The Patron Engagement Survey is Coming – By Jason Shriner

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In January 2016, we launched our first patron engagement survey after I read about the same kind of survey conducted by the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA). Though we didn’t get a large pool of participants, the answers we received were interesting and informative. This year, I really want to make sure we get hundreds of participants so we get a clearer and more authentic message from our residents and patrons.

We conduct a lot of surveys here at Parks and Recreation, but that’s because feedback – from both staff and patrons – is incredibly invaluable. Surveys help us get feedback from individuals who may not feel comfortable sharing their concerns with us. They also give us measurable data points on where we are and how far we are from our goals. Surveys also tell us what we’re doing well now so we can direct resources to areas where we are struggling. Without surveys we still have many tools available to us to help us plan for the future, but surveys provide a very unique look into the minds of the participants. Most of our other tools revolve around looking for patterns in registration and participation, researching industry trends, and going with our gut feelings. Having surveys can help us reinforce what the other tools are suggesting, or the survey could highlight an inconsistency we would not have otherwise noticed.

Of all the surveys we conduct, the patron engagement survey is the most important. It gives us clear demographics on the people who are and are not using parks and recreation facilities. For example, last year we noticed millennial parents were not as engaged as generation x and baby boomers. The survey also identifies key reasons for why people visit our facilities, what they are doing during their visits, and what barriers they are experiencing to participating more often (or at all). The survey revealed that millennial parents were unaware of all the facilities and programs we offered and was their second biggest barrier behind fees. While this isn’t the only reason millennial families aren’t as engaged as other generations, it gives me, as the Marketing Manager, a very clear goal: Find ways to make program information more accessible to millennial families.

The survey works the same way for the other Divisions. It helps Recreation Specialists plan programming and generate ideas for new programs. It helps the Operations Division identify popular areas, allocate necessary resources for maintenance, and investigate improvements to make popular areas more accessible and less used areas more desirable.

Here are a few new items we’re trying to work into the 2017 patron engagement survey. Keep in mind, it’s possible not all the ideas will make it into the final survey:

  • We’re asking our employees to take the survey so you’ll see a question where City employees can identify themselves as such. Some of our most engaged patrons are employees – but we also have many employees who rarely visit the Community Center. Our coworkers are our customers too and we want to make sure they can relax and have fun with us!
  • While you never stop being a parent when your child moves out of your home, our survey is now considering parents and families those who have children 18 or under living at home. The main reason for this is to help make sure the parent vs. non-parent demographic isn’t being skewed in a misleading direction. For example, if your children are 30 years old living on their own you aren’t seeking Parks and Recreation to take care of your children – but if I only ask if you have children or not, then you’re identified as a parent. This could potentially skew the survey to suggest that parents aren’t using our facilities for childcare, which potentially means reallocating resources away from those programs. We want to make sure we’re asking the right questions to get the best answers we need so everybody is represented properly!
  • Our two largest revenue sources for Parks and Recreation are rentals and memberships. We’re looking to learn more about why you get a membership and if you didn’t have a membership in 2017, balance that against your barriers to enjoying Parks and Recreation facilities. Conversely, we want to know why you might not have chosen to rent any of our spaces in 2017. Is there anything we can do to make our rental spaces a more appealing option?
  • Last year, we saw 11.11% of the total survey participants had safety concerns visiting our Parks and Recreation facilities. The most concerned group was generation x parents with 28.57% of them expressing safety as a barrier to participating. These numbers really stood out to us, but the survey wasn’t revealing enough as to why. This year, we’re asking everybody to identify their three top safety concerns at our facilities (indoor and outdoor) – even if personal safety didn’t prevent them from visiting our facilities – so we know exactly what’s going on and come up with a plan to address it.

I hope I’ve made it abundantly clear how important it is for you to take our patron engagement survey! Even if you’ve never stepped foot in any of our facilities in 2017, I want to hear from you – in fact I especially want to hear from you. Retaining patrons and improving their experience is extremely important, but knowing why you never came to anything we’ve offered in 2017 would be fascinating and enlightening.

Our 2017 patron engagement survey will be launched in January 2018. So please, when you see the survey, take about 15 minutes and fill it out. Your responses are essential to helping us make informed decisions to make sure we’re offering the most relevant programming in a meaningful and accessible way.

Jason Shriner is the Marketing Manager for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703.335.8872 or via email at J.Shriner@ManassasParkVA.gov.

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