Measuring Success

The solution is often not the solution. At least that’s the way the park district in Naperville, Ill., has been looking at things recently.

“People think that if there’s a problem and everyone walks away happy, then the problem is solved, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Naperville Park District Executive Director Ken Brissa.

“Something within your system allowed that problem to occur in the first place, and the only way to ensure optimum service to your community is to make sure you eliminate the root cause of that problem forever, and now we do that.”

As one of the fastest growing cities in Illinois (it’s the state’s fourth largest), Naperville needs to be on top of its game. The park district operates and maintains 130 parks and growing, on over 2,300 acres, which includes five sports complexes, an outdoor aquatics center, golf courses, a small recreation center (the city jointly operates some indoor facilities with the school district), a senior center and a skatepark, among other amenities.

Brissa offers a step-by-step process based on quality control procedures found in private industry. Brissa says the problem-solving process boils down to asking yourself “why” until you can’t ask yourself “why” anymore.

Recognize & Adjust

First, says Brissa, identify the problem. An important part of that identification is understanding the problem and its root. From there, take short-term corrective action that contains it while you work on permanent action.

Once that permanent action is identified, it’s crucial to put measurement systems in place to make sure the problem doesn’t creep back.

“Try to make the problem happen again,” says Brissa. “If you’re successful at not being able to re-create the problem, you’re probably well on your way to implementing permanent corrective action.”

A recent example of this process attacked the increasingly long lines at the city’s outdoor aquatic facility, Centennial Beach, a 6,000,000-gallon chlorinated former limestone quarry donated to the city in 1933.

Its original design had one entry point and one exit point. The re-designed solution created three separate entrance areas, with patrons filing through to each one depending on the type of pass they hold.

The lines were problematic, but were certain to become worse after the current improvements — which include reengineering and reinstalling the circulation and drainage system and new water play features — are completed. The new people circulation system has mitigated those problems significantly, and should continue to do so despite an expected attendance increase thanks to the improvements, but success is not a certainty unless those outcomes are measured.

“We periodically audit the time people are in line at different points of the season and times of the day, and correlate that to other data we’re collecting,” says Brissa.

Change at Centennial Park is but one of many examples of the park district’s underlying philosophy that guides its planning and implementation.

“You have to start out with a good strategic vision and plan. For us, that’s not just a punch list of things you have to do. Our strategic plan is very outcome-based, meaning we envision what the district should be like at some point in the future. We articulate the outcome and put the systems in place so that those outcomes are achieved,” says Brissa.

“We’re very process oriented. We collect a lot of data and measure ourselves against that data. What we do very well, we continue to do and improve upon and replicate in other areas. What we don’t do well, we make process changes so that we can get that process on track.”

Naperville has been very proactive about implementing technology to help maximize its effectiveness. The park district uses TMA software for project and activity tracking and for preventative maintenance on its equipment in order to collect, as Brissa calls it, “real-time, real-life data” about the system.

An automated payroll system is being implemented, and an on-line registration system is showing increased usage from season to season. The park district is also able to track such items as when the registrations are coming in, providing usable usage data on customer trends and patterns.

Ahead of the Curve

Though quick to implement technology, Naperville hasn’t haphazardly implemented bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles.

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