Though not new in the recreation and parks sector, the use of data – gathering it, applying it, and creating knowledge with it – has become a priority. Given increasing demands on budgets at all levels of government, it is more important than ever to make persuasive, evidence-based arguments for developing public policy that reflects the important and expanding role that recreation and parks play in our communities.

Surveillance refers to the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and information for use in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of policies, programs, and practices. Surveillance is necessary for detecting population engagement in physical activity and sport and recreation, and in identifying trends, gaps, challenges, and promising practices. Monitoring is a specific aspect of surveillance that involves tracking progress of programs or policies (e.g., Framework for Recreation in Canada) in relation to pre-set objectives.[1] In the sport, physical activity, and recreation sector, especially at the local level, there is an opportunity to significantly increase resources allocated to surveillance and monitoring to increase data literacy, data gathering, data management, and analytics. Data from effective and comprehensive surveillance systems are important for obtaining resources and evaluating programs.

For the sector to effectively understand trends, inform progress, and identify new approaches, it is critical to establish a comprehensive system of surveillance and monitoring that includes the application of relevant research. This should be done at the local level. At the national level, recreation organizations can benefit from the work of the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (CFLRI), a national research organization dedicated to monitoring physical activity levels and sport participation among Canadians and sharing knowledge about the importance of leading a healthy, active lifestyle.

While the original Framework did not include an evaluation strategy, valuable data from CFLRI can provide insights into the progress made since 2015. CFLRI has developed:

  • indicators to gauge the contributions of recreation, physical activity, and sport towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals; and,
  • an evaluation plan to assess the implementation of the Framework Update.[2]

It remains crucial for recreation and parks organizations at all levels to prioritize accountability. Implementing systems for evaluating programs and monitoring progress towards desired outcomes is essential to gauge the true impact of our efforts in the sector. This approach will not only ensure continuous improvement but also demonstrate the tangible benefits of the sector to governments at all levels and to the communities they serve.

Finally, and just as importantly, the sector must participate in knowledge mobilization, a term that refers to a wide range of activities that include producing and using research through dissemination, transfer and exchange, and co-creation by researchers and knowledge users.[3]

[1] Public Health Surveillance: A Tool for Targeting and Monitoring Interventions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11770/. Accessed March 2024.

[2] Implementation is contingent on funding.

[3] Guidelines for Effective Knowledge Mobilization. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. https://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/funding-financement/policies-politiques/knowledge_mobilisation-mobilisation_des_connaissances-eng.aspx#:~:text=Knowledge%20mobilization%20is%20an%20umbrella,by%20researchers%20and%20knowledge%20users. Accessed March 2024.

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