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BSA merit badge team continues efforts to improve existing badges

Can you improve something that’s pretty close to perfection already?

The BSA’s Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force thinks so.

It’s the job of Scott Berger, volunteer chairman of the task force, and his team of volunteers and staff advisors to keep our current library of pamphlets and badge requirements up-to-date, relevant and fun.

The BSA will always consider the development and release of new merit badges when appropriate, but this task force regularly reviews all merit badges and welcomes your input to help improve the Scouting experience.

I talked with Berger last week to discuss the difficult but rewarding task facing his task force.

“Keeping the program strong and interesting will always involve developing new merit badges, and currently, I think we are in great shape,” Berger says. “In the near future, you may not see as many new badges as you have during the past. Our task force’s job is really a concentrated effort to maintain each of the existing badges.”

This usually results in small “tweaks” to requirements. Sometimes the wording of a requirement might be improved, with the text clarified but the underlying intent unchanged.

Other times one or more requirements might be completely out of date, “and we’ll fix that,” Berger says.

Going forward, I would recommend Scouts, parents, leaders and counselors always check for the most current requirements at this site.

What if a Scout has already begun work under a previous version of the merit badge requirements? Under most circumstances, he can continue working using these older requirements. To help with that, the task force will post those older requirements online as well.

Why merit badge maintenance works

The constant-improvement approach makes sense.

The BSA has 136 currently available merit badges, each offering Scouts a chance to learn a new skill, trade or hobby. The selection is vast, spanning a wide range of what Scouts love: sports, crafts, science, trades, business and future careers. Though a handful of Scouts earn every available merit badge, that’s not the goal. The reason there are so many is because Scouts are interested in so many different things.

BSA volunteers and professionals believe improving and expanding existing merit badges serves Scouts well. Take the Snow Sports merit badge, for example. Beginning in 2016, Boy Scouts now can earn that merit badge on snowshoes. Before 2016, only downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding options were available.

Updating requirements means merit badge pamphlets and the Boy Scout Requirements book need to be updated as well. In the past, this process slowed down the update cycle, at times causing delays of a year or more. Not anymore, Berger says.

“As soon as we have new, updated merit badge requirements, we’re going to immediately get them on Scouting.org, as well as in our new interactive digital merit badge pamphlets and on Scoutbook,” he says. “We’re not waiting for reprinted pamphlets or requirements books. This should help to get the very best information and resources into the hands of Scouts as quickly as possible.” (I’ll also blog about new merit badge requirements here.)

Again, if a Scout has started working on a merit badge using earlier requirements, he’s fine. He doesn’t need to start over. The new requirements must be used by Scouts beginning work on the merit badge from that point forward.

Changes to merit badges aren’t taken lightly — never have been. The volunteer-driven Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force works with experts on that particular topic and professionals at the BSA before approving any changes.

So which merit badges have recent updates? This list was printed in the 2016 Boy Scout Requirements book:

Revised Merit Badge Requirements

  • Cooking
    • Grouped requirements in a way that’s easier to follow.
    • Cleaned up redundancies
    • Removed the section requiring Scouts to describe nine different food-related illnesses, instead combining that with a requirement about food allergies and food intolerance
  • Lifesaving
    • Added principles of BSA Safe Swim Defense
    • Added requirement to watch video or live demonstration of rescue performed using a rowboat, canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard
    • Updated CPR mentions to reflect the fact that CPR techniques frequently change.
  • Photography
    • Too many to name, though the revised requirements do a much better job teaching Scouts how to take quality photographs with smartphones and digital cameras
  • Snow Sports
    • Snowshoeing joins downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding as an option for earning the badge

Minor Merit Badge Requirement Updates

  • American Business (2a)
  • American Labor (3)
  • Archery (options A and B, 5f[3])
  • Camping (3)
  • Chemistry (1b, 1c, 7b)
  • Citizenship in the Community (2, 7)
  • Citizenship in the World (4c)
  • Emergency Preparedness (2, 3b, 6, 7, 8)
  • Environmental Science (3e[2], 3g)
  • First Aid (2b)
  • Mining in Society (1a)
  • Personal Management (2a, 5, 9e)
  • Railroading (5b, 7d)
  • Skating (1; Ice Skating option 2d)

 I’ll share more about the four merit badges with major revisions in separate posts coming soon.

How to suggest a merit badge revision

The Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force accepts input from fellow volunteers. Suggestions for merit badges updates can be send to merit.badge@scouting.org.

