Blog | Why evidence and insight really does matter

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Chief Executive Officer of New Philanthropic Capital, Dan Corry writes about how research and evidence can help The Scout Association reach more young people.

Why on earth does The Scout Association (TSA) need evidence to drive itself forward? Do metrics and evaluation really have much to do with getting kids across the country engaged, having great fun and learning great skills? Or is this just the march of the bean counters, who say it all means nothing without a number on it and miss the whole point of the Movement? Well for my money, the Scouts really do need to embrace this agenda.

Good measurement practice is reflected in the Scouting Movement’s own values and methods

The Scouting Movement’s own values and methods: ‘be prepared’; ‘learn by doing’; ‘reflection’; ‘take responsibility’; ‘make choices’; ‘try new and challenging activities’; ‘help others’ are words and phrases that resonate with good measurement practice and its applications. Good measurement prepares leadership for decision making, and making choices about resource allocation. It helps teams to learn. It aids reflection, and applied well increases ownership and responsibility. It enables organisations to take risks, try new things and understand whether they work. And good information can be shared with others so the benefits spread.

How data becomes wisdom

Good data, well analysed, generates information and that can help us all do better. It can allow TSA to match information about who participates in which programme against how this increases resilience and well-being. It can help uncover whether some young people benefit more or less in different ways from different elements of Souting so that programmes can be better targeted. It can help us see if some areas are attracting attendance from a wider spread of young people than others – and we can then look at the data to get a handle on why. It can help us see whether what attracts and retains girls is different to that for boys.

Of course old Scout hands will say they know the answer to all these questions – based on years of experience. But even great and valuable experience is no substitute for proper data analysis – and it too often flips into anecdotes, which fit what you thought in the first place.

Evidence gives knowledge, which becomes wisdom when applied to the future. TSA could use this knowledge to adapt how it approaches young people in deprived areas, so that they too join the Movement and become more resilient. It is often through such detailed adaptations that charities achieve more for what they declare to be their mission and purpose.

Evidence and insight can also help to inform the strategy for how to meet the rising demand for Scouting. For instance, if a shortage of volunteers is identified as a barrier to young people joining the Movement, then data about volunteers will help TSA to develop appropriate recruitment and retention strategies.

It’s not that difficult!

TSA can get a long way with just some basic data collection and analysis based around the purpose of Scouting and how you think you achieve it – your theory of change. It need not be a great burden on hard-pressed volunteers or young people and their families. We have been working with the TSA headquarters recently to help the team develop its thinking through engagement with volunteers and young people, just as we have with hundreds of other charities. NPC’s role is to advise and encourage from the sidelines not propose great big data collection escapades.  Our main advice along the way has been ‘less is more’. Measure what you treasure and measure it well—and don’t beat yourself up if measurement perfection is not achieved instantly. Yes, invest in effective data collection, and be open to rethinking how you collect data if first attempts don’t work. But don’t panic.

Once systems are up and running, TSA will be rewarded with a rich seam of data. Tesco, Google, Amazon - their obsession with data arises from an understanding of its value. The Scout Movement will find it can do an even better job if it too collects and uses data. As a former Scout, I really feel there should be an ‘evidence’ badge. Any takers?

The Scout Association (TSA) is now planning Scouting’s future beyond 2018, thinking about priorities, the work we wish to continue and any new areas where we can make a difference, all to answer the question: how can we improve the life chances of young people and better support our volunteers?

This piece is part of a series of contributions intended to stimulate discussion and debate as we create a new strategic plan for Scouting between 2018-2023. In early August, we will release a toolkit to support consultation on a District and Group level, with views being fed back nationally. Make sure you’ve made time at a County or District level to take part in September or October.

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