Fundamental Principles

The basic ideas underlying the Scout Movement

© World Organization of the Scout Movement, 1992


The word "fundamentals" is used in Scouting to refer to the basic elements upon which the unity of the Movement rests, i.e. its purpose, principles, and method. Thus, while Scouting takes many different forms adapted to the needs of each society, the fundamentals are the common denominators that bind the Movement throughout the world. These fundamentals are stated in Chapter 1 of the Constitution of the World Organization of the Scout Movement and characterize all member organization of WOSM.

The present wording of the fundamentals was adopted by the 26th World Scout Conference held in Montreal in 1977, after a considerable number of years of study at world wide level. It represents the only authoritative statement agreed upon by the more than one hundred member organizations of WOSM.

Under the title of "The Scout Movement" Chapter 1 of the Constitution of WOSM deals with:

  1. the definition of Scouting
  2. the purpose of Scouting
  3. the principles of Scouting and their expression in a Promise and Law
  4. the Scout method.
Unless otherwise stated, all quotations in this section are from that Chapter.


The Scout Movement is defined as "a voluntary non-political educational movement for young people, open to all without distinction of origin, race, or creed, in accordance with the purpose, principles and method conceived by the Founder as stated below".

It should be noted at the outset that it is not possible to express all aspects of the Scout Movement in one independent statement. The last phrase of the definition given above recognizes this and emphasizes the fact that the purpose, principles and method conceived by Robert Baden-Powell, the Founder of the Scout Movement, are an integral part of the definition. These will be dealt with in detail in the following paragraphs. The key words used in the definition, which express the main characteristics of the Movement are briefly explained below.

The word Movement means a series of organized activities working towards an objective. A movement thus implies both an objective to be achieved and some type of organization to ensure this.

The voluntary character of Scouting emphasizes the fact that members adhere to it by their own free will and because they accept the fundamentals of the Movement. This remark applies both to young people and adults.

As an educational Movement, Scouting is non-political, in the sense that it is not involved in the struggle for power which is the subject-matter of politics and which is usually reflected in the system of political parties. This non-political character is constitutionally required from all national associations and is a basic characteristic of the Movement. This does not, however, mean that Scouting is completely divorced from political realities within a given country. In the first place, it is a Movement whose aim is to develop responsible citizenship; this civic education cannot be accomplished without an awareness of political realities with a country. In the second place, it is a Movement which is based upon a number of principles - fundamentals laws and beliefs - which condition the political opinions of members of the Movement.

Scouting is defined as an educational movement. This is undoubtedly its essential characteristic and is therefore developed below as some length.

In the broadest sense of the term, education can be defined as the process aiming at the total development of a person's capabilities. Scouting must be clearly distinguished from a purely recreational movement, an image which it tends to project in some parts of the world. Despite the importance of the recreational activities in Scouting, these are conceived as a means to an end, and not as an end in themselves.

Education must also be distinguished from the process of acquiring particular knowledge or skills. As defined above, education involves the development of abilities of the mind "learning to know" and the development of attitudes "learning to be", while the process of acquiring particular knowledge or skills is know as "learning to do". While both aspects are basic to the Movement, the acquisition of particular knowledge or skills is a means to an end; that end being education.

In the Founder's own words: "Here, then, lies the most important aim in the Boy Scout training - to education; not to instruct, mind you, but to educate, that is, to draw out the boy to learn for himself, of his own desire, the things that tend to build up character in him." (1)

The word education is normally associated with the school system, which is, however, only one form of education. According to UNESCO, three types of education can be distinguished.

Scouting belongs to the last type of education since, while it takes place outside the formal educational system, it is an organized institution having an educational aim and addressed at a predetermined public.

Scouting addresses itself to young people; it is a youth movement, where the role of adults consists of assisting young people in achieving the objectives of Scouting. While there are broad tends concerning the age-range of the young people in the Movement, there are not hard and fast rules governing this subject, and each national Scout organization determines the age-ranges applicable within it. Scouting is open to all without distinction of origin, race, class or creed. Thus one of the basic precepts of the Movement is the principle of non-discrimination, provided that the personal voluntarily adhere to its purpose, principles and method.

Purpose of the Scout Movement

The purpose of a movement is the reason underlying its existence; it represents its objective or aim. The purpose of the Scout Movement is "to contribute to the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potentials as individuals, as responsible citizens and as members of their local, national and international communities".

This statement of the purpose emphasizes the educational character of the Movement which aims at the total development of a person's capabilities. One of the basic principles of education is that the dimensions of the human being - namely the physical, intellectual, social and spiritual - cannot be developed in isolation from each other. The process of a person's development is, by definition, an integrated one.

It should be noted that the statement of the purpose of the Scout Movement emphasizes the fact that Scouting is but one of several factors which contribute to the development of young people. Scouting therefore is not meant to replace family, school, religious and other social institutions; it is conceived to complement that educational impact of these institutions.

It is also important to point out that the concept of responsible citizenship, which is one of the fundamental goals of Scouting, must be understood in a broad context. Thus, a person is, first and foremost, an individual. This individual is integrated into his community, which is part of a wider political structure (district, province, state, canton, etc.) the total expression of which is the sovereign state, or country. The latter is, in turn, a member of the international community. A responsible citizen must be aware of his rights and obligations in relation to the various communities to which he belongs.

Principles of the Scout Movement

The principles are the fundamental laws and beliefs which must be observed when achieving the purpose. They represent a code of conduct which characterizes all members of the Movement. Scouting is based upon three broad principles which represent its fundamental laws and beliefs. They are referred to as "Duty to God", "Duty to Others" and "Duty to Self". As their names indicate, the first refers to a person's relationship with the spiritual values of life; the second to a person's relationship with society in the broadest sense of the term; and the third, to a person's obligations towards himself.

Duty to God

Under the title "Duty to God", the first of the above-mentioned principles of the Scout Movement is defined as "adherence to spiritual principles, loyalty to the religion that expresses them and acceptance of the duties resulting therefrom". It should be noted that, by contrast to the title, the body of the text does not use the word "God", in order to make it clear that the clause also covers religions which are non-monotheistic, such as Hinduism, or those which do not recognize a personal God, such as Buddhism.

When asked where religion came into Scouting and Guiding, Baden-Powell replied "It does not come in at all. It is already there. It is a fundamental factor underlying Scouting and Guiding". (2)

A careful analysis of the Founder's writings shows that the concept of a force above man is basic to Scouting. The whole educational approach of the Movement consists in helping young people to transcend the material world and go in search of the spiritual values of life.

Duty to others

Under this general heading, a number of basic precepts of the Movement are grouped, since all deal with a person's responsibility towards society in its difference dimensions. Duty to others is thus defined as:

"- Loyalty to one's country in harmony with the promotion of local, national and international peace, understanding and cooperation.
- Participation in the development of society, with recognition and respect for the dignity of one's fellow-man and for the integrity of the natural world."

The first statement mentioned above deals with two fundamental concepts of the Scout Movement: loyalty to one's country, and world friendship and understanding. Both are combined in a single statement in order to show that the concept of loyalty to one's country is not a narrow, chauvinistic concept, but one that is considered in a certain perspective; namely that it must be in harmony with the promotion of peace, understanding and cooperation at all levels: local, national and international. This approach reflects faithfully the Founder's philosophy when he wrote that "we should take care, in inculcating patriotism into our boys and girls, that it is patriotism above the narrow sentiment which usually stops at one's own country, and thus inspires jealousy and enmity in dealing with others. Our patriotism should be of the wider, nobler kind which recognizes justice and reasonableness in the claims of others and which leads our country into comradeship with...the other nations of the world. The first step to this end is to develop peace and goodwill within our own borders, by training our youth of both sexes to its practice as their habit of life; so that the jealousies of town against town, class against class and sect against sect no longer exist; and then to extend this good feeling beyond our frontiers towards our neighbours..." (3)

Since its inception, Scouting has attached great importance to the promotion of brotherhood and understanding among young people of all nations. The multiple international gatherings of young people are only the most visible manifestation of the means used to achieve this goal, which is reached in more depth through the day to day activities of the Scout programme.

The second statement - "participation in the development of society..." - expresses the basic principle of service to others in a comprehensive manner. First, in accordance with the Founder's philosophy, the service is conceived in its broadest sense, as a contribution to the development of society. Secondly, this development cannot take place at any price; it must be based upon the respect of the dignity of man and of the integrity of nature.

The concept of the dignity of man is a fundamental precept of the international community and is consecrated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It simply means that every action undertaken within Scouting must be based upon the respect of the human being.

The concept of the integrity of the natural world expresses the idea of nature conservation, which has always been fundamental to Scouting. It emphasizes that the life-space of mankind on earth and the living organisms therein constitute an ecological whole, an interdependent system, and that any injury to any part is communicated to the whole system. This concept stresses that, in the pursuit of the development goal, man must not exploit natural resources in such a manner as to damage the balance and harmony of the natural world.

Duty to self

This principle is defined as "responsibility for the development of oneself". Scouting is thus based not only upon the principles of "Duty to God" and "Duty to others", but also on the principle that man should assume responsibility for the development of his own capacities. This is fully in harmony with the educational purpose of the Scout Movement, whose aim is to assist the young person in the full development of his potentials - a process which has been called the "unfolding" of the personality. In this respect, the role of the promise and law in a fundamental one.

Adherence to a Promise and Law

The above-mentioned principles relating to the spiritual, social and personal dimensions constitute the fundamental laws and beliefs upon which Scouting rests. Consequently, the programme of all Scout associations must provide maximum opportunities for the growth of young people on the basis of these principles.

Since the inception of the Movement, the basic tool for the formulation of these principles in a way that is understandable and appealing to young people, has been a promise and law, which all Scout associations must have.

In this respect, the original promise and law conceived by the Founder is a useful source of inspiration, since it embodies the fundamentals of the Movement. It should be strongly emphasized, however, that the original promise and law were written for young people in England at the beginning of the 20th Century. Each national association must ensure that its promise and law is formulated in a modern language adapted to its specific culture and civilization, while remaining faithful to the fundamentals.

In order to ensure that this diversity of expression does not affect the unity of the Movement and fidelity to its fundamentals, the promises and laws of national associations, when first drafted and whenever modified, are subject to the approval of the World Organization.

Scout Method

A method can be defined as the means used or the steps followed in attaining the objectives. Whenever it is part of a Movement having a set if principles, as is the case with Scouting, the method must be based upon those principles.

The Scout method is defined as "a system of progressive self-education through:

The Scout method is thus a system of progressive self-education, to be reached as a result of a combination of elements, which are outlined below.

Before dealing with these elements, the key concept in the definition of the Scout method should be underlined. This concept is that the Scout method is a system of progressive self-education. The fact that is it a system implies that it has to be conceived as an interdependent group of elements forming a unified and integrated whole. That is why the word method is used in the singular, not the plural. For, while each of the elements comprising it can be considered as a method on its own right (and are, in fact, considered so by other movements), we can only speak of the Scout method when all these elements are combined within an integrated educational system. This system is based upon the idea of progressive self-education.

A Promise and Law

The first element of the Scout method is a promise and law. It has already been seen that the promise and law are the basic tools for the formulation of the principles of the Scout Movement. Here, however, we are concerned not so much with the ethical principles contained in the promise and law, but more with its role as an educational method. Through the promise and law, a young person makes, of his own free will, a personal commitment to a given code of behaviour and he accepts, before his peers, the responsibility to be faithful to the given word. The permanent identification with these ethical values, and the sustained effort to live up to those ideals to the best of his ability ("I will do my best") are therefore a most powerful instrument in the development of young people.

Learning by Doing

Another basic element of the Scout method is that concept of active education, or more simply, learning by doing, which has become a cornerstone of modern education. This concept appears throughout the writings of the Founder, who has systematically emphasized that "a boy is always ready to do rather than to digest". (4)

The idea in Scouting that learning must be by observation, experimentation and personal activity was praised by Dr. Maria Montessori, one of the greatest authorities in the field of active education. When asked how her system would be applied to children when they had grown out of the infant stage after six or seven years of age, Dr. Montessori replied: "You in England have the Boy Scouts, and their training is a natural continuation of that which I give to children." (5)

A programme which is not based upon the concept of learning by doing cannot be considered a Scout programme.

Membership of Small Groups

A third basic element of the Scout method is the system of membership of small groups (for example the patrol system). The advantage of small groups as agents of socialization - i.e. facilitating the integration of young people into social life - has long been recognized by social science. In this respect, it is an acknowledged fact that, in the peer group, relationships take place at the primary level.

The small number of people, the lasting character of the relationship, the identification of all the members of the group with the objectives, the thorough knowledge of other persons in the group, the mutual appreciation within the group, together with the feeling of freedom and spontaneity and the fact that social control takes place informally - all this provides an ideal atmosphere for young people to undergo the process of their transformation into the adult stage.

This small group operation thus provides opportunities for young people to progressively discover and accept the idea of responsibility and trains them towards self-government. This facilitates the development of young people's characters and enables them to acquire competence, self-reliance, dependability and capacities both to cooperate and to lead.