Update, Jan. 26: Scott Berger asked me to share this message with readers: “The Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force appreciates all of the comments to Bryan’s blog. We will consider all of the ideas and thoughts you have expressed. We know that keeping an open ear to the fantastic volunteers and BSA professional staff throughout the country will result in improving the best youth program in America. Thank you.”

47 Comments on BSA merit badge team continues efforts to improve existing badges

  1. I don’t see what changed in Citizenship in the Community. Those requirements look unchanged to me, although I noticed the scouting.org MB page does not link to a PDF yet for this badge.

  2. Matt Culbertson // January 25, 2016 at 9:06 am // Reply

    Actually historically the definition of getting the new requirements on the website immediately has been as soon as the new books are in the stores. Is that going to change since the new requirements are finalized long before the books are printed?

    • Bryan Wendell // January 25, 2016 at 9:15 am // Reply

      Yes, that’s what Scott Berger told me.

      • Matt Culbertson // January 25, 2016 at 9:53 am // Reply

        Okay…please ask him when these changes will be posted since the books won’t be available for at least another month.

        • Matt Culbertson // January 25, 2016 at 11:56 am //

          It looks like some but not all those listed above are on the MB requirements page.

        • Matt Culbertson // January 29, 2016 at 12:49 pm //

          Hey Bryan….do you know or can find out when all the changes will be posted on the site you linked us to?

  3. It would be REALLY helpful if they would put the revision date on the scouting.org requirements pages. When you see a mismatch between a pamphlet and what is on the website a date indicating the website has been updated since the pamphlet would make things much easier to understand what changed when.

  4. Is there a reason why MB pamphlets in PDF form aren’t FREE and available on the net?

    • Bryan Wendell // January 25, 2016 at 9:58 am // Reply

      Yes. There’s a cost associated with producing merit badge pamphlets.

      • Bryan, yes there are costs associated with producing the pamphlets (such as research, writing, editing, and design). However the inside cover of every single merit badge pamphlet states that these costs have already been paid for by the Boy Scouts of America as a service to the consumer. So why is the consumer of the book asked to pay for them again? I was always under the assumption that the price-tag on the book did not cover the development of the content, but the production and distribution of the physical book.

        The message under the “who pays for this pamphlet” heading clearly states that: “[This merit badge pamphlet] is made available for you to buy as a service of the national and local councils, Boy Scouts of America. The costs of the development, writing and editing of the merit badge pamphlets are paid for by the Boy Scouts of America in order to bring you the best book at a reasonable price.”

        So if the development costs are already paid for, why would I as a consumer have to pay them again to get a PDF copy of the content? I understand that there are printing cost, material costs, and distribution costs associated with a physical book (hence the modest $4.99 price tag to cover the paper copy on the store shelf).

        But the information (the research, writing) and design (editing and design) have already been paid for by BSA, so why wouldn’t a PDF be able to be distributed for free (or at least a lot less than $4.99)?

        • Kelly Horton // January 25, 2016 at 12:29 pm //

          @ KYP – Nothing is free. I understand where you are coming from. Most of the cost is in printing, shipping, handling and etc. PDF’s cut all of this out.

          Royal Rangers went to paperless for most of all their publications. A Unit buys a yearly subscription with their charter fees and everything is downloaded when needed. If they use the training, then LCD projectors are used and paper is eliminated.

          I believe that TrailLife USA is paperless, so to be competitive, the BSA will have to up their game and level of service. If smaller scouting organizations can do this, then the big ones will have to change to compete for membership.

          They will eventually be downloaded for free. Give it time.

      • I would love to see all the pdfs be available electronically for free!! I am a librarian and also understand that this may not be possible. Just because things are produced electronically vs print doesn’t mean they are free to produce/distribute. Look at the cost of ebooks – different costs are incurred – production/manppower/technology/distribution. Additionally, some troops scan and post the pdfs on their troop’s website. This is a copyright violation.

  5. This article would mean a lot more if it didn’t seem like every revision to the MB books made the Scouts want to work on them less. I’m sure that whoever came up with the idea of putting the safety discussions at the beginning of the MB requirements did it with the best intention, but my scouts ridicule them every time those requirements come up. They even come up with spoofs of them on skit night.

    Yes I agree that teenage boys ridicule lots of things that are good ideas, but the problem is that this organization is one that they don’t have to belong to. They have dozens of other things they can be doing with their time, and from the retention numbers it appears that more and more of them are choosing to do other things with their time.

