Our Collective Impact

February 1, 2014, Department, by Robert F. Ashcraft, Ph.D.

Robert F. Ashcraft, Ph.D., NRPA’s Chair of the Board of DirectorsIn my role as your national board chair, I am able to witness firsthand the benefits and impact of parks and recreation from a privileged perch. This responsibility has added immensely to my respect for all of the professionals, volunteers and champions of our field who make the world around them a better place in which to live — not for some, but for all.

Despite what we know to be true about the value of parks and recreation, I believe we need to sharpen our narrative so that those who have power and influence will invest accordingly to advance parks and recreation everywhere. In considering our narrative, I am reminded of a metaphor used by Daniel Goleman in an interview with journalist Bill Moyers. Goleman, the former science reporter for The New York Times and noteworthy book author, was discussing the relationship of products, consumption and environmental impact. Drawing from a 5th century obscure text in India, he offered the riddle of the chariot. Goleman said, “It poses the question: Where is the chariot? Is it in its wheel? In the frame? In the rods that connect it to the horse? It’s not in any one of those. It is an aggregate of parts. And the metaphor here is that any product is not a single thing. It has a backstory. It’s an aggregate. It’s an assembly. And that assembly includes the impacts along the way.”

How might the riddle be applied to the question of Where is the field of parks and recreation? I would submit our narrative is strongest as an aggregate of parts, including park and recreation agencies, professionals, citizens, vendors, policymakers, funders, state associations, educators, and all of our many other stakeholders and kindred champions. This assembly of individuals and organizations enjoys a wonderful backstory built on a storied past with parts that include impacts along the way. But unlike negative environmental impacts related to consumption of some products, our impacts are positive as we advance conservation, health and wellness, and social equity in society as NRPA’s core pillars. 

While the power is in the collective, we know that individual stories are at the heart of our narrative. Thousands of stories abound as children, youth, families and citizens of every demographic benefit daily from all that parks and recreation offers. These stories of impact are why we have our chariot in the first place.

During my term as national board chair, you will hear me reiterate my belief that our strength is in our network. It is through our collective impact when our best case for support is made. NRPA’s chariot, our story, is most powerful as an assembly of aggregated parts and as such holds promise for greatness. And as we know, great communities are great because great park and recreation opportunities are in abundance for all!

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