Data Helps Show Elected Officials Why Parks and Recreation are Essential

By Barry Weiss | Posted on May 28, 2013

Tags: Operations

Barry WBarry Weiss, retired director of Parks and Recreation for San Carlos, CA has 30 years of park and recreation management under his belt. His award-winning career has given him a wealth of knowledge and strategic insight and he now serves as Dean of the Directors School Graduate Institute. This is the first blog in a series of posts from PRORAGIS ambassadors on the importance of data and how PRORAGIS can help advance parks and recreation. In his first NRPA Now Blog, Barry discusses why data is important to officials and how park and recreation agencies can use PRORAGIS data to show elected officials how agencies can solve their problems and are an essential service.

All local park and recreation agencies seek additional support and resources from their elected officials. Meanwhile, elected officials and other decisionmakers across the country say they must first support and fund those services deemed “essential.” These decisionmakers, which include city councils, boards and Congressional representatives deal with many problems threatening their communities. As such, if your agency is not helping them solve these problems, you may not be considered essential. Thus, our challenge is not financial but political.*

Problems facing your elected officials may include everything from economic development to juvenile crime to flood control. While you may think it hard to show how you are helping solve these issues, with the documented data available in PRORAGIS, your agency can show the value you provide to your community as whole.

  • Economic Values
    • Attracting tourists
    • Attracting businesses
    • Property values as a result of proximity to parkland properties
  • Reducing Juvenile Crime
  • Ecological value
    • Air quality
    • Water quality
    • Flood control

Why is data important? Police can report the number of calls for service as well as crime rate statistics. The fire department can provide response times and the number of received medical calls. Public works can cite the total miles of roads and leaks in sewer lines. Do you have this kind of data at your fingertips? Have you ever been asked by your local decisionmakers: “How many?” or “How do we compare with other communities?” or “What’s it going to cost?”

PRORAGIS can help answer these questions. Plus, you get that information immediately because it is as close the nearest computer. The absence of this important information risks an imbalance in the information that is used by elected officials and taxpayers to make decisions. Furthermore, the more data you can provide, the more they understand the value of parks and recreation, and the more likely they are to give you additional support and resources.*

Whether your budget is in good shape or you’re facing additional cuts, PRORAGIS can help. If you are not facing reductions, this is the best time to position yourself for the future with enhanced data about solving community problems. If you are facing budget cuts, PRORAGIS can help minimize the cuts with credible data, documenting your value and the community problems you are helping to solve.

Anyone can do the task of data entry into PRORAGIS. That’s the easy part. It is important to be proactive with PRORAGIS. It is tool that can document all that is involved in your agency’s facilities and assets. Focus on the benefit to you and your agency. What problems are you helping solve and what resources does your agency need to help solve those problems? PRORAGIS provides useful GIS maps and other graphics and charts. Use the data and charts in your budget reports, community presentations, and while setting staff levels. Benchmark your data in areas you identify as important. Ask your governing body and advisory committees if they want to know how your agency compares to other agencies locally and nationally. They will, and then you can then provide the data in response to their requests and needs.

The more agencies that use PRORAGIS, the more credibility the database will be perceived to have by your decisionmakers. Using PRORAGIS to document how you are helping solve community problems could mean more support and increased resources for your agency.

* Dr. John Crompton, Distinguished Professor, Texas A & M University

How have you used data to prove the essential services of your agency to elected officials? Any success stories? Be on the lookout for future blog posts from Barry on this topic and more.