Thursday, 22 June 2017

Not Quite Textbook . . .

As we know, the Guiding Manual is full of rules which set the minimum acceptable standards.  The minimum number of girls you can have and still have a viable unit, the minimum number of staff you need for an outing with a given section, the minimum qualifications needed to run certain activities.  Although in every case it is clearly preferable to have more staff cover than the minimum, Guiding recognises that that the ideal isn’t always possible.


The rulebook is based, as all rulebooks have to be, on what is considered only-just-adequate for leadership teams which may have limited experience.  Three adults with sufficient training/qualifications is an adequate number to take 18 Brownies away for a week – not generous, to be sure – but adequate.


But when it comes to creating our risk assessments, or indeed, dealing with situations which arise - sometimes the textbook solution is suddenly not available.  For instance, if on your Brownie holiday a child falls and gets a cut which you feel needs stitches, you might naturally plan to take her to the local GP surgery, Minor Injuries Clinic or Hospital.  But – by what means, and accompanied by whom?  Textbook says that you shouldn’t have an adult 1:1 with a child.  But if two adults go with the patient (for instance, one adult drives and another looks after the injured child en route), then that only leaves one adult to take charge of all the other 17 girls single-handed.  (It also presupposes you have a car on site and a driver insured to use it other than the first aider, which isn’t necessarily the case.)  One sensible alternative would be to call a taxi – that way you would have the taxi driver as a second adult (an independent one at that) meaning you could send one Leader with the child and keep 2 adults on site.  On arrival the hospital staff, the other people in the waiting room etc would ensure you weren’t left 1:1 - which would appear the wiser option.


Or if one of the adults on the staff happened to be the one ill or injured (or amongst them) – you would automatically be down by one adult, and depending on the illness or injury you might temporarily be down by two if the injured adult needed to be looked after.  Until such time as that adult was either patched up and fit to continue, or taken home/to hospital, you would be shorthanded.  Once arrangements had been made for the immediate care of that adult you would need to consider your staffing position, and judge whether it would be appropriate to contact the holiday adviser and discuss options – possibly securing another adult to come and join the event as cover, possibly arranging to end the holiday early and get all participants home safely - depending on the circumstances which applied.


Fact is, that no matter how many possible instances and circumstances the rule book might list, sooner or later a situation will arise which doesn’t really fit into any of the example scenarios in the book, and it will then be down to the Leaders on the spot to act as they think best in the circumstances encountered.  You can only risk-assess so far, some things which happen genuinely are not foreseeable, and cannot be prevented by us no matter how much we assess and plan.  For instance, my unit’s meeting hall is surrounded by housing on 3 sides.  On one side there is high garden fencing/hedges, on the other two sides there is a high stone wall between us and the neighbouring houses, too high for us to see over.  One summer night I had organised relay races on the narrow strip of grass which runs round our hall.  I could hear that there were children playing in one of the gardens beyond the high stone wall, but they were totally out of sight to us, and us to them.  It so happened that as one of the Brownies was running down the side of the hall, one of the children in that garden threw a bit of wood which had a couple of rusty nails sticking out of it.  The throw was such that it happened to accidentally soar over the wall rather than stay within the bounds of their garden as they had intended.  And by some mischance, as it dropped towards the ground it happened to fall in the comparatively narrow space between the stone wall and the large expanse of hall roof beyond, and by some mischance it happened just at the exact moment a child was running past that very spot, such that it hit her on the head and caused a wound on her forehead which required some stitches.  The level of coincidence involved in this – that the wood went over the wall instead of staying within the garden, that it fell towards the narrow strip of grass rather than onto the large expanse of hall roof beyond, that there happened to be a child running by that exact spot at that exact moment and not a second before or after – would be considered implausible by the average drama scriptwriter or critic.  But it actually happened.  I know, I was the Leader in charge that night and I had to deal with the casualty and with the children in the garden.


I am not for a minute knocking the Manual in saying this – either the concept of having a Manual, or the current contents of it.  But I am saying that we must not and cannot rely on it alone to provide us with all the answers for every possible scenario, every time.  We have to be ready to utilise it’s contents alongside our own sense and judgement, and be ready to fit the rules provided to the circumstances we find before us, and work out the best possible solution for our specific situation, complying with the rules as far as we can.  Because we consistently find - that many events which happen, in some way or another, are Not Quite Textbook.

Monday, 8 May 2017

"That's what little girls are made of" . . .

Yes, we all remember the old-fashioned rhyme, which gives the answer, “sugar and spice and all things nice”.  And I’m not planning to get into gender debates here about the merits or otherwise of spice versus puppy dog tails.  Simply ponder whether we practice what we preach in Guiding when it comes to food – both the food which we serve, and the food which we teach the girls to make in our food activity sessions.  Should the girls be made of sugar and spice?  Or are too many of those ‘all things nice’ the very ones which we know are not good for them to have?


