Connected through their use of PRORAGIS, a nationwide network of park and recreation planners benefit from their collective experience.

This past December, SWT Design participated in a PRORAGIS Inventory Workshop hosted by Great Rivers Greenway. In addition to an instructional webinar, the event included an opportunity for park and recreation providers to input their annual data and for consultant organizations, like ours, to become acclimated with the platform and its capabilities: comparative benchmarking, report generation, and evaluation of park impacts within communities.

Beyond the trends analysis reports and case studies that PRORAGIS empowers the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and its members to produce, the platform’s user process itself has a value within parks and recreation design and strategic planning.  Participating agencies monitor and track their performance data, and in doing so prepare their organization for the use of adaptive management, an approach which emphasizes responsive and efficient use of resources. As more agencies participate, the strength of PRORAGIS as a planning tool grows; each user can plan based not only on their own past performance but upon the collective experience of similar parks and recreation organizations— a capability that NRPA refers to as comparative benchmarking. In this way, peer to peer comparison can inform decisions to expanded functions and respond to changing demographics. The industry-specific data captured in PRORAGIS may also help agencies to defend budgeting practices and to communicate the true value of proposed parks and services.

In the age of open information, shared, consistently tracked data can be a critical component in establishing trust within and towards public agencies. We believe that the relationship-building potential of the system monitoring inherent to the use of PRORAGIS may prove equally valuable to the platform’s comparative benchmarking abilities. Even as parks and recreation budgets begin to recover from the recession, public-private partnerships are expected to participate in the management, development and renewal of our nation’s park and recreation assets. While the availability of accurate data is a first step towards the transparent communication that many partners seek, PRORAGIS may have a role to play in subsequent partnership steps as well. We imagine its evolution from a platform that informs decision making at district and industry-wide scales to a network that solidifies and enhances partnerships of all scales.

Updates to the PRORAGIS system released earlier this year include off-line worksheets intended to streamline the data collection and inventory upload process. With their ability to collect information from an agency’s administrative team throughout the year and then smartly upload and repopulate data input fields within PRORAGIS, these worksheets have set a precedent in which high level summary data is stored in the online database while working documents and calculations are maintained offline within a uniform set of tools.

Likewise, a specific set of worksheets could be created to consistently collect and manage partnership initiatives through PRORAGIS. Within this same model, operations and maintenance worksheets as well as input forms to track and guide capital replacement could be created. Information entered into these worksheets would contribute to an industry-wide evidence-base with the potential to generate even more relevant and tailored data as the information economy trends towards the development of sophisticated analysis software. In the time since NRPA launched PRORAGIS in 2010, the focus of the big data movement has shifted from “collecting” to “connecting” information. In the years to come, not only will more organizations be tracking and storing data, but they will also be doing more with it; both public and private organizations are expected to add increased utility to their data through analytics.

Thanks to data collection platforms such as PRORAGIS, the information necessary to execute analytics will be available. However, in many cases, the algorithms for calculating the data’s use and the pathways for incorporating findings into operations still need to be designed. Once established, analytic programs could anticipate staffing needs, adapt maintenance guidelines to account for specific weather events, and assess proposed park and recreation designs against long-term performance and impact. The PRORAGIS system can grow towards all of these functions and more if designers continue to challenge themselves to use the findings from the database to inform design work and incorporate the system’s process within the strategic functions of park and recreation organizations.

In other words: the groundwork is there, the platform is sturdy; we have to build the infrastructure.

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