Community Feature—Fairfax County Park Authority

FCPAJust southwest of Washington, D.C., across the Potomac River, is the County of Fairfax in Virginia. Home to the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, not to mention Mount Vernon, estate of one George Washington, Fairfax County is also home to a thriving parks department known officially as the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA).

The FCPA recently concluded a two-month long call to arms for Fairfax County residents to voice their opinions on their parks, as part of a long-standing commitment to evaluate the needs and interests of community members. In summer of 2014, the FCPA started their IdeaScale community out with several park authority generated prompts as conversation points about improvements, prompts like how trials are used and “I would use parks more if…” From those initial starting points, citizens added their own topics.

This seems to have been perhaps the best choice that the FCPA has made: allowing residents to collaborate on ideas that are proposed by other residents, with little or no interjection from the parks authority. For example, when somebody suggested that the county was in need of some baseball complexes to help ease the load on school baseball fields, other members jumped in with suggestions of where potential baseball complexes might fit.

Ultimately the FCPA will have to assess whether those suggestions are realistic or doable with their resources, but it surely shows the strength of crowdsourcing within a community, as all members are entirely invested in the result. It allows those ideas that are the most impactful to the most people to rise to the top based solely on the concerns of those within the community. It also illustrates the FCPA’s commitment to serving their population’s needs, that they would observe the process and not interject with naysaying and impossibilities.

Now that the information gathering stage of the evaluation is complete, the FCPA is honoring and considering the contributions of the populous by developing a survey which will be sent to 15,000 residences in early 2015. From there, the results will be tabulated and action items will be shared, with development of ideas beginning in late 2015. In the meantime, the parks authority is keeping everyone apprised with updates of the process via their website. We look forward to seeing what improvements are most essential to the Fairfax County Park Authority. What kind of changes would you like to see in your community?

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