Yes, I’m happy to accept that our meetings are only 90 minutes a week.  And our catered camps/holidays and outings are only a few weekends a year.  So I agree that what we do has a limited impact on their health in comparison to what happens at home or at school.  And we’ve all heard about “a little of what you fancy does you good”, “all work and no play” and all those old sayings which are usually wheeled out at this point to claim that we needn’t worry a jot how many treats we give out or how often we give them, whether our last three cooking sessions were all ‘cake & candy’ ones which involved a lot of sugar, butter and oil, or whether sweets and sugary drinks were used as all of the prizes and most of the refreshments at the last couple of parties we ran.  Nevertheless – Guiding as a movement claims to promote healthy lifestyles.  We have our Healthy Heart and our Agility badges, our Outdoor Pursuits and our Independent Living and our Sport.  We encourage the girls to do as many outdoor activities as we can muster and appreciate nature, exercise and fitness, and the healthy out-of-doors.  We teach them the first aid and the survival skills in order that they can look after themselves.  And yet . . . do our deeds match all this fine talk?  Are we really talking about ‘treat food’ which fits the definition of ‘treat’ – a very occasional one-off as part of an otherwise healthy balanced diet - or if we are being honest with ourselves, is it actually ‘treats’ we provide most if not all of the time, and are we actually providing the prime example of a rather unbalanced and somewhat unhealthy diet?


Problem is, when we do ‘cooking’ activities with the unit, all too often, the results are food which is very sugary, or fatty - or both.  Often for 'cooking' we can read 'making cake & candy' - whereas cooking savoury food is much rarer, and fresh vegetables almost never appear.  And when it comes to menus for camps and holidays there does tend to be a lot of bread, rice and pasta, which is reasonable and sustaining - but also a lot of fried or fatty food which does not have much merit nutritionally.  As I look at my last outdoor camp menu, it was tinned soup (which contains sugar) and cheeseburger rolls for dinner (burgers fried not grilled, with processed cheese slices).  Hot choc and biscuits for supper (more sugar).  Breakfast was sugar-laden cereal and bacon rolls for breakfast (fry again), with diluting juice and fresh fruit for elevenses (more sugar).  Lunch was a buffet, so salad vegetables were available then – but some girls may have filled their wrap with ham and cheese rather than adding much lettuce, cucumber or tomato (sugar) to it, and a packet of crisps each was provided (so fry again), and a piece of fruit (sugar).  Most of the girls probably only brushed teeth morning and night, not also at elevenses, lunch or after evening meal.  Where camp and holiday menus include ‘fruit & veg’ it tends to be mainly fruit, which contains natural sugars – veg is rarer, and under that category we do tend to mean sweet tomatoes, sweet carrot sticks, tinned sweetcorn in sweetened water, or beans/spaghetti in sweetened tomato sauce.  We tend to serve diluting juice rather than water at mealtimes too.  And if there is a party, then it’s often automatically fizzy juice, crisps, biscuits, sweets, mini sausages or sausage rolls, pizza bites, with perhaps an iced cake too - healthy options are rarely or never offered to the girls at parties.


Yet on the other hand, there are the “childsmile” campaigns about child dental health, the “daily mile” campaign to increase exercise, and the “lunchbox” campaign to encourage healthy snacks, to name but three of the many national health initiatives aimed at children in the age groups we deal with, all intended to tackle the increase in childhood obesity and in dental decay.  Plus there is the question of parental wishes – many of the parents in my area are trying to manage the levels of fat and sugar in their child’s diet, and I doubt that’s unique to my town.  Should we not be supporting and assisting parents in this positive action, rather than potentially undermining them when the children are in our charge and out of their sight?


It isn’t to say we can ‘never’ give sweets to the girls, or ‘never’ serve fruit juice or carrot sticks without arranging a tooth brushing session immediately after.  Of course these and other treat options can have their place occasionally amidst an otherwise healthy diet.  But it is that ‘occasional’ and ‘amidst an otherwise healthy diet’ part that counts.  So where should we target?  First up is tuck shops at unit meetings.  Whilst they can be a useful fundraiser, should we have them every week, or even every month?  Are there always healthy options amongst what we offer, or is it sugar or nothing?  Some units have a snack break every week during their meetings – again, are the children actually hungry and in need of food at that time – and if so, are healthy food options provided, and does tooth brushing follow?  Or is it sugary juice and sweet biscuits with no tooth care afterwards?


Next we could think about our cookery activities – do we alternate sweet with savoury, fried with simmered, roasted with grilled – or could we?  You can do a lot to teach the girls how to prepare and peel vegetables, and can arrange plates of salad to make them look really attractive - the girls could easily learn to peel veg, and make healthy dips.  Pasta can be served with a tomato-based sauce with fresh vegetables through it rather than with a cheese sauce.  Lots of healthy stir-fry dishes can be made in the space of a unit meeting time as easily (or easier) than cakes can.  Teaching them how to make main meals as well as snacks/treats are useful life lessons anyway, with all the age groups – it’s never too early for the girls to learn how to prepare simple meals, with an eye to the day when they have to cook meals for themselves.


As part of our balanced programme, can we also adopt a healthy lifestyles aim and balance in the food we serve and the food activities we do all the time, not just when we’re doing a health-themed badge?  Avoiding “Don’t do as I do, do as I say”?

