You know your community better than anyone. You know which park offers the most exceptional sunsets, what street corner to stand on for the best Memorial Day parade views, and which trails to take for the best summer afternoon hikes. You know all the reasons there are to love being active in your community, but with even more knowledge, imagine how much more you could do for your citizens. Imagine how you could maximize everything your city has to offer and provide even more access to impactful activities, events, and natural resources.

The data that could offer you better citizen engagement insights may be closer than you realize if you are already utilizing a parks and recreation management software system, content management system, or another automated data repository to manage your parks and rec programs. By analyzing your program data, you can make informed decisions when allocating budget dollars and resources to annual programs. With the proper data and analysis, your parks and recreation department can accomplish the following.

Make Better Informed Programming Decisions

Which one of your art classes is most popular? Which summer teen open swim session sees the highest number of registrants? How many teams signed up for kickball versus dodgeball over the last several years? According to NRPA’s May 2016 report, Using Data at Park and Recreation Agencies, 95 percent of parks and rec agencies are using data to support master planning. With easy access to registration data, you can make adjustments to your program offering to better align with your citizens’ interests, which will mean more registrations and higher revenue for your community.

Measure Facility Usage

You and your citizens know that your community could benefit from a second wading pool, but to write a grant funding request, you need to justify the investment cost. Your proposal will be more persuasive if you can include actual attendance figures from the past several summers, cross reference it with community demographic data, and incorporate community survey findings—but only if you have the data.

Provide a Better Understanding of Customers and Citizens

To service your citizens exceptionally, you must understand your citizens. Such understanding must include in-depth knowledge of their behaviors, demographics, preferences, and interests. Access to data that allows you to conduct client and citizen trend analyses that will help you evolve your service offerings as the needs of your community evolve. For example, a study of available data may show that an influx of young families with children moving into your city or county is creating a need for more daytime activities for pre-k youth. It may tell you that a growing number of dog owners in your community has increased the demand for a dog park, or that an increasing number of citizens are accessing your online parks and rec registration system via a mobile device, which means you need to mobile optimize your digital experience to accommodate their digital needs.

What Data is Most Valuable?

If you are not aggregating and analyzing data today, or if you are in the process of implementing parks and rec software, consider the types of data that will be most valuable to your department, such as:

  • Facility usage
  • Program performance
  • Facility resource rental trends, such as park pavilions, pool cabanas, and meeting rooms
  • Demographic patterns of program participants

Also, you will want to cross-reference your program information with local third-party data such as:

  • Demographic trends
  • Available school programming
  • Identified community service needs

For example, an analysis of your county’s census data may help you to identify underserved parts of your county that could benefit from additional after-school programs and activities. To complement your data set, citizen and program participant survey data will be essential in providing critical qualitative perspective as to what programs, resources, and services your community needs from its local government parks and recreation department.

What are Reliable Data Sources?

In addition to census data, your parks and recreation software should offer access to such data as:

  • Revenue reports
  • Facility reservations by facility and date
  • Membership reports

Also, to better understand the unique needs of your municipality and how those needs compare to regional trends, you may want to partner with neighboring cities, counties, townships, and other public entities to set up a mutually beneficial data exchange. Examples of data sets that may be valuable for regional comparison may include:

  • Program fees
  • Program usage
  • Participant demographicsSeasonal trends

Final Thoughts: Communicate Findings to Stakeholders

The most impactful findings that you glean from your data should not only be used to enhance and improve your community offering; they should be used to engage citizens better. Plan to share aggregate findings with your community. In the era of open data, citizens and local businesses will value the transparency and the evidence that your parks and recreation department is attempting to understand the community’s needs better and more appropriately align its service offerings to those needs.

About the Author Jennifer Elliott

As the product marketing manager for CivicRec®, part of the CivicPlus® integrated technology platform for local government, Jennifer’s focus is to understand local government and the park and recreation department’s needs and processes. She ensures the benefits and efficiencies of CivicRec and its implementation are communicated and being leveraged by CivicPlus clients. CivicPlus’ mission is to make government work better, and Jennifer strives to implement that ideal into useful content that can be used by parks and recreation directors and their staff.

Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communications and Journalism with a major in Public Relations from Kansas State University. She has over 18 years of experience in both the public and private sectors handling internal and external audience communications.

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