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Blog | 02 June 2020

Why it’s good to share: OSM and Scouts


Volunteer Sponsor of the Digital Transformation Programme, Andrew Sutherland, explains how closer links with OSM (and secure data sharing) will help us to keep members safe, grow the movement, and reduce admin for our volunteers

For many of you, OSM (Online Scout Manager) will need no introduction; it’s been helping volunteers with their Scout admin and record keeping for years. Since announcing our partnership with OSM, we’ve been looking at ways to strengthen our links – this is part of our work to make Scouts safer and more successful, while making volunteering easier and more enjoyable. Leaders across the country have seen the benefits of using OSM for many years and we're really excited to be working together to bring even broader benefits on a national scale.

We’re pleased to launch our first project with OSM, but we need your consent to make it happen: we’re asking groups that are already using OSM to map their sections to the UK Scouts’ structure. There are two main reasons for this: most importantly, it’ll help us keep young people safe, but it’ll help us to grow the movement too.

To help us achieve these objectives, we would like volunteers who are currently using OSM to allow certain data and trends to be viewed at a national level for urgent and necessary work. Hopefully it should go without saying, but we’ll take every possible precaution to maintain data privacy.

Helping us keep members safe

One benefit of this data sharing is that it’ll enable HQ’s Safeguarding team to manage incidents and complaints more quickly and accurately. External authorities have told us that we need to be able to do this better than we do today, so it’s really important that we take actions like these.

There’s no need to panic; as always, we’re taking privacy and security seriously. Private data about individuals would only be accessed in extreme or critical situations, for example, if the police wanted to contact the parents of every young person present at a major incident. Only a very limited number of staff would be able to access the data, and any contact with parents would be for critical safeguarding purposes only.

Helping us to grow the movement

The second reason we’re excited about this project is that using the data will support our growth objectives. If we can analyse anonymised data from lots of groups, we’ll be able to spot trends and opportunities. This will be especially important after the COVID-19 crisis passes, for example, because we’ll quickly be able to see if we’ve lost members when face-to-face meetings restart.

Again, this obviously doesn’t mean a data free-for-all; a very small group of people would do the analysis centrally, then share insights across the movement so they can be actioned. The good news is that this can all be done using existing functionality within OSM – they’ve already done the hard work developing the functionality for other similar national organisations. Over time, these insights will mean we can reduce the number of information requests we send to members, in turn reducing the admin burden for volunteers. For example, with other youth organisations using OSM the census submission of membership data has been reduced to a single click. Imagine that.

No disruption to your current arrangements

This project isn’t about getting in the way, or telling you how you should use OSM. We’re not specifying which level of subscription you should have, payment arrangements will remain exactly as they are today, and nobody will lose OSM functionality as a result of this project. For example, where counties have set up reporting it’ll be maintained.

Ed Jellard, founder of OSM, said ‘We’re very much looking forward to being able to turn on some of the functionality that we have developed for other organisations in the UK version of OSM, as it was here in the UK that everything began many years ago’.

How this will work

This work will take place in two phases, starting in a few weeks, and we’ll clearly communicate the changes we want to make. Here’s how it’ll happen:

1. The Executive Committees for all sections using OSM will be asked to:

  • agree to the proposed new data sharing model and update their privacy policies
  • inform data subjects (the people the data’s about) about the changes to how their data may be used
  • authorise their OSM admins to map their section to the UK structure and report the data sharing consent.

2. OSM section admins will be asked to

  • map their section to the County, District, group and section from the UK structure (or tell us that the section isn’t a live or active record, for example, if it’s a waiting list)
  • agree that the relevant Executive Committee has agreed to the proposed new data sharing model.

Reports will be generated showing which sections in OSM have completed the exercise – OSM won’t show which sections haven’t consented. We’ll make these reports available to volunteer line managers so they can help us to encourage a higher response.

To be absolutely clear, groups don’t have to agree to these changes. It’s entirely voluntary, but I hope you’ll see why it’s so helpful to the wider movement. As ever, thank you for your invaluable support, and all you do to help more young people gain skills for life.

If you have any questions about the project or partnership with OSM, check out our FAQs.

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