Digital at The Scout Association

Hi, and welcome to The Scout Association’s Digital Blog. We, the Digital Team, created this blog to keep you informed and involved in all the digital things that are happening across Scouting. We hope that you find the content on here useful, interesting, and, even, fun. To kick off the blog, I’ll fill you in on what’s been happening over the last few months – this first post *is* a little long, but in future, we’ll keep them shorter. Please do sign up to follow our posts.

Back in June, I joined The Scout Association from Transport for London with an outsider’s understanding of the Movement (and its many complexities). My first few months have been busy. To better understand how Scouting works now, I’ve been meeting and listening to people. What I’ve found are truly passionate people who love Scouting, have deep knowledge and understanding of how to conduct Scouting, and are proud of the benefits that it brings to young people.

At the same time, I have been gathering information on our systems and technology. I have been surprised by the complex set of practices and processes for how we operate, and an even more complex technology estate that underpins this.

We need to look at how we can simplify some of these practices and processes to make Scouting simpler and easier to deliver. And how we can create the tools to make this happen.

To support this important work, I have also been busy building a new team with specialist digital and technical knowledge. Our work will align with the organisation’s new 2018 to 2023 plan which, through consultations, has been shaped by the Movement. If you haven’t yet read the draft plan, I think this sums it up nicely:

‘This new strategy is for an ambitious and determined Movement. It is a strategy that supports and empowers our volunteers. It is a strategy that shows our clear intention to contribute to a better society. But most of all it is a strategy for young people. They deserve the best skills, the best support and in short, the best possible start in life.’

Once the plan has been approved by the Board, we‘ll look at what we need to do to support the plan and become a digital organisation. This is critical to the future success of Scouting. As mentioned, this work will involve reviewing some of our practices and processes so we can become a better organisation and respond more effectively to your needs. We’ll always ensure that we put members, young people and volunteers at the centre of our work.

Our first goal will be to identify the priorities for the next three years and, from there, build a digital plan that explains what we will deliver and when. There are also urgent priorities that we’ll work on immediately. In early 2018, we’ll start building a new website that will be the platform for future digital services for the Movement. We have also been continuing discussions with Online Scout Manager (OSM) to see how we can potentially work together, with a one-day workshop planned for early December.

To deliver new products and services that meet your needs, we’ll be actively seeking your involvement. You might give us comments on one of these blog posts, or invite us along to meet you and your team, or participate in research to help us understand what you do and the support you need to deliver Scouting. We might ask you for feedback on work we are doing, or to take part in testing a service we’re building.

We’ll get out and about to meet more of you over the coming months in order to understand what’s happening at weekly Scouting meetings and how the Digital Team can help. We’ll be in Scotland in January, and will be meeting with other Groups and sections across the UK next year – I look forward to talking to as many of you as possible. We’ll also be hosting some events specifically to involve you in the work we’re doing. The first of which will be a ‘digital day’ on 14 April 2018 – we’ll communicate more about this in the next few weeks.

We want to ensure that you have the opportunity to contribute and be a part of this digital transformation work. We’re at the very beginning of our digital journey with lots to do over the next few years and it’s critical we work together because this change is for all of us to own and be a part of.

Which brings us back to this blog. Please sign up to follow our posts. We’ll be using the blog to share information about the work we’re doing, the progress we’re making and to let you know how you can get involved – we welcome your comments. Please share the blog with your fellow members so they can stay informed too. Feel free to give us feedback, ask us questions, and get involved as much as you can – it’s a very exciting time for Scouting! Also, we promise future posts won’t be this long 😉

Please leave a comment – we would love to get the conversation going here.


  1. Avatar Brian 24/11/2017 / 6:59 pm

    1) Delighted you are looking for a way ahead with OSM; that product has been transformational for us out in the field and needs to be formally embraced by TSA. Some method of allowing CountiesAreas/Countries a helicopter read only view would provide TSA with a wealth of data – it is incredible that in the 21st century there isn’t a consolidated membership list.

    2) Could you throw into the mix the development of a dashboard for Compass that rapidly enables managers to identify by exceptions. eg what % of leaders have not completed Getting Started/Wood badge training within the allotted time or are out of date for First Aid/Safegaurding or haven’t done any continuation training. These metrics (and I can think of more) are the ones that underpin the quality of our offering – they underpin our risk management and they should be at the fingertips of our Trustees.

    3) Look at the Scout Shop website to incorporate a loyalty code/discount scheme for customers. eg if a parent wants to buy something from there then they enter the details of their child’s Scout Group which will trigger a credit to be subsequently converted into goods by that Scout Group. That would be a great incentive for Scout Groups to drive more business towards the Scout Shop website and stop leakage of revenue to alternatives.