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Rewards for Church Parades

So you had a low turnout at the church parade outing.  And you’re vexed.  Perhaps if you offered a badge or something, or offered points to reward the attendees it would pressure some of the others into turning up next time and reduce your embarrassment?


But – would it be fair?  No, actually, in every sense, would it?  After all, was everyone who attended necessarily doing the right thing in being there?  And was everyone who did not attend automatically in the wrong for not participating?  No.  For the only girls who can ever attend any outing - are those whose parents who not only give them permission to attend, but then also arrange the means.  The rest cannot attend, keen to or not – so it can't be fair to criticise or disadvantage the girls for something which is mainly or entirely out of their hands.  And equally - if parents insist a girl will attend then obey she must, even if against her wishes and despite her objections – to then reward her for having attended is illogical.  In both these instances, it is the parents who have decided whether their girl will attend or not, so it is parents who would be due any rewards or demerits, if such are given at all.


Then there is the question of who is ‘behaving’ or ‘misbehaving’ by being present, or indeed absent - before making any decisions about that we should consider:


  • Were any absent because their folks were unable to make arrangements for them to attend?
  • Were any absent because the content of the event was inappropriate for their beliefs, such that keeping their Promise meant absenting themselves?
  • Were any absent because they were attending their own place of worship instead (despite the temptation to truant for rewards)?
  • Were any absent because they were away from home that weekend, but they nevertheless attended an equivalent event where they were?
  • Were any absent because they had a regular or prior commitment at that time, and believed they should honour that prior commitment?
  • Were any absent because they are from split families, and were scheduled to visit the ‘other parent’ at that time (perhaps even were obliged to)?    
  • Were any absent despite fully intending to be present, because an unexpected emergency arose which had to take priority?
  • Were any absent due to illness, or to accident (theirs, or a relevant other person’s)?
  • Were any absent because their folks refused to sign the permission form (regardless of the reason)?
  • Were any absent because the girl’s family had a prior commitment at that time?
  • What about the ones who couldn’t take part in the parade, because they had other duties at that church instead (e.g. choir, crèche helper, bellringer etc)?
  • What about the ones who attended with their families (in uniform or in plain clothes) instead of with the unit group?
  • What about the ones who attended with another club they belong to, rather than with your unit/in your uniform?


So, given all the possible and plausible scenarios – can you say with 100% certainty just why each individual in the unit did or didn’t attend, enabling you to judge whether they should share in any rewards, if rewards there be?  By attending, or by not?  It’s complex.  And that’s the reason why there has never been a ‘Church Parade’ attendance badge in Guiding, and almost certainly never will be.


That leads to a further question - what if no reward were given for ‘just turning up’ at outings (any type of outings)?  No “I turned up” badges, no extra treats or activities ‘tagged on’ before or after an outing in order artificially boost it’s turnout?  No, each outing treated as the optional extra it is, regardless of outing venue or programme - and required to be viable or not on it’s merits?  Wouldn’t that be fairer all round?  The only badges issued at outings being those earned by actually tackling challenging activities or mastering new skills whilst at the event, not merely dished out to all regardless of their level of participation – that would fit our ethos as an educational charity, after all.  A church parade was originally just those who cared to attend a particular place of worship opting to wear their uniforms instead of their ‘Sunday best’ outfits, and arranging to meet up outside in order to go in and sit together, rather than with their families or on their own - so why not let it be simply that once again – suggesting that any who care to go to a particular place of worship on a particular day and time might arrange to meet up outside and go in together, the only reward being the company of friends, the insights the preaching might offer, and perhaps a bit of progress towards ‘faith awareness’ badge if the individual chooses to work towards that particular interest badge?


Ah, but it could make the outing unviable?  To which the natural response is, if any outing isn’t viable on it’s own merits – then why run it?  There is no such thing as a compulsory outing.  There are no outings which have to be run X times a year regardless of whether anyone attends them or not.  Church outings have never had any link to Guiding membership, they have never been necessary in order to keep the Promise, they have never been compulsory or anything near it (indeed, for long enough, all joint parades of units were directly discouraged in Guiding).  For many years, the only thing that was special about church outings was - that they were the only non-residential outing you needed to get specific parental permission from parents for – and that’s been a requirement right from 1912.  Because Guiding was determined that no member should be asked or encouraged to attend any act of worship which ran contrary to her beliefs.  And still is, neither more nor less than then.  Does running the same outing several times a year fit in with the requirement for us to run a balanced and varied programme?  After all – what other sort of outing would you run several times a year, to the same venue, to do much the same activities?


An even more important question we should consider is - what do the clergy want?  Are you certain the answer is “a dozen bodies in the children’s pew at any price, from mild persuasion/coercion right up to tangible rewards/bribes”?  Or - would the clergy prefer to have the 2 or 3 children who genuinely want to be there, who are curious or interested to see what happens and hear what the preacher might have to say, who may enjoy singing the hymns or joining in with the children’s story, who are keen to find out more of that religion and it’s beliefs?  All the clergy I’ve chatted to would 100% prefer the 2 or 3 keen or curious children to a dozen bored ones, reluctant ‘bums on seats’ who provide a token pound in the collection bag but are as likely to be put off as be enthused to make a return visit – maybe the clergy in your area take the same view?  And if your aim in taking the girls to an act of worship is to give thanks for generously-discounted hall rental, as commonly seems to be - then there are a wide range of practical good turns you could do which would be far more effective and useful to the church than a handful of children making embarrassingly token donations four times a year.  With many hall rents typically being £10 per hour or more, your unit’s £5 a visit 4 times a year may actually be backfiring – potentially perceived as cheek rather the token of gratitude you intended it to be! 


