Using the Data to Tell Your Park and Recreation Story

May 19, 2022, Department, by Kevin Roth

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For an enhanced digital experience, read this story in the ezine.

Last month’s research column introduced the 2022 NRPA Agency Performance Review (APR), the latest edition of the annual report series that summarizes key data from NRPA Park Metrics. The column noted that the report and the benchmarking resources found within Park Metrics allow your agency to compare itself to a peer group that you define. Perhaps that peer group represents similarly sized agencies in your part of the country, or it is a group of agencies that you aspire your department to become. These comparisons are vital when making the case to a mayor, council member or funder for greater and more sustainable funding. If you have not already discovered the Park Metrics reporting tools, I encourage you to give them a try today.

Beyond benchmarking, data is a powerful storytelling tool that can shift how your community and partners view parks and recreation. We use the APR to paint a picture of the broad and deep impact our nation’s local park and recreation agencies have on their communities. This is critical. Even as NRPA surveys of the public find strong support for parks and recreation, we also see the public does not necessarily know every way your agency serves the community. This may even include some people not realizing their local park and recreation agency is responsible for their favorite place to recreate or delivers a vital community service on which they rely.

Take the example of health and wellness. Data from the APR demonstrate how park and recreation agencies are responsible for vital infrastructure and services that advance their communities’ physical and mental health.

It starts with facilities. Using APR data, NRPA points out that park and recreation agencies across the United States operate:

  • Recreation centers that include gyms and other opportunities for physical activity (64 percent of agencies)
  • Community centers that often are a hub for wellness activities (e.g., nutrition programs and education) (60 percent)
  • Buildings focused on different segments of the community: senior centers (41 percent) and teen centers (14 percent)

We also use the APR to highlight park and recreation agencies’ vast and diverse outdoor infrastructure that promotes improved health and wellness outcomes. This includes:

  • Playgrounds (95 percent)
  • Basketball courts (86 percent)
  • Tennis courts (78 percent)
  • Outdoor pools (53 percent)
  • Community gardens (51 percent)
  • Skate parks (39 percent)

Magnifying the impact of this critical infrastructure is programming that welcomes every community member as it educates, inspires and brings joy. The APR notes most local park and recreation agencies deliver to their community:

  • Health and wellness education (80 percent)
  • Programming targeting older adults (79 percent)
  • Safety training (72 percent)
  • Fitness enhancement classes (82 percent)
  • Team sports (87 percent)
  • Individual sports (76 percent)

Finally, we use the same report to tell the public that parks and recreation is a leader in youth and young adult programming, including:

  • Summer camps (83 percent)
  • After-school programs (55 percent)
  • Preschool (34 percent)
  • Specific teen programs (66 percent)

We note in the APR that no agency is typical. So, while the report’s key insights demonstrate the full power of parks and recreation across the United States, it does not tell your agency’s unique story. But you can take your agency’s data to educate and remind political leaders, key stakeholders and the public of your team’s contribution to a healthy and vital community.

For example, consider creating a health and wellness-themed infographic that notes the number of parks, playgrounds and trail miles your agency manages and speaks to the number of youth participating in out-of-school time programs and the number of healthy meals your team delivers. If your agency already is doing this, great. I encourage you to share your agency’s example of using data to tell its story on NRPA Connect to inspire others. Most importantly, use your agency’s data to highlight how parks and recreation is essential in your community.

Kevin Roth is NRPA’s Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Technology.