    Look forward to a step change in digital service delivery.

    • Avatar Adrian B 29/11/2017 / 11:42 pm

      Hi Brian, spot on comments, I second them all.

    • Avatar Kay Gamble 05/01/2018 / 11:44 pm

      I have to say I concur entirely with your comments. Well said.

  2. Avatar Scout Forum UK (@scoutforum) 24/11/2017 / 10:18 pm

    Hi Helen, can you please fix the RSS feeds on the and websites please.

    • Avatar Helen Murray 27/11/2017 / 12:02 pm

      Hi, we will have a look at this and get back to you. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. Avatar Belinda 24/11/2017 / 11:13 pm

    As a suggestion maybe have a paragraph of what you have been doing for people to add to their newsletters?

    • Avatar Helen Murray 27/11/2017 / 11:40 am

      Hi Belinda, thanks for your comment. As this blog is going to be updated regularly, would you be able to let people know about the blog in your newsletter? That way, they will be able to read the latest posts and can also sign up to subscribe if they want to be regularly updated.

  4. Avatar Andrew Swayne 25/11/2017 / 8:29 am

    Very interesting
    Comments on complexity supported
    With the introduction of this, what channels will be dropped. I want one channel that works well for me and the multiple roles I hold
    I hope lessons from compass launch have been learned with this

  5. Avatar Brian 25/11/2017 / 1:59 pm

    Oh and one more thing……

    TSA should rationalise its mass communication strategy and looking at blending its current Make Do Share & Scouting glossy magazines (currently only routinely distributed to adult members who ask for it – hardly ever trickles down to the children) with an online equivalent of what the BSA in the US do fantastically well here which is directed primarily at the children.

    This channel would potentially be an online marketing revenue goldmine, and certainly self funding – access to 500,000 youth members plus their motivated parents !!

  6. Avatar Peter Cathcart 25/11/2017 / 5:47 pm

    A great vision Helen and absolutely the direction we need for scouting for young people and leaders.

  7. Avatar Richard Hunt 25/11/2017 / 6:38 pm

    All sounds great, but please do remember we have 9500 scout groups, and many have different ways of operating. Please support us rather than dictate to us.

    • Avatar Kirsten Lawton 27/11/2017 / 2:43 pm

      Hi Richard, welcome to the blog, and thank you for commenting. In future posts we will tell you more about the research and collaboration we are organising. It is one of our objectives to create supportive tools that people want to use, not to force products on people that don’t suit their needs. Members are critical to this decision-making process. As the work progresses, there will be details about specifics on this blog, as well as communicated in other ways, a few of which Helen mentioned above.

  8. Avatar MR A L SHAPTON 26/11/2017 / 12:37 am

    Do I Really need a WordPress account to receive emails ?

    • Avatar Helen Murray 27/11/2017 / 11:19 am

      Hi and thanks for reading. You don’t need a WordPress account to subscribe and can use your normal email address. Please let us know if you have any problems.

  9. Avatar Derren Phillips 26/11/2017 / 3:13 pm

    Welcome aboard, Helen; look forward to hearing more about your plans.

  10. Avatar Andrew Rush 27/11/2017 / 1:28 pm


    Thank you for setting this up.

    Please do update us as often as possible, and keep on doing so. I’m afraid that your predecessors have promised as much but let us down in this respect, so I hope that you’ll be different!

  11. Avatar Dave 27/11/2017 / 1:58 pm

    Hi Helen. I would definately look into more integration with OSM and even moving from Compass fully to OSM. Also take a look at the Girl Guides systems especially GO which was around before compass and seems far better.

  12. Avatar Christine Skinner 28/11/2017 / 3:06 pm

    Welcome Helen.
    Your vision and the experience in your team bodes well. I too am a great supporter of OSM, it has solely and digitally led the way for managing scouting at the shop floor, i.e. in Scout Groups with no or very little adverse comments from users. Good luck with the OSM workshop!

  13. Avatar Gerald Law 29/11/2017 / 1:00 pm

    In Luton Scouts, we are looking at the best ways to engage with Social Media, reaching out to potential new members (both young and older), writing, to draw them in without the Scouting Jargon, they would not understand. Then at the same time, support the membership of Luton Scouts in two districts via a joint approach. A website and facebook page hopefully driven by Explorer and Network Scouts. We see this as the starters, overcoming long held established views of others who see change as a hinderance, rather than a step for the future. But in true scouting style, we shall over come. ( and facebook Luton Scouts).

