Division of Parks and Recreation Pursues Workforce Diversity with Evaluation Framework

If only sparking change was a simple as a well-written goal. An exceptional goal might inspire action, even a flurry of new policies and programs. But that’s not enough.  Without evidence and evaluation, you won’t know if those efforts are getting you any closer to your goal. Fortunately, a performance management effort can serve as the bridge connecting action and progress. 

In this case study, we look at how one state agency moved from a strategic goal, to an action plan, to a performance management project that helps staff refine their efforts. It is through ongoing evaluation that they continue to make progress. 

Park Ranger Recruitment Effort Begins

Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) committed to a strategic goal of promoting diversity and cultural inclusion in programs, recruitment, and community engagement (see DNCR’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion). 

In embracing this goal, leadership at DNCR’s Division of Parks and Recreation (DPR) knew their division needed to diversify its workforce, particularly among park rangers. At the time the division began evaluating recruiting efforts, only 3% of park rangers identified as a person of color. To boost this metric, the Division increased its presence at college and university career fairs, established a recruitment database, updated marketing materials, and adjusted job postings.

The challenge was knowing if these efforts were having the desired impact and figuring out which strategies were most effective. In a quarterly meeting with OSBM, DNCR’s leadership raised the question of how to assess these recruiting strategies. Soon OSBM and DNCR launched a joint performance management project to pursue an answer. 

Data Paints a Picture 

“We needed to take stock of everything the Division was doing to boost the recruitment of people of color,” explained OSBM senior analyst and project lead Jonathan Meyer. “We worked closely with DPR and Office of State Human Resources [OSHR] to understand the existing recruitment and hiring situation. We also conducted research to understand the characteristics of the potential applicant pool for these positions.”

The team limited the scope of the project to Park Ranger I and II positions because of the number of current vacancies and anticipated new positions. Through a series of meetings and interviews with staff at DPR, the project team created an inventory of current and planned recruiting strategies. 

The inventory defined recruiting practices, the purpose or supporting concept for each practice, and when the practice was put into place. Most practices intended to reach new or less-traditional target audiences began in summer 2019, thus the team defined the start of the study period as August of 2019. 

To determine a baseline, the project team  pulled together demographic information for the current park ranger staff and as well as for the applicants for those positions before August 2019. The team then compiled the same data for positions posted after DNCR implemented several new recruiting methods. This created a pre-and-post intervention comparison. 

In parallel, staff at OSBM provided a demographic analysis of the potential applicant pool. The study mapped demographics of potential recruitment areas based on state park locations and established a demographic profile of the graduates of degree programs preferred for park rangers. This data provided a clearer picture of the available talent pool for various state parks.

Map of state parks and county demographics
Demographics of areas near state parks is one factor affecting who applies for park ranger openings.

While the initial four-month study period did not show a significant change in the applicant pool, the process established a baseline against which DPR can evaluate future progress. 

In addition to setting up a way to monitor success, the performance management project identified additional recruiting strategies DPR could test in the future. The team recommended starting only one new effort at a time to allow the agency to evaluate its impact. 

Evaluation Ongoing as Work Continues

The performance management project wrapped up in May of 2020. Over four months, the project team created a baseline, a framework for evaluating progress, and a catalog of new ideas to try.

For DPR, this did not mean the end of the work. The agency must continue to collect and evaluate data on their applicant pools and workforce and adjust tactics accordingly. DPR’s leadership recognizes this is a challenging goal and there are no quick fixes. 

“We’ve found outreach and recruiting interns from HBCUs [Historical Black Colleges & Universities] to be one of our most effective strategies,” said Dwayne Patterson, Director of DPR. “But we’ve also seen it’s going to take more than just recruiting efforts. We also need to consider things like our hiring process and community outreach. We have even talked about how to change perceptions of park ranger roles to appeal to candidates who might not consider these jobs.” 

State Parks internship program

DPR has revised job requirements to broaden appeal and eligibility. They have taken a hard look at interview questions. Hiring decisions are now made by a regionalized panel and whenever possible the agency pools openings so they are hiring multiple positions in each recruitment funnel. And the agency is always looking at community outreach because one of the best advertisements for a career with DPR is familiarity with North Carolina’s state parks themselves.

“It’s a hard nut to crack, but we are definitely still working at it,” Patterson offered. “We continue to look at where we are and what we are doing that’s working well, and what isn’t.”

Evaluating progress and impact-of-effort is what performance management is all about. That kind of ongoing evaluation is particularly helpful for a long-term or complex effort, such as workforce diversity. 

Bold goals and exciting initiatives can capture attention and motivate. But without evidence and evaluation, even the best programs will struggle to demonstrate whether they are making an impact.

Department of Parks and Rec hosts events for outreach
Outreach and community programs to bring new people to state parks and connect them with park rangers can help with recruitment in the long run.

DNCR’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion

The Division of Parks and Recreation is not alone in its effort to improve outreach and recruitment to connect with North Carolinians across our state. DNCR has a Diversity and Cultural Inclusion Committee to help its divisions with this goal. The Committee focuses on increased diversity and cultural inclusion in four areas: 

  • diversity of staff, boards, commissions, and friends groups; 
  • engagement with a wide array of diverse stakeholder groups and communities; 
  • development, expansion, and promotion of content, exhibits, and programs that reflect our state’s diverse population; 
  • and increased use of historically underutilized businesses (HUB) in capital projects, procurement, and repair and renovation projects. 

For more information on DNCR’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts please visit their website