So why not covering/repairing books, polishing brasses, making up Christingles/poppy arrangements/daffodil bunches, hanging decorations for festivals, labelling up new robes, folding newsletters or orders of service, collecting donations for the parish charity box, taking responsibility for the care of the war memorial, cleaning the vases ready for special events, wrapping the presents for the crèche party, recording and delivering the ‘talking service’ or magazine through the doors, helping with clearing up refreshments after events, helping at the coffee morning or fair, making and delivering greetings cards to lonely parishioners – those and plenty of other options would all be practical good turns for a place of worship as a token of thanks for discounted hall rents.  Or – or you could pay your way.  Churches are charities too, and gone are the days when they could afford to make large donations to community groups – why would you be treated different to all the other clubs which hire the hall?


If your argument is that you want the girls to learn more about the church building or what happens in it – wouldn’t that be easier to do on a separate visit to the building, where they could get to explore the building and have it’s features explained, be able to ask their questions without disturbing others who are trying to concentrate, where what is done and why at certain ceremonies could be properly explained, rather than cryptically Chinese-whispered along a pew mid-service?  A congregation can usually arrange for someone to open up the building, and show the girls round, answering their questions, on a weeknight.


All this, of course, doesn’t even touch on the possibility that attendance at church service outings may not be straightforward for the Unit Leaders either – attending the church may run contrary to their personal beliefs and cause them embarrassment or conscience issues.  They may have commitments elsewhere on Sunday mornings which they have to miss in order to staff this optional outing.  They may have to take time off work (perhaps unpaid) in order to attend, or have to swap shifts or turn up tired straight after working a full night shift.  They may have to give up yet more time away from their family commitments, or organise (and pay for) childcare or elder care (at Sunday rates).  Is this a realistic expectation or demand for us to make of our scarce and valuable volunteers?  After all, it was only a couple of hours on a weeknight plus the occasional outing or residential that the Leaders volunteered for – regular Sunday mornings in church were never part of the deal.


So, that’s why I think you should give it a little bit more thought.  Will giving out sweets or badges for attending church parade be fair, or unfair . . . and if turnout is consistently poor, should you consider whether holding a Church Parade should happen as often, or perhaps, even happen at all?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Expectations of Headquarters