    • Avatar Kirsten Lawton 01/12/2017 / 8:49 am

      Looks like you are doing a great job informing and engaging your districts. Has this helped recruiting, along with the restricted use of Jargon? Thanks for your comment

  14. Avatar Richard Taylor 29/11/2017 / 1:20 pm

    Hi Helen

    I wish you and your team all the best in this important endeavour.

    My number one request is for services to be available as an API that technically minded groups can use to automate their processes. I help at a very large group and we use the OSM API to automate a great deal of our admin. At present the only way to interact with Compass is by using difficult to implement ‘screen scraping’ approaches.

    The OSM API enables us to implement that functions that we need even though OSM does not provide them.

    With out this automation a group of our size would be almost impossible to run.

    • Avatar Gordon Watson 12/12/2017 / 1:17 pm

      Hi Richard

      Thanks for your support and your comment. I recognise there’s a large amount of technical expertise in The Movement and I’m looking forward to collaborating on many of the technical challenges Leaders face. One of our aims in the Digital Team is to find ways to ease the admin burden on volunteer Leaders and we plan to enable access-controlled APIs for membership, just as OSM do, and go further to provide Open Data APIs whenever it’s permissible and feasible.

      Naturally, you’re going to ask “when?” and the answer, unfortunately, is I can’t commit to exactly how long it will take to progress along that road. From a strategic viewpoint, however, I can say that loosely-coupled distributed services, data integration and data sharing are all goals.

  15. Avatar Peter Sutherst 29/11/2017 / 2:54 pm

    This is great news. I handle media for Scouts in Luton and also work with the armed forces on digital photography training to degree standard. We have just run a media awareness course for Scouts and Explorers and another is planned for next April. We have a 20-page pamphlet on the subject called Shouting for Scouting which covers things like body cams and drones. I am currently working on another booklet for the layman about creating digital media images that excite. We’d love to hear more of the good work you have started. It sounds wonderful.

    • Avatar Kirsten Lawton 01/12/2017 / 8:56 am

      We are glad to hear you are excited about our digital work. I hope you have subscribed — we have more posts coming soon. And I’d love to see the booklets you’ve created.

      • Avatar Peter Sutherst 01/12/2017 / 11:54 am

        Hi Kirsten I can get a copy to you over the weekend. Is the address Gilwell Park?

        • Avatar Kirsten Lawton 01/12/2017 / 3:43 pm

          Yes, that would be fantastic — thanks!

        • Avatar Kirsten Lawton 05/12/2017 / 1:45 pm

          Package received — thank you!

  16. Avatar Peter Evans 29/11/2017 / 10:26 pm

    Great to see some dedicated support in this space.. OSM is clunky, Compass offered much and didn’t deliver, both are well behind the times.. as mentioned above technology should seemlessly support Scout Groups, not prescribe/dictate as seems to be the current HQ approach to programme etc

  17. Avatar Ben plimley 29/11/2017 / 11:38 pm

    Hey Helen, this sounds fantastic;

    1) The digital day while a little ambiguous, sounds interesting, excited to hear about that!

    2) You mentioned you’d try and visit loads of groups next year, i’d LOVE to get involved with that! are there ways my group can get involved?

    • Avatar Kirsten Lawton 01/12/2017 / 9:03 am

      We are thrilled you are enthusiastic to participate. Please do follow the blog and more details will be forthcoming. In the meantime, would you mind letting us know where you are located?

  18. Avatar Quentin 29/11/2017 / 11:45 pm

    Welcome Helen. In terms of priorities, a decent toolset which helps leaders run sections is essential and massively overdue. Please note the emphasis on helping leaders rather than collecting MI for Gilwell. I think engaging with OSM is the right thing to do (it is practically the de facto standard). I hope the workshop goes well but I don’t think we can spend ages waiting around for something.

    The other thing to look at the whole area of knowledge management and simply finding information through the website. There is so much there but finding what you want could be much easier.

    Good luck to you and the team and please keep us abreast of progress.

  19. Avatar Adrian B 30/11/2017 / 12:08 am

    Hi Helen, Thank you for your blog, I look forward to what you and your team will be producing in the near future. I am a project manager trying to update processes and procedures at my organisation into a cohesive digital experience, so will be following your journey with great interest.

    I have subscribed to your Blog using an RSS reader. Are you able to publish a full blog, so that I can read it all within my RSS reader (Using the Feedly service in the Reeder App) rather than having to click a link onto a web page, as I often sync in the morning and at various times don’t have an internet connection to read a full blog if I then have to connect to a web page.

