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REMEMBERING THE "WHY?"
JUNE/JULY 2000
by Tom Walker

Way to Play! . . . the benefits are endless

We all have a story - a story about the moment that gives us reason to pause and remember why * why we chose to build a career in recreation or parks - why we do what we do each and every day. For most of us, the reminders come daily as we meet and greet community members using facilities, programs or parks. We recognize that we play an important part in the fabric of many people,s lives and that we deliver an enormous benefit with each and every interaction. As an organization, the North Vancouver Recreation Commission has committed to "remembering the why" and to communicate and celebrate it in as many ways as we can in all business practices.

The first time the term "The Benefits of Parks and Recreation" was used in our department, some of us didn,t know that the words were supposed to be capitalized! The word "benefits" seemed redundant when placed next to parks and recreation. It took a while to sink in that we were not the ones who had to be convinced. The concept was not for us who work in the field, but for those who have an indirect interest in it, whether they are politicians, policy makers, taxpayers, patrons, the corporate community, or those in related fields of health, social services, education, and the environment.

It was no longer enough for us to know "why we do what we do", and to assume that "everyone" knows the difference that parks and recreation makes in our communities. A simple review of the current situation revealed a local political structure terrified of increasing taxes, the reality of government downloading, and the fact that we are consistently being required to do more with less of you-name-it. It also revealed the fact that if we, who are in the field, who for the most part are the products of parks and recreation, do not make a compelling case for parks and recreation, then there is a good likelihood that we will be subject to actual cuts in the services we provide.

We had to assure ourselves that we were not simply protecting our jobs or trying to sustain a bloated bureaucracy. Our department, and those of our neighboring municipalities, were already lean - the occasional politician who came into the Recreation Commission to "clean house" has always become an ardent supporter of our goals and directions. No, we were confident that our "product" was in much demand.

The evidence contained in The Benefits Catalogue was the cement that confirmed what we always knew. The opportunity to participate in a ten-community pilot project conducted by Ken Balmer in 1997 was therefore truly exciting. The Indicators Project brought "Benefits" theory to the local level; to first find out what our community considered most important, and then to build tools to measure our effectiveness in delivering those specific benefits.

Since then we have seen a second edition of The Benefits Catalogue, the establishment of a national Benefits Network, and most importantly, a lot of like-minded colleagues in the BCRPA with whom to share ideas and successes. Who knows, but there may be a time in the near future that this loose coalition of professionals might coalesce into an effective communication network?

As an organization, the shift to benefits and the commitment to the "why" is ongoing. We define ourselves as a "benefits-driven" organization. We are constantly monitoring our own activities, programs and services to ensure that we have a good reason for doing what we are doing. Simply put, if we are offering a service that does not deliver a benefit to the community, then that is a service we can and should drop.

"Benefits" has become an integral part of our overall goals. Several municipalities have created Benefits Committees, and North Vancouver is one of them. Ours has been around just over a year and has developed an Action Plan that can be summarized by three strategic directions, each with three goals:

1) Grounding Benefits in all aspects of Administration and Policy.
a) To communicate benefits through all levels of the organization and integrate benefits in all aspects of our business.
b) Through the business planning process, to develop a draft vision, mission and value statement that is benefits-based, and to present this draft to the community for review, input and endorsement.
c) To incorporate benefits into the marketing and communications plans of the organization.

2) Connecting with the Community
a) To involve the community in the identification of the outcomes they expect and the benefits they receive from recreational and cultural experiences.
b) To broaden community awareness and understanding of the benefits of participating in recreational opportunities and active living.
c) To seek out and collaborate with community partners and/or sponsors who deliver parallel benefit to the community or who share a collective vision for the benefit they deliver to the community.

3) Connecting with Staff, Volunteers and Policy Makers
a) To increase training of all staff on the benefits of recreation and active living and ensure that staff are aware and involved in the discovery or learning processes underway with citizens.
b) To recognize staff for the excellent work they do and the benefits they deliver to clients.
c) To increase the training and orientation of volunteers and Commissioners t the benefits of recreation and active living.

Some of these directions and goals are higher profile than others. None of them are sustainable by themselves, however. If staff and volunteers do not understand the benefits, how can they support collaboration with "outside" agencies? If our surveys do not measure what our patrons find beneficial about their programs, then how can we use the Leisure Guide as a marketing tool to publish those benefits?

Here are some practical tools and applications we have initiated (or in some cases "adopted" from our friends!) that have helped us achieve some of our goals:

  • Like many, we use our Leisure Guide to deliver benefit messages. We have brainstormed each message in the catalogue and created benefit slogans to apply in marketing pieces and attempt to use the voice of participants at every opportunity.
  • We adopted "Way to Play!" the benefits are endless" as a broad benefits platform and created a series of poster images to reflect the many ways to play with the North Vancouver Recreation Commission. "Play Your Best, Stay Your Best " for fitness, "Life be in it" for family fun, "Expand Your Horizons" for outdoor fun and "The Art of Expression" for cultural activities.
  • We introduced an "Anonymous Admirer" form for staff whereby one staff could recognize and applaud another for being a positive role model for staff and community - someone who was making a notable difference through their work.
  • We applied meaningful benefit messages to business cards, e-mail, and fax cover sheets, etc., in combination with our "Way to Play!" motto.
  • We established a Benefits Committee as a permanent fixture with a mandate to maintain initiative at the grassroots of the organization. To this end, the Committee is representative of each geographic area of North Vancouver and of a cross-section of staff.
  • We designed the Health and Lifestyle Lecture Series for the mature members of the community to profile and position benefits along with current health issues relevant to the audience.
  • Program evaluation and customer-satisfaction surveys are collected by a Benefits sub-committee which then edits and drafts revisions for wide use.
  • The "Way to Play!" message is on the back of all staff uniforms, including maintenance staff as well as on our resale merchandise.
  • We initiated a benefits-based business plan which is currently underway.
  • Each elected and appointed member of the Commission and the members of its advisory committees (Sport, Arts and Outdoor Recreation), are provided copies of The Benefits Catalogue.

While this is all well and good, we are aware that some municipalities are doing even more to advance their goals in communicating the benefits of their services. In the end it does not matter how much or how little a department does to make their impact understood. Every single patron, taxpayer, sponsor, policy maker and politician who has the opportunity to reflect on the positive benefits of our field is a "win". How well this translates into workable budgets that allow these services to continue will depend directly on how important all of them think this work is.

Written by the Co-chairs of the North Vancouver Recreation Commission Benefits Committee, Tom Walker, Community Services Coordinator and Cathy Matheson, Marketing Coordinator. For more information on the NVRC,s Benefits Committee you can contact Tom at walkert@northvanrec.com or Cathy at c_matheson@telus.net.

Reprinted courtesy of Recreation and Parks BC, Spring 2000 from the BC Recreation and Parks Association.

Turf Line News June/July 2000

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