    The MB maintenance team needs to remember this when coming up with the changes for these MB’s. The goal isn’t just to get good information into the Scout’s heads, it’s to make the process fun and enjoyable and to NOT make the Scouts snort with disgust at how silly old people are

    Case in point. A couple weeks ago all the Scouts got to cut all my hair off because they met the fundraising goals for the year, (they really enjoyed that). During the process the subject of “Is there a MB for cutting hair?” came up. A couple of the older Scouts started laughing and joking about how the first requirements for it would be to list all the dangers of hair cutting, and how those risks could be mitigated. Each new requirement sounded worse than the last, but the scary thing was they all sounded like something I could imagine in a Hair Cutting MB Handbook based on recent changes.

    The unfortunate part of this was that none of this was done in a light and fun manner. It was done in a sarcastic tone of boys who are completely disgusted with too many requirements like this.

    “Changes to merit badges aren’t taken lightly — never have been. The volunteer-driven Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force works with experts on that particular topic and professionals at the BSA before approving any changes.”

    Sounds good, but I’d suggest working with Scouts a little bit more before approving the changes. If two of them are rolling their eyes in front of you, that means 5 more are rolling their eyes behind your back.

    • Matt Culbertson // January 25, 2016 at 12:00 pm // Reply

      Scouts are included in the process when new badges are proposed but I don’t think for the small changes that happen each year. I applaud the fact that there is a MB task force now and they actually respond to inquiries.

    • I would tend to agree with you until I watch some of my more “seasoned” scouts try to set up a springbar tent. No matter how many times they’ve set it up in the past, there’s always something they’ve forgotten or something that gets them flummoxed. The scouts who can set up a springbar tent are the ones who didn’t roll their eyes through repetition in setting the tents up again and again and actually paid attention and learned how to do it.

      My former ASM had the perfect line for scouts who scoffed at having to repeat first aid requirements for every merit badge earned: “I know this stuff. Your scoutmaster knows this stuff. You get drilled on it again and again so in case something happens to one of us, YOU can administer the first aid.”

    • I was on board with updating merit badges that have potential hazards to include safety requirements – until I saw a safety requirement was added to Astronomy MB. Totally unnecessary. “Describe the proper clothing and other precautions for safely making observations at night and in cold weather.” Really? This needs to be a requirement?

    • I can see where Scouts find it funny and a bit redundant to “list the dangers of…” requirements, but it is teaching them an important lesson. It’s teaching them attention to detail and how to stick with processes and procedures.

      A real world example of this is that I am an IT Project Manager in the Oil and Gas industry. Before every meeting I have to cover a 12 point safety plan before I can start the meeting. If I ma interrupted any where along the way, I have to start over. I literally have a script that I now follow. One of the items is that I have to tell participants that if they are wearing headphone that they must insure they can hear fire alarms.

      It is important to understand risks, no matter how small.

    • Ted, you mentioned the Scouts poking fun during the haircutting activity (“…A couple of the older Scouts started laughing and joking about how the first requirements for it would be to list all the dangers of hair cutting, and how those risks could be mitigated.”) yet if they are thinking of how dangers can be mitigated, even in fun, a purpose of the ‘safety up front’ in the existing merit badge pamphlets is having an effect!

  6. As a 20 year Personal Management merit badge counselor and professional financial analyst, I have long felt that requirement 5 needs a complete rewrite. While dropping the “from your newspaper” is good in that it reflects the fact stocks hove not been reported in newspapers – not even the Wall Street Journal – in a long time, asking scouts to explain the importance of information was regarded as outdate 40 years ago when I earned the merit badge is a detriment to the merit badge program. There is considerably more important stock specific information available through a multitude of outlets they should be able to discuss.

  7. While I can surely understand the Scouts’ making fun, the reality is that safety, in any badge with possibly dangerous tools or materials need to put that in the forefront. On the other hand, it might be possible to make concerns that are mostly awareness issues less of a focus, while still spotlighting those that are absolutely necessary for safety of everyone concerned. How that is done is the challenge. A simple comment such as “safety is important and should be reviewed” might suffice in many cases. But, some things just should be said, even if redundant to a few. “Do Not Point a Weapon at anyone”, “Do not use a welding torch without goggles and protective gloves”. Obvious to most, but still absolutely needed, especially with younger scouts.

    It is sad that “common sense” is not common too often today, so these redundancies result to CYA.

    I would review the safety issues in some manner, though it might be more of a discussion between scouts in a group in many cases, with the instructor just making sure they know those that are absolute, and where to find the info should they need it.

    • Yesterday's Scout // January 25, 2016 at 12:19 pm // Reply

      All the repetitive safety requirements very likely are there to head off lawsuits. As wesfish pointed out, common sense (along with common knowledge and common courtesy) is not all that common.