  20. Avatar Alison sutherland 30/11/2017 / 10:02 am

    Hi, As a semi literate computer person ,OSM has been brilliant. It is intuitive to use and really works. My only message would please be , to remember whilst you are all fab at computing and understand how things all work, there are a lot of us who just want it to work. We don’t mind how it works we just want it to do what it says on the tin! Keep up the good work!

  21. Avatar Claire Morris 30/11/2017 / 2:00 pm

    Sounds like you and the team are making a great start. Streamlining and simplification has to be the right approach. I agree with the comments above on OSM and reporting from Compass. Our systems need to support the work our volunteers do, not make them a slave to the database! Welcome and good luck!

  22. Avatar Stewart Watkiss 05/12/2017 / 8:21 pm

    Sounds great. Good luck with your appointment, I’m sure you will fit right in.

    I’ve recently been doing my bit to promote the advantages of digital technology within Scouting. I’ve recently got our group engaged through a website and with social media.

    The main thing for me is how much easier it can be to manage the section through the use of OSM. It has allowed me to identify the things we need to do so that our Cubs can achieve their Silver scout award, which is something that could have easily missed out on. Through the use of OSM it is easy to see what everyone has achieved and what they still need to do, which is a really powerful tool.

    I hope to see some improvement in Compass and the adult training, which is not so easy even for section leaders. I imagine must be much harder for the district team.

    I hope I get an opportunity to help with your team in shaping the digital future for scouting (even if only through providing feedback) in the future.

  23. Avatar Joanne burrow 11/12/2017 / 4:02 pm

    We have used OSM for years . It is great , wouldn’t know what to do without it. Only as good as the information you put in .
    I hope this means we won’t be using Compass? Everything around this word seems to have gone quiet

  24. Avatar Bill Stern 14/12/2017 / 5:48 pm

    Back to very basics for an aged leader with little Tech experience! What is OSM and RSS? I am sure there must be others who may not know this but do not ask?

    • Avatar Richard Taylor 15/12/2017 / 10:58 am

      Hi Bill.

      OSM – Online Scout Manager – It is a commercial on-line system for managing a Scout Group.

      RSS – Rich Site Summary – It is a format that can be used by some applications to read news feeds (like this page). It used to be very popular, it is used less these days.

      OSM is an important tool used by very many scout groups.

      RSS is a technical format that you can happily ignore.

      All the best.

    • Avatar Kirsten Lawton 15/12/2017 / 11:06 am

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for asking. OSM stands for Online Scout Manager. It is software created by a volunteer, used by many volunteers to help run their sections. The Scout Association has just begun to look into how we might create a relationship with them. It was not developed or endorsed by The Scout Association, and it is an independent product.

      RSS is a way to get up-to-date news from different sources in one place. Scouts has an RSS feed on our members site, which is what the commenters were asking about.

      We are glad to hear that you are interested the blog and will try to make it as understandable as we can. Please continue to ask questions as you have them — they are helpful to us.


  25. Avatar Jackie Dawson 08/01/2018 / 3:08 pm

    Hi Helen

    Good luck in your new role. Very exciting that you could make a difference to so many volunteers and then in turn to so many young people.

    I’ve just spent some time getting many training processes off paper and pen forms which were being managed via spreadsheet. The digital solutions have reduced volunteer time and increased the engagement of more volunteers but the interaction with Compass is hard, hard work.

    Whilst I worked in IT for 20 years, I then moved into processes, quality and education. I’d be happy to contribute if I could.

    DDC Adult Support

  26. Avatar Derren Phillips 02/02/2018 / 1:04 pm

    Is there any way of contacting the team directly, rather than just commenting on a blog post? Surely the flow of information should be two-way, rather than being limited to us ‘subscribing’ to your feed?

    • Avatar Helen Murray 16/02/2018 / 5:13 pm

      Hi Derren, thanks for your feedback. We will look into this and completely agree that we want this to be two-way. We just need to look at the logistics of responding to all contacts as we are a small team. I’ll update you once we’ve worked it out.

  27. Avatar Joe Davies 19/03/2018 / 1:09 am

    This is all very well and sounds wonderful however, I stumbled across by accident today, never even heard of it before and, asking around the other 23 adults in our group, not one of them had heard of it either…. Seems to be a bit of a lack of communication somewhere!

    • Avatar Helen Murray 19/03/2018 / 5:10 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Joe. We have been promoting the blog in Scouting+ and on social media, but will look to see what other channels we can use to ensure more people hear about us.

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