No longer the best kept secret: Interactive digital pamphlets are revitalizing the Boy Scouts of America merit badge program

Two young boys using a digital tablet together

When the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) started updating and innovating the merit badge program, I knew it would be an interesting journey full of possibilities and potential opportunities. The project involved more than just creating digital fliers and web pages; we wanted to provide an interactive experience that would inform and inspire a renewed enthusiasm for the entire organization. Now that we have rolled out the program, we are getting great responses from users including Scouts, their parents, merit badge counselors, and leaders.

But before I cover the results and our next steps, let’s look at what we produced with the help of Pearson’s development team. As reported in a Scouting Wire blog post, last year at this time we began rolling out interactive digital merit badge pamphlets (IDMBPs) that are helping Scouts earn the 20 most popular merit badges, including the 13 Eagle-required badges. The digital pamphlets enable Scouts who use them to earn the badges without ever picking up the traditional printed pamphlets. The first wave of IDMPs released last year included Animation, Citizenship in the Nation, Communication, Cooking, Digital Technology, Emergency Preparedness, Family Life, First Aid, Personal Fitness, and Robotics. The Pearson team has handled the print-to-digital conversion of each book as well as the design/layout, editorial review, permissions, and product testing. The creation of interactive content was handled by the BSA.

Why has this new format been so well received? I believe it is the online interactive experience we created using the digital pamphlets. We took into consideration not only Scouts, but also counselors and parents. The digital experience includes features such as “how to” videos, virtual tours, simulations, animations, and interactive Q&As. All content including the badge requirements is fully searchable, making it easy for anyone to find specific information.

One important aspect of Scouting is youth leadership; unique youth-to-youth videos make it possible for youth from all over the nation to share their expertise. To give an example, here is one of our videos for the Animation badge. This is a great illustration of the type of experience Scouts can enjoy as they explore different badges they can earn.

 

 

We conducted a survey with a sample of users to help us understand how Scouts, their family members, leaders, counselors, and others are experiencing the interactive digital merit badge pamphlets. Our findings include:

  • 89 percent found the format easy to use, or not hard.
  • Users liked the enhanced elements: videos, graphics, interactive Q&As, slide shows.
  • 80 percent said they would purchase more IDMBPs.
  • Two thirds of users preferred the digital format over print.
  • 75 percent said the IDMBPs are an excellent-to-good value at $4.99.

As far as next steps, we are currently working on a new group of titles including Game Design, Aviation, Space Exploration, and Photography.  

Partnerships are critical to achieve goals, and so many organizations are lending their expertise to educate our Scouts. Some of these organizations are NASA, Crash Course, Sci Show, USDA, U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, American Red Cross, Carnegie Mellon, and, as noted earlier, Pearson. One of the key goals of the BSA’s partnership with Pearson is to transform how the BSA develops and distributes educational products. The development and go-to-market launch of the IDMBPs is just one example of the execution of that goal.

 

This video outlines the exciting features of the IDMBPs.

 

 

About the Author

Janice Downey works on the “new stuff” at Boy Scouts of America. If it hasn’t been done before, Janice makes it happen with the help of good teams of volunteers and partners from inside and out of the BSA. Janice has a successful track record of innovation and developing strategic partnerships with companies from telecom to education.