The nature of Scout culture poses a challenge to making successful Scout programs. Scout culture is counter-cultural. Dominant culture does not emphasise giving autonomy to young people. It does not emphasise the use of formally symbolic things, such as badges. This makes it difficult to get Scouters who are able to properly fill their role. Training and mentoring are important here and the Scout association has a primary role in providing these. For these to be successful, the Scout association must be comfortable with Scout culture. Scouts Canada, however, seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
Scouts Canada's business plan charts a course towards centralisation. Scouts Canada has established a 1-800 phone number to answer program questions from Scouters, instead of encouraging Scouters to share with each other. The business plan calls for the hiring of staff to run the line (Scouts Canada 2000c:22). The business plan frequently mentions hiring staff to run or support programs, such as new programs ScoutsAbout and Extreme Adventure, rather then keeping Scouts Canada a volunteer-driven organisation (e.g. Scouts Canada 2000c:19). The focus seems to be on creating a business-like management structure rather than on creating strong Scout groups. In North Waterloo District, 29% of Scouters are ``Admin. Members''. This is the only category of membership which is growing in the district (Scouts Canada, North Waterloo District 1999 & 2000). Scouts Canada's business plan calls for the creation of a ``Group Scouter'' in each group. This would be yet another Scouter who does not work directly with the young people in the section (Scouts Canada 2000c:10).
BP favoured decentralisation and autonomy for Scouters (BP 1945:5). However, Scouts Canada is emphasising oversight over autonomy. While this may work well in business, this approach is incompatible with Scout culture. Further, there are only so many Scouters. The people who are to fill all the positions in Scouts Canada's thick bureaucracy have to come from somewhere. The result is that the best Scouters are removed from their troops and put to work as Service Scouters, commissioners, or in other roles. With these talented people gone, program quality wanes, increasing the perceived need for better section support. More Service Scouters are recruited and the cycle continues. I believe this is the essential pattern that has led to the decline in members over the past three decades. Now, it has been going on so long that many people, even experienced people in high office, have limited knowledge of Scout culture. Without this knowledge, they change the program and the organisational structure to match the dominant culture they are familiar with.
Is there a path back to traditional Scout culture and away from what BP called ``synthetic Scouting'' (BP 1990:164)? First and foremost, Scouts Canada must find ways of benefiting from those who have an understanding of Scout culture. For example, Scouters must learn how to give their Scouts autonomy. Talented Scouters who currently fill bureaucratic positions must get back to the section where their skills are needed most. This would involve greatly reducing number of Scouters who are dedicated to section support. However, much of this support serves to keep troops with weak programs from closing, rather than helping troops offer excellent programs. Scouting would be better off with few excellent troops than lots of mediocre troops.
Most important, Scouters need to have ways of learning Scout culture. Training courses should be times of cultural transmission, rather than focusing on specific skills. For example, modern Woodbadge courses spend a good deal of time on program planning and on the difference between short, medium, and long range plans. Aids to Scoutmastership (BP 1945) is based on the first Woodbadge course and says nothing about specific program planning skills. The book is about getting Scouters into the right frame of mind for their role. Beyond training, there must also be opportunities for sharing between Scouters, such as at Scouters' Clubs. Rather than support from corporately appointed Service Scouters, this can encourage peer-level support, which fits with the decentralisation of which BP speaks.