    • Absolutely, Wes. Safety Warnings/Guidelines/Rules are there for three reasons: 1) To make everyone aware of dangers and possible problems (so we can ALL operate form the same base of knowledge), even seasoned skilled, experienced folks can often use a refresher. 2) “To protect the innocent” , as they used to say on Dragnet. As I remind nascent Scoutmasters in IOLS, the three words no SM wants to hear are “Hey, watch this”. 3) CYA. If the instructions to my new chainsaw mention that “lack of attention to these guidelines may lead to injury or death”, then, even tho I have been using chainsaws for forty some years without incident, doesn’t mean some yoyo might sue the company for “not warning me I might kill myself”.

      I have no problem reading warnings and reminders. When I am the RSO for archery, I remind the Cubs that the rules are there because we love them and want them to go home without an arrow in their foot. I ask them, “do I sound serious?” and they say yes, I only have to have one Cub sit down for not remembering to not run on the range for every other Cub to walk, carefully, the rest of the time.

      That said, I do smile when I read the instructions on my wife’s new electric hair drier that reminds her “Do not use while bathing or showering”.

    • The safety requirements sometimes go far overboard. In the Pioneering merit badge pamphlet, I found a statement that Scouts were not allowed to use a coping saw without adult supervision. This seems excessive, given that (a) we teach CUB SCOUTS how to safely use them, and (b) we don’t seem to have any problem with properly trained scouts using knives, hatchets and bow saws.

  8. H. David Pendleton // January 25, 2016 at 12:00 pm // Reply

    First I heard of changes to Photography, one of the Merit Badges I counseled. I went to the website as directed in the story and saw the requirements there. Same as before. Evidently the changes haven’t gotten posted yet or will take effect in the future as that is the official BSA website. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. I am currently the Personal Fitness merit badge counselor for my troop. By profession, I’m a wellness and nutrition coach. I see SO MUCH need for updates and enhancement for the course. I have designed enrichment materials for the program as part of my woodbadge ticket. I would LOVE the opportunity to help the BSA bring this merit badge up to date! Is that a possibility?

    • For any advancement change, the request should be sent to the Advancement Team, at the BSA’s National Office. The address is:

      Boy Scouts of America
      1325 West Walnut Hill Lane
      P.O. Box 152079
      Irving, TX 75015-2079

      or

      For Merit Badge proposals, you can also send a note to merit.badge@scouting.org

  10. I know this will never happen, but I would like to see fewer requirements for a given badge, and not more. I think cooking MB is a prime example. Do we really need to have 8 requirements, each with multiple parts, and some of those subparts even having their own subparts? Why can’t it just be 1. cook 3 meals at home, 2. cook 3 meals at camp, 3 cook 3 meals on a hike or canoe trip, and call it a day? The fewer requirements there are, the less likely the need would probably be for updates.

  11. Is there a revised poster of all the existing merit badges?

    • Yes, I believe a new one was recently posted on scoutstuff.org.

    • There is, but the Cooking merit badge still has a green rim and Cinematography hasn’t been updated to “Moviemaking.”

    • Carol Hynes Assmann // January 27, 2016 at 9:08 pm // Reply

      Having taught the revised cooking MB last spring, I found it insanely tedious. Even entering the completed tasks on the Blue Card was onerous — there are not enough spaces for all the tasks, sub tasks and sub,sub tasks.
      And at no point do we teach the basics of cooking. What’s the difference between a simmer and a boil? Knife skills. Why do you use certain tools for certain tasks. How to cook economically (ie, one chicken can result in several meals). Every boy taking this merit badge should come away with even 10 basic recipes they can confidently make on their own.
      Perhaps some celebrity chef would like to take on revision of this badge to make it practical and applicable to real life. As it is, it’s just torturous to get through.

  12. George Price, Scoutmaster // January 26, 2016 at 7:49 am // Reply

    I am supposed to maintain the Council’s Merit badges counselor list. First thing is to Identify the available badges, not just a name, but in which format the current books are available (and their SKU numbers), when the requirements were last revised and the SKU for the badge, I would also like to know when the badge was first introduced.

    All this information is available, but for six months I been unsuccessful in finding all the pieces in one place, i.e. a simple spreadsheet and being comfortable it is accurate

    Any Ideas?

    • Scoutersully // January 27, 2016 at 3:05 am // Reply

      I’m just curious. Why do you need all that information just to maintain a list of current counselors? Am I missing something?

