Parks Partners: A Model Assessment Tool for Effective Partnerships between Local Park Systems and Nonprofits
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While local park systems provide multiple benefits to a community, many do not have adequate resources to meet service demands. Public-private partnerships, specifically those with nonprofits, have become a popular solution to this problem. Partnerships allow park agencies to better maintain green spaces, enhance programming and share in project coordination/management. As public stewards and servants, park agencies should ensure partnerships are as effective as possible. Purpose: The purpose of this applied research project is three-fold. First, it develops a framework to assess the effectiveness of public-private partnerships between local public park systems and nonprofit entities. Second, it utilizes the framework to assess the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s partnership with the nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation. Third, it provides recommendations for enhancing Austin’s current and future public-private partnerships. Methodology: A review of the literature identifies the ideal components of an ideal park/nonprofit partnership. The components are grouped into four separate categories and used to construct a model assessment tool. The tool is used to assess the partnership between the Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the Austin Parks Foundation nonprofit. The assessment takes the form of a case study, and utilizes document analysis, focused interviews and direct observation research methods. Findings: The partnership between the Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the Austin Parks Foundation adequately aligns with the ideal type partnership for parks/nonprofits. The partnership is mostly effective in enhancing park and recreation services for the Austin community. Partners are very compatible, and significantly engage the community in activities. However, the partnership lacks a formal agreement and performance measurement activities. Partnership activities are trending toward traditionally underserved areas, and do not appear to further existing park system inequities.