A Primer: Benefits-Based Management of Recreation Services

Article excerpt

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in recreation as a vehicle for the amelioration of social ills. Many have coined this effort as a "return to our roots" or a re-establishment of our service mission as a profession. In his repositioning overview, Dr. John Crompton stated that we, as a profession, must reposition our services "so they contribute to alleviating problems that constitute the prevailing political concerns of those policy makers who are responsible for allocating tax funds." Clearly, the message is, to survive and flourish as a profession, we must provide purposeful recreation services that directly address social problems. These services must be offered in a manner where their impact is clearly documented and they are perceived by policy makers as significant to the welfare of the public. In other words, we must prove our worth to the community.

Unfortunately, the public's opinion of parks and recreation services has been made clear in the past two decades. With some exceptions, parks and recreation budgets continue to be among the first cut because the services are not perceived essential--contributing to the public good in a time when so many problems exist for which "other" services are needed. Unfortunately, recreation services are not considered part of the public service mix that contributes to the resolution of social problems. We must reposition ourselves if we are to be considered a part of the prescription for addressing social issues in our communities.

Contrary to this belief, there are many examples of recreation services contributing directly to the alleviation of social problems. NRPA's publication Beyond Fun and Games presents many outstanding examples. One reason that recreation is not widely used as a purposeful intervention, is a lack of information regarding how we deliver these services. The program planning process used in establishing these services has not been sufficiently documented.

Recently, however, efforts have been underway, in both the United States and Canada, to articulate a benefits-based model for delivering leisure services. This model suggests a focus on the outcomes benefits) of the services--what beneficial consequences, that directly address social problems, result from participation in recreation services? The emphasis is on the structure and content of the services; in other words, the quality of the opportunities themselves. Management efficiency and effectiveness is not the primary goal; it is viewed as a tool for providing effective services. Further, revenue generation is not a criterion for program offerings. Although, the long-term impact of these programs will involve cost savings to the individual, government and/or society. By focusing on direct outcomes, the profession begins to reposition itself as a service that is deemed significant and critical to societal well being.

Defining Explicit Benefits

This benefits-based model has been given several labels over the past few years. One that is commonly used is Benefits-based Management (BBM) of leisure services. BBM involves defining explicit target benefits (outcomes) which may lead to beneficial consequences for either the participants and/or society. Benefits are defined along two dimensions. The first relates to an "improved condition" resulting from the recreation experience. The second dimension relates to the "sustainability of a desired state or condition." For example, a person who consistently engages in moderate physical exercise may not realize an improved condition as a result of continued exercising, but may experience decreased health status if she discontinued exercising.

The programming philosophy of BBM requires identifying desired target benefits and then creating recreation opportunities that directly address those benefits. For example, an agency may choose to direct a portion of its program effort at self-esteem development or family cohesiveness. …