Merit badges: How they’re dreamed up and what’s coming next

scoutcast-logo1The last five years have been exciting ones for anyone into merit badges (aka every Boy Scout out there).

As I learned in the November 2014 ScoutCast, the BSA increased the total number of available merit badges to 135 from 121 over the past half-decade.

That means 14 new merit badges since 2009: Scuba Diving, Scouting Heritage, Inventing, Geocaching, Chess, Robotics, Welding, Kayaking, Search and Rescue, Game Design, Programming, Sustainability, Mining in Society, and Digital Technology.

But how are new merit badges like those dreamed up? Which merit badges are next? And what’s the future of merit badges and merit badge pamphlets?

That’s where things get really interesting. Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force member Steve Bowen reveals facts about merit badges you probably didn’t know in the November 2014 ScoutCast.

The hosts were able to extract some juicy details about merit badges from Steve.

Read on for my key takeaways:

1. 2009 represented a critical shift for merit badges

Before 2009, Bowen and the Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force were concerned with updating and modernizing existing merit badges. That task had their full focus.

After 2009, though, the task force was able to concentrate on developing new merit badges. That explains the onslaught of the past five years.

2. Merit badge ideas come from exactly where you’d hope

Sure, parents, adult Scouters, professional staff and the general public suggest merit badges. But most of the submissions come directly from the boys. As one would hope.

3. New merit badges are due out next year

Bowen reveals info about merit badges expected next year: Signs, Signals, and Codes and Animation. More details on both of these as I get them.

4. Merit badges aren’t going anywhere

Not that anyone was concerned, but it’s good to hear a Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force member reiterate the fact that merit badges are here to stay. But that doesn’t mean merit badges aren’t changing.

The task force will continue to keep the existing library up to date, including by adding digital merit badge pamphlets, Bowen says. “We’re going to try and stay in front of the curve if we can.” So far so good.

5. Newcomers Chess and Kayaking were in the top 20 percent last year

Have you seen my 2013 merit badge rankings? I ranked every merit badge in order of popularity (number earned).

But Bowen pointed out something I found interesting: Chess and Kayaking, both introduced in the past three years, were among the most-earned in 2013.

Bowen points out that Chess and Kayaking have little in common. Just like our Scouts.

“It just shows you that our Scouts have a wide range of interests and abilities, and we should never assume that a given merit badge wouldn’t excite a boy,” he says. “Unit leaders have a great opportunity here to open up all kinds of new worlds to their Scouts through the merit badge experience and program enhancement.”

Listen to the November 2014 ScoutCast

Go here to listen to this month’s ScoutCast.

Read the November 2014 ScoutCast (transcript)

Go here for this and other ScoutCast transcripts.