      • George Price, Scoutmaster // January 27, 2016 at 5:21 am // Reply

        I don’t “Need” all that, but 1st I am an old Business Programmer and strive to maintain complete sets of data, more than once, I have used the extra data to support a position, or verify some piece of history.

        I am aware, and have used, the usscouts.org site, but I don’t know their mission or timeliness of their updates. without casting any aspersions, they are not part of the BSA to the best of my knowledge

        Thanks for the interest and the suggestion

        • This will provide info on the Scouters who run the website. http://www.usscouts.org/USSSPteam.asp

    • Scoutersully // January 27, 2016 at 3:11 am // Reply

      By the way, it is available at http://usscouts.org/mb/mbbooks.asp

  13. My biggest beef is that the MB task force seems to be bent on adding requirements without ever removing any. The ‘newly revised’ cooking merit badge is a great example. Yes, everything in there now is good and valuable in some way. BUT, it takes FOREVER to get this one done. At some point, there needs to be a balance between importance and the amount of time taken to complete a badge. It gets discouraging it if takes too long. The new rank requirements are basically the same way — lots of additions without many deletions. It should be about improving — not just lengthening.

  14. The BSA needs to improve its delivery time on publications. Our council never gets the new year’s requirements book until mid- to late February. Why call it the 2017 Boy Scout Requirements book if it doesn’t come out when 2017 arrives?

  15. I agree with earlier posters. How do I get the new requirements? The Requirements 2016 book is not out, and no word on when it will be available. The web site listed still has the old requirements. So for the Chemistry MB, for example, I know there are changes, but have no idea what they are, and no way to find out. Any suggestions?

  16. Our scouts are excited about the snowshoe option for Snow Sports MB. Winter is nearly half over, please post the snowshoe option requirements now.

  17. Ok well I guess I am embarrassed to admit that while I thought I had the most updated merit badge book for Lifesaving I guess I don’t. And while I am usually the one who finds the changes and brings them to my fellow Scouters I missed this.
    What ultimately is the best practice for keeping up with the changes?

    And while we are at it, could Swimming Merit Badge have been made any easier?

  18. John Hodnefield - Troop 418, Cedar MN // February 1, 2016 at 11:33 am // Reply

    I am a rabid fan of woodwork and finishing (aka ‘painting’) merit badges. I do have some questions and maybe some updates on the tools allowed for activities (Guide to Safe Scouting). Who do I connect with questions/suggestions?

    Thanks

  19. Gerald Raymond Clark // February 1, 2016 at 6:34 pm // Reply

    Would like to help you with the task force on merit badges Am a Eagle Scout with over 30 years in Scouting if I can help you in any way. You can Email me at

    • There is (was?) contact info on scouting.org at for this. However, I find that the best place to start is with your scout executive for your council. He/she often knows who to contact for specific task forces, and might even know details like what badges they might be taking a closer look at in the near future. More importantly, he/she can put you in touch with your council advancement committee.

      Unfortunately, BSA does not seem to have a good way to “crowd source” program development. (This blog being a notable exception.) So, “wearing out the gumshoes” remains the most reliable and rewarding way for volunteers to find a place to help youth in way that maximizes their talent.

  20. Ok so on my way home tonight I stopped and got another merit badge pamphlet. What made me do this is the picture of the merit badge book on the BSA website. it is different than the one in the stores. But the one in the stores is the same as the one I already have. I can’t find the new requirements anywhere but on the website. And if it weren’t for this blog and a yahoo group that I belong to I would not have known about the changes. Is that anyway to keep us informed?
    When did the newest changes to Lifesaving happen? Are they over a year old? Am I so far behind?

    Is finding out by accident really the way to go?

    • Indeed the publication dates dates would be really handy. Fortunately, there are volunteers at who hear your pain: http://usscouts.org/mb/mbbooks.asp.

      Truth is, the “old school” way is boys getting pamphlets that have been checked for currency by the troop librarian. Many of us want to keep that process in the boys’ hands.

      Hopefully, BSA can do better with that over time. It’s just a big ship that turns SLOWLY!

  21. How do we suggest a new merit badge? After four years of being the chair of our troop’s annual pancake supper, I would love to see a “hospitality” badge – for service in food/restaurant, retail, hotels, golf courses, etc. How many of our scouts will have their first job in a service-related field? My degree is in Hospitality Management (minor in Business) and I feel it is very critical. The only m.b. requirement the boys satisfy with this event is Salemanship 5a. – selling tickets to the event. Surely acting as restaurant servers and learning how to serve guests is worth a lot!

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