Why Parks and Recreation Engagement is in a Downward Spiral

Posted on 3/6/18 12:00 PM by Matt Fish

It’s no secret that Parks and Recreation services are a much-loved aspect of any city. However, the question must be asked: why isn't that enthusiasm translating into higher turnout rates for activities or services? Better still, why doesn't the high praise help generate increased revenue?

Discover the main factors that have influenced why Parks and Recreation is in a downward spiral of engagement:

Parks and Recreation engagement in cities

The answer to those and other related questions is that many Parks and Rec organizations are struggling to consistently engage residents of their municipality. This is true despite the fact that residents of different communities across North America continue to voice their unabashed for the facilities and services provided by their hard-working agencies.

To put this in context, an exclusive research study conducted by Nielsen on behalf of Paysafe and Amilia found that 62% of all respondents in both Canada and the United States believe green and open leisure spaces "are essential in their choice of city." Sadly, that sentiment only goes so far these days. With dwindling financial support from government bodies and the shutdown of beloved programs, activities or spaces due to a lack of funds, the Parks and Recreation industry is at a crossroads.

In order to formulate a solution, we need to get to the root of the problem. Let's dissect the most pressing issues in detail:


RELATED: 10 Ways Your Community Organization Can Increase Online Engagement


Lack of a Strong Digital Presence

In the digital age, there’s no doubt that residents prefer the ease of access to real-time information to long registration waits and poor activity organization. They want a solution that not only meets their recreation needs but also improves connectivity with all city departments, allowing them to quickly and efficiently get the information they need.

Unfortunately, the online presences of many cities are not appealing enough to entice citizens to engage with them on a regular basis. Cluttered website design, unclear language in long pieces of text, slow webpage load times and difficulty viewing the site on mobile devices are just a few of the common problems afflicting those organizations. If you’re a municipality, the importance of a website and social media platforms that thrive online is crucial to upping your engagement with residents.

Buying from their local Parks and Rec agency needs to be as simple as making a purchase on Amazon. Therefore, if citizens cannot find the information they need about activities or services after typing multiple keywords into a search engine, the experience will be exasperating for them. Check out our previous blog post about how you can make your municipal website more user-friendly for some tips on how to overcome this issue.

Lack of Communication with Citizens

Here’s an old saying you’ve heard before: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" The logic behind the phrase relates directly to the widening gap in communication that exists between Parks and Rec organizations and the residents who use their services.

Making information available online is one thing, but ensuring that important details actually reach residents and stay with them is another one entirely. Typically, little to no turnout at a class, activity or event can often be traced back to a lack of communication with the same citizens you hoped to attract. If no one knew about it ahead of time or weren’t clear on location or time details, it’s no wonder that engagement stayed low.

With the wealth of easy-to-use online communication tools that exist today, especially when it comes to social media platforms, making certain that residents are clear on event specifics don't need to be an insurmountable task. Better still, many of those digital channels are free to use, which means using them on a regular basis won’t put a dent in your city’s budget.

Speaking of which…


Lack of Budgeting and Business Understanding

With government funding and regional tax dollars put towards many services and activities offered by Parks and Recreation agencies, it’s a frustrating and off-putting scenario for residents when cities must shut down programs or activities due to financial restrictions. Parents are unhappy because their child’s swimming class is no more; seniors are complaining because one of their benefits also bit the dust. These stories are unfortunately all too familiar in the Parks and Rec space.

At times, the questions that needed to be asked within a Parks and Recreation organization were simpler than you might think. How much does it cost to run a particular activity or service? Of a municipality’s total budget, how much of the money they have to spend comes from government funding or taxes? We can even put those two together and ask: How much of a given activity or service is being subsidized by the government or tax dollars? With funding for Parks and Rec dropping precipitously in recent years, maximizing revenue is more important than ever before.


RELATED: The Biggest Budget Mistake You’re Probably Making (and How to Fix it)


This lack of acumen, particularly from a business perspective, is a problem that really starts at the educational level, where universities and other post-secondary institutes that offer Parks and Rec programs are not placing enough emphasis on the acquisition of basic business and financial knowledge. Without the proper tools to ensure that their organization runs smoothly, efficiently and, above all else, in the black, facilities and activities will continue to be opened and closed in short succession.

Watch Jamie Sabbach from 110 Percent, Inc. provide more insight on this topic below:

Unwillingness to "Rock the Boat"

Finally, we get to the aspect of this downward spiral of engagement that is arguably the most detrimental: the unwillingness to change. A problem can only be solved once the decision has been made to address it and, for Parks and Rec professionals, the bigger picture looks like this: if citizen engagement doesn’t improve over time, the problems that ail the industry will only get worse.

Essentially, change is being seen as a costly, challenging and ultimately insurmountable notion by many who work in the space. Transforming the way things are done, potentially from the ground up, isn't seen as a worthy investment of time and energy when it would be easier to just let everything be. However, progress is the sort of change that helps you build a stronger foundation for the future, one that can lead to even more growth and improvement over time. As life/business strategist Tony Robbins once put it: “For changes to be of any true value, they’ve got to be lasting and consistent.”


Yes, Parks and Recreation is currently mired in a downward spiral of engagement. Is it something that industry thought leaders and proactive employees can help turn around? The answer to this question is, thankfully, also yes. With more attention to detail paid to a city's online presence, improvements to communication and business tactics that are used every day and, above all else, a willingness to embrace change, many Parks and Rec agencies will be increasing citizen engagement in no time.

Want even more insight into the current state of Parks and Recreation? Download our report now!

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