Leisure and Recreation Participation

Introduction

The goal of leisure and recreation planning is to assist the community to take part in a range of activities that deliver personal, social and community benefits. Consequently, available data on community participation in the programs, facilities and services are informative for planners. It provides an understanding of patterns of use and under-use in terms of policy goals and objectives and helps to guide decisions on provision strategies to achieve optimum participation.

This chapter reviews leisure and recreation participation and how an understanding of it contributes to effective planning. It concludes with comments regarding the best uses of participation data and how to avoid its misinterpretation.

Participation Data and Planning

Leisure and recreation participation data make several valuable contributions to leisure and recreation planning. First, they provide an understanding of the overall and comparative popularity of the activities pursued by a community, region, state or country as well as of a range of participation characteristics. This complements inventories of existing leisure and recreation programs, facilities and services (refer Chapter 5) by indicating which are and are not being used and by which sections in the community. This in turn provides an understanding of areas of possible over- and under-provision, of changes and possible action priorities including which opportunities to discontinue, promote or reinvigorate and which may benefit from better programming, facilities or services. Second, participation data provide information on which members of a community are using the available opportunities and by extrapolation, who are not having their needs met and what gaps need to be overcome. Participation data can also be used in conjunction with demographic data to estimate market sizes and to inform program, facility or service viability. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, participation data provide a measure of the extent to which existing policy objectives are being achieved or whether the policies, and the provision they have generated, have failed to effectively meet community needs.

Participation and demographic data can be used to project possible demand levels. If regional participation data showed that 10 percent of the population visited aquatic facilities once a month, this would mean that a town of 100,000 residents could be projected to have 10,000 swimmers. If the town did not have a pool, but wider research showed a strong community' demand for provision, planners could surmise that if one was built it could attract 120,000 visits annually (i.e,. 10,000 by 12 months).They could then use the 120,000 market figure as one input to analysing the scale of facilities to provide, capital and operating costs and operational viability. A random community' or swim club survey, as explained in Chapter 7, could then be used to refine and test the participation calculations.

Participation data can help evaluate the success of an organisation’s provision policies. For instance, if particular leisure and recreation policies were designed to engage specific populations such as youth, older adults or people with disabilities in leisure and recreation, but participation data showed continuing low levels of involvement, the findings would suggest a need to understand why this is so. This analysis might then lead to a revision of the programs, facilities and services being delivered to these community' members, or perhaps, to changes in the policies. Such findings can be complemented by comparisons with local, regional and national data to further assist a planning project in determining, for instance, how provision initiatives may be more effectively targeted.

Participation data sources

International, national and state-focused leisure and recreation participation data are available through many statistical collection agencies although there is generally less information in developing countries. Census and related statistical collections are occasionally supplemented by special surveys, not-for-profit and commercial data collection bodies and by researchers. Club surveys and attendance data from leisure and recreation facilities collected as part of the consultations phase of a planning project can also be informative. If participation data is lacking or insufficient, it may be necessary to conduct surveys to collect it from particular individuals and groups depending on the goals and scope of a planning project. In some instances, participation questions in a random sample survey of the whole community may be appropriate.

The most useful participation data for a planning project are:

  • • The number of individual participants taking part in specific activities or in categories of activities e.g., sports, active casual pursuits, crafts and hobbies
  • • Frequency of participation e.g., daily, weekly, monthly and seasonally
  • • Participation duration i.e., number of hours for each involvement
  • • Participation format e.g., alone, team, casual group and family
  • • The facilities or types of facilities used and where they are
  • • The cost of participation
  • • Comparisons between current participation data with previous years to identify trends, and
  • • The characteristics of participants including age, gender, cultural background, socio-economic status, education, occupation category and place of residence.
 
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