What do we expect of our Headquarters – and are we being realistic?
I was pondering a list of all the things which I’ve heard people say recently that they think Headquarters should be dealing with (not to mention the ones which ‘someone’ should deal with, which in most cases - implies UK Headquarters anyway).
Publishing guidelines/safety rules for every adventurous activity worldwide that any unit might possibly consider trying, and any which may be invented/go ‘from obscurity to fad’ in the foreseeable.  To cover all available variations on these activities, natch.  (e.g. indoor traversing walls where no-one climbs higher than 1 metre off the ground and the floor is padded - but no ropes/harnesses are used, swimming pools where the maximum depth is under 5’, tent/building hybrids such as yurts or tented villages where other than the walls being fabric the facilities are no different to those of a building, trampolines used in combination with bungee harnesses, etc  . . .).
Check the copyright status of every challenge badge and pack (and every word of the text/ every image used on every page therein) on behalf of the creators.  Even if they can’t quite remember where they photocopied that wordsearch from.  And of course, taking on full legal responsibility, UK and worldwide, if anything in a pack or badge is questioned by copyright holders thereafter, or the badge creators are sued for breach of copyright - in which case headquarters would naturally pay the fines ensuing, replace the badges which had to be destroyed, and cover the loss of income incurred in the intervening period while the badge was off the market.  The money for covering such costs to be found without any increase in the member subscriptions, natch.
Produce uniform which simultaneously both fits and flatters every single age and every single size combination, launders to perfect condition in all circumstances, and caters for all personal tastes and preferences in relation to fit, colour and fabric, all at a price which competes with the largest and least ethics-conscious of the high-street shops, yet without any dilution in the manufacturing and finishing quality, nor in the fair conditions provided to all workers involved in all stages of the manufacturing process.  And is simultaneously equally suitable for survival skills sessions, winter sports, water sports, formal parades and the Royal Garden Party, for the height of summer and the depths of winter and all climatic conditions in-between (for both the UK, and all BGIFC locations too), and catering for all cultural/health needs, all in one budget garment.
Have sufficient stocks of every shop product to fulfil all last-minute orders within 24 hours, 365 days a year, including specials like anniversary items being available through to the very last day of the anniversary year (but to sell out on the dot of midnight on that last day).  We don’t want to see large stocks left over which have to be sold off at cost price in order to free up expensive warehouse space).
Create and maintain all IT systems 24/7, 365 - with instant response to any error messages or complaints at all hours.  Assisting people with a range of IT ability levels, and varying levels of IT access, both across the UK and in a number of countries around the world, using a range of different IT systems, and network connections ranging from high-speed broadband to hand-cranked dial-up, to those with no IT knowledge or access at all.  Any system updating should never involve taking any system offline however temporarily – and where this is absolutely necessary, a three-month information campaign should be run across all channels, with regular reminders in the run up – and whilst the system is offline the information should constantly be updated on exactly when it will next be available, together with an emergency back-up option. 
Provide instant responses to every media story related to Guiding which appears in the national and local press, and provide instant equivalent copy to any media story issued by/related to Scouting (but similar effort for other youth organisations is not required, we don’t care a jot what coverage any other youth organisations get).
Produce rules which are to be strictly applied to every other member of the organisation with no flexibility permitted whatsoever - but supplied with generous quantities of high-grade elastic when being applied to oneself, naturally.
Commission and produce a wide range of publications, providing full printed copies thereof for free (both free printing, and free post/packing – payment for the production costs to come from thin air).  Also turn a blind eye to widespread breaches of their own copyright by members, including for members’ commercial gain.  At the same time, issue exactly the right number of copies of all documents to each member – neither to many nor too few – whilst acknowledging that one copy per member may not be the right number . . .
Produce policies which fit simultaneously within the different legal and educational frameworks applying in England & Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland – and are also adaptable to the laws of a range of countries abroad served by BGIFC.  Yet which suit the preferences and needs of every member too.
Create and regularly update a range of programmes and resources adapted to each section, suitable for use in locations across the UK, both urban and rural, with varying facilities and finances, and varying first languages – but also adaptable to a range of countries abroad.  Again, all these to be produced, printed and issued free, with the cost of research, drafting, printing and production coming from thin air.
Answer every query about the rules and their local application, however minor and non-urgent, regardless of the existence of County and Country/Region Advisers who would often be far better placed to advise on the specialist rules within their subject area than the general admin staff at CHQ would be, and regardless of the written Manual which is freely available to all online.  After all, there should be a team of staff whose sole responsibility is providing a 24-hour helpline for manual queries.  Free, of course.
And many more demands too, many of them seemingly somewhat unrealistic even if we employed a staff of hundreds at Headquarters (which of course, we don’t).  But this naturally all to be achieved within existing budgets, because the members do not want to see any rise in the annual subscription rate, indeed would strongly support a cut in the said fees.  Oh yes, the members certainly want to both have their cake, and eat it.
Yet – Headquarters has a comparatively small staff, and (particularly given they are based in central London), those staff are not well paid compared to equivalent charitable organisations in that locality, as any glimpse at their job vacancy adverts will confirm.  And to what extent do we do our share to help keep down the cost of running Headquarters, by only approaching them about those few things which actually do fall within the staff’s responsibilities (which, naturally, is few of the long list of things listed above)?  Do we return our forms and fees on time, in the format requested?  Do we communicate clearly, concisely and politely, and do we avoid having several different topics on one message so it doesn’t have to be passed from department to department with the risk of it straying en route?  Do we pause to consider whether our requests are genuinely reasonable and realistic ones before making them?  Do we ensure the views we present to Headquarters represent a significant number of the members, not just ourselves, and perhaps a couple of our close pals (are you sure the ‘silent majority’ would agree, or even that they exist at all)?  And, perhaps most importantly - do we only send on to Headquarters those queries which cannot possibly be dealt with locally at District, Division, County or Country/Region level – have those levels all already confirmed they cannot help with the issue and recommended that it be referred to Headquarters? 
Of course we don’t.  We demand the right to go straight to ‘the top’ with any and every query, major and minor alike, whether it is their job to have the answer to hand or not.  Then we complain if they do not respond instantly.    Like patients who call an ambulance for every broken fingernail and stubbed toe just because they can, so some Leaders take the view that as our subscriptions help pay for the Headquarters and it’s staff, we have the right to utilise their services for every query or question that occurs whether it’s relevant to take it straight to them or not. 
We’re perfectly reasonable and realistic.  Aren’t we?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Managing Change

There are a couple of ways to manage the introduction of a major change to an established group.


Option 1

Step 1: Spring the idea of change on them suddenly.  And have only partial/patchy answers available for the foreseeable questions those affected will ask.

Step 2: Launch surveys on some aspects, at times of year when most of the group won’t be around to take part in the surveys.  Close those surveys down quickly.  Offer limited options, with no scope for further suggestions/text answers.  Do not copy these surveys to parties with a relevant interest.

Step 3: Issue a standard response to all enquiries regardless of their content, advising that their comments will be noted. 

Step 4: ?


Option 2

Step 1: Advise all parties that the topic is due to be considered shortly, and invite views on the current set-up, and suggestions from all those involved on aspects they may wish to retain/those which could be improved upon.

Step 2: Feed back on the information thus received, and set up groups to investigate potential changes based on the suggested areas for improvement.  Where relevant, hold discussion groups or issue questionnaires to all relevant parties, in order to collect a wide range of opinions and ensure all decisions are informed ones.

