Perhaps ıt’s faır to say there was once a mısconception within the leadership of parks and recreation: that statistics were not always relevant and were even somewhat unnecessary.
While the issue is subject to debate, some directors have found inspiration behind the numbers and used them to create revolutionary ideas of both practicality and purpose. Those visions have resonated throughout communities situated from rural to metropolitan America.
Shannon Keleher, who serves as recreation manager for the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs in Gainesville, Fla., knows a little something about creating tangible, positive results. She spoke to the topic of statistical incorporation during a presentation at the National Recreation and Parks Association conference this past fall.
“Being able to speak the language of statistics is critical to success these days. Many municipalities are striving to ensure they are operating in a transparent fashion and are doing so by providing statistics to their residents,” said Keleher. “I think it’s important to remember that numbers are important, but framing them in such a way that is useful to our citizens is even more important.”
To further illustrate the necessity of statistics in daily operations and execution, Keleher offers examples.
“I feel statistical usage can benefit us in that it can help us evaluate the services we are providing, as well as help the public see how we are doing,” she noted. “As professionals who are often facing limited budgets and always needing more funding, we can use our story plus statistics to tell our ‘whole’ story.”
It’s an endeavor that Keleher willingly entrusts to her staff .
“All employees should feel empowered enough to collect statistics that have been determined to be needed. Th e numbers that are collected can help when applying for funding such as grants, can help people make decisions to donate and provide ‘real’ data to assist during times of budget cuts. It is important the public, the staff , the city commission, etc., know what is being collected, why it is being collected and what you hope to gain from it.”
With financial constraints being noted as a primary factor, could there be other issues that hinder the use of statistics? Keleher is aware of perspectives to the argument.
“I don’t believe there is a true resistance. I believe there is more fear due to the fact that most people cringe when they hear the word ‘statistics.’ In talking with other professionals, they share that they would like to be able to use statistics more effectively, or even at all, but many do not know where to begin. For many, learning statistics is like learning a foreign language. It can seem overwhelming at first, but if you start with the basics, you can build from there.”
She added there can be accomplishments reaped from the formation of specific committees geared to that specific task of assessing the relatability of numbers. This makes the mission seem less daunting.
“As part of an innovation team that I served on here in Gainesville, we made sets of data available to the public and hosted the first city of Gainesville hackathon. This is an example of a creative use of data that can help solve issues in the community by allowing the public access to it and asking them to analyze it and make recommendations.”
The desire to unify and assist other park systems does seem to be tracking along an upward momentum, Keleher said optimistically.
“We should all be guided by our master plan, which tells us what our community is looking for and the accreditation standards set by the National Parks and Recreation Association, if we are accredited. NRPA has an amazing research component called proragis. They are encouraging communities to enter data that can then be used to help communities benchmark against each other. I see that more and more agencies are starting to realize the importance of the system, so I hope to see the amount of data continue to grow.”