Building Successful Partnerships Between City Parks Departments and Nonprofits
by Robin Redford
Austin Parks Foundation
PARKS DEPARTMENTS SHARING INFORMATION ON
Description of significant event:
Workshop between Austin Parks Foundation (APF) and the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD), facilitated by Jeff Coates, from Indianapolis’ Parks and Recreation Department’s GAPS Office (Grants, Alliances, Partnerships and Sponsorships). The event was organized to learn from a successful parks department program manager about the advantages and strategies of partnerships between parks departments and citizens/private organizations.
Who initiated it?
PARD’s Adopt-A-Park Steering Committee (made up of 8 PARD employees, one APF representative, and the chairperson of PARD’s citizen’s advisory parks board) had been meeting for about four months to develop a program for Austin. John Giedraitis, one of the committee members who is PARD’s Urban Forester, suggested Jeff Coates visit, and he and the deputy director Kendall Moss, worked to make it happen with the support of the Steering Committee. PARD paid for the visit.
What did you expect to get out of it?
APF expected to learn about the partnership program at Indy Parks, so as to duplicate Jeff Coates’ success in Austin. APF also expected his presentation to generate an increased enthusiasm for changing the current system and creating better partnerships. Both APF and PARD expected to use lessons learned from Jeff Coates to develop a report to the Parks Board and City Council on the effectiveness of PARD partnerships and leveraging power.
Why was it special? (What challenge did it overcome; what was new about it, etc.):
This event was special because it represented a parks department reaching out to a parks department in a different state to develop a new program and improve the internal system of the Austin department. This sharing of innovative management and systems is unique and generally underutilized. Jeff Coates’ visit may open the door for PARD’s inviting others to Austin for additional sharing of ideas and lessons.
Another reason this visit was special is that Coates is not a private consultant, but a peer. This made the presentation absolutely on-target for the audience. Participants were able to ask him questions about public process and bureaucratic barriers — questions he was able to answer from the point of view of staff. This was highly effective in holding the attention of our group, and created a feeling that the workshop was relevant and worthwhile.
What lessons might people following in your footsteps duplicate? What tools might they use?
It is too soon to evaluate the effect of this event. The Steering Committee is currently attempting to incorporate Jeff Coates’ ideas into the workings of the committee, and the development of the program.