Reflections of Service

October 1, 2014, Department, by Robert Ashcraft, Ph.D.

NRPA Board of Directors Chair Robert Ashcraft reflects on his service as Detrick Stanford, CPRP, prepares to take the helm of the board.A year ago, on the occasion of NRPA’s annual board and staff planning retreat, we probed deeply into the question of how best to further our association’s noble mission, “To advance parks, recreation and environmental conservation efforts that enhance the quality of life for all people.” The retreat is always a convening that provokes thought and inspires action. We take our governance and stewardship responsibilities seriously while also having fun along the way. 

Whenever I meet with the volunteers and staff of NRPA, I am reminded of Margaret Wheatley, who, in writing about organizational development and change, said, “All change starts when people get together and talk about the things they care about. We move in the direction of the questions we ask.”

I appreciate how our association goes about the business of goal setting, action planning and advancing our field. Everything flows first from our mission and then to questions inspired by our shared commitment to NRPA’s mission. There is undeniable power when the people of NRPA (professionals, citizens, volunteers, board members, partners, vendors, beneficiaries of services, etc.) come together to thoughtfully consider what they most care about. Invariably, the conversation involves seeking answers to questions about how we best serve our members and advance the park and recreation movement. We bring to the questioning a collective desire to achieve our communities’ greatest hopes and aspirations through the genius of park and recreation people, places, activities and services available not just for some, but for all.

As my service as NRPA’s board chair comes to a close, I return to a guiding question that framed the year for me following our retreat: “Are we doing the right things by doing things right?”

Our answers to this core question have moved NRPA in positive directions that hold great promise. Our pillars of Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity answer questions about how we sharpen our narrative and expand relevant programming to advance community well-being. PRORAGIS, as our shared data platform, answers the question of how we assure that timely information is readily accessible and useful in telling our story and in building our case for support. Our leadership on policy issues such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund answers questions of how we influence and leverage policy in demonstrable ways to support our members and their agencies. These are but a few representative examples. We ask the right questions, implement the right strategies and align the right human and financial resources for impact as we navigate the challenges and opportunities of our complex society. Importantly, the underpinning of NRPA’s approach to scale and impact is the premium placed on results-oriented, evidence-based practice that is the envy of other associations.

As I pass the gavel of leadership to our new chair, Detrick Stanford, I am reminded of the many reasons why NRPA is such a unique and special movement. I have come to deeply appreciate and understand those reasons. Knowing them requires no further questions.

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