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Paradigm Shifts in Parks and Recreation
by Henry Deihl

In the last few years, social, political, and economic upheavals on a world scale have had a direct effect on the people within our communities. The threat of Russia, which has been a threat for most of our lifetimes, is not a threat anymore. Companies that have been the solid basis of our economy are failing, moving out, and downsizing. Jobs which were once viewed as the avenue to lifetime security are being eliminated. Our standing in the world as an economic power has been damaged, and we are now a debtor nation rather than a creditor nation. Our city streets are populated with the homeless, and our communities are witnessing random violence in unrecorded proportions. These upheavals are going to require a paradigm shift within the park and recreation profession.

What is a paradigm? The word paradigm comes from the Greed word, paradeigma, which means model, pattern, or example. The concept of paradigm shift was first introduced by philosopher and science historian Thomas Kuhn in his 1970 book. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Joel Arthur Barker, in his 1992 book. Future Edge, defines a paradigm as: "...a set of rules and regulations (written or unwritten) that does two things: it establishes or defines boundaries, and it tells you how to behave inside the boundaries in order to be successful." Barker goes on to say that "a paradigm shift, then, is a change to a new game, a new set of rules."

Don Tapscott and Art Caston in their 1993 book, Paradigm Shift, refer to a paradigm shift as a "...fundamentally new way of looking at something. It is often necessitated by new developments in science, technology, art or other areas of endeavor. Such shifts are necessary because important changes in reality demand a shift in conceptualization."

For you, the park and recreation professional, rules and regulations are daily parts of life. With these instruments of control, games, activities, special events and the whole system runs smoothly. Over time you develop an understanding for rules, regulations, and boundaries. It is easy to work within them. You understand them, and your thinking becomes formatted. This method of thinking works well for us, when everything fits into our set of parameters. But these parameters could be the restraints that bind our thinking and our responsiveness to new ideas and change.

That is the situation that we find ourselves facing today. "Well," you say, "my programs are running fine. My enrollments are up and we are meeting the community needs. Why do I need to change my thinking and the way that I do things?" Even if, at this time, we have not been impacted with the changes that are happening around us, we will be. Resources are going to be limited, the demands are going to be greater, and unique programming is going to be required.

A paradigm shift took place in our profession when the botanical professionals were in control of the parks and the paradigm of the day was, "Don't walk on the grass." As the concept of recreation, games and activities gained greater support, those who did not change their paradigm, those who did not prepare for this change, and those who could not conceive that it would happen, did not survive.

When there is a paradigm shift, those who are able to make the change start at zero. Their history, experience, and past accomplishments are meaningless. Giving up one's reputation and accomplishments is difficult. If one has gained recognition for his beautiful grounds, it is hard to realize that this is no longer valued and will no longer produce recognition and reward. However, it is the only way to survive. The change will happen whether or not one is a part of it.

Some examples of changes that we will most probably be confronting are:
1) Tax revenues replaced by gaming revenues.
2) Bioengineered grasses that require less water and little to no fertilizer.
3) Microorganisms that eat our waste and produce useful by-products. (There is a company in Chandler, Arizona, working on this now.)
4) Plastic playground equipment that is stronger than steel, never rusts, never needs painting, glows in the dark, and is impregnated with different fragrances.
5) People working in your organization to pay their park and recreation taxes. (This is occurring in Littleton, Colo-

44 Illinois Parks & Recreation January/February 1995

rado. Senior citizens are performing various tasks in the schools to reduce their school taxes.)

6) Electronic technologies and fiber optics will allow the public to schedule for programs, buildings, fields, tee off times, to read the brochure, and to pay for it all electronically. (This is available now.)
7) An expanding role for park and recreation services in social and health areas that are now beyond our scope.

All of these changes are happening as we speak. There are many others that we will be addressing that we cannot presently even conceive.

How does one become a part of a paradigm change? The general consensus by the futurists is that change comes from two main sources: the fledgling in the field and the older person who enters from another field. Neither of these have been inculcated in the paradigm of the organization. Another source of paradigm change is the maverick on the fringe of the profession, the rule-breaker. Much of the innovative programming of the last five years, has come from the fringes within a profession. The way to become a part of the new order is to listen to these people. Comments, such as the following, are those of people whose paradigms are so entrenched, they cannot hear or see what does not fit their paradigm.
"You don't understand the problems."
"Until you learn the system you cannot present ideas."
"That's impossible."
"We've tried that before and it didn't work."
"When you've been around here longer you will understand."

A person's paradigm can be so ingrained that new information is distorted to fit that person's thinking. Remember your present paradigms have served you well, gained you success and recognition, and remember that you could risk it all by changing to a new paradigm. With no tried and true rules, the professional has to rely on intuitive judgment when exploring new paradigms. New paradigms are fraught with problems and there are no new rules to play the game by.

Joel Barker refers to people who listen to the new staff's different ideas and concepts, who are receptive to new ways within their organization, who watch those on the edges of the profession tinkering with the rules and regulations, and who can pick up on the paradigm shift early as the pioneers. They realize that a movement, a change, something that was impossible or unheard of, may be happening. Shifting their personnel and their organization's paradigm to be on the cutting edge of change places them in the lead of the pack. The professionals who are aware of their thinking and their self-imposed restrictions to change and who have made a successful paradigm shift are the leaders for the future.

What changes are on the horizon that will require a paradigm shift. The author cannot predict, as your community is unique unto you. You will, however, have to change your management style from reactive, or one of the problem solving, to pro-active, or one of anticipating problems, of looking ahead and acting before there is a problem. When business is requiring quality, performance and efficiency from their management and personnel while downsizing their labor force, the community will ask no less of your organization. You have taken a small step forward to change. You have finished reading this article. This message will be disturbing and foolish to some and provocative and intriguing to others. On a positive side, the opportunities abound in a paradigm shift. The future awaits you.

Henry Delhi is a mortgage banker and broker in Phoenix, Arizona. He was president of the Illinois Association of Park Districts in 1975. a former commissioner of the Salk Creek Rural Park District for 10 years, and taught park and recreation for 17 years at Triton Community College.

1. Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, 1970.

2. Barker, Joel Arthur. Future Edge: Discovering the New Paradigms of Success. William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992.

3. Tapscott, Don and Caston, Art. Paradigm Shift: The New Promise of Information Technology. McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1993.

Illinois Parks & Recreation January/February 1995 45

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