Troop Programs

This study is designed primarily to point towards changes that can be made in troop programs which would increase the retention of members. All troop programs had the same essential design consisting of meetings with games and skills, and camps and other outdoor activities. Many of the things that are different between troops are difficult to measure. This section will look at three more easily quantifiable variables: the number of outdoor activities, the level of autonomy given to the Scouts, and the involvement of Scouts in the troop's planning process.

Outdoor Activities

Scouters were asked to complete a calendar showing how many camps and other events the troop had attended during the 1999/2000 season. Due to small numbers, the day events were aggregated for analysis. Day events are events, such as day hikes, that are not camps and not regular meetings. Fundraisers were excluded. Troops attended as few as one and as many as ten camps during the year. Fifty percent of troops attended five camps or fewer. The number of camps was added to the number of day events for a troop to yield a total number of events. Troops attended as few as one non-meeting event in the year and as many as 18 (see Appendix B.6).

Table 3.8: Events and Retention Correlation
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Table 3.8 shows the relationship between the number of events and retention of Scouts. The number of camps is well correlated with retention at .51 (p=.02; see Table 3.9 ). The number of day events was also well correlated at .45 (p=.04). However, the total number of events, camps and day events, correlated even stronger at .58 and was more significant at p=.01. Thus, active troops, ones who have many activities in addition to regular meetings, have better retention. These activities could be day events or camps. Camps may be somewhat better.

Table 3.9: Effect of Summer Activities on Retention
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Is the number of camps important by itself, or is it a matter of scheduling? For the most part, the events of a given troop were distributed throughout the school year. What impact do events in the summer months, July and August have? Eight of the 16 troops had no activities in July and August. Four of these also had nothing more than two regular meetings in June. Of the eight that had summer activities of any sort, two had weekend camps and the remaining six had camps of at least four nights, such as a week at Haliburton Scout Reserve or a canoe trip.

Table 3.9 shows the effect of summer activities on retention. Troops with no summer activities had a retention rate of 56.7% while troops with an activity had a rate of 79.4%. Since no troops had summer activities without also having a summer camp, the impact of this distinction on the program cannot be assessed. Given the result in Table 3.8, it seems reasonable that one or more summer day events would also boost retention, though perhaps not as much as a summer camp. The summer is commonly described by Canadians as the best time to go camping. Given this, it follows that troops would do well to make use of it. The policy implications of this are clear. Troops should be encouraged to run their programs year-round and supported in accomplishing this.

Table 3.10: Effect on Retention of Scouts Being On Their Own
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Scout Autonomy

One of the goals of Scouting is to help young people learn to take responsibility for themselves, both as individuals and as members of a team, and to develop leadership skills. Baden-Powell believed that patrol leaders (youth members) should be given a high degree of autonomy and responsibility in order for this development to happen (BP nd:38). Besides making good sense from an educational perspective, I hypothesised that Scouts would like being on their own some of the time and that autonomy would therefore increase membership retention. In Canadian society, kids are not usually entrusted with much personal responsibility or the accompanying freedom. Most activities are adult-lead and supervised. Scouting has a real opportunity here to differentiate itself.

The first measure of autonomy was whether or not Scouts have opportunities to be on their own at Scout activities. Scouters where asked ``At any of your troop's activities, were your Scouts on their own without a Scouter, such as for a patrol hike?''. Half of the troops reported that this never happened. The other half reported that it happened at least once. In only two troops had the Scouts been on their own more than twice, so a more detailed analysis was not possible. The rate of retention in the first group was lower then in the second, though with limited significance (see Table 3.10). This result does point in the expected direction. More study should be done on this point. It seems unlikely to me that something as simple as having the Scouts be on their own for a single activity would have much impact on retention, yet we seem to observe one. Perhaps a willingness to allow this to happen is indicative of an attitude underlying how the Scouters in the troop relate to their Scouts all the time. Perhaps an attitude of trust of the Scouts may be the real variable, only measured indirectly.

Table 3.11: Allocation of Points for Measuring Cooking Autonomy
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The second measure of autonomy combines several variables relating to how the troop fed itself at camps. Troops were given between zero and three points in four areas: planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. See Table 3.11 for how points were allocated. The points for the last two camps were added up to create a overall score. The higher the number, the greater the amount of autonomy that the Scouts were given. The highest theoretical score is 24.

Table 3.12: Effect of Cooking Autonomy on Retention
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The average of the sample was just less than 12. Scores were clustered. Eleven troops had scores between 4 and 12, slightly skewed towards the higher end of this range. The remaining five troops had scores between 18 and 22. Typically in the first group, Scouters were totally responsible for shopping and were on hand to supervise the other aspects of eating. In some cases, they were totally responsible for planning and/or cooking. Almost never were Scouts totally responsible for any of these aspects. Never were Scouters totally responsible for cleanup. In the second group, scores for each aspect were always two or three. This means that Scouts were responsible for each aspect, frequently without the Scouters present to supervise. Cooking autonomy thus measured and membership retention correlated at .44 (p=.05; see Table 3.12). Here we have a clear indication that greater levels of autonomy increase retention of members.

Is there a relationship between the two measures of autonomy? It seems to follow that Scouters who allowed their Scouts to be on their own would also give their Scouts more cooking autonomy. Surprisingly, Table 3.13 shows no significant relationship between these two variables. This may be due to the weakness of the Scouts-on-their-own measure. There is room for more research on this point. However, it is clear that troops have lots of room to give their Scouts more autonomy on cooking and that doing so would increase membership retention.

Table 3.13: Relationship Between Scouts Being On Their Own and Cooking Autonomy
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What is particularly interesting about this part of the survey was the Scouters' reaction to it. Judging from body language and tone of voice, acknowledging that these can mislead, it appeared to me that most Scouters felt that the level of autonomy they were giving was just the right one, regardless of what level that was. For example, Scouters who did not allow their Scouts to cook on their own seemed to find it strange that I would, by asking the question, suggest doing so. It may simply have not occurred to the Scouters that Scouts are capable of taking responsibility for their own food. This suggests that training may be able to go a long way in increasing the amount of autonomy Scouts are given, and therefore membership retention. Scouters could be told at training course about the importance of giving the Scouts lots of autonomy and how to do it. Unlike the number of events, which if increased leads to more demands on the Scouters, higher levels of Scout autonomy lead to fewer demands on the Scouters. If the Scouts are planning and cooking their food on their own, the Scouters don't have to do it.


Another aspect related to Scout autonomy is the process of planning the troop's program. BP wrote that the Court of Honour should be responsible for planning the troop's program (BP nd:39). The Court of Honour is a gathering of the Patrol Leaders (a Scout from each patrol) and the Scoutmaster (sometimes Assistant Patrol Leaders are included as well). The involvement of young people in decision-making has been recently reinforced by a new policy from the WOSM (see WOSM 1997b). It follows from findings above that more autonomy would increase retention. Planning one's own program is a form of autonomy. Having Scouts do the planning aligns troop activities with Scout interests and is an excellent educational opportunity.

Table 3.14: Who Did Planning
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Despite Scouting's formal emphasis on having the Scouts participate in program planning, only two troops used a Court-of-Honour for this purpose. A further six troops indicated that the Scouts had some sort of input into the planning that was done by the Scouters. The remaining half of troops indicated that planning was done entirely by the Scouters. Because so few troops used a Court-of-Honour, it is impossible to draw any conclusions as to the impact of retention of doing this (see Table 3.14).

Liam Morland