The Austin Chronicle

Parks and Rec Plus Eight

By Katherine Gregor, June 26, 2009, News

"This gets us back in the game!"

That's how Sara Hensley, director of the city's Parks & Recreation Department, expressed her excitement this week about an opportunity for PARD to engage in a formal, facilitated process of "agency reinvention." At the Parks and Recreation Board meeting Tuesday night, board members heard from the executive director of GP RED ( about its groundbreaking Method of Eight Planning Cycle – which Hensley believes can help fast-track positive change firmly grounded in today's community needs. The Colorado nonprofit has invited Austin to be one of three cities to serve as a "beta site" for its research, a five-year, eight-stage contemporary approach to organizational planning.

"This will help push this department to the next level," said board Chair Linda Guerrero; the board endorsed the initiative 6-0.

While PARD has been circulating a long-range plan, initiated before Hensley's arrival, the director said that the effort "desperately" needs some shoring up. By going through this organizational planning process, she believes, PARD could make leaps ahead in two years that might otherwise take her 15 years.

She said she was particularly impressed by the Method of Eight's rigorousness in community outreach. It would document the needs of Austinites all over town – not just the usual suspects who show up at public meetings – to establish the core values for PARD's renewed vision, mission, and setting of priorities. "We have not had success in inclusively capturing what this community truly needs," she said. "Too many voices are not being heard. Right now, we have no good foundation, policies, and procedures to make sure we're doing what the public wants."

To participate in GP RED's research project, PARD will need to kick in $320,000 to cover direct costs, with $136,000 needed the first year. Hensley called that a bargain; other cities such as Dallas have spent millions on similar parks planning. A private fundraising effort to cover costs (outside the city's General Fund) is already under way; prospective donors should contact the Austin Parks Foundation.

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