The future of the park and recreation field can thrive successfully if an innovative and energetic mindset is taken. A few years ago, Paul Gilbert, Michael McCarty, Tom Lovell and Randy Ferris all wrote articles for this magazine that used the Viking vs. Farmers analogy to address the issues of leadership vs. management in the field of parks and recreation. Farmers focus on their current resources, or crops, doing the same thing year in and year out. Vikings, on the other hand, look to the horizon for new opportunities, build strong teams and are willing to do new things. This model allows for more flexibility in times of change.
To add to the concepts that these four articles have presented, I think it’s important to realize that change can only come from within, beginning the process of external success. Like the Vikings of old times, park and recreation departments should build one another up through department support and truly evaluating the mission of their facility. When agencies re-evaluate their mission statement, it should be clear not only to them, but also to the community they serve. Once the mission supports the purpose of the department, it should illuminate goals that will help department employees reach their aims. If one can’t see the potential within themselves, how will anyone else see or understand? The community and government should understand why parks and recreation should continue to be funded. Running an agency in the same old way would only create the same kind of results, and running an agency off of completely new values could take the department away from its original mission or turn it into “shelf-ware,” something that looks and sounds good but goes unimplemented. Instead, members should agree on what core values make the department run and represent both themselves and the community.
However, it may not be the mission or goals that need to be re-established or revamped. It may be the board members and those in the department who need to take on the Viking approach. As for those who have been a part of the same system for a long time, such as a farmer tending the same crops each year, it can be hard to reach outside the box for change. These individuals need to let go of the little stuff and assert themselves as part of the solution. Ironically, with too much time inside of the agency, leaders can become less aware of what’s really going on and not fully connected to the customer. “Going Viking” is not a matter of individualism, but a process of adopting an organizational culture of growth and exploration. All leaders should lead their teams by being assertive, taking the role of a Viking, and fighting for what they believe or support. Once leaders can take pride in what their team is working on and doing, they can better advocate for their department when they are facing challenges. The stronger your team of Vikings, the more successful you will be at thriving in an era of change.
It is also important for park and recreation departments to reach their priority audience: the community. Parks and recreation has held the same position in many communities, providing basic recreational programs, park facilities and natural green spaces, but many members of the community don’t appreciate these resources. Park and recreation departments should advocate their resources the same way they advocate their mission to local government officials. Give communities a way of seeing what your department has to offer, such as by revamping the website and engaging in social media to get the word out about programs. There are many things that departments can do to increase their reach. Not only is advocating and marketing important, it’s also critical to reach out and survey what the community wants and expects from their park and recreation department. Understanding what could be improved or adjusted allows departments the opportunity to show great improvement throughout the community, making them tried-and-true Vikings.
All four articles really expressed what it would take for the park and recreation industry to grow and redevelop beyond their old ways and break into the Viking mentality. Thinking past your field and innovating new reasons for tourists to come and spend money could be the turning point for agencies that are currently challenged.
Ariel White is a junior studying Tourism and Events Management at George Mason University.