is a key element to the success of the project. There is a need to have someone available to respond sometimes at short notice as issue arise and to have time to commit to meetings of both the Management Group and less formal one issue meetings.
- Communication is important and though we felt we communicated clearly and often enough, in actual fact we could possibly have improved or increased this. This featured in the feedback received to the online end of project questionnaire. Whilst we felt we had given regular updates in the Regional newsletter (quarterly updates, monthly notes of events/support available) it does seem that a number of individuals remained unaware of the project and the LDO support that was In future projects or with future staff, they will benefit from the new website and a dedicated communications team overseeing this and social media opportunities. It may also be of use to have more regular, and possibly separate, development updates sent out via the Region’s news routes.
- The Development Project Management Group (DPMG) needs a broad range of people with different skills who are engaged with the work of the project.
- It is crucial to have good contacts with the Development Grants Board (DGB), UK and Scottish Scout Headquarters and the LDO Network.
- During the project there was significant change within the Region/Movement (people in Regional and District appointments changing; changing of Region/District structures and boundaries; national database systems changing) and there were a variety of empty spaces in District teams. While this is a direct result of a volunteer led organization it does have a knock-on effect on development work. It is a constant balancing of volunteer time and availability and the LDOs planned work. When there was District and local support available development work went well and to plan. The learning outcomes from this are:
- Successful development work can never rely solely on a staff member; the best work is always done in partnership between volunteers and staff.
- Development work can continue during change and vacancy periods, however, progress is likely to be slowed.
- Helping Districts to build up a pool of volunteers to work on development initiatives, and/or improve their succession planning for ADC/DC roles, will help to lessen the impact that changes in personnel and/or the organisation will have on development work.
Line management of Local Development Officer
- Over the course of the five years we had a variety of structures and people to provide line management support to the Local Development Officer. It was found that the regularity of line management needs to be 4-6 weeks maximum, with appropriate time set apart of this. Whilst line management can be provided effectively by a volunteer manager, providing they can meet regularly with the LDO, having line management provided by a staff member can also be useful and effective as interactions are more regular. This can have a positive impact in that staff benefit from reflection and time to challenge and air issues: an immediate sounding block is helpful especially in the early part of the project when the LDO is new.
- It is worth investing in the LDO (e.g. training, attendance at LDO Network Days) as this provides new ideas, resources and energy.
- Regular reporting is crucial to the DPMG to maintain progress and give appropriate support to the LDO.
Sustaining growth post project
- There seems to be more interest from volunteers to support local development initiatives (e.g. Sick Children’s Hospital Scout Group and Royal Blind School Scout Group) rather than get involved in Region wide teams that would support development post project (e.g. Local Growth Support Teams, see below for more detail).
- Whilst many positive comments were gathered through the online survey affirming the value/need of staff support for development, we (on the other side) can see the need for everyone to engage in development, for without this we would not have seen such growth.
- We also need to keep on helping our volunteers understand that development is more than growth or new sections – this has been a key blocker in people signing up to the Group Development Day, and when properly explained they more easily see the relevance and importance of development for their situation.
- During the last two years we have sought to build up a team to sustain development post project through a number of avenues. At first we promoted the idea of a “Regional Development Forum” then in the last year to having “Local Growth Support Teams”, as it was felt that this was more manageable, understandable and focused. However, interest from current adult members to the promotion of this opportunity was limited and consequently the idea was unable to be developed further. In response, a few Districts have tried a different tack and been successful in appointing a local volunteer to the role of DDC (Development); this is a model the Region is now looking to expand over time. In addition, the Local Growth Support Team concept may become a District run team, rather than a Regional team, which would be overseen by the DDC and hopefully may attract more local interest from volunteers.
- When developing at Group level, support is needed from all levels – District, Group Executive, existing leaders and LDO.
- When starting up a new section we need to have at least one (preferably two) volunteer(s) around whom we can build a team: flexible volunteering can only go so far. We sought to start up a Group in Coldstream in the first year but this did not happen despite some initial positive reaction from the local community. A number of people stepped forward to participate flexibly but no one could be found to be “the leader” and the work had to be left. After that we always ensured we communicated the need for someone to be the leader but stressed a team approach to running the section.
- It is better to have direct recruitment, in person, rather than invest money in lots of “cold calling” approaches. Some time, money and resources in this way can bring results (e.g. volunteer centres, volunteer websites) but the most successful approaches are done in person.
- We found there to be a higher level of engagement with the local community where we were able to visit local schools for an assembly or series of class visits. Where we tried to start up a Group and relied solely on local word of mouth and/or other organisations to promote the opportunity, then local awareness and thus attendance was much lower.
- Taking Scouting into new communities takes much more time than other work and we have had to learn to balance the time given to these projects and the potential outcome.
- It is easier to start up new sections between September and March as the summer term is often too short, full of other activities and then followed by the long summer holidays. It can work if a new section is ready to start straight after the Easter break, so work must be done in the term before at least.
- There is a need to ensure we have the right people in the right role and it is important to learn a little caution when involving new volunteers as the “key” leaders – sometimes we were stung because of too much haste.
- With a new Beaver section it is possible to simply build the programme for the initial weeks around the Membership badge and having fun. However, the new Pack in North Berwick and the Troop in Pencaitland showed that for the older sections (Cubs to Explorers), which usually have a longer meeting time, it can really help the young people to be enthusiastic and excited about what is happening when the programme has another badge (or two!) mixed into the start-up period of the new section.
- One piece of feedback was that new sections would have liked the LDO to visit some time after starting (e.g. 3-6 months’ time) to see how it was going and offer support. Time limitations prevented this happening during the project. It would be hoped that this would be a social visit because the support structure within Districts should have kicked in.
