Of all the municipal departments in your city or town, Parks and Recreation has the closest link to your community. As P&R professionals, it’s your duty to engage with your constituents; you have a valuable opportunity to help them stay healthy, get outside, and improve their quality of life. In return, you hope for them to engage with your programs and services, leading to more participation, revenue and exposure.
To serve your community as best you can and increase overall resident satisfaction, you need to look for mutually beneficial (but easy to implement) engagement tactics. FYI: by engagement, we mean a set of interactions between two separate parties that are looking for measurable improvement or certain desired outcomes. Keep reading to discover our top strategies for boosting community engagement this year!
(Psst: once you’ve read this article, don’t forget to download the full Community Engagement Guide for alllll the tips. There are some good ones in there, trust us!)
First thing’s first: a look back at 2022 👀
Before we talk about the strategies you need to implement this year, it’s important to think about how things went in 2022 and what your department did well, along with areas for improvement.
🤔 Start by asking some simple questions to yourself and your team:
- Were we active on social media and did we keep our website up to date? How many new followers did we gain?
- Did we gather feedback from residents in any way (ie. Forms, surveys, focus groups)? If so, were we satisfied with the amount of feedback we received?
- Did we partner with any other organizations in our community? If so, what was the feedback from residents?
- How was the turnout for our events? How did we invite people to these events?
- Did we implement or leverage any new tools or technologies? If so, how was the adoption process?
We know some of these questions are quite open-ended, but the idea is to spark conversations about your community engagement in 2022 so that you can start thinking about which areas you want to put your energy into for 2023. Maybe you want to set up a feedback program, open an account on a new social media platform, or launch an event in partnership with another local organization.
It can be overwhelming to think about all the possibilities, but we’re here to break down exactly what you need to do to set your agency up for success! Let’s get to the strategies:
1) Provide opportunities to listen and gather feedback from your community
The main thing to remember when trying to boost engagement is that each interaction should be valuable to both you and your community. One of the ways you can do this is by providing them with opportunities to give feedback!
The views of residents are an underrated way to help shape your policies and initiatives. Plus, it’s a surefire way to ensure that all members of your community are represented and heard. Why not welcome those opinions proactively to guide decision-making?
Amilia Client Insight
Lindenhurst Park District does this regularly through surveys and local forums. The team leverages online tools such as SurveyMonkey to understand what the community values. To connect with those who aren’t tech savvy, they also set up town meetings and invite community members to voice their opinions and concerns in person. Doing so helps shape their 5-year strategic planning initiatives as well as engages the community.
May we suggest...✨ a focus group ✨
The surest way to engage a community successfully is to ask them first-hand how they would like to interact with your P&R agency through in-person or virtual focus groups. Although this may need a small budget and some planning, returns on the investment of conducting direct market research pay off consistently. Be sure to have a defined purpose for your focus group, and once you know your purpose, don’t hesitate to create a list of questions that suit your specific expectations.
A few advantages of conducting a focus group include:
- Receive feedback about a topic first-hand
- Have the legroom to dive deeper into certain aspects of discussion & seek clarification on the spot if needed
- Uncover issues that your team may not have originally considered to be important
- Gain valuable data-driven insights in a relatively short span of time
- Ensure that all members of a community are represented
Questions that you should ask your Parks & Rec focus group include but are not limited to:
- How important are the services offered by your local P&R agency to you and your family?
- Do you know all the services and facilities that your P&R agency offers?
- Where do you spend your free time? (i.e., Online, reading magazines, on social media, networking?)
- How do you prefer to be notified about news, upcoming events, and other announcements?
- What does your local P&R agency do well and what could it improve in terms of engaging the community?
2) Meet members of your community where they are with relevant information
Your focus group results will help you identify which are the most preferred means of communication for the various segments of your community. You can then leverage this information to reach them where they are and give everyone an equal opportunity to participate in your programs and services. Whether it’s a single mom who works full time or a group of POC teens, everyone deserves to enjoy what your agency has to offer.
📱 Social media is a key component of Parks & Recreation engagement
If you’re not on social media, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to promote services, programs, facilities, and more. This doesn’t need to be complicated! Here are some ideas for how your agency can make the most of a simple social media presence:
- Make announcements or communicate logistical changes such as sporting event cancelations due to heavy rainfall
- Promote an event by giving away tickets on Instagram to those who use a certain hashtag
- Create a Facebook group for the parents whose children are enrolled in a specific program or camp
- Connect with community partners like libraries and schools
- Invite people to an event on Facebook and post updates around food, entertainment and more ahead of time
At the end of the day, having a 360-degree approach to your engagement strategy is key; be comprehensive and consistent in your communication both online and offline. If you’ve conducted your focus group, you should know where your community spends their leisure time, so you can be where they are and give them the relevant information they need.
The journey doesn’t end here! When it comes to engaging your community, we’re here to make sure you’re set up to WIN in 2023 💪
We only scratched the surface with these two strategies, so don’t forget to check out the full Community Engagement Guide for the rest of our tips!