Scorecard Case Study: Community Capacity Building Toolkit for Parks

The Alliance partnered with more than a dozen community-centered local organizations to create the Equitable Development Principles & Scorecard, which helps communities ensure that the principles and practices of equitable development, environmental justice, and affordability are available to all residents. Intended to be a living document, adapted by communities to meet their needs, this case study series shares the many ways the scorecard is being leveraged and the lessons learned from the communities putting it to use.

Trust for Public Land and the Community Capacity Building Toolkit

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) works to protect the natural places people care about and to create close-to-home parks —particularly in and near cities. From helping raise funds for conservation; to protecting and restoring natural spaces; to collaborating with communities to plan, design, and create parks, playgrounds, gardens, and trails; TPL works with communities to ensure that development happens for them, and not to them. In the Twin Cities, the Equitable Development Principles & Scorecard galvanized a process to create a tool specific to parks development that could build intention and aspiration around not only engaging neighbors about park design but actively cultivating new community leaders and building capacity.

Why the Scorecard?

In our nation’s urban areas, TPL aims to ensure that all residents are within a 10-minute walk to a park. Seema Kairam, a TPL program manager in the Twin Cities and Enterprise Rose Fellow working on improving TPL’s understanding of parks and gentrification and developing best practices to ensure investment without displacement, saw an opportunity to leverage the scorecard to more deeply consider the full range of issues surrounding those green spaces, and engaging the residents in the neighborhoods.

Parks are often seen as an asset with exclusively positive impacts: good for public health, the environment and social interaction. But, in some neighborhoods, such amenities can spur rising land prices, increased rents and potential displacement of longtime residents. “Recently those negative consequences have accelerated,” Kairam says. “I’ve been learning through my research that to resist development pressure, communities need to be better organized and parks development projects must push for more collaborative models.”

So when she was introduced to the scorecard, she resonated with the way it builds community power and cultivates a shared vision around the full range of issues that radiate from development. She recognized that, while parks don’t have a direct impact on housing or transportation, the issues are deeply intertwined. That got her thinking about a scorecard-inspired tool for the work of TPL: “How can we work to be more intersectional and engaged with the broader community needs, rather than just thinking, ‘How do we get this park built?’”

Adapting the Scorecard

Over the course of a year, Kairam worked to adapt the scorecard to specifically address the issues and processes of parks and green space development. In addition to discussion with local stakeholders in health equity and community development, she received input and feedback on what became the Community Capacity Building Toolkit from a diversity of staff at the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, as well as more than two dozen urban parks leaders from across the United States.

Defining Scope: For Kairam, being intentional about the parameters of the scorecard was important to gain buy-in from the community and parks stakeholders. That started with a realistic assessment of what’s within the realm of influence or jurisdiction for those engaged with the tool. For instance, unlike private development, parks don’t create revenue that can be shared and, while housing might be a central community concern, park developers and administrators may have little leverage to intervene in the private market. “If you want to have any semblance of trust with community, you need to be able to produce results,” she says. “I didn’t want to develop a scorecard that makes claims without any influence or authority to make an impact in those areas.”

Setting Goals: At TPL and other organizations, participatory design has become a common principle in park development. But Kairam aspired for the toolkit to get stakeholders to think beyond just the park design and to focus on collective decision-making and community power. “A park is a public space where people can come together, and developing a park is a fun and exciting way to engage with neighbors and government,” she says. “There are a lot of strategies to deal with issues like gentrification but, for the most part, they’re policy strategies. So if a community is going to deal with those issues and have influence, it’s about building capacity and political power, leadership and civic engagement. That’s something a park can influence.”

Shifting Power: While it’s critical for parks to reflect the culture and include the type of amenities that benefit that specific community, participatory design is just the first step. “If we stick to asking ‘Do you want a red bench or blue bench,’ we can’t expect that to cultivate the next leader in the community,” she says. “When you’ve connected a resident to city processes and other neighbors, then you’ve helped to resource a new leader.” To build that capacity, those doing park development need to be intentional about shifting institutional power and resources. While financial resources should be spent in neighborhoods, residents must also be viewed as the experts in their communities and financially resourced as such — through contracts, stipends, or other forms of compensation.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Defining Audience: While some adaptations of the scorecard have been targeted to community members, Kairam focused on a specific audience. She recognized a detailed, eight-page document isn’t accessible to the average neighborhood resident. “The audience is really the group of engaged, committed partners who are leading the engagement and development process: non-profits, government agencies, community based organizations and resident leaders,” she says. “It’s really for discussing what are some best practices we can try — and then brainstorm how to achieve them.”

Scoring and Evaluating Progress: Given the audience for the tool, Kairam understood that getting institutions excited about a “scorecard” might be challenging. After meeting with several stakeholders, it became clear that, especially for government agencies that are bound by public processes that are guided by transparent standards, scoring can raise a host of questions around who has the power to set and evaluate the metrics. And, even if there is a clear process, some entities may be wary of what could be construed as a punitive approach. “I want it to be very aspirational,” she says. “I wanted to convey: If you get a low score in an area, now you understand that’s an area you can do better.”  So, while the tool still includes scoring it’s not just for a single point in time. Instead it includes assessments for pre-development, concept, implementation and operations. Kairam hopes that will help users see that there’s room for growth and progress — and a reason to return to the scorecard to gauge their own improvement.

Outcomes and Opportunities

Articulating Intention: Like many sectors, integrating equity into parks development isn’t a novel concept or new conversation. But creating mechanisms to guide real action and accountability are still rare — especially when it comes to building true community power and leadership capacity. For Kairam, that’s the power of the  toolkit. “We have a lot of language that participatory design is empowering and can lead to a sense of ownership,” she explains. “Yes, that’s true, but can we be intentional about achieving those goals rather than assuming those nebulous outcomes will happen? This is a way to say there are some very concrete things we can do around building capacity. Let’s name them so we can start working toward engagement that has those outcomes.”

Establishing Group Values: Kairam hopes that intention can set the baseline for collaboration, as well. As community stakeholders come together around a project, the toolkit can act as a set of agreements that ensure a commitment to equity among all actors. “When we’re meeting new partners we can say, ‘Here’s how we view community engagement,” she says. “We don’t want to just check the box and do outreach. We’re really trying to meet this higher standard that gets to co-creation and collaborative decision-making and paying people when we can. We can lay that out on the table and say, ‘These are our values; can we work on these together?’”

Next Steps

Given the number of parks the organization is working on nationwide, Kairam hopes TPL can pilot the use of the toolkit in one of its projects in the near future. She also hopes that, given TPL’s influence as a thought leader in the sector, the toolkit will gain traction with a wide audience.

Beyond parks, she encourages stakeholders in other areas to leverage the scorecard for their issues. “I wanted to make an aspirational and valuable tool to build consensus around,” she says. “I’ve been really happy with how adaptable the scorecard has been in that way.”

To learn more or collaborate, contact Kairam at


Download the Case Study

Learn more about the Equitable Development Principles and Scorecard!