In the above process, the role of adults is one of guidance. It consists in helping young people to discover their potential to assume responsibility in social life. The role of adults should not be conceived as one of control, since young people can only develop fully in a climate of respect and appreciation of their personality. When truly applied, this relationship between young people and adults fulfils an essential need of modern society, since it provides a platform for dialogue and cooperation between generations.

Progressive and Stimulating Programmes

The three elements of the Scout method mentioned above are concretely expressed within a Scout programme, which is the totality of activities practised by young people in Scouting. This programme must be conceived as an integrated whole and not as a collection of miscellaneous and unrelated activities. The basic characteristics of this programme constitute the fourth element of the Scout method.

The Scout programme must thus be conceived in a progressive way in order to satisfy the need for a gradual and harmonious development of young people. One tool to achieve this progression in the test and badge system (or progressive scheme, advancement plan, etc.).

To achieve its objectives, a programme must also be stimulating in order to appeal to those to whom it is addressed. In this respect, the programme should be a balanced combination of varied activities which are based on the interests of the participants. This, when observed in the design of a programme, is one of the best guarantees for its success.

In the balanced combination of varied activities, games, useful skills and services to the community are three major areas which should be taken into account by those designing a programme. A harmonious combination of activities falling within these three areas constitutes the best way to ensure that the programme reaches its educational objectives.

Since the inception of Scouting, nature and life in the outdoors have been considered as the ideal framework for Scout activities. The Founder attached a very great importance to nature. Indeed, he subtitled "Scouting for Boys", "A handbook for instruction in good citizenship through woodcraft" and he defined woodcraft as being the "knowledge of animals and nature". (6)

The importance attached by Baden-Powell to nature was not only due to the obvious benefits of life in the outdoors for the physical development of young people.

Thus, from the point of view of intellectual development, the numerous challenges that nature presents stimulate the creative capacities of young people and enable them to reach solutions based on combinations of elements which the over-organized life in most cities wold never have provided.

Furthermore, from the point of view of social development, the common sharing of risks and challenges and the collective struggle for the satisfaction of vital needs, creates a powerful link between members of the group. It enables them to understand fully the meaning and importance of life in society.

Finally, nature plays a fundamental role in the spiritual development of young people; in the Founder's own words "The atheists...maintain that a religion that has to be learnt from books written by men cannot be a true one. But they don't seem to see that besides printed books...God has given us as one step the great Book of Nature to read; and they cannot say that there is untruth there - the facts stand before them... I do not suggest Nature Study as a form of worship or as a substitute for religion, but I advocate the understanding of Nature as a step, in certain cases, towards gaining religion". (7)

Consequently, to Baden-Powell, "the wonder...of all wonders is how some teachers have neglected this (i.e. nature study) easy and unfailing means of education and have struggled to impose Biblical instruction as the first step towards getting a restless, full-spirited boy to think of higher things." (8)

Whenever possible, therefore, Scout activities should take place in an outdoor setting, in contact with nature, since it provides the ideal environment in which a harmonious and integrated development of the young person can take place.


1. Aids to Scoutmastership
Robert Baden-Powell, London, n.d. (1919) p. 43

2. Religion and the Boy Scout and Girl Guides Movement
- an address to the Joint Conference of Commissioners at High Leigh, 1926, Robert Baden-Powell

3. Scouting and Youth Movements
Robert Baden-Powell, London, 1929, pp. 72-73

4. Aids to Scoutmastership
World Brotherhood Edition, London 1949, p. 90

5. ibid
1919 edition, p. 21

6. Scouting for Boys
Robert Baden-Powell, 1908 edition, p. 82

7. Rovering to Success
Robert Baden-Powell, 1930 edition, p. 181

8. Aids to Scoutmastership
4th impression, n.d., p. 96

This booklet is reprinted from Elements for a Scout Program, Section I, Chapter 1, published by the Programme Service, World Scout Bureau, P.O. Box 241 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland.

An audio-visual presentation on The Fundamental Principles of Scouting is also available from the World Scout Bureau. It includes 50 slides, a cassette and a script.

World Scout Bureau
P.O. Box 241
5, rue du Pré-Jérôme
CH-1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland

© Copyright 1992, World Scout Bureau. Reproduction is authorized to national Scout associations which are members of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. Others should request permission from the Publishers.

This publication has been made possible, in part, through the support given by the World Scout Foundation.