First let me preface this post with the statement that my pack had never used any other software before so this is in no way a comparison or “This software is better because” It is just my personal opinion and experience with this single software solution. Also, It possible that some of this won’t make sense unless you have used or can look at the program and for that I apologize, I will try to give enough details but not too much.
A little personal history – Back in 2014 when my youngest son left Cub Scouting and moved into the troop, his Scout leader was using a program called ScoutBook to track his progress and invited me as his mother to connect to it too. I thought it was pretty cool but I’ll admit as a parent I didn’t really do much because I was not really use to having access to his advancement records like that. During the early spring of 2015 I started wondering if maybe our pack should use it too. On April 8, 2015 I read a Bryan on Scouting article announcing that the BSA had acquired ScoutBook. I had heard previously that the BSA had a tracking program in the works and I was SO happy to find out that ScoutBook was it. So I immediately signed up for a 30-day free trial to test it out. In just a few weeks I was convinced that this program would save me so much time that if it wasn’t in our pack budget to pay the yearly subscription fee that I was willing to pay for it personally—I liked it that much.
So, let me tell you just some of the things that I really like about ScoutBook:
- It’s web-based so I can access it from my computer, my tablet or my phone. (If you have an iPhone you can save it as “favorite” to your home screen and it looks like an app). That means I have access to it from almost anywhere. I have found that there are some things like data entry that I prefer to do on my computer so that I have access to a full-size computer but there are lots of features that work great on my small phone screen too.
- Uploads the roster and training records from Scoutnet. The first time I went into the program I was able to upload the roster and leader training records from ScoutNet (The official BSA records.) I didn’t have to enter in every boy and every leader. I didn’t have to use the tools I have access to on My.Scouting to find out who had taken which trainings when. It doesn’t import all information but enough that I felt it really saved me a lot of time.
- Parents can access their son’s records. Depending on how you set up the permissions—Full access, view, edit etc.—a parent can “connect” to their Scout and update any information. They can even mark when a requirement is completed at home. Rather than having to wait until the Cub Scout handbook changes hands from boy to parent to boy to den leader to boy to parent etc., a parent can see any changes made to their son’s record almost immediately after it is entered. And along with that a Den Leader can see what a parent has “signed-off” for their son. As a parent I can see the other boys in the troop but none of their personal information or advancement records. For my own boy I can see and edit anything (permissions can be changed).
- It is color coded! (Anyone who knows me very well knows that I color-code things, so I love this feature) So let’s say a parent marks a requirement as being competed, it will place a green check mark in the box next to that requirement. When a leader marks something as complete the check mark changes to blue. When parents mark something, a den leader will easily be able to see that there are some advancements that they need to approve and once they approve them, the previous green check mark will be replaced by a blue one. So both parents and leaders will know who has approved what. When den leaders or Scoutmaster approves it correctly it makes it easy for the advancement chair to know what to pick up at the Scout shop. And once it has been marked as awarded the check mark is changed to yellow so everyone knows what has been awarded and what still needs to be
- You can upload photos. If the requirement done at home requires some sort of project or poster a picture or video of said project or poster can be uploaded and attached to that requirement in the notes section as proof that it was done. Or I would suppose that a photo or video of instructions could be uploaded by the leader to help a parent complete something missed at a meeting (This thought just occurred to me while writing). This feature may be more useful to the troop than a pack.
- It’s more than just advancement. ScoutBook can also act as your pack/troop calendar and there are lots of things I like about the calendar. A a cubmaster I can create events for pack meetings each month. I can determine what kind of event it is—pack meeting, committee meeting, roundtable etc.—and who should be invited to this event. Then I can set up reminders to automatically go out about the event. I can set up multiple reminders like say immediately when scheduled, one week in advance of the event, 1 day in advance, 2 hours in advance etc. Each unit will want to determine how often they want reminders for each event. The reminders are sent out with all the information included in the details so you can include date, time, theme, activity etc. Our Scoutmaster sent out one for an upcoming merit badge pow wow that included everything I needed to know, including the link to register my son – it was great.
- Other Calendar Features – When creating the event there are a number of switches that can be toggled. Many of them are to help you track your JTE (not fully functional yet) and others can request an RSVP from those invited or indicate a need for a permission slip. If you indicate that a permission slip is needed it will allow you to print out the permission slips and assuming you put the right information in the event, they are already filled out and ready for just the parents signature—what a time saver! You can also indicate which advancement will be completed at the event and then when you mark a boy as being there (next item) it will mark that advancement as completed in his record. It does take a little time to indicate which advancement items you plan to do at the the event but it saves you the time of having to mark that advancement in each individual boy’s record. (Apparently this is not quite true—see the comment by Matt H below for clarification)
- Easy Attendance. When I am at the event I can easily make note of who is in attendance. This is one of the features I use my phone for. I open the event, and mark who is there. So far it only lets me actually mark those that have an account so guest or siblings (If you track that) can be added in the notes section. So I mark all the boys, parents and leaders, then make a note of how many siblings were in attendance to get my total attendance count at pack meeting. I can even create an attendance report and see the percentage (of those invited) of attendance for each event.