Working in areas of socio-economic deprivation
- It can greatly help to work with other local organisations (e.g. churches, charities, schools) as they can potentially open doors, provide contacts/volunteers and devote time to supporting new sections. It is not a guarantee but can help.
- Greater time to up-skill, mentor and provide on-going support can be needed in these areas. Again, not always, but it has been a common requirement of the work undertaken.
- In the start-up of two new sections, both of which were in areas of socio-economic deprivation, the sections took longer to start up than in other circumstances, and in one situation the section closed after 6 months. We had anticipated prior to the start of the project that the start-up time for some of these sections would be longer and as such set our targets accordingly. Our main expectation was that we may need to devote more time to up-skilling volunteers and dealing with changes in volunteers (both the particular individuals involved and the issues in the lives of the individuals); in the end this expectation was realised for both of these new sections that struggled. One section is continuing on, with significant help and support from the District, and the other (as noted above) has had to close. This closure came after several months’ of investment by the District but with no parents or other local adults willing/able to take over the leadership of the Pack, which was needed after the sudden departure of the CSL and ACSL due to a change in life circumstances.
Special Needs Scouting
- An important lesson from both the Royal Blind School and Hospital Groups is that it is detrimental to the running of the Groups if the volunteer pool is primarily drawn from one source (e.g. medical students). Whilst there may be a lot of interest from this pool, the team needs to be drawn from more widely so that there is greater flexibility and sustainability.
- A more sustainable model for the Scout Group at the Sick Children’s Hospital would have been to have 4-6 teams headed up by an experienced volunteer and for new volunteers to be part of these teams. In addition, it is likely that “bedside Scouting” needs to be the aim rather than the Group only being able/allowed to cater for children and young people who can leave the ward.
Help with recruitment
- One role performed by the LDO was to generate and pass on possible new volunteers. These came about via a number of websites (Scouts UK/Scotland, Gumtree, do-it.org, Volunteer Scotland, Volunteer Centres, three university websites) or attendance at recruitment events. In most instances, information was taken either in person or via email/phone and then passed to Groups and Districts to follow up. Some feedback received was that the LDO should have “vetted” these applicants more thoroughly as a sizeable number did not carry through on their initial interest or dropped out quickly, and it is felt that this wasted limited volunteer time. However, the other side of the coin is that following up with around 1070 enquiries in a face to face manner would have been the equivalent of around 28.5 weeks of employment of an LDO and potentially not the best use of resources. At it is, this process is now being taken on by Districts but they will need to weigh up both sides of the debate in developing their policies.
- As with Scouting across the rest of the UK, we found the recruitment of GSLs a challenge. Good practice and resources were received from the Regional Development Service (England only) via visits, individual conversations and at the Network days. We attempted recruitment of GSLs via direct work with a number of Groups and separate promotion through websites and events. We also explored a strategy of seeking to recruit AGSLs who could be trained up over time – we had a number of notes of interest, especially via Gumtree, but most of the potential candidates pulled out in the early stages of getting involved due to changes in life circumstances or interest.
- The use of Gumtree has been had mixed results. Whilst there has certainly been a reasonable level of response, there are few (if any) that have carried on through to actual involvement as an AGSL. It may still be worth posting such volunteering opportunities in the future but the Region/Districts should be made aware of the issue and prepared to persevere with this avenue of recruitment if utilised.
Group Development Days
- On the whole the Group Development Day seems to be preferred to separate sessions when creating a Group Development Plan.
- The days were run in such a way as to facilitate the Group to work on their plans and solutions, rather than simply giving “the answers”, and on finding solutions that “worked for our Group with the team we have”. This facilitated and individually-tailored approach seems to have been appreciated.
- We have had very good feedback on these days throughout the project and will seek to ensure the Region is equipped to run them in future, either in the current format or as a cut down version to fit the Region’s supplementary training package scheme.
- It has been suggested in the online feedback that follow up meetings with Groups who attended the Development Day may have been of use. With fewer targets it may be possible to give time to such provision and support
- Craigalmond District saw most of their Groups attend and largely put this down to GSLs encouraging one another to go. The opportunity for this encouragement was at GSL meetings during which others were able to share their positive experience of the Group Development Day.
Good practice resources
- Many of the approaches adopted in other projects have been useful in work here (e.g. school visits, taster days, meetings with parents) and it has been good to have those links with others to learn from their experiences.
- A number of resources have been developed (or taken and adapted from others) to aid with section start-up, GSL recruitment, Group Development Plans, Adult Recruitment Workshop, school visits, and promotional events. These will be made available via the Regional website before the end of the project.
- There needs to be good communication between the Region and Project and Districts, and Districts to Groups, so that we know the issues and needs. For example, having an updated list of volunteer needs three times a year from DCs has helped with placing volunteer enquiries, as well as a regularly updated list of Groups/Unit/District contacts (key roles, not every member).
General feedback from online questionnaire
- From feedback received, 64% felt that the project has been of “very good value” or “good value”. Reasons given include:
- Having someone bring a focus and drive to development initiatives, as well as to give help and/or advice to individual Groups.
- Having a daytime resource to undertake tasks volunteers would struggle to do: school visits, recruitment events.
- Giving onsite support during start-up phase of new sections, where experience could be shared and pressure taken off of new leaders, as well as taking pressure off of Group and District that are already stretched and would be unable to provide the necessary time (and so more likely to avoid doing it altogether).
- It is not enough to simply get DCs together to discuss development; each DC needs dedicated time given to them to aid the development of their District.
- Several comments were made within the online feedback that volunteers would appreciate having the post of Local Development Officer continued and that without such a post the Movement/Region needs to be cautious about what it can expect local managers to achieve.