Conscious Choices

August 1, 2012, Department, by Mary F. Fortune, Chris Chamberlain, Melany Spielman, Sylvie Tjoei

Recreation increases self-esteem and can have lasting effects on positive behavior toward self, the family and the community. The role of parks and recreation providers is important and at the core is recreation programming—activities, classes, sports, and events designed to serve the needs of the community. Because customers weigh cost and travel time, the long-term benefits become a consideration when enrolling in a program. By developing social, cultural, and physical activities, customers can enjoy a greater degree of life satisfaction in their leisure time.

The evaluation process in parks and recreation programming is both formative and summative. It is about judging the value, efficiency or effectiveness of the program by recreation professionals as seen through the eyes of their customers.

In practice, successful municipal recreation agencies constantly evaluate not only customer needs and satisfaction but also current trends, cultural and age variables, and educational interests. In large municipal areas, customers have more than one city parks and recreation program to choose from. To determine what other considerations customers use to make their purchasing choices, a study was conducted.

During the summer of 2011, the Recreation Choice (RC) study was developed to measure customer preference of education and recreation programs. Rational choice theory was used to identify individual and group behaviors related to a series of choices (Hechter and Kanazawa 1997; Dunleavy 1991). The fundamental belief is that all actions taken are “rational” and that individuals will achieve their desires related to their greatest satisfaction.

The RC study was conducted in the San Ramon Parks and Community Services Department in the East Bay of California, a middle-class community of 60,000 with a year-round, full-service program. The survey included questions about leisure choices and education. Education is the development of learning as a means to reach a higher level.

More females than males responded to the survey (69 percent), and findings suggest that education gained is a contributing factor for the amount of money participants are willing to spend on a recreation program regardless of age, sex, and education level (69 percent). 

Those with higher degrees (82 percent) placed more importance on education than those with less education. Among the higher education, 37 percent with two kids under 18 favored education gained. Participants were also willing to drive farther to ensure the education needs of their children were met, which spoke to the value of education as a component of leisure. 

Most participants did not indicate the amount they were willing to spend on a class (28 percent) and summer day camp (43 percent). But if they were willing to pay for a class, the first choice is less than $50 for both men (21 percent) and women (26 percent). For camp, women’s first choice is $101-150 (13 percent) whereas for men it is a tie between less than $50 (11 percent) and $76-100 (11 percent). Those in the 35-46-age brackets were more willing to spend $75-100 (54 percent) and 65-69 (40 percent) would spend less than $50. 

The findings from the RC study show that educational gains are linked to participation in recreation programs. Because customers have choices of where to purchase recreation programs, departments could specialize and cooperate to provide a greater variety and increase their potential client base. In this time when most recreation programs need to be revenue positive or neutral, collaborating with neighboring communities could result in better programs and stronger cash flow for each department. Survey findings also provide valuable information to be used by recreation agencies when formulating their leisure programs. Ultimately, the RC study identified several choices that enhance participation in a municipal parks and recreation program.