- Group Entries – If you don’t enter the advancement to be completed when creating an event you can also do it after a meeting is over. You can enter in the advancement for those that attended by selecting the adventure/requirement(s) completed and then select the names of all the boys who were there. Sometimes this is the better way to go.
- It tracks leadership, service, camping & hiking too – It can track time a boy has been in each leadership positions, like denner, assistant denner, den chief, patrol leader, quartermaster etc. It can track nights of camping and hikes (especially helpful with the camping and hiking merit badges) and it can track hours of service too. It can (or will be able to) track den dues and other financial payments also.
- It’s easy to move boys up to the troop – This may only work this easily because my Cubs move from our ward’s pack to our ward’s troop (not really sure since that’s all I have experienced) but as the cubmaster, once I have determined that a boy’s records are complete and accurate I can easily hand him off, actually move him up into the troop and the Scoutmaster now has his information and his parents are still connected so there is no loss of communication. The parents start getting the troop’s event reminders instead of the pack’s. (Note—the Varsity and Venturing sections are still in the works but you can set them up as their own patrol under the troop and start tracking attendance and other things. Then when the Varsity and Venturing parts go online it should be easy to move them up and keep parents connected there too.)
- It’s very visual – You can easily look at a boys advancement and see visually what he has earned. Essentially these are all the same things you should see on his shirt. There are pictures of the actual badges, awards and adventure loops. in the picture below you can tell that this boy earned his Wolf under the old Cub Scout program but completed one of the Wolf adventures before joining the bear den. He is then denner and is well on his way to earning his Bear.
- Reports – It creates an advancement file that I can upload into internet advancement—Yea! It creates a PO (purchase order) for me, with the prices of the things that need picked up from the Scout shop. It creates a report (with pictures) of the items that need awarded at pack meeting. In fact I can bring that up on my phone and mark them as awarded at pack meeting—no waiting till I get home. It can creat an individual advancement record for each boy. Eventually it will create a report to help you with your Journey to Excellence scorecard. You can customize all kinds of reports and even save them to your “dashboard” if you wish. So far there isn’t a way (that I have found anyway) to get a report of which requirements the boys still need to complete across the den—that would be handy.
- Unlimited Adults – You pay for the subscription by the number of boys you have in your pack/troop. The number of adults that can be connected to that unit is unlimited. Each person can be given the appropriate rights that they need to function within the unit. Each person can be given the options of View Profile, Edit profile, View Advancement, Edit advancement or Full access (view and edit profiles and advancement).
- With one account you can access all the units you are registered in – Let’s say you are a Tiger Cub parent in one pack, a Webelos den leader in another pack, a committee member in a troop and your son is in the local community crew. Your two sons would show up for you to access directly and the two packs, 1 troop and the crew also show up. What you can see and do will depend on the “rights” given to you in each unit but you will only need one login and password to see them all.
There are a few features specific to the Troop version I want to mention as well. (There may be more but I am just a parent on the troop subscription not an admin like I am with the pack, so I can’t see/do everything.)
- As a parent I can invite my son to “connect” and give him access to his account. He can’t approve anything but can see what has been approved, what still needs to be done, what events are coming up etc. This means he will get event reminders too. It even allows you to see a little image of a gauge showing the percentage competed towards each rank.
- When the Scoutmaster sends out an email to the boys through Scoutbook it automatically sends a copy to the parents. No “one on one” communications.
- Scoutmasters have access to a list of the local merit badge counselors who are also on Scoutbook. Those merit badge counselors can be invited to “connect” to a scout and will only be able to see and approve stuff for that particular merit badge. This is where uploading a photo or video could come in really handy I think.
- Merit badges are automatically applied to the next rank if needed. For example, the Star rank has 4 required and 2 elective merit badges, Life has 3 more required and 2 more elective. Let’s say my son has completed 6 elective merit badges—they automatically show up on the Eagle list of merit badges. In fact, currently, the gauges show my son being (percentage wise) closer to Eagle than to Life just because of which merit badges he has earned so far. (Yes I know he must earn them in order) And ALL merit badges started, in progress, or completed show up on the Eagle list automatically—no need to count and figure out how many more of which type etc…
That’s not all that Scoutbook can do—don’t you think this article was long enough already (kudos for reading all of it). There is more still being developed and so this great software is only going to get better. If you haven’t checked it out you can try it for 30 days free. If your pack or troop doesn’t use it, you as a parent can use it to track your own boy for free. You may already have a great system that you are used to and know how to use. Great! The best system is the one you will use. I believe Scoutbook is worth paying for (very reasonable rates) and hope I have convinced you that it is at least worth looking into. For more information on subscription rates, to start your free 30 day trial or to get started today go to www.scoutbook.com. Try it! You’ll like it!
Author: Annaleis Smith is a “stay at home” mom of 5 (3 boys). She has been a Cub Scout leader (Cubmaster, Den Leader, Roundtable Staff & more) for over 12 years. She is currently a Cubmaster (2nd time), a Unit Commissioner and Assistant Council Commissioner for Cub Scouting in Utah National Parks Council.