In this interview, we sit down with Rozemarijn and Naomi from Scouting Nederland, the Dutch National Scout Organization, to discuss their journey in creating a custom app to improve communication within their community. Starting with the "Challenge Yourself" campaign, the organisation provided local Scout groups with posters, website templates, and personalised pages within their trimester magazine. This led to the development of a first version of Scouting App, which was further developed to offer greater capabilities and support. The app includes features such as a shared calendar, photo sharing, and document sharing, with additional paid modules available for greater interactivity. We discuss the adoption process, user feedback, and future plans for the app, as well as the impact it has had on the Scouting community.
How did it start?
Previously, there was a prevalent belief within Scouting Nederland that communication should be strictly top-down. However, we recognised that local Scout groups required assistance in communicating with their members. In response, we launched the "Challenge Yourself" campaign, providing access to posters, website templates, and personalised pages within our trimester magazine. This allowed each local group to share news and images with their members, providing a sense of recognition for children. During this time, the magazine's publishers suggested developing an app, which became the first of its kind in 2012.
Our goal was to provide Scout groups with a communication tool that could be accessed from smartphones, given that most people use their phones regularly. The app allowed groups to create a calendar with upcoming events and push notifications. Additionally, our organisation could send notifications to all app members and Scout groups.
As a youth organisation, we strive to remain at the forefront of technological advancements, which was another reason behind the development of the Scouting App.
So there was a first app and then a second one.
The publishers of the magazine switched app partnerships to a different company and provided us with the new contact information, allowing us to communicate directly with their developers and account manager. This proved to be an excellent decision as the new company also offered workshops to teach us how to use the app effectively. They continue to support us and our Scout groups in maximising the app's capabilities. Thanks to the new contact, we were able to release a new Scouting App in 2021, which is the one currently in use.
What can we find in the Scouting App?
Scouting Nederland covers the cost of the app's basic version, which includes features such as a shared calendar, photo sharing, and document sharing. However, only moderators can add or modify content. Additional paid modules, such as groups, enable members to engage with each other, create polls, and foster greater interactivity. Groups can test out these paid modules before committing to purchasing them.
Feedback from users who have paid for the modules has been positive, and they are seeking funds to invest in further app enhancements.
How is Scouting Nederland using the app?
99% of the content is Scout groups communicating with their members. Scouting Nederland recently started communicating with the moderators of the Scout groups to receive feedback about their experience and also show them paid modules so they can try them.
What is one of the most used features?
The app allows children and youth to inform their leaders if they cannot attend an upcoming activity. Leaders have access to attendance information, enabling them to identify who is attending and who is not, while parents can also provide advance notice of their child's absence. Additionally, parents can use the calendar to view scheduled activities and any necessary preparations, such as bringing materials or marking special occasions.
Imagine you are organising an activity that requires the purchase of materials. In that case, you can remind parents to confirm their child's attendance via the app. Parents will receive a notification requesting immediate confirmation, streamlining the planning process.
How was the process of adoption of the app?
This is something that we are still working on. We discovered that it takes a lot of time for Scout groups to use the app. There are several democratic layers of decision-making which takes a lot of time. As Communication Department, we decided to repeatedly communicate about the app and offer workshops to learn how to use it. We aim for every scout group in the Netherlands to use the app, telling them why it is beneficial.
How many users do you have, and who are they?
Out of 1,000 Scout groups, 300 use the app, which includes scout leaders, staff members, board members, parents, children, and youth. The app is integrated with the member administration system, Scouts Online. When a group activates the app, we connect the database members with the app. If a user is under 16, their email address will be associated with one of their parents. For users who are 16 or older, they can register and log in using their own email address. The app serves as an online community for various age groups, each with their own calendars and notifications.
Have you seen an impact on the community that has started to use the app?
Most scouting groups use Whatsapp, email, Google Drive, and other communication channels. Using the app has changed their communication to only one app for everything. Having many communication channels cluttered their phones, the app helped.
In the last years we have increased the discussion on Safe from Harm and online safety. Do you have any measures in place?
Privacy is a very important issue when it comes to the app. We are dealing with a lot of personal information within the app. Therefore we have an agreement with the app developer that states that they treat personal information with care. We consulted with our legal team to find out how the privacy sensitive aspects of the app would play out. Our member administration system has a very well thought out policy when it comes to privacy. We wanted the app to reflect these policies as the app is parallel to the administration system. Online safety and privacy remains to be our main focus points while we further explore the possibilities of the app.
What would you say to other Scout organisations interested in developing an app like yours?
To start with, it is crucial to establish a foundation and test it among various groups before releasing it nationwide. There is a significant amount of trial and error involved, as well as numerous inquiries. Once the system is up and running, you will begin to notice issues. Additionally, there are numerous privacy concerns to consider, particularly since people of all ages, including children, teenagers, and adults, will use the app, and we must adhere to legal requirements.
Despite receiving weekly requests, we still need to include 700 Scout groups on the app, which is growing gradually but consistently. At times, our communication methods may seem outdated, so we must prioritise making it more accessible and future-proof.