Leisure and Recreation Planning Research

Planning research is the phase where the data required to inform a leisure and recreation plan is collected. A range of issues need to be investigated to create an effective, defensible and useful plan. The understanding of the issues which are researched provides the evidence to inform decisions about the content of a leisure and recreation plan. Usually, the more rigorous and diverse the research, the more reliable the evidence is to inform planning decisions. The level of research is usually dependent on the nature of the decisions made in the pre-planning stage. For example, a planning project that has a limited budget may not be able to include a household survey because of the cost. Conversely, if it is decided that a household survey is an important part of a project, other research elements may need to be scaled down to avoid a budget shortfall.

The following paragraphs provide an overview of the components that should be considered as part of leisure and recreation planning research. Specific details about each component are provided in Chapters 4—8.

Socio-economic change and demographics

The socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the population in and around the area being planned should be reviewed and evaluated. This review and evaluation should assess the number, gender balance, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, education, housing type, family make up, occupation, education, car ownership and other characteristics relevant to current and future program, facility and services needs and provision.The assessment should also be undertaken in the light of wider regional, state and national demographic data and other relevant research reports.

Assessing opportunities for leisure and recreation

The existing provision of leisure programs, facilities and services should be evaluated to identify the scale and mix of provision, gaps in provision and opportunities for improvement and upgrading. Further, the natural resources of an area may warrant assessment, while threats due to environmental degradation, resource depletion and climate change also need to be considered. Ideally, an organisation commissioning a leisure and recreation plan will have an inventory of existing leisure and recreation programs, facilities and services although past experience has shown that this is not always the case. If an inventory is not accurate and up to date, then there may be a need to undertake additional research to document what is available and the constraints that exist. An inventor)’ may need to consider the programs, facilities and services outside the area for which a plan is being prepared to avoid duplication and, possibly, to identify opportunities for complementary programs, facilities and services.

Report reviews: scope and purpose

Complementary studies and reports (where available) should be reviewed to identify and evaluate their findings and recommendations and the implications for the leisure and recreation planning project being undertaken. It is possible that there may be past reports on the same topic while there are likely to be other reports and research on issues such as specific population needs, transport and urban development that will have implications for leisure and recreation plans.

Assessing needs and aspirations

The leisure and recreation interests of the community and various stakeholders are determined through a rigorous program of consultations. Assessing community needs and aspirations could be expected to include one-on-one interviews, specialist workshops, open on-site gatherings and meetings, user and community surveys, and club and planning and organisation surveys with leisure, recreation and sport clubs, venue providers and businesses, elected and government officials and the community and a variety of stakeholders.

As has been noted in the description of Figure 2.2, it is important to recognise issues from one planning research phase topic that are likely to impact on other topics. Recognising and explaining these interconnections will often be the focus of the engagement initiatives and helps to provide useful insights that will help guide the outcomes of a planning project.

Leisure and recreation participation

Current and projected leisure and recreation participation data, facility and program use need to be reviewed. The assessment of possible implications to future needs will help identify use patterns and priorities and relevant trends at a local, regional, state/provincial, national or international level. It is likely that each community will have its own unique needs, but it is still useful to understand how different leisure participation trends may impact on a community, and importantly, how local trends might differ from broader patterns of community leisure and recreation activities.

Economic, social, professional and leisure participation trends will also impact on the nature of local leisure and recreation programs, facilities and services.These trends can have substantive impacts on a plan, and as such, their consideration is important.

Engagement initiatives

Stakeholder and community engagement during the preparation of a leisure and recreation plan will help to make sure that everyone understands the focus of a plan and how it is evolving. Stakeholder and community comments and suggestions about draft versions of a report or on issues papers detailing the key findings of key topics add clarity and help to ensure that the final plan adequately reflects the needs and aspirations of the community.

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