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Make Sense of Census

Merseyside has seen some good news from census this year, but it is a complicated picture - so what should we make of it?

In any big population of people there are changes through time that we can try to understand through statistics - we see changes from week-to-week, year-to-year, decade-to-decade.  It can be useful to compare the present to a short while ago, but it is often more useful to take a long-term view and accept that we will see variability on short time scales.

Snapshots like the annual Scouts Census taken on 31st January give us an insight into the changes of our Scouting 'population', and this is particularly handy at a Merseyside-wide level were we have several hundred or a couple of thousand of members in each youth section.

This year we have seen an increase in the number of Beaver Scouts, from 2193 last year to 2246 this year.  This is the second highest number of Beaver Scouts there has ever been on Merseyside!

Cub Scouts have seen a long-term growth since 2007, however there is a curious phenomenon that we haven't been able to explain yet: we see 3 years of steady increase of Cub Scouts, followed by 1 year of decrease, and then a return to an increase.  This year is the third cycle of this pattern, and this year happens to be a year when we have seen a decrease, but we expect to see a return to increasing numbers next year.

Examination of the Cub Scouts numbers for individual Scout Districts shows that there is no corresponding pattern in any one district, so it may be just a curious coincidence.  Alternatively, there might be one or many factors that are difficult to untangle, and in the coming months we'll take a deeper look at the data to see if we can identify any clues.

Our Scout section and Explorer Scout membership have remained roughly stable for Merseyside as a whole since 2012 and 2013, respectively.  This is another difficult issue to fathom: if our Beaver and Cub membership keeps increasing over the long-term why do we not see those increases reflected in the older age ranges?  You would expect to see a delay of a few years as youth members move through the sections, but there doesn't seem to be evidence of such a lag.

As I'm writing this I realise it sounds like I have more questions than answers - but the real value in trying to understand census data are the questions it raises for us as adult volunteers; giving us pause for thought about what we're doing well and were there might be room for useful change and improvement.

It's worth remembering that behind every statistic from the census there is a youth member or adult volunteer with a life - a life with a million and one things that can influence whether someone joins Scouting, stays, leaves or returns in the future.

Some of those things we can influence and some of those we cannot - which reminds me, ' On my honour, I promise that I will do my best...'