Illinois Parks & Recreation
May/June 1995 • Volume 26, Number 3
Create, Develop, Nurture, and Release
A Programming Model
by Kevin Swan and Ray Peterson
The dilemma of finite resources versus infinite request is the parks and recreation version of the immovable object and the irresistible force. Administrators, elected officials, and front line staff in the leisure service field are constantly challenged by the struggle to provide needed programs and services while maintaining reasonable tax levies. There certainly is not a universal solution to this situation. Thus, most providers have been forced to walk the tightrope between self-generated revenue and provision of expensive yet essential services that pose another drain on struggling finances.
One common solution is the "cash cow" that provides the profits to support services. However, even the best of "cows" have their limits. Another common solution is making those painful cuts. Criteria for cuts are usually subjective, factoring in the number of participants, costs, age of program, political implications, duplication of service, quality, and perceived need. After weighing these data, the issue is usually reduced to a decision of affordability —cuts take place to make room for new programs, or the new programs do not develop beyond proposal.
Typically, a systematic approach is taken which identifies expendable programs. However, with a little modification, this method will do more than trim dead weight. Rather, the Create, Develop, Nurture, and Release Model designs programs to be cut. The theory behind this approach is to Develop programs that empower participants with the ability to become independent of the agency. Once a program can stand on its own, its fiscal support can then be channeled to a new program.
The logic is simple, but there are pitfalls. Do not wait to consider release. From program inception, the staff must understand that the measure of maximum success is to develop programs able to run on their own. Do not exercise selective application. All new programs and old standbys at some point should strive for this same goal. Do not apply a universal time line. Each program is unique in its ability to achieve this end. Create, the first of the four stages of the Create, Develop, Nurture, and Release Model, begins the process. This step weighs the elements of the program and its relationship to the community needs, appropriate goals, and the provision of quality leisure service. Knowledge of the community needs simplifies this process. Quality criteria should be established to maximize the participants' experience. These criteria require careful thought for their role later in the model.
Quality extends beyond site, time, and instructor. Attention to detail, albeit time-consuming, has great impact on participants. A quality experience is a lasting experience. Finally, creation of the program includes a progression towards independence during its sojourn with the agency. Realization that a program may fall on the wayside on the journey toward independence is part of the game. Changing community needs or an incomplete Create stage may result in a failure to achieve independence.
Evaluation of the quality criteria constitutes the Develop stage. Supervision of the service delivery at all stages of a program assesses the functioning of the elements of quality. Realization of the desired leisure experience is the primary goal. This model is not intended to be used statically; rather, the model demands an abstract, dynamic approach to program independence.
Program support is examined during the Nurture stage. The agency determines the amount of time and the financial support that can be expended in order to allow the program to mature to independence. This procedure involves subtle steering of the participants to the goal of independence. If the experience of participants reflects the goals developed in a properly researched and constructed program, you have value develop. This is the first step towards independence. This sense of value encourages your participants to build on previous accomplishments and work toward new goals. This is the making of independence.
Release can be the most difficult step for the professional. In most cases, a great deal of time and energy have been invested in the Nurture of the
Illinois Parks & Recreation* May/June 1995
program. This can translate into a strong sense of ownership for the program. The professional must remember that having completed all steps correctly. Release is an inevitable fact of life.
The Create, Develop, Nurture, and Release Model is not just another text book model that sounds good on paper. An examination of several "real life" applications will satisfy the reader as to its practicality. Let's begin with a large community special event that draws a significant proportion of the community population. Initially, the agency was approached by an individual in the community with the idea for the event. Keen timing and good management allowed this program to meet a valid community need. The agency then set in motion the Create, Develop, Nurture, and Release Model. After two years, the community involvement in the planning process has doubled. After three years of Nurture, the agency assembled a core of community members to act as a steering committee to run the event. After four years, the steering committee has assumed most of the duties of running this special event. The agency has budgeted a total six-year nurture time before the event will be able to run on its own with minimal agency support. Indications are good for release within the next two years.
Will it work with a large adult sports program that has a long history of agency support? Why not! Let us take softball, an evaluation of its goals for existence revealed that the program had grown beyond the original design. It was clearly a program marked for Release, yet it had no supporting structure. Reorganization of the program was completed off-season that included a reassessment of its goals. This occurred with little notice to most participants. In essence, the program was recreated. The development process began again. After two years of nurture, the program has successfully released to the point of paying for agency support.
Sometimes Release can occur sooner than anticipated. The agency created an art program that had strong community interest. The agency offered one session of the program. From this one session, a club formed. The program is now completely independent of the agency. Classes are still offered, however, with the agency providing only advertising and registration support to the club.
Some programs can never achieve total independence, nor perhaps should they. Take for example a swim lesson program. Is the agency providing a valuable service to the community by offering instruction to non- swimmers? Is it a goal of the agency to provide this type of program permanently? These are issues that need to be examined when an idea finds its way to your door. Is this program a candidate for the Create, Develop, Nurture, and Release Model?
The analogy between this model and the human maturation process is clear to see. Before our birth, often times even before our conception, our parents visualized not just a baby, but also school days, first dates, graduations, and adult successes. The unfolding events may have strayed off course, but the objective never changed. The goal remains to achieve adulthood and independence. Each family has unique criteria and methods that apply to child rearing. In the same fashion, each leisure service provider "raises" programs in their own specific manner. Proper execution in the Create and Develop stages coupled with close monitoring of the Nurture stage often will make Release inevitable, again not unlike the mature child leaving home.
Failures and successes will modify the course of programs as in life. In its support capacity, the leisure service field has the ability to continue to Create and affect people without draining public sector resources beyond reasonable limits. For several years, the Macomb Park District has done just that. The board of park commissioners has recently identified increased programs and reduced reliance upon tax subsidization as goals for the near future. Furthermore, the commissioners have directed that the Create, Develop, Nurture, and Release Plan be officially implemented to accomplish this goal.
There is no single solution to resolving the challenges confronting leisure service agencies. This model provides a means toward realization of this goal. In addition to the financial savings, collateral benefits exist. The citizenry is educated by their ownership and involvement in their personal activities. The staff spends less time in the "maintenance mode" and has time to be creative and dream. Community perceptions can be developed to reflect a progressive, growing agency with a better understanding of need, quality, and standards. In this day and age of mounting pressure on taxing bodies, an involved citizenry, positive public perception, and motivated, visionary staff can only help leisure providers in their goal to improve the lives of its citizens.
Kevin Swan is the Superintendent of Recreation & Finance for the Macomb Park District. Ray Peterson is the Executive Director for the Macomb Park District.
Illinois Parks & Recreation ¦ May/June 1995 ¦ 23
Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator