Looking Toward the Future of NRPA

December 1, 2013, Department, by Robert F. Ashcraft, Ph.D.

Robert F. Ashcraft, Ph.D., NRPA’s chair of the board of directorsIn his last Perspectives column as NRPA’s board chair, Steve Thompson appropriately acknowledged customer service as a hallmark of our association’s focus on our members. I couldn’t agree more.

For our members, “Are we doing the right things by doing things right?” is a guiding question that frames the work of our staff every day. It also undergirds the governance responsibilities of your association’s board of directors.

Our work, however, is incomplete if we don’t also advance our leadership responsibilities to move our vital field forward, even for those who are not today’s NRPA members. We need to be mindful of the sage advice of management consultant Peter Drucker to “Look out the window, not in the mirror!”

So while we honor our history, we must not be constrained with tradition for tradition’s sake. Looking out the window reveals that our communities are ever-changing. The value proposition of public support for public goods is evolving, and we know that even the world of associations (how they’re led, managed, structured, etc.) must change if relevancy and sustainability are to be assured. The enormous challenges society faces means we all face choices. Despite such complexities, one choice is actually quite simple. Do we retreat or do we advance?

As a citizen volunteer and as your chair, I choose to advance. I am encouraged by the thousands of others who share that perspective and feel privileged to help lead this vital association. I believe we must seize every opportunity to assure that parks and recreation is in the forefront in defining any community’s vital signs — not for some, but for all.

The recently held Congress in Houston is a reminder of just how powerful NRPA is when seen as a whole. This is not just because of the outstanding plenary sessions, workshops, trade show and other features, but also because of the energy and spirit that filled the air throughout our time in Houston. Congress was and is a reminder that what NRPA and its members do matters!

Prior to the opening of Congress, your board huddled in a deliberative and thoughtful retreat (which will be covered in the January issue of Parks & Recreation) to assure that our commitment to “governance for results” is aligned with the reality of our field. We were informed by empirical evidence that illuminated emerging trends. As a result, we are moving forward this year on several important initiatives that are ambitious but doable while also being relevant and necessary. They include four pathways that include work on: 1) exploring/creating a ranking system that rewards agencies and/or elected officials who employ innovative park and recreation strategies that use the NRPA pillars for real community impact; 2) assisting staff with the in-process Planner/Park Professional Summit to be held in conjunction with the NRPA Legislative Forum; 3) developing a new definition for the park and recreation professional; and 4) identifying new and innovative revenue strategies for NRPA.

I look forward to working with members, staff and our board in all of these ways, now and into the future.

Robert F. Ashcraft is NRPA's Chair of the Board of Directors.