Briefing Update: Improving Agency Performance Through Improved Learning

A group of people having a meeting.

As park, public land, and recreation agencies focus on improvement, adding significant numbers of staff and finding highly qualified staff can often be a challenge. Some agencies work to create a learning model that can drive enhanced performance, build better services, and improve agency credibility. The goal of this is to build an agency that is responsive, strategic, and credible. As an essential function of agency leaders, building a learning agency is a deliberately and thoughtfully planned way to improve the organization by investing in its employees.

Often though, this is approached in a haphazard process that focuses on requested training, modifying position descriptions, hiring new staff, or procuring consultants. While these solutions are options for investing in employees, they are not a strategic approach to determining the agency’s learning needs, and unlikely to achieve the agency’s goals.

How to create an effective learning agency is not always understood or easy. For over 20 years, the Eppley Institute has been at the forefront of helping agencies like the National Park Service, Boulder Parks and Recreation, Montgomery County Parks, and others in organizing their efforts to build staff competencies and eventually agency capability by creating a learning ecosystem that benefits the agency. Through working with multiple agencies the Eppley Institute has refined strategies to help agency leaders attain their strategic and operational goals while building a better agency.

First, it is necessary to evaluate the agency’s current training model. Is agency approved learning and development…

delivered effectively, showing a return on investment that benefits the agency’s strategic plan, meeting the most important needs of the agency as defined by stakeholders-leaders, and planned and organized in advance, tracked, and documented using a Learning Management System (LMS)?
If the answer is no, it may seem easy to fix. Simply create a database of employees, and perhaps volunteers, link them to job requirements and completion of training and link that to the agency’s strategic plan. It can’t be that hard, right?

Unfortunately, becoming a learning agency can be fraught with hidden challenges including additional workload, reporting requirements, data and privacy issues, data stewardship, technology requirements, implementation across divisions and programs, scheduling training, creating a training catalog, linking competencies to positions or career fields, tracking training expenses, registration processes including approvals, evaluation of training, assessment of learning, consistency of training across units, disciplines, employees, and use of in-house developed vs. outsourced training, among many other issues. In summary, understanding how to become a learning agency is a pretty significant undertaking. Yet, it is clearly important as mandated and recommended training requirements grow in light of safety, risk management, and policy changes and needs.

The Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands is using its experience in this area to deploy a park, public land, and recreation agency focused service to assist agencies in preparing to become a learning agency. The Institute completes an organizational readiness assessment for learning, helps implement an LMS, and creates a system of focused learning-development linked to strategic outcomes. The outcome is an agency which invests in its employees and is better able to achieve its goals and adapt to change.

Look for more information and specific ways to access this service in late September as the Institute completes design of the program and implementation at other park, public land, and recreation agencies.

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