By Andrea Watson, Director of Outdoor Programs and Properties
When the 2021 National Outdoor Conference (lovingly referred to as “NOC”) committee began meeting in January 2021, discussions focused on a traditional conference to be held at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. While there was a bit of uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic, our eager optimism led us to conclude that surely by spring we would be “done” with the pandemic and able to get back to in person events.
Fast forward a few months to Spring 2021 and it was clear that “normal” large scale meetings were still a way off and we had better start thinking about a new way to host the National Outdoor Conference. Our NOC committee quickly rallied and thought through several options, landing finally on a fully online conference. Part of these discussions centered around – can we really hold a conference about the outdoors successfully online? The irony was not lost on us.
But the NOC committee focused and determined that yes, we could and maybe it would even push us to think differently and try some new ideas. (Probably sounds familiar to about 487 Scout camps who had to reinvent themselves a great deal over the last 20 months too).
Planning began in earnest and three key subjects emerged as themes for the conference:
- Membership Growth through Our Outdoor Programs
- Property Utilization and Maintenance
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Outdoors
Session topics were selected, money was raised, exhibitors were recruited, and marketing efforts began. The NOC committee worked tirelessly to translate as much of the traditional experience online. And while we 100% missed the chance to be outside, looking back we are beyond thrilled with the success of the event.
Here are a few 2021 NOC highlights:
- Over 1,000 people attended the event. More than 3x the normal number of attendees.
- Attendees represented 213 councils of the BSA’s 252 local councils.
- Our vendors, sponsors and exhibitors collected over 2,000 leads.
- The 76 elective sessions averaged 82 attendees per session.
- There were 4,221 views of sessions during the conference and an additional 3,578 recorded video views in the last 30 days.
- Survey results show 88% of attendees ranked the conference at 4 and 5 out of 5.
Even more than those numbers, the NOC committee is even more excited about the actions NOC attendees are going to take. From the NOC 2021 survey, here are few actions attendees committed to take:
- “I am going to report back to my councils camping committee on possible improvements we can make and share the information I gathered. We are currently developing a pilot weekend camp for Scouting and Non Scouting Families and will use a lot of information gathered to develop a unique brand for that program. I will also be reaching out to my Scout Executive on how we can improve our DEI.” – Justin
- “I am going to use PeopleSoft NCAP report; more financial analysis; update our CFET report with more detail” – Richard
- “I am going to be an “Upstander”, and I am going to include more LNT games into unit meetings” – Graham
- “I will be utilizing a lot of the Outdoor Programing to offer more activities at the District level to our Units.” – Sara
- “We have experienced such a decline in membership and retention due to COVID, this information will help ‘revamp’ some areas and inspire new developments.” – Sebrena
- “I am going to focus on trail and campsite management and look into family camping initiatives” –Jim
- “Its time for us to update our conservation plan and this session helped me prepare to do just that” – Keith
The biennial National Outdoor Conference is always an important opportunity for the Scouting movement to gather and focus on how to deliver the life-changing outdoor programs of the BSA. 2021 was no exception. Thank you to all the NOC committee members, elective session presenters, campsite hosts, exhibitors and especially to all our attendees. We are already planning for a hybrid National Outdoor Conference in Fall 2023!