Step 3: Issue draft proposals, inviting detailed feedback on each aspect of them.  Review same.

Step 4: Publish feedback results, and final evaluated proposal.  Discuss launch procedure whilst providing detailed transitional arrangements.


Problems with Option 1: people feel railroaded, and as if they are being asked to nod through a done deal.  All changes likely to be tarred with negativity regardless of whether some are actually positive ones which might in other circumstances have got a fair hearing.  Key people feel excluded from the process, and alienated.  Risk that important considerations from the grassroots which the team may not have been aware of or thought of will not emerge at a stage where they can be incorporated/resolved (e.g., logistics for Lones units, or specialist units for those with particular special needs).  May produce a result which is not durable, and needs major alteration shortly after introduction.


Problems with Option 2: Timescales and finance.  Getting people on board means investing time in genuine consultation, and in listening to views.  Responses with text take longer to analyse than tick boxes.  All this thoroughness takes time and money.


Positives with Option 1: Timescale.  You get a decision quicker.  And it’s the one management wanted, undiluted.    


Positives with Option 2: Acceptance.  By getting key people on board with the changes, adoption is smoother, and more likely to succeed long term.  All relevant factors are considered in producing the outcome.


Basic Principle:

There are three types of job – cheap, quick and good.  A good quick job isn’t cheap.  A good cheap job isn’t quick.  And a quick cheap job isn’t good.   

Either of the first two is a reasonable investment for a reasonable result – it’s down to circumstances as to whether speed or cost is the more important factor.  But the last of these?  I fear that the last of these is exactly what Guiding is proposing with it’s Senior Section changes.  And I’d love to be proved wrong . . .



Monday, 20 February 2017

Broken Promises

No, not the Guide Promise.  Well, not specifically.  Mainly other promises and commitments made by Leaders.


You see, I follow quite a few of the Leader forums on facebook.  And I am tired of seeing the same query coming up several times a week, every week.


“I said to the girls we’d do X topic next week/tomorrow/tonight/in 30 minutes – any ideas what we could do for it?”


And I can’t help but ask, why?  No, not why are you doing that topic, it might be a perfectly reasonable one to be doing, absolutely.  But why on earth did you say to the girls, and make a commitment to them, while there was at the very least, significant doubt over your being able to keep your word?  What happened to “an Englishman’s word is his bond”? After all, these panic questions crop up far too often for them to always be the “best-laid plans” being derailed by the entirely unforeseeable. 


Yes, I know we dropped the “Be Prepared” motto in the UK years back.  But that was only because the girls didn’t understand or know that particular meaning of the word ‘motto’, not because the “Be Prepared” message itself wasn’t still an extremely relevant Guiding principle which we should all aim to stick to at all times.  Because it most certainly is.  Plus, there’s that first Guide Law to face, “A Guide is honest and can be trusted”.  Given we are all bound by that Law, why are so many Leaders making commitments which they are knowingly at high risk of not keeping?  There’s no need to make any commitments to the girls about ‘next week’s programme’ at all, unless you need them to bring special kit for it.


As Leaders we accept solemn and binding Promises from the girls in our units.  We stand and listen as children of very young ages make sincere commitments to think about their beliefs, be loyal to their country, help other people and all the rest of it, every day for the rest of their lives, regardless of whatever else may happen to them along life’s path, positive or negative.  And with the authority vested in us as Leaders, we welcome them to full membership of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and expect them to take seriously the lifelong commitment they have just made to that organisation.  In return for us accepting their solemn lifelong personal commitment, the girls look to us to give them a living example of that same Promise which we share in common.  To demonstrate to them how it can be kept, how it can be made a part of one’s life, in all that’s said and done.  Because whether we like it or not, the girls in our units do look up to us, and they do aspire to be like us.  So when we give a commitment to them that “next week we’ll be doing gardening” – then it should be as near to binding upon us as we can manage to make it.  And that means that before we say a word to them on what next week’s programme might be (if we say anything at all), we should have the plans for most if not all of the activities for that theme thought out, and the equipment either obtained or sourced and scheduled to arrive in plenty of time.  And that if there is any foreseeable factor which would prevent, we make it clear from the start – for instance, mentioning “weather permitting” or “if the parcel arrives”, or giving it as “we’re hoping to . . .”.


Of course, it’s fine to just leave it all as a surprise, and it matters not a jot if, at the distance of a week beforehand, it’s still destined to be a bit of a surprise for you too!  It also avoids the risk of committing yourself to things which you just can’t be certain of – a stargazing session can be great fun on a crisp clear autumn night when the constellations are easy to see – but at a distance of week ahead, even meteorological experts can’t accurately predict weather and cloud cover, and the wrong conditions would mean a bit of a dull session discussing what might have been visible but isn’t!  Equally, it’s a total waste to be sitting doing activities indoors when there is warm summer weather, fresh air and outdoor space such as an empty playground or car park, or a local park you could be utilising - even if that wasn’t what the forecast predicted!  And sometimes life happens – you may have known which shop had the key item in stock, you may have expected to have at least two or three opportunities to go and collect the reserved goods – but if life gets in the way and you don’t get to the shop before closing time, the best laid plans can have to be scrapped and replaced.


