High-Tech Parks and Rec: Taking the Town Hall Meeting Online

A new online platform from the National Recreation and Park Association aims to keep its members in touch with the people in their communities at a time when many residents are too busy for more traditional forms of civic involvement.

In the past, when the residents of a community wanted to give input on the designs of new parks or trails, they could attend a town hall meeting or write to their local parks and recreation office. But today, most people just don’t have the time to participate like they used to.

Our job is to keep telling them that they need to be prepared, and then give them the tools to do that.

Residents still want to have their opinions heard, though, and the National Recreation and Park Association believes it has found the answer. This week, NRPA announced a partnership with technology company MindMixer that will give members access to web-based tools to communicate with the people in their communities.

NRPA members work closely with city planners to make decisions about the layout, design, and other aspects of community resources that will have lasting effects, so it’s important for them to hear the opinions of local residents to ensure they’re on the right track, said Barbara Tulipane, CAE, president and CEO of NRPA.

Online civic engagement tools provide “just one more avenue for them to use, and I think it’s going to be popular because people can respond quickly and they can respond to it at their leisure,” she said.

The partnership with MindMixer is one piece of NRPA’s larger strategy to keep pace with new technologies affecting the industry.

“All of our members are going to be facing these kinds of questions about new technologies and how they can adapt, so how do we, as their association, prepare them for those changes?” Tulipane said. “Our job is to keep telling them that they need to be prepared, and then give them the tools to do that.”

One way NRPA is doing that is by bringing new tech tools to its annual conference “so members can play around with the technology, learn from it, and get exposed to it,” she said. “But then, throughout the year, we’ll have a series of training sessions and webinars and all the standard things to help our members stay current.”

Offering access to those tools—either at a meeting or through partnerships—introduces members to new technology that they might otherwise never have been aware of, said Eric Hamp, director of member relations and professional development at NRPA.

Translating the old town hall model for an online world “is not commonplace right now in our profession, but we think it’s going to be the wave of the future, and we want our members to be aware of that,” Hamp said.

And to determine where an industry is heading takes more than a survey, Tulipane said.

“It’s more about spending some time with them and figuring out where their challenges are,” she said, “and then trying to come up with the solutions.”

"Parks and Recreation" star Nick Offerman, playing iconic character Ron Swanson. (NBCUniversal)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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