What Gets Plans Off the Shelf? A Case Study of Municipal Recreation Plan Implementation


  • Michelle Leone Brock University
  • Martha Barnes Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Brock University
  • Erin Sharpe Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Brock University




recreation, planning, implementation, municipal


As the complexity of municipal recreation administration increases, along with tighter and more competitive funding environments, recreation professionals are increasingly reliant on strategic or master planning initiatives to guide their efforts. Successful planning means getting plans implemented-an agreed-upon universal obstacle in planning. When implementation is considered a process, it recognizes that implementation involves a plan moving from one complex, contentious, and politically charged environment to another. Successful implementation requires that each environment is successfully negotiated such that the plan can be ‘handed off’ to the next environment. Using a case study approach, this research described and analyzed the process of plan implementation in three Ontario municipalities that had recently engaged in a municipal recreation planning process. Data collection included planning documents and interviews (n = 11) with key informants and stakeholders from each municipality. Study findings present a descriptive overview of the planning process for each municipality, followed by a description of the strategic decisions made by key actors as the plan moved through four important spaces in the planning process: the community, the department, city hall, and council chambers. Our findings show that four key decisions points that ultimately impact the implementation of a municipal recreation plan are community engagement, plan scope, collaborations, and council and resident support strategy. While each municipal recreation department confronted these same decision points or ‘baton exchanges’ (Loh, 2012; Pressman & Wildavsky, 1973), departments negotiated them differently, and thus the success of plan implementation varied. The findings of this study suggest that implementation is in fact not a step that is similar to the earlier steps of the planning process; that, in fact strategic implementation-related decisions are (and perhaps must be) made throughout the entirety of the planning process. This study draws research attention back to municipal recreation planning; informs the recreation services literature of the final step of the recreation planning process-implementation and furthers our understanding of plan implementation by contributing to the work of planning scholars.

Author Biographies

Martha Barnes, Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Brock University

Associate Professor

Erin Sharpe, Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Brock University

Associate Professor





Regular Papers