So I would urge, before you go making promises to the girls about exactly what you will be doing next week, next month, next term, next year – stop.  Are you absolutely certain you can deliver?  Regardless of what might happen between now and then?  If there is any doubt, is it worth saying “we might do X next week”.  Or “if the weather is dry we might go out, so please bring coats in case”.  Or - would it be wiser to say nothing at all of what is planned, and let whatever you actually do on the night be judged as fun or not on it’s own merits, not compared with what-might-have-been or what-was-scheduled - and not leaving you breaking your word to them? 

Yes, let’s eliminate those broken Leader promises.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Transitions in Guiding

Many surveys done within various youth organisations in many countries have all reached the exact same conclusion.  Keeping existing youth members is far easier than recruiting new youth members into the group, especially for teenagers.  If we accept that premise, it becomes logical that after all the effort we put into recruiting girls into Guiding in the younger age groups, we should be seeking to do all we realistically can to encourage these girls to stay in Guiding for as long as possible.  Right through to Senior Section certainly, and if possible on to adult roles of whichever kind best suits – Unit Helper, Leader, Commissioner, Adviser, Trefoil Guild etc.


But – only a small proportion of the girls who join Guiding at 5 or 7 are still in it at 14, far less beyond that.  And although a certain amount of loss is inevitable – in the UK our losses are far higher than can be explained by that alone.  And these losses tend not to happen equally across the age ranges, but peak at certain key points in a girl’s Guiding career – the transitions.  For in the UK, we don’t have girls bridging whilst remaining members of the same unit.  Changing section in the UK means changing unit, and almost always means a new Leader team, a different day and/or a different time – and sometimes a different venue too.


At 7 – the move from Rainbows to Brownies.  We don’t notice this one so much, because a lot of girls join Brownies direct who were not Rainbows.  Nevertheless, it isn’t every Rainbow that joins Brownies, though it ought to be close to.  Perhaps we are losing more girls than we realise, at this early stage?


At 10 – this is a big gap – girls who stick right through Brownies and seem to enjoy it - but don’t even give Guides a try.  In a few cases it’s lack of an available unit (regular or Lone) due to geography or schedule clashes, but in the majority of cases that just doesn’t apply.  How many of the Brownies approaching 10 know all about what Guides in general do, and also about what the local unit has been doing recently?  And how many know little or nothing about Guides, and that little mainly rumour or hearsay?


At 12 – in my area they start high school at around 12.  A lot of members are lost then.  It’s understandable – homework ramps up, there are lots of new clubs to choose from, meaning some existing hobbies have to be dropped to make room.  Whether Guiding is dropped will depend on how exciting it still is, how much adventure and fun it still offers – or whether it has become a bit repetitive and dull.


At 14 – transition from Guides to Senior Section isn’t always straightforward – options locally may be limited as there are far fewer Senior Section units than there are Guide units - and support structures for Young Leaders can vary too.  Plus, homework is increasing again as the key exams approach – can Guiding offer an attractive programme for the limited free time?  Can we make it feasible to fit it in alongside the other hobbies and commitments?  How much support is there for those finishing BP, so that they can get to both complete BP and move on to Senior Section with their pals at 14 - not have to choose between them?


At 16+ - by now the numbers still left in Guiding have shrunk – but for those who’ve stuck it thus far, we need to add on more pressures – key exams, job hunting or university choices, and transitioning to adult life (with all the challenges that brings).  While some will be setting out onto working life immediately, others will still be schoolgirls for another couple of years yet.  Can Guiding hold those who, though the same age, are going through some major life stages at different times and rates, and as a result may have widely differing maturity levels and outlook?


So, 5 clear stages at which large numbers of girls are lost from Guiding.  What can we do to minimise our leaks at these points?


The first thing to focus on - is the actual transitions themselves.  Ensuring that each girl does some preparation prior to the move, so she knows what the next section does, has met at least one of the Leaders (however briefly), has a proper leaving ceremony where she receives her leavers badge and a fond farewell from her pals, and then has a smooth process of transfer from one unit to the next - and even if there is a gap between leaving one unit and getting start at the next, as sometimes must be, no individuals are lost in the interim for want of keeping in touch with them.  It also means that each unit should be working to prepare their girls for the coming move, almost from the minute they join the unit.  There can regularly be conversations about the next unit(s) they might join to get them starting to look forward to the day their turn comes.  Although we should automatically be using the transition resources which have already been provided for us (Pot of Gold, GFI Guides, Move on Up, YLQ/ALQ) in every unit in the UK anyway, that should be the last stage in an ongoing process.  ‘The next section and what they’ve been doing recently’ should be regularly mentioned at your unit meetings, and occasional joint events held where your girls are actually mixing with those from the next section up (how many so-called joint events actually just involve everyone moving around in their strictly segregated unit groups, with the sections doing different activity sessions – so that they aren’t really joint at all, there just happen some other units onsite doing activities that day, whom you might bump into at the toilets or in the lunch queue if you’re lucky?).  But also, we should be applying the personal touch - is the Leader of the next section someone who visits occasionally, or who helps at outings, or who is pointed out at joint events so girls know her by sight if not better than that?  Do you regularly talk about the next section as a natural progression?  (It should always be “When you’re a Brownie you’ll get the chance to do X”, not “if you join Brownies you might get to” as if there is some element of doubt about it).  Of course, to do that, you actually need to know what the other units in your District are up to, both their section programme in general (can you chat comfortably about Roundabouts, or Adventures, or Challenge Badges or Octants - or do you need to do your homework?), and also specifically about what the units in your locality have done at meetings in the last month or two – so could you talk of the Brownie sponsored walk for charity, the Guide international camp, the Senior Section car maintenance session, the Leaders training day . . . or might you need a slot at each District meeting for unit updates, so everyone has up-to-date stories about the next section to share?  And as they approach 7, or 10, or 14 – there should be communication with the girl and her folks, to advise on what units there are in the area, what the process for moving up is, and to discuss timing - when the girl wishes to move up, and how it will be arranged, so everyone knows what will happen and is comfortable with the plan.


