Inclusion as an Opportunity

October 31, 2019, Department, by Kristine Stratton

Kristine Stratton 410

As I write this, I am still feeling the energy and excitement of the NRPA Baltimore conference. To be among more than 8,000 park and recreation professionals, practitioners and advocates was incredibly inspiring and extremely encouraging. I had the pleasure of talking with scores of attendees, and the thing that encouraged me most was how many of them said, “I love NRPA, how can I help?” I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, this profession — this mission — is all about helping. We help build strong communities, increase positive health outcomes, fight chronic illness, create a sense of belonging, and on and on. So, in response to, “How can I help?” I invite you to help build a truly inclusive parks movement.

During the conference, as in my Perspectives column in the September issue of Parks & Recreation, I talked about building a parks movement — one that recognizes and advocates for quality park and recreation programs for everyone. And, “everyone” really is the keyword here — because everyone deserves the remarkable benefits that quality parks and recreation offer. Two years ago, NRPA launched its Parks for Inclusion initiative, which provides resources and support across our membership in service of that belief that everyone deserves a great park. As we reflect on the successes of our first two years, we take pride in having launched our Parks for Inclusion Policy Guide and a database of resources, which have helped to move the needle by increasing the number of agencies that now have formal inclusion policies. We also take pride in the progress we have made overall to increase access to quality parks and green spaces through our Meet Me at the Park project (75 projects in 39 states), our Great Urban Parks Campaign (14 projects in 14 states), our Parks Build Community projects (nine projects in nine states), and the 10 Minute Walk initiative we embarked on with The Trust for Public Land and the Urban Land Institute. Despite this great progress, there is so much more we can do — especially if we shift our thinking about how we define inclusion.

People say that inclusion is a choice. They also say it is a practice. Both of these statements are indeed true. Yet, I appreciate that Haben Girma, the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference closing keynote speaker, builds on these ideas to further recognize that inclusion is an opportunity for innovation. An internationally recognized advocate for equal opportunities for people with disabilities, Ms. Girma, who is Deafblind, shared some critical words of wisdom with our conference attendees. She said that “disability never holds anyone back...the barriers that exist are created by society, and it’s up to every single one of us to work to remove those barriers.” She also shared several examples of how her disability sparked innovative solutions that removed barriers to participation — from graduating from Harvard Law to learning how to surf. And, she was quick to note that people created those innovative solutions — people like you and me. It’s up to us to resist the urge to let labels define what we and others can and cannot do. Instead, let’s be open to creating innovative solutions that invite everyone in.

From a practical standpoint, tackling an innovation challenge can feel quite daunting. The good news is that there are seven critical questions anyone can ask to generate ideas and creative thinking when faced with an innovation challenge. These questions came from the Innovation Genome Project, which was an extensive look at innovations throughout human history and how they reflected strategic rethinks. The team working on this distilled that information into seven questions, and the project founder and strategist at Autodesk, Bill O’Connor, walks through the thinking behind the project and a prioritization tool in this video that can help. The seven questions include things like what can we move, changing its position in time or space; what can we interconnect in a different way or for the first time; and what can we alter or change? When applied in an inclusion context, the seven questions are wonderful prompts to help us shift and expand our thinking. I am excited to innovate with you to create a truly inclusive park and recreation movement.

Kristine Stratton is NRPA's President and CEO.