The next thing is in-unit retention.  Is your unit’s programme varied enough, that at each meeting the girls do at least one thing they haven’t done there before?  Do they regularly do things that give them a sense of achievement?  Is each meeting in some way unpredictable, surprising, fun?  Or do the girls know fine well that the same things have happened every year or every third year since Eve was a lass, and will continue to do so for the next decade come what may?  As a movement, we need to keep moving, keep changing, keep evolving what we do.  That doesn’t mean throwing out all the old stuff merely for being old, but it does mean each activity we do, new or old, has to be regularly evaluated and ‘earn it’s keep’.  So, do the modern girls still find it fun?  Exciting?  Challenging?  Useful or educational?  Relevant?  ‘Because we’ve always done it’ is no reason to justify anything.  A girl will only choose Guiding over all the other clubs available locally if Guiding is at least as exciting (and hopefully more exciting) than the alternatives.  That’s what happened in the 1910s and 1920s when Guiding first grew, and is what happens still.  If the members reach 7, or 10, or 12, or 14, and feel they’ve ‘done it all’ - then deciding which hobbies to drop when the new club comes along is an easy choice.  So, how many of the girls who join your unit stick it for the duration?  Is it ‘most of them’ – or not?  And if not – why, and what are you doing to alter that?


Next up is challenge and progression.  Are the girls in the unit getting to do stuff and achieve things, and work out stuff for themselves, without adults always telling them what to do and how to do it (or worse still, doing it for them)?  And do the challenges continue to develop each year as their capabilities increase?  Do the Rainbows get to draw round templates and cut shapes out, do they get to make some genuine either/or choices, do they get to take some genuine responsibilities within the unit, do they get to go on outings, or on sleepovers, are they expected to clear up after themselves?  Do the Brownies get to do activities in their Sixes organised and led by their Sixer, do the Sixers get to run some of the unit activities each term, do the Brownies get to go on weekends, or even weeks away, do the Brownies get to do most things for themselves unaided?  How much time do the Guides spend outdoors in summer term, do they work in Patrols regularly, do the Patrol Leaders have worthwhile responsibilities and meaningful perks or status, are there Guides working on BP, Commonwealth, Camp Permit or Community Action badge, are there opportunities for experiences like Gang Show cast, International Selection or attending major camps or events, do the Patrols do everything unaided with only the occasional pebble being dropped by adults which is just sufficient to get them working out ideas or solutions for themselves?  Is there a Senior Section unit or a support group for local Young Leaders, how does it run and to what extent is that done by Senior Section members not adults, are there Senior Section events in your County, and do the girls know about them and whether transport is available for getting to them, are they encouraged to work on Commonwealth Award, DofE, Queen’s Guide, or YLQ/ALQ, and Chief Guide Award, do you highlight opportunities and options which are open to them, do they organise most of their meetings, is there support and flexible programming during exam time?  Or – is any of that lacking?


And the final thing to remember – Lones.  Although it’s assumed by many that Lone units are just for geographically isolated girls – that is only one of several functions.  They can also provide Guiding to those girls who cannot attend local units due to other commitments clashing with unit meetings.  And they can plug a gap for girls where local units are too full to accept more girls temporarily.  But – Lone units need Leaders too, and there are some Regions in the UK who do not have any Lone units, not for want of girls, but for want of Leaders.  It would be an ideal role for someone who couldn’t commit to weekly meetings but who had some free time to give to Guiding . . .


Bemoaning the loss of numbers from Guiding is waste of breath.  Waste of breath and energy we could be using to actually do something to solve the problem.  But - it needs every Leader to be actively working to plug the gaps in her patch, making sure her unit’s programme is so fresh, lively, and exciting that it retains the interest of almost all of the girls that join, and the girls are so keen on what they’ve heard of the next section that they’re equally well looking forward to their turn at moving on and being part of the adventures to come.  We are all part of one friendly Guiding family, and local units should all be supportive cousins, not rivals . . .